Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
With a fervour which is unmistakably the fruit of experience the Psalmist describes the blessedness of forgiveness, and teaches that penitence is the indispensable condition for receiving it (Psalm 32:1-2). He had sinned grievously, and so long as he refused to acknowledge his sin he suffered inward torture (Psalm 32:3-4). But confession brought instant pardon (Psalm 32:5). Arguing then from his own experience he exhorts the godly to timely prayer (Psalm 32:6). Professing his trust in Jehovah, he receives from Him a gracious promise of guidance (Psalm 32:7-8). Then addressing himself to men in general, he warns them against the folly of resisting God’s will (Psalm 32:9), and contrasts the lot of the godly and the wicked (Psalm 32:10). The Psalm concludes with an exhortation to the righteous to rejoice (Psalm 32:11).
This Psalm is generally thought to have been composed by David after his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. For almost a year he stubbornly refused to acknowledge his sin, in spite of the accusing voice of conscience, and, it may be, the admonitions of sickness (Psalm 32:3-4); until the prophet’s message struck home to his heart, and opened the fountain of penitential tears. Psalms 51 may be the first heartfelt prayer for pardon; while this Psalm, written somewhat later, when he had had time calmly to survey the past, records his experience for the warning and instruction of others, in fulfilment of the promise in Psalm 51:13.
The lessons of the Psalm are summed up in Proverbs 28:13; or 1 John 1:8-9.
It is the second of the seven ‘Penitential Psalms’ (see Introd. to Psalms 6), and is appointed for use on Ash-Wednesday. It was a favourite with St Augustine, who “often read this Psalm with weeping heart and eyes, and before his death had it written upon the wall which was over against his sick—bed, that he might be exercised and comforted by it in his sickness.” His words “intelligentia prima est ut te noris peccatorem”—the beginning of knowledge is to know thyself to be a sinner—might be prefixed to it as a motto.
On the title Maschil see Introd. p. xix.
A Psalm of David, Maschil. Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.1, 2. The blessedness of forgiveness. See Romans 4:6 ff. for St Paul’s use of these verses.
Blessed] Or, Happy. Cp. Psalm 1:1. The first beatitude of the Psalter is pronounced on an upright life; but since “there is no man that sinneth not” (1 Kings 8:46), there is another beatitude reserved for true penitence.
transgression—sin—iniquity] The words thus rendered describe sin in different aspects (1) as rebellion, or breaking away from God: (2) as wandering from the way, or missing the mark: (3) as depravity, or moral distortion. Cp. Psalm 32:5; Psalm 51:1-3; Exodus 34:7. Forgiveness is also triply described (1) as the taking away of a burden; cp. John 1:29, and the expression ‘to bear iniquity’: (2) as covering, so that the foulness of sin no longer meets the eye of the judge and calls for punishment; (3) as the cancelling of a debt, which is no longer reckoned against the offender: cp. 2 Samuel 19:19.
and in whose spirit there is no guile] No deceitfulness. The condition of forgiveness on man’s part is absolute sincerity. There must be no attempt to deceive self or God. Cp. 1 John 1:8.
Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.
When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.3, 4. The illustration of this truth from the Psalmist’s own experience. He kept silence, refusing to acknowledge his sin to himself and to God; but meanwhile God did not leave him to himself (Job 33:16 ff.); His chastening hand was heavy upon him (Psalm 38:2; Psalm 39:10), making itself felt partly by the remorse of conscience, partly perhaps by actual sickness. He suffered and complained (Psalm 22:1; Psalm 38:8); but such complaint was no prayer (Hosea 7:14), and brought no relief, while he would not confess his sin.
my bones] See note on Psalm 6:2.
my moisture &c.] R.V. my moisture was changed as with (marg., into) the drought of summer: the vital sap and juices of his body were dried up by the burning fever within him. Cp. Psalm 22:15; Proverbs 17:22.
Selah] The musical interlude here may have expressed the Psalmist’s distress of mind, and prepared the way for the change in the next verse.
For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah.
I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah.5. The way of restoration. Lit. I began to make known to thee my sin, and mine iniquity did I not cover. The tense of the first verb graphically represents the confession being made (Psalm 25:8, note): the second verb is the same as that in Psalm 32:1. Not until man ceases to hide his sin will it be hidden from God. “Quantum tibi non peperceris,” says Tertullian, quoted by Abp. Leighton, “tantum tibi parcet Deus.” “The less you spare yourself, the more will God spare you.”
and thou forgavest] Thou is emphatic, and the form of the sentence expresses the immediateness of the pardon. “Vox nondum est in ore et vulnus sanatur.” St Augustine.
