Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This psalm is ascribed to David, and there is no reason to doubt the correctness of the superscription to that effect.
The "occasion" on which it was composed, however, is not intimated, nor is there any way now of ascertaining it. That David refers to his own experience is manifest from the psalm itself, Psa 32:3-5; but whether to his experience at the time of his conversion, or to his experience in the matter of Bathsheba and Uriah - his deep guilt - his anguish of spirit on that occasion - the remorse of conscience which he felt when the guilt of that sin was brought home to his conscience; or whether he refers to some other occasion of his life when he was troubled at the remembrance of sin, it is impossible now to determine.
The "design" of this psalm is manifest. It is to show the blessedness of the forgiveness of sin. This is done by showing, in the first place, the pain, distress, and anguish, resulting from the conviction of guilt. Then follows a statement of the effects consequent on a frank and full confession of guilt in giving peace to the mind, and relieving the distress caused by the remembrance of guilt. It is remarkable that this psalm refers so much to the "inward" feelings; and that it contains no reference to any external acts - to Jewish sacrifices and offerings. It pertains to the soul and to God; to the inward work of penitence and pardon; to the sorrow of conviction and to the peace of forgiveness; and it shows that there was among the Hebrews a just idea of the nature of religion as a spiritual transaction between the soul and God. Even DeWette recognizes this, and sees in the psalm an illustration of the nature of faith and its bearing on salvation, and an illustration of the nature of true reconciliation with God. "In this psalm," says he, "as well as in Ps. 51: and others, Judaism nears itself - nahert sich - to Christianity; it elevates itself from the mere legal to the moral." The psalm thus furnishes an illustration of the nature of true conversion to God, and is of value - as such an illustration - to all men; while it also shows that true religion, under all dispensations, is essentially the same.
The psalm is composed of the following parts:
I. A statement of the blessings of forgiveness, as the leading thought of the psalm, Psa 32:1-2.
II. A description of the state of mind, when under conviction for sin, Psa 32:3-4.
III. The effect of confession of sin, resulting in a sense of forgiveness and peace, Psa 32:5.
IV. Encouragement to others in similar circumstances, derived from the example of the psalmist, or from the fact that He found peace and pardon when he called upon God, Psa 32:6.
V. An expression of confidence in God as a refuge and hiding-place in time of trouble, Psa 32:7.
VI. The proper spirit which they should have who are thus brought up from the depths of guilt; and the way in which they should receive the guidance and direction which will be afforded them, Psa 32:8-9. The psalmist undertakes to instruct them; and says that they should cherish a spirit of humility and docility - not the fierce spirit of the untamed horse, or the spirit of the obstinate mule.
VII. The blessedness of trusting in the Lord, as the result of the experience of the psalmist in this time of sorrow for sin, Psa 32:10-11.
The word "Maschil" in the title - משׂכיל maśkı̂yl, is derived from the verb - שׂכל śâkal - meaning properly "to look at, to behold, to view;" and then, to be prudent, circumspect; to act prudently or circumspectly, as one does who looks attentively and carefully at objects; then it means to be intelligent, prudent, wise. The participle, which is the form used here (causitive of the Hiphil), means "making wise or prudent," or "conveying instruction;" and this title is given to this psalm, as well as to many others, as conveying the idea that the psalm was adapted "to make wise," or to impart instruction; and the sense would be well expressed by our phrase, "didactic song." The title is prefixed also to the following psalms: Psa 42:1-11; Ps. 44; Ps. 45; Psa 52:1-9; Psa 53:1-6; Psa 54:1-7; Ps. 55; Ps. 74; Ps. 88; Ps. 89; Psa 142:1-7. It would be difficult now, however, to discover from the contents of the psalms themselves why the title was affixed to these particularly rather than to many others. Probably this was determined, by those who collected and arranged the psalms, according to some rules that are not now known to us.
Blessed is he ... - On the meaning of the word "blessed," see the notes at Psa 1:1. See the passage explained in the notes at Rom 4:7-8. The word "blessed" here is equivalent to "happy." "Happy is the man;" or "happy is the condition - the state of mind - happy are the prospects, of one whose sins are forgiven." His condition is happy or blessed:
(a) as compared with his former state, when he was pressed or bowed down under a sense of guilt;
(b) in his real condition, as that of a pardoned man - a man who has nothing now to fear as the result of his guilt, or who feels that he is at peace with God;
(c) in his hopes and prospects, as now a child of God and an heir of heaven.
