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In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Psalm 32 - Listening to a teacher

This psalm is described as a maschil psalm, which indicates it was designed for giving instruction. As we read the psalm, we can see that David is concerned to teach users of the psalm about God’s way of restoration and how those who have been restored should behave.

It is possible that David wrote this psalm in connection to the same set of circumstances that led him to write Psalm 51. Both psalms are concerned about forgiveness, so there are obvious similarities between them. Yet that is not sufficient evidence to conclude that both psalms refer to the same time. So Psalm 32 may refer to another period in David’s life.

In verses 1 and 2 David describes spiritual happiness. He uses three different words to describe his wrongdoing and three different divine responses to what he had done. Sin is falling short of God’s standards, transgression is wilful disobedience of God’s law, and iniquity highlights the ugliness and horribleness of such actions. How can someone be happy when he is aware of such behaviour by himself? His happiness comes from understanding God’s threefold response. First, God pardons all sins committed by the individual, second he hides them from his sight by covering them with the blood of a sacrifice (the blood of Jesus), and third, he does not keep a record of such sins. The outcome of receiving such grace from God is spiritual honesty (no guile).

The path to spiritual happiness was a difficult one initially for David as he went through a very difficult time when he was chastised for his behaviour by God. The turmoil was prolonged because the psalmist refused to confess his sins to God. His admitting of this wrong response is proof that he is now spiritually honest. The inner turmoil was so strong that he suffered physically as well. Although it was an awful experience, one comfort to take from it concerns the faithfulness of God – he will not allow his disobedient people to continue in sin.

The way of escape is detailed in verse 5. Just as there were three words for his wrong behaviour in verse 2, so David uses three words to describe his correct response: acknowledged his sins, did not cover his iniquity, and confessed them. Of course, David did more than list his sins, he also confessed that he was guilty of offending God. The outcome was immediate pardon by God.

What happened to David is what will take place in all who follow his example (v. 6). Even if their situation is very perilous (he uses the illustration of possible drowning in a fierce flood), he will be safe.

Despite his great sins, David now has great assurance (v. 7). He knows that the God he had sinned against is now his protector. The Lord encircles him, and does so joyfully, revealing the delight he has in protecting David. Earlier the psalmist had known the sorrow of being outside the circle of God’s pleasure in his people; now that he is restored, he discovers that God rejoices to have him there and works for his safety against all his enemies.

In verses 8 and 9, David promises to be a good teacher (some regard these words as a divine promise of instruction, but the words are those of the psalmist). He will not be content with conveying information but will also look to see how his pupils are responding. The response he does not want to see is stubborn refusal to obey God.

David, in verse 10, contrasts the experiences of the wicked and the righteous. The wicked will have many sorrows whereas the Lord will surround his people with various features of his love. Therefore they can rejoice in the Lord (v. 11). Such a response is appropriate for those whose hearts have been changed by God.

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