<Of David. A Maskil.>
1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
2 Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
6 Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.
7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah
8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.
10 Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD.
11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
This Psalm has often been categorized as a psalm of penitence but it would probably be better to think of this as a psalm of restoration or a psalm of grace. This psalm deals with forgiveness and the difference between carrying around a hidden sin and the freedom of that sin being confessed and forgiven by the LORD. The psalm begins, like Psalm 1, with the declaration that happy are those (the Hebrew word ‘aŝrê translated as happy has the connotation of blessed and is probably the Hebrew idea that Jesus would use in the Sermon on the Mount to express blessedness). The psalmist begins with two beatitudes declaring that the one who is forgiven and the one who the LORD does not declare immoral or wicked. Here the LORD is the one who covers the sin of the person, where the same word translated as hide in verse five talks about the individual covering up their sin. The psalm puts before the hearer the choice of the freedom of the LORD hiding the transgression and the bondage of hiding the transgression within oneself.
Verses three and four poetically describe the experience of hiding one’s iniquity within oneself. There is a physical and a psychological impact for the psalmist of this sin which they hold inside and the conceal from God and the world. There is a weight that the poet carries, a weariness that saps their energy and strength, a consuming silence that they have imposed on themselves which is slowly consuming them. The weight of the guilt becomes too great and the psalmist moves to the moment of confession where they are immediately set free. They dwell on the impact of the sin hidden, but God’s action at the sin confessed is quick and immediate in the psalm, “and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
There is no movement of penitence, no assigned task of making the relationship right between the sinner and their God, the forgiveness is sudden, graceful and complete. We don’t know the sin that the psalmist confesses but we do sense the joy of the restored relationship in the poetic joy that follows the action of forgiveness. The reception of forgiveness becomes the reason the writer encourages faithful prayer and has a renewed sense of the LORD as their safe place and refuge. Whether the psalmist becomes a teacher giving a proverb in verse eight and nine or perhaps the voice changes to God’s voice, but either way there is a new chance to go in the correct paths without the need for harsh correction or guidance. The psalmist doesn’t need to be led like an animal ridden or pulling a cart for they are now free in their relationship. They are once again among the righteous for their iniquity has been hidden away by God. They now stand in the place of trusting the LORD and they rejoice at the restoration they have felt and received, in the gracious place they now stand within and the forgiveness given once their sin was no longer concealed by them. As Beth Tanner can state, “Just as in Psalm 1, this psalm makes a way of life outside of trust in God the foolish choice. Really, would you rather drag around all your sorrows or be surrounded at all times by God’s hesed? There hardly seems to be a choice at all” (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 309) While Psalm 1 presents a choice between the way of the righteous and the wicked, Psalm 32 presents us with the choice between guilt and forgiveness. Within the world of this gracious psalm of restoration the choice is clear.