BREAKTHROUGH IN FORGIVENESS

 

Week of January 13, 2008

 

Bible Verses:  Psalm 32:1-11.

 

Biblical Truth: When we come to God in confession and trust, He forgives us and restores our relationship with Him.

 

Forgiveness Results in Joy:  Psalm 32:1-2.

 

[1]  How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! [2]  How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit!      [NASU]

 

Psalm 32 is the second of the so-called penitential psalms. The others are Psalms 6, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143. But the psalm might better be called “a psalm of instruction” from the title word “maskil,” which seems to mean “the giving of instruction.” Psalm 32 is the first of twelve psalms that bear this title. The psalm should probably be interpreted in connection with Psalm 51, which is David’s great psalm of repentance. David had sinned in committing adultery with Bathsheba and had then manipulated the plan of battle to have her husband, Uriah, who was a soldier, killed. He had tried to ignore or hide the sin for some time. But when the prophet Nathan came to him to expose the transgression, David confessed it and was restored. Psalm 51 is the immediate expression of that confession and restoration. It breathes with the emotion of the moment. Psalm 32 seems to have been written later than Psalm 51, after some reflection, and may therefore be the fulfillment of the vow contained in Psalm 51:13: Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You. That “teaching” may be the maskil which is Psalm 32.

 

The first stanza [1-2] begins on a jubilant note, expressing the joy of the person whose sin has been forgiven. This is only the second time in the Psalter that a psalm has begun with the word blessed. The first was in Psalm 1. But the happiness of the man speaking here is greater even than that of the man in Psalm 1. In Psalm 1 he is described as blessed who walks in God’s way, which none of us do completely. In Psalm 32 the word is reserved for the person who has not walked in God’s way, has sinned, but has repented of his or her sin and now knows the joy of restoration.

 

These verses are another example of Hebrew poetic parallelism, for there are three side-by-side terms for sin and three corresponding terms for how God deals with sin. As in the best of parallel constructions, these are not mere synonyms but are words chosen to cover the entire spectrum of sin and the wide scope of God’s salvation from it. The first word for sin is transgression, which literally means “a going away, departure or rebellion” against God and His authority. This is what makes sin so dreadful, that it is transgression not only against other people, whom we hurt by our sin, but at its root also against God. We have not got to the bottom of the blackness of our sin until we see that it is a flat rebellion against God Himself. The second word for sin is the Hebrew word for sin. It means ”coming short” or “falling short” of a mark. In the ancient world the term was used in archery to describe a person who shoots at a target but whose arrow falls short. The target is God’s law, and the sin described by this word is a failure to measure up to it. The third word for sin is iniquity, which means “corrupt, twisted or crooked.” It rounds out the other terms in this way: the first describes sin in view of our relationship to God. It pictures us as being in rebellion against Him. The second word describes sin in relation to the divine law. We fall short of it and are condemned by it. The third word describes sin in relation to ourselves. It is a corruption or twisting of right standards as well as of our own beings. That is, to the degree that we indulge in sin we become both twisted and twisting creatures.

 

The three words for sin are matched in the opening stanza by a second set of three terms describing what God does with the sin of those who confess it to Him. He forgives it, covers it over, and refuses to count (or impute) it against the sinful person. The first of these words is forgiven, and it literally means to have our sin “lifted off.” Before the sin is confessed we bear it like some great burden, but when we confess it to God He lifts it from our shoulders and places it upon Christ [see Isaiah 53:4]. The second word that describes what God does with our sin is covered. It is a strong religious term taken from the imagery of the Day of Atonement. On the Day of Atonement the high priest of Israel took blood from an animal that had been sacrificed in the courtyard of the temple and carried it into the Most Holy Place, where it was sprinkled on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. The mercy seat was the lid or covering of the ark, and the blood was sprinkled there because it thereby came between the presence of the holy God, symbolized as dwelling in the space between the wings of the cherubim above the ark, and the broken law of God that was contained in the ark itself. It thus covered the broken law, shielding the sinner from God’s judgment. In Greek the word for mercy seat means “propitiation,” which is the act of turning God’s wrath aside. In Hebrew the word is “covering,” the term used by David in our psalm. The third word for what God does with sin is negative; that is, it describes what God does not do. He does not impute (or count) the sin against us. This word is a bookkeeping term and is used by Paul in Romans to explain how God writes our sin into Christ’s ledger and punishes it in Him while, at the same time, writing the righteousness of Christ into our ledger and counting us as justified because of His merit. This “double imputation” is the heart of the Gospel message. Our justification before God only occurs through this work of imputation.

 

Forgiveness Comes Through Confession:  Psalm 32:3-7.

 

[3]  When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.

[4]  For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah. [5]  I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"; and You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah.