Whose transgression is forgiven - The word rendered "forgiven" means properly to lift up, to bear, to carry, to carry away; and sin which is forgiven is referred to here "as if" it were borne away - perhaps as the scapegoat bore off sin into the wilderness. Compare Psa 85:2; Job 7:21; Gen 50:17; Num 14:19; Isa 2:9.
Whose sin is covered - As it were "covered over;" that is, concealed or hidden; or, in other words, so covered that it will not appear. This is the idea in the Hebrew word which is commonly used to denote the atonement, - כפר kâphar - meaning "to cover over;" then, to overlook, to forgive; Gen 6:14; Psa 65:3; Psa 78:38; Dan 9:24. The original word here, however, is different - כסה kâsâh - though meaning the same - "to cover." The idea is, that the sin would be, as it were, covered over, hidden, concealed, so that it would no longer come into the view of either God or man; that is, the offender would be regarded and treated as if he had not sinned, or as if he had no sin.
Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity - Whose sin is not "reckoned" to him, or "charged" on him. The reference here is "to his own sin." The idea is not, that he is happy on whom God does not charge the guilt of other men, but that he is happy who is not charged "with his own guilt," or who is treated as if he had no guilt; that is, as if he were innocent. This is the true idea of justification. It is, that a man, although he is a sinner, and "is conscious" of having violated the law of God, is treated as if he had not committed sin, or as if he were innocent; that is, he is pardoned, and his sins are remembered against him no more; and it is the purpose of God to treat him henceforward as if he were innocent. The act of pardon does not change the facts in the case, or "make him innocent," but it makes it proper for God to treat him as if he were innocent. The sin will not be re-charged upon him, or reckoned to his account; but he is admitted to the same kind of treatment to which he would be entitled if he had always been perfectly holy. See Rom 1:17, note; Rom 3:24, note; Rom 4:5, note; Rom 5:1, note.
And in whose spirit there is no guile - Who are sincere and true. That is, who are not hypocrites; who are conscious of no desire to cover up or to conceal their offences; who make a frank and full confession to God, imploring pardon. The "guile" here refers to the matter under consideration. The idea is not who are "innocent," or "without guilt," but who are sincere, frank, and honest in making "confession" of their sins; who keep nothing back when they go before God. We cannot go before him and plead our innocence, but we may go before him with the feeling of conscious sincerity and honesty in making confession of our guilt. Compare Psa 66:18.
When I kept silence - The psalmist now proceeds to state his condition of mind before he himself found this peace, or before he had this evidence of pardon; the state in which he felt deeply that he was a sinner, yet was unwilling to confess his sin, and attempted to conceal it in his own heart. This he refers to by the expression, "When I kept silence;" that is, before I confessed my sin, or before I made mention of it to God. The condition of mind was evidently this: he had committed sin, but he endeavored to hide it in his own mind; he was unwilling to make confession of it, and to implore pardon. He hoped, probably, that the conviction of sin would die away; or that his trouble would cease of itself; or that time would relieve him; or that employment - occupying himself in the affairs of the world - would soothe the anguish of his spirit, and render it unnecessary for him to make a humiliating confession of his guilt. He thus describes a state of mind which is very common in the case of sinners. They know that they are sinners, but they are unwilling to make confession of their guilt. They attempt to conceal it. They put off, or try to remove far away, the whole subject. They endeavor to divert their minds, and to turn their thoughts from a subject so painful as the idea of guilt - by occupation, or by amusement, or even by plunging into scenes of dissipation. Sometimes, often in fact, they are successful in this; but, sometimes, as in the case of the psalmist, the trouble at the remembrance of sins becomes deeper and deeper, destroying their rest, and wasting their strength, until they make humble confession, and "then" the mind finds rest.
My bones waxed old - My strength failed; my strength was exhausted; it seemed as if the decrepitude of age was coming upon me. The word here used, and rendered "waxed old," would properly denote "decay," or the wearing out of the strength by slow decay. All have witnessed the prostrating effect of excessive grief.
Through my roaring - My cries of anguish and distress. See the notes at Psa 22:1. The meaning here is, that his sorrow was so great as to lead to loud and passionate cries; and this well describes the condition of a mind under deep trouble at the remembrance of sin and the apprehension of the wrath of God.
All the day long - Continually; without intermission.
For day and night - I found no relief even at night. The burden was constant, and was insupportable.
