Last night we took the evening to study through Psalm 32. Here are the notes:
1 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity,
Like several other Psalms, this one starts off with a declaration about what the truly blessed life is. This is true blessedness, David says. This is the life to be desired and envied—to be a person who has their sin dealt with.
David uses several important words to get to what he’s trying to say here. “Transgression” means “open rebellion.” You see the sign that says, “no trespassing” and you step over the line anyway, fully knowing what you’re doing. Every human being, at a certain age, realizes that they have done this. And even if we don’t know specific bible verses, we have the conscience God has given us, and, all of us violate that (Romans 2:15).
“Forgiven” in verse 1 has the idea of “lifted off,” or “taken away.” And the idea of “covered” (v.2) is being out of sight, so that it can’t cause any more guilt or fear.
“Sin” (v.1) means “failure,” or “missing the mark,” when you should have hit it. It’s when a dad fails at being a father, or a husband fails to love his wife. It’s a failure that makes you guilty because it’s shameful or disappointing or it injures someone or ruins something.
The blessed life has all of these issues dealt with. And the alternative to this “blessed” life is the life that really is guilty, deserving of shame and punishment, and when we’re in this state we know it on the inside, even if we press that knowledge down and twist ourselves around so we can ignore the sense that we’ve done evil things. Guilt most certainly does oppress people—everyone—if they don’t know the reality of what David writes here.
And in whose spirit there is no deceit.
“No deceit” carries the idea of not hiding sin, or denying that sin has happened, or pretending it isn’t sin. This is a prerequisite for being the kind of person that can find this blessed life—you have to be ready to be real. You have to be transparent with God. When someone refuses that inner sense of guilt and won’t be transparent, issues develop. And that’s what’s going on in verses 3 and 4.
3 When I kept silent, my bones grew old
Through my groaning all the day long.
4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Selah
If these verses refer to David’s situation where he got the wife of one of his soldiers pregnant, and then arranged the battle so that the man died, we’re getting insight into what his life was like before the prophet Nathan came and confronted him. But we all know this feeling—the horrible emotional and even physical things you go through when you’re trying to hide or ignore something wrong you’ve done. The worse it was or the bigger it is or the longer it goes on, the worse you feel. The only other option is to try to deaden that inner suffering with pleasure or intoxication or other kinds of pain or distraction.
If we stop and think about it, I really think we’ll see that these verses explain the problem with the entire human race. We’ve really failed when we shouldn’t have. We’ve committed real evil, but we keep silent about it. We ignore it or try to hide it, or work it off, or we redefine it and call it goodness. But it’s still right there, just as evil and shameful as it always was. And it’s not going away.
The first thing David says about this is that it creates an issue between us and God. David says “His hand is heavy” on us. It’s like there’s this pressure on us. Maybe you could even say it’s like a pressing down. There’s something in the room, so to speak, that’s hard to ignore. The issue is that we’re ignoring or opposing God—personally, even when it’s in a semi-ignorant state. This whole thing is personal.
And second, we start to lose what David calls our “vitality”—that huge, beautiful force of human life made in the image of God—it turns into a desert wasteland. And, just look at our cities, our rural wastelands, our borders, our refugee camps, our brothels, our prisons, our wars—our history. Who can live there? It’s a desert. The word he uses for “vitality” could also be translated “moisture.” He says it turns into a drought. When we begin to love and pursue evil things, it’s not like life falls apart immediately. It’s more like when a drought starts. You ever been in a drought? The moisture dries up, and everything goes on just the same for a little while—there’s still leaves on the trees, some water in the river, the grass is green, and you can’t really tell the drought has started—but it has. The moisture’s drying up. Just give that time to work, and in a little while everything starts to die.
Here’s what this looks like in a human life: Motivation dries up; Passion for things that matter dries up and enjoyment of life simply for itself…dries up. Distraction and diversion becomes the most important thing because you don’t find life in anything else.
And here’s what that looks like in a culture: it looks like a general motivation problem; a loss of direction or sense of what life is about; an unwillingness to do the hard work of living in ways that benefit society; a lack of concern for the big issues of life; a preoccupation with entertainment and escape; while the whole time the actual substance of our life—our emotional health, our families, our neighborhoods—the actual life we’re living in—that falls apart all around us.
But instead of despairing and pressing deeper into the things that help us ignore the issues and run from God, David did something different.
5 I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I have not hidden.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
Here’s the key to healing—dealing directly with God. Notice that David says “You.” We begin our dealings with God by acknowledging and confessing—right to God, the one who’s seen everything we’ve ever done and said, and who knows us inside and out—right to him, we admit what’s true about us. And this is exactly what our world is trying so hard not to do. We want to simply declare that everything is ok and that God’s cool with us.
