PSALM 32 For David, a maskil
How fortunate the man whose offence is taken away
Whose sin is erased!
How fortunate the woman whose guilt the Lord ignores
And in whose spirit there is no concealment!
When I kept quiet
My bones were worn thin with my howling
All day long;
For day and night your hand as heavy upon me
And my sap dried up
As in a summer drought.
But now I openly declare my sin to you
And I have not hidden my guilt.
I said, I will declare my offences to the Lord,
And you took away the guilt of my sin.
For this all the faithful should petition you
At a favourable time; then surely,
When the mighty waters overflow
They shall not come near them.
For you are my hiding place;
You guard me when hard-pressed;
You surround me with shouts of liberation:
“I will give you wisdom
And direct you to the path in which you will walk;
I will counsel you with my eyes upon you.
Do not be unreasonable like a horse or mule
Needing bit and bridle to restrain them
So that they can be approached.”
Many sorrows will come upon evildoers
But those who trust in the Lord
Will be surrounded with kindness.
Be glad in the Lord and leap for joy
You that do justice;
Ring out your happiness
You that are honest in heart.
This is the first psalm in the book to deal explicitly with sin and forgiveness. The temple rituals, through the custom of sacrifice, provided a means by which the people could confess their sin and find forgiveness, but this psalm barely refers to the temple-unless the “favourable time” ( literally a “time of finding”) means a particular festival. Rather it concentrates boldly on the damage done to the sinner by the concealment of sin and the failure to confess it. The person who fails to be honest with God remains in an unclean condition which poisons their life. Such failure may be motivated either by fear of God’s anger or by a desire to appear righteous, both of which misunderstand God’s love for his people. God has chosen them, knowing their imperfections and providing a means of forgiveness and growth in goodness.
God gladly forgives the honest person who confesses their sin, leads them in his path, his Torah; and assures them of his guiding presence. I think that the “shouts of liberation” heard by the forgiven sinner are the words of God which follow. Most translators do not make this connection. God’s liberation is his wisdom for human life. The idea of God encompassing or surrounding the faithful person is twice- mentioned in this psalm. Of course God always does this but those who hide their sin erect a barrier which prevents them from seeing it. Once that barrier is removed by open admission of sin, God’s love can be experienced again.
The Torah is not a kind of “bit and bridle” but rather way of walking with God, the good path that leads to happiness. The note of joy at the end of the psalm is no mere happy ending; it is a natural outcome of being surrounded by God’s kindness.