The musical interlude may have expressed the joy of forgiveness, and served to separate this record of experience from the application which follows.
For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him.6. An exhortation based upon experience.
For this &c.] Rather, Therefore let every one &c.
in a time when thou mayest be found] This is the most probable explanation of the Heb., which means literally in a time of finding, and is obscure from its brevity. So “in a time of acceptance” (Psalm 69:13). Comp. Deuteronomy 4:29 with Jeremiah 29:13; and see Isaiah 55:6. Let no one delay, for there is also a time of not finding (Proverbs 1:28). The words may also be explained as in R.V. marg., in the time of finding out sin, when God makes inquisition; cp. Psalm 17:3; or, in the time when sin finds them out; cp. Numbers 32:23 : but these explanations are less obvious.
surely &c.] R.V., surely when the great waters overflow they shall not reach unto him. In a time of calamity and judgement he will not be overwhelmed, but will be safe like one who stands secure upon a rock out of reach of the raging flood. For the figure cp. Psalm 18:16; Isaiah 28:2; Isaiah 28:17; Isaiah 30:28; Nahum 1:8.
Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah.7. The Psalmist addresses Jehovah, appropriating to himself the promise of the preceding verse.
my hiding place] The same word as in Psalm 27:5; Psalm 31:20; Psalm 91:1.
thou shalt preserve me &c.] Thou wilt guard me (Psalm 12:7; Psalm 25:21; Psalm 31:23) from distress (Psalm 31:9); thou wilt compass me about with shouts (Psalm 32:11) of deliverance. Occasions for rejoicing arise wherever he turns: or possibly the glad shouts of the godly rejoicing at his deliverance are meant.
I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.8. Who is the speaker? The Psalmist or God? Most commentators suppose that it is the Psalmist, who now assumes the part of teacher, as in Psalm 34:11, and fulfils the promise of Psalm 51:13. But surely it must be God who speaks in answer to the Psalmist’s profession of trust.
Would any human teacher venture to say, I will counsel thee with mine eye upon thee, as the last line must be rendered with R.V.? For the ever-wakeful ‘eye’ of God’s loving Providence see Psalm 33:18; Psalm 34:15; Jeremiah 24:6. The view that God is the speaker is confirmed by the parallels in Psalm 25:8; Psalm 25:12; Psalm 16:7; Psalm 73:24; and it avoids the abruptness of the transition from Psalm 32:7 to Psalm 32:8, and the awkwardness of the change to the plural in Psalm 32:9, which the other explanation involves.
Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.9, 10. A warning addressed to all not to resist God’s will, and neglect instruction.
Be not like horse like mule with no understanding,
With trappings of bit and bridle must they be curbed:
Else will they not come near unto thee.
The Heb. is obscure and possibly corrupt in some points; but the general sense is clear. Brute animals without reason must be controlled and compelled by force to learn to submit to man’s will. If man will not draw near to God and obey Him of his own free will, he lowers himself to the level of a brute, and must expect to be treated accordingly and disciplined by judgment (Isaiah 26:9-11).
For the thought that man who will not listen to God’s teaching ‘becomes brutish’ see Jeremiah 10:14; Jeremiah 10:21; Psalm 49:10; Psalm 49:12; Psalm 49:20; Psalm 73:22. The word rendered mouth in A.V., trappings in R.V., is of doubtful meaning. Some explain, whose wild spirit must be curbed &c.; but this is less probable. The A.V. of the last line, lest they come near unto thee, to hurt thee, gives no suitable point of comparison, and must certainly be rejected.
Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the LORD, mercy shall compass him about.10. The warning given in the preceding verse is confirmed by the contrast between the lot of the ungodly and the faithful.
many sorrows] Calamities and chastisements. The LXX has μάστιγες, scourges. Cp. Job 33:19.
mercy] Lovingkindness (Psalm 31:7; Psalm 31:16; Psalm 31:21; Psalm 33:5; Psalm 33:18; Psalm 33:22). The clause may also be rendered, with lovingkindness will he compass him about. Cp. Psalm 32:7.
Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.11. Cp. Psalm 5:11; Psalm 33:1; Nehemiah 8:10; Php 3:1; Php 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16. All kindred spirits must share the joy of a pardoned soul, and rejoice in the contemplation of God’s gracious dealings with His people.