But the word of God here is showing a fundamental flaw in that thinking: when we insist on acting like God’s cool with us despite our sin, it’s like we’re assuming that God is not any real person we are dealing with. But imagine—how many of your friends could you insult, ignore, hurt people they love, deliberately work against them…and then just pick up being their friend like nothing happened? Imagine you’re dating someone and a mutual friend sees you out with someone else and tells your boyfriend or girlfriend about it. Could you just go back to them without acknowledging what happened? Wouldn’t an open conversation be the first step in restoring your relationship—where you openly and honestly acknowledged what you did, and that it was wrong, and that you hurt them—wouldn’t everyone want that? If you really want that relationship back, you have to get on the same page with the person you’ve wronged by admitting what happened and by admitting it was wrong. Nothing can happen until that happens.
Confession, the acknowledgment of sin, is the key to restoration. Now when we confess things to people we might be telling them something they don’t know. But when we confess to God, since he already knows everything, the idea is more just that we’re calling our sin what it is—it’s sin. You could say that confession is coming into agreement with God about what is real—who we really are and what the things we’ve been doing and saying and loving really are.
And since we all occupy this position with God, every person needs to acknowledge their sin, own it, and agree with God about the evilness of it, before we can even begin to be in relationship with God. Before you can know God, or walk with God, or really have any relationship with him at all, you have to start with this—somewhere in your life, you have to acknowledge your sin to him.
But if, like it says in verse 3, we stay silent about the issue—then we’ll only experience the drought. It doesn’t matter how much we support each other or celebrate each other—we’ll find things drying up inside, and we’ll find life itself becoming hard to sustain.
But it’s such a tragedy for anyone to live in that place, when the solution, in one sense, is so simple. Look what David says at the end of verse 5.
And You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
Here it is—the good news! Now David didn’t know it when he wrote it, but the reason it can be so easy (just confess to God, acknowledge, and receive forgiveness) is that years after David lived one of his descendants came and He was everything we aren’t—he never sinned, he lived in totally open relation with God. In fact his humanness actually expressed his oneness of Spirit with God, since he was God in human flesh, and then he was killed as a sacrifice on our behalf, and then he rose from the dead. You could say that His life and death and resurrection earned a new “human status” which he shares with any who trust him. The status is “righteous”—which just means right with God and free of all guilt and evil.
You see how a person who’s experienced thinks this in verse 6.
6 For this cause everyone who is godly shall pray to You In a time when You may be found;
Surely in a flood of great waters
They shall not come near him.
7 You are my hiding place;
You shall preserve me from trouble;
You shall surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah
What does someone find when they confess sin? They find God’s nearness and protection. Sometimes people refuse to come to God this way because, along with the problem of their guilt they have the false idea that it’s too late, or that God won’t forgive them, or that if they were to be open about who they really are it would just bring condemnation. But David’s telling us that it’s not like that—be open and honest before God and you’ll find God drawing near to you and taking care of the issue.
Now what happens in verse 8 is pretty amazing—it seems like God breaks in himself here and speaks directly to or through David. This happens sometimes in the Psalms.
8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will guide you with My eye.
9 Do not be like the horse or like the mule,
Which have no understanding,
Which must be harnessed with bit and bridle,
Else they will not come near you.
First, God promises guidance for people who acknowledge their sin.
Second, he shows us the way forward—root out rebellion. Don’t be like a horse who needs to be physically reigned in. God’s after the relationship people have—where a teacher instructs and models and a learner internalizes and practices what is taught. He’s not really after something like a horse and a rider. He’s after the sort of thing where he can just say, like, “Come here,” and we’re coming over—we’re drawing near—just because we know what he wants. He doesn’t want to put a headpiece and a bit and bridle on a human being. He’s got that horses for that. He’s looking for sons and daughters.
So if I want God’s guidance in my life, I can have it. Here’s all I need to do: look for any rebellion in my heart and get it out. Look for any stubbornness, any part of me that doesn’t want to be led. Like it hints at with the end of verse 9, look for anything in me that doesn’t want to come near to God. If I know of anything like that in me, if I know it’s there even if it’s way in the back—I’m still partly living in verse 3 and 4—even if I really do know God. And I don’t really know verses 1 and 2 yet.
But I can come to really know God’s will for my life, and to know the blessedness of verses 1 and 2, by moving on from verses 3 and 4 into verse 5, and then learning to believe verse 8, and then hearing and obeying verse 9.
And then you come to just understand statements like the one in the 10th verse.
10 Many sorrows shall be to the wicked;
But he who trusts in the LORD, mercy shall surround him.
This is a sad, but true contrast. Everyone’s invited to live in the second half of this verse. Even if you’ve spent your whole life in the first half of the verse, all you need is to do what David does in verse 5 and you can live in the second half of the verse, and in verses 1 and 2, and in verses 8 and 9. And then, we get to live in verse verse 11.
11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous;
And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
My friends, this is the destiny of those in real relationship to God.