[6]  Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found; surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him. [7]  You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah.     [NASU]

 

The second stanza of this psalm [3-5] is a recollection of David’s experience of unconfessed sin and of the immediate result of confessing it. It is the heart of this very great man’s great testimony. Verses 3 and 4 recount the effect of his sin on David. They aptly describe the predicament of any believer who is trying to ignore his or her sin. David says that his very bones seemed to be wasting away and that his strength was drawn out of him as if he were exposed to the heat of the summer sun. The reason, of course, is that the Lord’s hand was upon him heavily in judgment, as it will be with anyone who tries to do as David did. When we sin we wish God would ignore our transgression. But God cannot ignore sin and will not. He brings pressure upon us, often very acute pressure, until we acknowledge the sin, confess it, and return to Him.

 

What is really striking about this second stanza is verse 5, in which David explains how God forgave his sin once he had confessed it. God forgave it completely and immediately. It was not brought up again. Notice a few things about this verse. First, it is the longest verse of the psalm, which is a way of saying that it is the most important verse or that it is the very heart of the psalm. Second, verse 5 contains each of the three words for sin introduced in verses 1 and 2. At the beginning of the psalm the words were chosen to cover the scope of sin in all its diverse aspects. Here the words recur to show that all David’s sin was confessed. He did not hold back from confession in any area and thus all his sin was forgiven. Third, the forgiveness was immediate. Notice how the words follow one another. David said, I will confess my transgressions to the Lord. Then immediately: and You forgave the guilt of my sin. At the right margin of the text are three occurrences of the word selah, which probably means “pause and take notice.” One occurrence of the word is immediately before verse 5, after David’s description of the debilitating effect of unconfessed sin on him. The next occurrence is immediately after verse 5, after the words and You forgave the guilt of my sin. We are to pause and reflect on that. But notice this important thing: there is no pause within the verse, no hesitation whatever between the confession of sin and God’s forgiveness of it.

 

In Psalm 51, after David has confessed his sin and asked God to forgive him, he says, Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You [51:13]. We find the same thing in the third stanza of Psalm 32 [6-7], because, having experienced the forgiveness of God, David next and naturally turns to others, exclaiming, Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found [6]. He wants everyone to experience the joy he has found as the result of his confession. David gives two reasons why we should do as he did. First, today is a day of opportunity, a time when God may be found. But implied in David’s words is the sobering teaching that the day of God’s grace will not last forever. The day of judgment is coming, and on that day it will be too late to repent and find forgiveness. Second, we should do as David did, because God will protect the penitent: You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance [7]. In verses 3 and 4 David was seen hiding from God, but in verse 7 he is hiding in God and is eternally secure. Once again we have the word selah, calling upon us to pause and reflect on the wonderful truth that, when we confess our sin to God, He then becomes our hiding place, our protector, sustainer, deliverer. See the sense of intimacy that takes place once David has confessed his sin, no matter how grievous that sin may be. Once we as sinners have taken shelter in His love; have placed ourselves under His wings; have covered ourselves with His righteousness; then He becomes our hiding place, He preserves us, He surrounds us.

 

Forgiveness Leads to Trust and Obedience:  Psalm 32:8-11.

 

[8]  I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. [9]  Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, otherwise they will not come near to you.

[10]  Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but he who trusts in the LORD, lovingkindness shall surround him. [11]  Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones; and shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.     [NASU]

 

David adds a fourth stanza [8-10] on spiritual and moral guidance. To this is appended a final verse calling on those who have experienced forgiveness and guidance to rejoice in God and praise Him. Verse 8 is written as if God is speaking directly to the restored individual, promising to instruct, teach, counsel him. The idea is of one who is offering direction to another so he can follow a certain path and reach a certain place. This one promises as well to keep an eye on him as he travels so he will not get lost and go wrong. Great as forgiveness is, the one who has sinned and been forgiven does not want to repeat the sin or again fall into error but rather wants to go on walking in the right way and so please our heavenly Father. How are we to do that unless God continues to keep His eye on us? If we ignore that care and refuse that counsel, we will be like brute beasts that have no understanding [9]. If we persist in our folly, we will be like the wicked who experience many woes [10]. But if we listen to God; if we trust in His teaching, instruction and counsel alone, then His lovingkindness (the Hebrew word “hesed”) will surround us. As a result of our trusting in the Lord and being surrounded by His lovingkindness, we will then be glad, rejoice and shout for joy. We will then be called righteous ones and upright in heart, not because of anything we have done but because of what God has done to our sin in verses 1-2. We are only righteous and upright because He has forgiven our transgression, covered our sin and imputed our sin to His Son while imputing His Son’s righteousness to us. This truth is the basis for our gladness and great joy! Only as we trust in this merciful and gracious work of the Lord will we experience true gladness and joy in our hearts. And only then will we be able to truly praise our dear Savior with heartfelt rejoicing and shouts of joy.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         What three words does David use to describe his sin? What biblical truth does David describe taking place for each of these three terms?

 

2.         How does David describe confession in this Psalm [v. 5]? What takes place in His relationship to God when he confesses his sin [v. 7]?

 

3.         What instruction does David give to us in this Psalm [vv. 8-11]? What is the reason that we are to be glad, rejoice and shout for joy?

 

References:

Psalms 1-41, James Montgomery Boice, Baker.

The Treasury of David, Charles Spurgeon, Baker.