Thy hand was heavy upon me - Thy hand seemed to press me down. It weighed upon me. See Job 13:21; Psa 39:10. It was the remembrance of guilt that troubled him, but that seemed to him to be the hand of God. It was God who brought that guilt to his recollection; and God "kept" the recollection of it before his mind, and on his heart and conscience, so that he could not throw it off.
My moisture - The word used here - לשׁד leshad - means properly "juice" or "sap," as in a tree; and then, "vital-moisture," or, as we should say, "life-blood." Then it comes to denote vigour or strength.
Is turned into the drought of summer - Is, as it were, all dried up. I am - that is, I was at the time referred to - like plants in the heat of summer, in a time of drought, when all moisture of rain or dew is withheld, and when they dry up and wither. Nothing could more strikingly represent the distress of mind under long-continued conviction of sin, when all strength and vigour seem to waste away.
I acknowledged my sin unto thee - That is, then I confessed my guilt. I had borne the dreadful pressure as long as I could. I had endeavored to conceal and suppress my conviction, but I found no relief. The anguish became deeper and deeper; my strength was failing; I was crushed under the intolerable burden, and when I could no longer bear it I went and made humble confession, and found relief. The verb used here is in the future tense, "I will acknowledge my sin;" but in order to a correct understanding of it, it should be regarded as referring to the state of mind at the time referred to in the psalm, and the resolution which the psalmist then formed. The words "I said" should be understood here. This he expresses in a subsequent part of the verse, referring doubtless to the same time. "I said," or I formed a resolution to this effect. The idea is, that he could find no relief in any other way. He could not banish these serious and troublous thoughts from his mind; his days and nights were spent in anguish. He resolved to go to God and to confess his sin, and to see what relief could be found by such an acknowledgment of guilt.
And mine iniquity have I not hid - That is, I did not attempt then to hide it. I made a frank, a full confession. I stated it all, without any attempt to conceal it; to apologise for it; to defend it. before, he had endeavored to conceal it, and it was crushing him to the earth. He now resolved to confess it all, and he found relief.
I said - I formed the resolution.
I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord - I will no longer attempt to hide them, or to suppress the convictions of guilt. I will seek the only proper relief by making confession of my sin, and by obtaining forgiveness. This resolution was substantially the same as that of the prodigal son: "I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned," Luk 15:18.
And thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin - He found that God was willing to pardon; he no sooner made confession than he obtained the evidence of pardon. "All the guilt," or the "iniquity" of his sin, was at once forgiven; and, as a consequence, he found peace. In what way he had evidence that his sin was forgiven he does not state. It may have been in his case by direct revelation, but it is more probable that he obtained this evidence in the same way that sinners do now, by the internal peace and joy which follows such an act of penitent confession. In regard to this, we may observe:
(a) The very act of making confession tends to give relief to the mind; and, in fact, relief never can be found when confession is not made.
(b) We have the assurance that when confession is made in a proper manner, God will pardon. See the notes at Jo1 1:9.
(c) When such confession is made, peace will flow into the soul; God will show himself merciful and gracious. The peace which follows from a true confession of guilt before God, proves that God "has" heard the prayer of the penitent, and has been merciful in forgiving his offences.
Thus, without any miracle, or any direct revelation, we may obtain evidence that our sins are washed away, which will give comfort to the soul.
For this - With reference to this state of mind, or to this happy result; or, encouraged by my example and my success. The idea seems to be that others would find, and might find, encouragement from what had occurred to him. In other words, his case had furnished an illustration of the way in which sinners are pardoned, and a proof of the mercy of God, which would be instructive and encouraging to others in similar circumstances. The conversion of one sinner, or the fact that one sinner obtains pardon, becomes thus an encouragement to all others, for
(a) pardon is always to be obtained in the same manner essentially - by humble and penitent confession of sin, and by casting ourselves entirely on the offered mercy of God; and
(b) the fact that one sinner has been pardoned, is full proof that others may obtain forgiveness also, for God is unchangeably the same. All those, therefore, who "have" been pardoned and saved in the world have become examples to the rest, and have furnished full proof that all others "may" be pardoned and saved if they will come in the same manner. See the notes at Ti1 1:16.
Everyone that is godly - The original word used here would properly mean those who are pious, or who are already converted. It is the common word used in the Scriptures to denote "saints," and is usually so translated. But, as used here, it would seem rather to denote those who are "inclined" to be pious, or who are seeking how they may become pious; in other words, those who are "religiously disposed." The encouragement is to those who feel that they are sinners; who desire some way of relief from the burden of sin; who are convinced that there is no other source of relief but God, and who are disposed to make the same trial which the psalmist did - to find peace by making confession of sin. All such persons, the psalmist says, might see in his case encouragement to come thus to God; all such would find Him willing to pardon.
In a time when thou mayest be found - Margin, as in Hebrew, "in a time of finding." That is, they would find that to be a propitious time, or a time of mercy. It does not mean that there were appointed or set times in which God would be gracious; or that there were seasons when he was disposed to "give audience" to people, and seasons when he could not be approached; but the meaning is, that whenever they came thus - with this penitent feeling, and this language of confession - they would find that the time of mercy. The idea is not that God is anymore disposed to show mercy at one time than another, but that they would find him "always" ready to show mercy when they came in that manner: that would be the time to obtain his favor; "that the time of finding." The real time of "mercy," therefore, for a sinner, is the time when he is willing to come as a penitent, and to make confession of sin.
Surely in the floods of great waters - In times of calamity - as when floods of water spread over a land; or in a time of judgment - when such floods sweep everything away. The reference here is, doubtless, to the floods that will come upon the ungodly - upon a wicked world. The illustration is drawn probably from the deluge in the time of Noah. So, when God shall sweep away the wicked in his wrath - when he shall consign them to destruction in the day of judgment - the pardoned sinner will be safe.
They shall not come nigh unto him - He will be secure. He shall not be swept off with others. Safe, as a forgiven man - safe as a child and a friend of God - he shall be protected as Noah was in the great deluge that swept off a guilty world. A pardoned man has nothing to fear, though flood or fire should sweep over the world.
Thou art my hiding-place - See Psa 9:9, note; Psa 27:5, note. The idea is that he would be safe under the protection of God. The general allusion is to concealment from an enemy, but the immediate reference is to sin, and the consequences of sin. By fleeing to God he would be secure against all the evils which sin brings upon human beings.
Thou shalt preserve me from trouble - Particularly the trouble which comes from guilt; sadness and sorrow in the remembrance of sin; apprehension of the wrath of God in the world to come; the consequences of guilt in that unseen and eternal world.
Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance - With songs expressive of deliverance or salvation. It is not merely one song or a single expression of gratitude; in his pathway to another world he will be attended with songs and rejoicings; he will seem to be surrounded with songs He himself will sing. Others, redeemed like him, will sing, and will seem to chant praises because He is redeemed and forgiven. All nature will seem to rejoice over his redemption. Nature is full of songs. The birds of the air; the wind; the running stream; the ocean; the seasons - spring, summer, autumn, winter; hills, valleys, groves - all, to one redeemed, seem to be full of songs. The feeling that we are pardoned fills the universe with melody, and makes the heaven and the earth seem to us to be glad. The Christian is a happy man; and he himself being happy, all around him sympathizes with him in his joy.
I will instruct thee - Many interpreters have understood this to refer to God - as if he were now introduced as speaking, and as saying that he would be the guide of those who thus submitted to him, and who sought him by penitence and confession. But it is more natural to regard the psalmist as still speaking, and referring to his own experience as qualifying him to give counsel to others, showing them how they might find peace, and with what views and feelings they should come before God if they wished to secure his favor. He had himself learned by painful experience, and after much delay, how the favor of God was to be obtained, and how deliverance from the distressing consciousness of guilt was to be secured; and he regards himself as now qualified to teach others who are borne down with the same consciousness of guilt, and who are seeking deliverance, how they may find peace. It is an instance of one who, by personal experience, is fitted to give instruction to others; and the psalmist, in what follows, does merely what every converted man is qualified to do, and should do, by imparting valuable knowledge to those who are inquiring how they must be saved. Compare Psa 51:12-13.
And teach thee in the way which thou shalt go - The way which you are to take to find pardon and peace; or, the way to God.
I will guide thee with mine eye - Margin, I will counsel thee, mine eye shall be upon thee. The margin expresses the sense of the Hebrew. The literal meaning is, "I will counsel thee; mine eye shall be upon thee." DeWette, "my eye shall be directed toward thee." The idea is that of one who is telling another what way he is to take in order that he may reach a certain place; and he says he will watch him, or will keep an eye upon him; he will not let him go wrong.
Be ye not as the horse - The horse as it is by nature - wild, ungoverned, unwilling to be caught and made obedient. The counsel referred to in the previous verse is here given; and it is, that one who wishes to obtain the favor of God should not be as the wild and unbroken horse, an animal that can be subdued only by a curb, but should evince a calm, submissive spirit - a spirit "disposed" to obey and submit. If he becomes a subject of God's government, he is not to be subdued and held as the horse is - by mere force; there must be the cheerful submission of the will. People are not brought into the service of God by physical power; they are not kept there by an iron "curb." They come and yield themselves willingly to his law; they "must" come with that spirit if they would find the favor of God.
Or as the mule - The mule is distinguished for its obstinacy, and this is evidently the ground of comparison here. The meaning is, be tractable, gentle, yielding; submit to the guidance and direction of God and his truth.
Which have no understanding - That cannot be controlled by reason and conscience. They are governed only by power and by fear. People have reason and conscience, and they should allow themselves to be controlled by appeals TO their reason and to their moral sense. They are not made to be governed as brutes are. Since they have a higher nature, they should permit themselves to be governed by it.
Whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle - More literally, "in bit and bridle is their ornament to restrain them;" that is, the trappings or the ornaments of the horse and the mule consist of the bridle and the bit, the purpose of which is to restrain or control them. The allusion, however, is not to the bit and bridle as an "ornament," but as the ordinary trappings of the mule and the horse.
Lest they come near unto thee - Or rather, "because of its not approaching thee;" that is, because the horse and the mule will not come to thee of their own accord, but must be restrained and controlled.
Many sorrows shall be to the wicked - The meaning here is, probably, that those who will not submit themselves to God in the manner which the psalmist recommends; who are like the horse and the mule, needing to be restrained, and who are to be restrained only by force, will experience bitter sorrows. The psalmist may refer here, in part, to sorrows such as he says he himself experienced when he attempted to suppress the convictions of guilt Psa 32:3-4; and partly to the punishment that will come upon the impenitent sinner for his sins. The sorrows referred to are probably both internal and external; those arising from remorse, and those which will be brought upon the guilty as a direct punishment.
But he that trusteth in the Lord - He that has faith in God; he that so confides in him that he goes to him with the language of sincere confession.
Mercy shall compass him about - Shall surround him; shall attend him; shall be on every side of him. It shall not be only in one respect, but in all respects. He shall be "surrounded" with mercy - as one is surrounded by the air, or by the sunlight. He shall find mercy and favor everywhere, at home, abroad; by day, by night; in society, in solitude; in sickness, in health; in life, in death; in time, in eternity. He shall walk amidst mercies; he shall die amidst mercies; he shall live in a better world in the midst of eternal mercies.
Be glad in the Lord - Rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice that there is a God; rejoice that he is such as he is; rejoice in his favor; find your joy - your supreme joy - in him. Compare Phi 3:1, note; Phi 4:4, note.
Ye righteous - You who are willing to go to him and confess your sins; you who are willing to serve and obey him. See the notes at Psa 32:6. The meaning is, that those who are disposed to confess their sins, and are willing to submit to him without being compelled by force, as the horse and the mule are, will find occasion for rejoicing. They will find a God who is worthy of their love, and they will find true happiness in him.
And shout for joy - Give expression to your joy. Let it not remain merely in the heart; but give it utterance in the language of song. If any of the dwellers on earth have occasion for the loud utterances of praise, they are those who are redeemed; whose sins are forgiven; who have the hope of heaven. If there is any occasion when the heart should be full of joy, and when the lips should give forth loud utterances of praise, it is when one pressed down with the consciousness of guilt, and overwhelmed with the apprehensions of wrath, makes confession to God, and secures the hope of heaven.
All ye that are upright in heart - That is, who are sincere in your confession of sin, and in your desires to secure the favor of God. Such have occasion for joy, for to such God will show himself merciful, as He did to the psalmist when He made confession of sin; to such God will give the tokens of his favor, and the hope of heaven, as he did to him. The experience of the psalmist, therefore, as recorded in this psalm, should be full of encouragement to all who are burdened with a sense of sin. Warned by his experience, they should not attempt to conceal their transgressions in their own bosom, but they should go at once, as he was constrained at last to go, and make full and free confession to God. So doing, they will find that God is not slow to pardon them, and to fill their hearts with peace, and their lips with praise.