Introduction: The first word of this psalm is blessed, from the Hebrew word ’esher (אֶ֫שֶׁר), which refers to the true happiness that one can only find through a right relationship with God. The Reformation Study Bible thus correctly asserts in a footnote on the use of ’ešer in Psalm 1:1 that it is “A stronger word than ‘happy’; to be ‘blessed’ is to enjoy God’s special favor and grace” (p. 755).
Such true happiness is the theme of this psalm, and, as we examine the psalm, I will highlight seven things that David teaches us in it about true happiness in the LORD.
I. True Happiness Is Found in Complete Forgiveness
This truth is stressed in verses 1-2:
NKJ Psalm 32:1-2 Blessed [אֶ֫שֶׁר, ’esher] is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed [אֶ֫שֶׁר, ’esher] is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
In describing the need for forgiveness and the nature of forgiveness, David uses three distinct words for sin and three distinct words for forgiveness.
1. Three Words for Sin
First, the word translated transgression (vs.1) is the Hebrew pesha‛ (פֶּ֫שַׁע), which basically refers to “rebellion” or “revolt” (Holladay #7004, BibleWorks). As Alexander Maclaren once wrote:
You do not understand the gravity of the most trivial wrong act when you think of it as a sin against the order of Nature, or against the law written on your heart, or as the breach of the constitution of your own nature, or as a crime against your fellows. You have not got to the bottom of the blackness until you see that it is a flat rebellion against God himself. (British preacher, 1826-1910, as quoted by James Montgomery Boice, Psalms, Vol. 1, p. 278)
This is what David realized so clearly on yet another occasion when, after the affair with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, he said to God, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight – that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge” (Ps. 51:4).
Second, the word translated sin (vs.1) is the Hebrew ḥaṭā’āh (חֲטָאָה), which conveys the idea of “missing the mark” and here refers to failure to live up to God’s holy standard (TWOT #638e, BibleWorks).
Third, the word translated iniquity (vs.2a) is the Hebrew ‛āvōn (עָוֹן), which refers to a conscious or intentional offense, or to guilt incurred by such an offense (Holladay #6147, BibleWorks). Here David seems to have in mind God’s not holding us guilty for such offenses.
These three words used by David seem to be aimed at giving a complete picture of our sin. This picture includes open, conscious rebellion, as well as any sin that falls short of God’s standard (which would include sins of omission as well as commission), and it also includes the guilt that such sinning brings upon us.
After using these three words to express sin in such a complete manner, David seeks to be just as complete in his description of forgiveness, as we shall see next.
2. Three Words for Forgiveness
First, the word translated forgiven (vs.1) is the Hebrew nāśā’ (נָשָׂא), which literally means to “lift, carry, [or] take” (TWOT #1421.0, BibleWorks). Here the word is used to refer to taking away sin, to having sin “lifted off” of the sinner. Sin is thus seen a burden that is removed, and for this reason the word may be used to speak of sin as forgiven.
Second, the word translated covered (vs.1) is the Hebrew kāsāh (כָּסָה), which means to “cover, conceal, hide. In a few places used in the sense of ‘forgive’”(TWOT #18.0, BibleWorks). The imagery is of our sin being forever hidden from God’s sight.
Third, the word used to state that God does not impute sin (vs.2a) is the Hebrew word ḥāšaḇ (חָשַׁב), which means “to reckon” (HALOT #3295, BibleWorks) or “to count” (TWOT #767.0, BibleWorks) something as belonging to someone. This same word is used of God’s acceptance of Abraham:
NKJ Genesis 15:6 And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted [חָשַׁב, ḥāšaḇ] it to him for righteousness.
It is worth noting here that Paul refers to both Genesis 15:6 and Psalm 32:1-2 in Romans. After concluding that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law (3:28), Paul goes on to argue:
NKJ Romans 4:1-8 What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness [Gen. 15:6].” 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. 5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; 8 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin [Ps. 32:1-2].”
Thus, when David spoke of God’s forgiveness as His not imputing our sin to us, he implied also that it involved God’s imputation of righteousness instead, and that by faith.
3. The Point of the Three Words for Sin and the Three Words for Forgiveness
The three words for sin accompanied by the three words for forgiveness seems to indicate that the totality of our sin receives the totality of God’s forgiveness. And this is only by the grace of God, not by any merit of our own. Yet this is in response only to genuine repentance, as David indicates in the second half of verse 2:
NKJ Psalm 32:2b And in whose spirit there is no deceit.
David emphasizes that we cannot fake true confession and repentance. We can only receive God’s forgiveness when the confession and repentance is sincere, and when we hold nothing back!
With this in mind, we move on to the second point.
II. True Happiness Is Hindered When We Try to Hide Our Sins
This truth is stressed in verses 3-4:
NKJ Psalm 32:3-4 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
Here David describes the depressing and debilitating effect that his unconfessed sin had upon him, and he does so in at least three ways.
First, David had not only emotional (“groaning”), but also physical, effects from unconfessed sin. He describes the physical effects when he says “my bones grew old.”
Second, David was continually plagued both by the unconfessed sin and by the accompanying symptoms. He says these things troubled him “day and night.”
Third, David had these ailments as a result of God’s discipline, which he indicates when he says to the LORD, “Your hand was heavy upon me” (vs.4a)
That we, too, may be disciplined by God in this way is clear from the example of the church at Corinth:
NKJ 1 Corinthians 11:26-30 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. 27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.
Consider also the assertions of James and the author of Hebrews on the matter:
NKJ James 5:14-15 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
NKJ Hebrews 12:5-8 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; 6 For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.’ 7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.
Application: In what ways do we try to hide our sins from God? Perhaps we 1) blame others, or 2) lie about our sins, or 3) try to justify our sin, or 4) try avoid thinking about it at all. But will any of these things work? I wonder how many of us may be struggling with depression or some physical ailment due to a stubborn refusal to deal with our sins by confessing them to the Lord and receiving His forgiveness.
III. True Happiness is Experienced Through Confession of Sin
This truth is stressed in verse 5:
NKJ Psalm 32:5 I acknowledged [יָדַע, yāḏa‛] my sin [חֲטָאָה, ḥaṭā’āh] to You, and my iniquity [עָוֹן, ‛āvōn] I have not hidden. I said, “I will confess [יָדָה, yāḏāh] my transgressions [פֶּ֫שַׁע, pesha‛] to the LORD,” and You forgave [נָשָׂא, nāśā’] the iniquity [עָוֹן, ‛āvōn] of my sin [חֲטָאָה, ḥaṭā’āh]. Selah
In these verses we will see that David repeats the three words for sin as he offers three expressions of contrition.
1. Three Words for Sin Repeated
Observe that David repeats each of the three words he had earlier used in verses 1-2 to describe sin. He uses the word translated sin twice. He uses the word translated iniquity twice. And he uses the word translated transgression once, although we should observe this time that it is plural – transgressions – which indicates in this context that David is thinking not just of one particular sin but of all of his previously unconfessed sins.
2. Three Expressions of Contrition
First, when David said that “I acknowledged my sin,” he used the Hebrew word yāḏa‛ (יָדַע), which simply means “to know.” But here the Hiphil form of the word is used with the sense of “let someone know something” (HALOT #3570, BibleWorks) and thus is translated to show that David acknowledged his sin to the LORD. He did not keep the knowledge of his sins pent-up inside; he openly acknowledged them before God.
Second, when David said, “my iniquity I have not hidden,” the word he used for hidden is the Hebrew kāsāh (כָּסָה), which means to “cover, conceal, [or] hide” (TWOT #1008, BibleWorks).
There is a play on words here, for David has used the same word that he used earlier is verse 1 to describe God’s “covering” (forgiving) his sin. In other words, David is making the point that, as long as he “covered” (hid) his sins, he could not experience the joy of God’s “covering” (forgiving) them!
Third, David refers to an internal dialog, to his decision to fully confess his sins, when he writes, “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.'” So, he made the firm decision within himself to openly confess his sins to the LORD, and this was no spur of the moment decision, made impulsively or without thought or sincerity.
3. The Point of the Repetition of the Three Words for Sin and the Three Expressions of Contrition
David used these poetic repetitions, known as parallelism, along with the change from the singular transgression to the plural transgressions, to show that he fully confessed his sins. David came clean and quit harboring sins in his heart. And no sooner had he declared his intention to fully confess than he was forgiven! God’s forgiveness was immediate, as David declared when he simply wrote, “And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” How ready God is to forgive us our sins! As David wrote in another psalm:
NKJ Psalm 86:5 For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.
We, too, should be ready to confess our sins, since our heavenly Father is so ready to forgive them!
IV. True Happiness is Contagious Among God’s People
This truth is stressed in verses 6-7:
NKJ Psalm 32:6a For this cause everyone who is godly shall pray to You in a time when You may be found;
The words for this cause may mean “because of this everyone who is godly shall pray to you,” meaning that because of the happiness he has found through repentance and forgiveness others will also be led to do the same. David – as the King of Israel – is conscious of the example he sets for others.
It may also be translated as in the ESV: “Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you….” Understood this way, David is calling directly upon others to follow his example. The main point is the same, however, namely that someone who has found such happiness becomes contagious, and he wants others to have the same happiness!
David’s experience should encourage others that God is ready and willing to forgive them even now. But the phrase in a time when You may be found also indicates that a time may come when God may not be found! So, David doesn’t want anyone to put off seeking the forgiveness of the Lord. Recall in this regard to words of the Prophet Isaiah:
NKJ Isaiah 55:6-7 “Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.”
With this in mind, let us return to the text of Psalm 32:
NKJ Psalm 32:6b-7 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 [sāḇaḇ, סָבַב] me with songs [or shouts, rōn, רֹן] of deliverance. Selah
First, notice that with forgiveness comes a confident assurance that God will protect and preserve from harm. Although David had before experienced great pain due to unconfessed sin, he now looks forward to peace and assurance in even the most difficult of circumstances!
Second, notice that David speaks of the songs of deliverance that will surround him. I take these to be the songs of the others that he has expected will also seek God’s forgiveness. Thus David has spoken expectantly of the way in which his testimony will impacts others, and now he thinks of the way in which their testimony will impact him in return. And David clearly sees this encouragement as one of the ways in which God will preserve him from trouble.
Question: Do you and I have such a contagious joy that comes from a deep awareness of our sins and of how much God has forgiven us? Are we moved to share this joy? If not, consider the additional words from David in Psalm 51:
NKJ Psalm 51:7-13 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice. 9 Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. 13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You.”
Let us not be like the one who “is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins” (2 Peter 1:9). Instead, let us seek a deeper appreciation of God’s forgiveness and a more ardent desire to share this message of forgiveness with others.
V. True Happiness Includes God’s Guidance for the Repentant Sinner
We find this truth in verse 8-9:
NKJ Psalm 32:8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.
This last part of this verse may be translated a slightly different way, as in the NASB:
NAU Psalm 32:8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.
Here David tells us more about God’s response to his confession, which is not only forgiveness but also a promise to guide and teach him in the future, so that he may avoid getting into such a fix again!
NKJ Psalm 32:9 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.
If we are to receive God’s promised guidance and teaching, we must not be stubborn – as David had been before the repentance he has recorded here! God desires us to be teachable before Him. We must not be like those who will only respond when they are forced to, but we should be like those who come near to God willingly and with eagerness.
VI. True Happiness Comes Through Trusting God and Experiencing His Love
This truth is found in verse 10:
NKJ Psalm 32:10 Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; but he who trusts in the LORD, mercy [ḥeseḏ, חֶ֫סֶד] shall surround [sāḇaḇ, סָבַב] him.
David has left the sorrows of the wicked behind and now looks forward to the continued experience of God’s grace, which shall surround him just as we have seen that the songs of deliverance would surround him (vs. 7). The repetition of the same Hebrew word here shows that for David there is a connection between the two. We are always a part of a community through which God desires to work in our lives.
VII. True Happiness is Expressed in Worship
This final point may be seen in verse 11:
NKJ Psalm 32:11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous; and shout [rānan, רָנַן] for joy, all you upright in heart!
First, observe that the righteous here are not those who have not sinned, but those who have been forgiven their sins by the grace of God and who by faith have not had their sins imputed to them (recall verse 2).
Second, observe that David had earlier spoken of his expectation of being surrounded by songs [rōn, רֹן] of deliverance, using the noun rōn to refer to these songs of worship. But now he uses the related verb rānan to encourage the shouts/songs of worship to begin. Just as there is no time like the present to seek God’s forgiveness (“in a time when [He] may be found” vs.6), so there is no time like the present to get started praising Him for His marvelous grace!
David’s wonderful experience of God’s grace toward him again overflows in worship that is contagious. Anyone who has truly known this deep and complete forgiveness of which David has spoken cannot help but worship. And they cannot help but desire that others share this forgiveness and join them in worshiping the LORD.
Conclusion: As James Montgomery Boice reminds us:
This was Saint Augustine’s favorite psalm. Augustine had it inscribed on the wall next to his bed before he died in order to meditate on it better. He liked it because, as he said… “the beginning of knowledge is to know oneself to be a sinner.” (Psalms, Vol. 1, p. 277)
Do you know yourself to be a sinner? If so, then I pray that you will also know the forgiveness of God that comes through repentance and faith. I pray that you may know the happiness that comes through the forgiveness that comes only through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.
NKJ Ephesians 1:3-7 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace ….