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Psalm 32

THE Psalm opens with a general assertion of the blessedness arising from the pardon of sin, ver. 1, 2, which is then exemplified by a statement of the Psalmist’s own experience, ver. 3–6, and extended to the case of others also, ver, 7–9, the whole ending, as it began, with an assertion of the misery of sinners and the happiness of the righteous, ver. 10, 11.

1. By David. Maschil. Happy (he whose) transgression (is) taken away, covered (his) sin. The ascription of the psalm to David is not only free from all improbability, and recognised in the New Testament (Rom. 4:6), but confirmed by its resemblance to his other compositions, and by a seeming reference to a signal incident in David’s life, described as unique in the history itself (1 Kings 15:5), and the same which gave occasion to the fifty-first psalm. The feelings here described bear a striking analogy to those recorded in the narrative, 2 Sam. 12, as will be more distinctly pointed out below. But although there is reason to believe that this psalm was connected, in its origin, with a peculiar and most painful passage of the writer’s own experience, it was not intended to express his personal emotions merely, nor even those of other saints in precisely the same situation, but to draw from this one case a general lesson, as to the misery of impenitent dissimulation, and the happiness arising from confession and forgiveness. And lest this wide scope of the psalm should be lost sight of in the contemplation of the circumstances which produced it, it is described in the inscription as a maschil, an instructive or didactic psalm, a designation which, in the case of many other psalms, would be superfluous, and which is actually found, for the most part, only where the didactic purpose of the composition is for some cause less obvious than usual. (Compare the introduction to Ps. 34 below.) That the maschil was prefixed by David himself, is rendered still more probable by the allusion to it in the body of the psalm. See below, on ver. 8.—Taken away, put out of sight, the same idea that is expressed in the other clause by covered. This verse is explained by Paul, in Rom. 4:6, as relating to justification “without works” and “by faith.”

2. Happy man—Jehovah will not impute to him iniquity—and there is not in his spirit guile. The peculiar form of the construction may be thus resolved into our idiom: happy the man to whom the Lord, &c. The phrase at the beginning, Oh the happinesses of the man, is substantially the same as in Ps. 1:1.—Impute, reckon or charge to his account, and deal with him accordingly. The whole phrase occurs in 2 Sam. 19:20 (19). The threefold designation, sin, transgression, and iniquity, seems to be borrowed from Exod. 34:7, where the doctrine of forgiveness is first fully and explicitly propounded.—Guile, deceit, including self-deception as to one’s own character and dissimulation in the sight of God, the attempt to palliate or conceal sin instead of freely confessing it, which is an indispensable condition of forgiveness, according to the doctrine of both testaments (Prov. 28:13, 1 John 1:8–10).

3. For I kept silence (and) my bones decayed, in my roaring all the day. The sentence admits of several different constructions—‘because I kept silence my bones decayed’—‘when I kept silence,’ &c. But the simplest is that which gives the כִּי its usual and proper meaning, and supposes it to introduce the Psalmist’s proof of the preceding proposition drawn from his own experience. “I know this happiness, for I was once in a different condition and have been delivered.”—Kept silence, refrained from acknowledging my sins to God. The bones are here put for the framework of the body, in which the strength resides, and the decay of which implies extreme debilitation. The verb translated decayed is especially applied to the weakening effect of time; they grew old, or wore out.—In denotes both time and cause—‘while I roared,’ and ‘because I roared.’ The figure is borrowed from the habits of inferior animals, and means loud or passionate complaint. See above, on Ps. 22:2 (1).

4. For day and night thy hand weighs upon me; changed is my moisture in (or into) droughts of summer. Selah. The for at the beginning shews the connection of this verse with that before it, as assigning the cause of the decay there mentioned. “My bones waxed old because thy hand,” &c.—The future in the first clause cannot, without arbitrary violence, be taken as a preterite. It seems to have been used for the purpose of describing his condition as it seemed to him at the time, when the hand of God not only weighed upon him but seemed likely still to do so. See above, on Ps. 18:17 (16). The word translated moisture, i.e. vital juice, analogous to the sap of plants, is so explained from an Arabic analogy; but some think this sense inappropriate in the only other case where the Hebrew word occurs (Num. 11:8), and infer from Ps. 102:5 (4), that it is an unusual expression for the heart. His inward agonies are represented as intense and parching heats.

5. My sin I will make known to thee, and my guilt I did not conceal. I said, I will make confession of my transgressions to Jehovah. And thou didst take away the guilt of my sin. Selah. Most interpreters explain the future verb of the first clause as a preterite, because all the other verbs are preterites; but this only renders the future form of the first verb more remarkable, and makes it harder to explain why a past tense was not used in this, as in all the other cases, if the writer intended to express past time. The only consistent method of solution is to understand the first clause as a reminiscence of the Psalmist’s resolution in the time of his distress, repeated in the second clause, and, in both cases, followed by a recital of the execution of his purpose. (I said) my sin I will make known to thee, and my guilt I (accordingly) did not conceal. I said, I will make confession to Jehovah, and thou didst take away the guilt of my sin. See above, on Ps. 30:9 (8).

6. For this shall every gracious one make supplication to thee at the (right) time (for) finding (thee); surely at the overflow of many waters, unto him they shall not reach. The first words are equally ambiguous in Hebrew and in English. At first sight, both may seem to mean, for this grace, this forgiveness, every godly man shall pray to thee. But although this construction yields a good sense, it is less consistent with the usage of the Hebrew verb and preposition than another which explains the phrase to mean for this cause, or on this account, to wit, because I have experienced the blessedness of penitent confession and the pardon which invariably follows it. For the true sense of חָסִיר, see above, on Ps. 31:24 (23).—Shall pray is not a mere prediction or anticipation, but a jussive future, such as is constantly employed in laws. The sense might therefore be conveyed by rendering it, let every pious person pray.—The time of finding is the time when God is to be found. See Isa. 55:6, and compare Deut. 4:29, Jer. 29:12–14. In this case there may be a particular allusion to the interval between the sin and punishment, during which the penitent confessions and importunate petitions of the sinner,—i.e. the offending saint, to whom alone the Psalmist here refers—may avail to avert the judgments which must otherwise inevitably follow. This effect is described in the last clause by the figure of a flood, which is not suffered to extend to him. The word translated surely means in strictness only; i.e. the effect of such a prayer will be only this, or, as we say, neither more nor less.

7. Thou (art) a hiding-place for me; from distress thou wilt preserve me; with songs (or shouts) of deliverance thou wilt surround me. Selah. This is not, as some suppose, the prayer itself, which the believer is exhorted, in ver. 6, to offer, but a confirmation of the truth of the assurance that the prayer will prove effectual, derived from the psalmist’s own experience, or rather from the feelings which it has produced. As if he had said, “Every gracious soul may try this method without fear of disappointment, for I have tried it, and the effect is that, at this very moment, God is my refuge and protector, and I feel a strong assurance that he has the joy of his salvation in reserve for me.” The solemnity and truth of this profession are then indicated by a meditative pause, denoted in the usual manner.

8. I will instruct thee, and will guide thee, in the way which thou shall go; I will counsel thee, my eye (shall be) upon thee. Some regard these as the words of God to David; but besides the gratuitous assumption of two different speakers in the two successive verses, without anything to indicate a change, the obvious allusion in the first word (אַשְׂכִּילְךָ) to the laconic title of the psalm (מַשְׂכִּיל)—as if the instruction there promised was about to be imparted—makes it altogether probable that David is here speaking in his own person and fulfilling the vow recorded in another place, that when forgiven and restored to communion with God, he would teach transgressors his ways. See Ps. 51:15 (13). He may therefore be considered as addressing another like himself—to wit, a godly person (חָסִיד) overtaken in transgression or exposed to strong temptation—and offering to point out to him the path of safety. The construction of the latter clause which some prefer—I will counsel for thee (with) my eye—is much less natural and simple than the one above given, where the phrase, my eye is (or shall be) upon thee, adds to the idea of advice that of friendly watchfulness and supervision.

9. Be ye not as a horse (or) as a mule (in which) there is no understanding—in bridle and bit (consists) its ornament, to muzzle it, (because of its) not approaching to thee. The counsel or advice, which was promised in the previous verse, is here imparted. The plural form does not imply a change in the object of instruction, but merely shews that the individual addressed in ver. 8 was the representative of a whole class, namely, that described by the collective phrase, every gracious (person), in ver. 6.—The mule is, among various nations, a proverbial type of stubborn persistency in evil, and we find analogous allusions to the horse in Jer. 5:8, 8:6. The reason for using a comparison with brutes is intimated in the second clause, to wit, that the debased irrationality of sin might be distinctly brought into view. The analogy is carried out with no small subtilty by representing that what seems to be the trappings or mere decoration of these brutes is really intended to coerce them, just as that in which men pride themselves may be, and if necessary will be used by God for their restraint and subjugation. The common version of the last clause—lest they come near unto thee—would be suitable enough in speaking of a wild beast, but in reference to a mule or horse the words can only mean, because they will not follow or obey thee of their own accord, they must be constantly coerced, in the way both of compulsion and restraint.

10. Many pains (are) to the wicked; and (as to) the (man) trusting in Jehovah, mercy shall encompass him, or, he will encompass him (with) mercy. In this and the remaining verse the psalmist loses sight, not only of the horse and mule, to which he had compared the stubborn sinner, but of the particular case which had occasioned the comparison, and closes with the statement of a general truth, founded in necessity and verified by all experience, that sin produces misery and trust in God salvation. It is implied though not expressed in the first clause, that the sufferings of the wicked, while he still continues such, are hopeless and incurable, while those to which the righteous is subjected, are salutary in effect and temporary in duration. See below, Ps. 34:20 (19). Here again, as in Ps. 31:15 (14) above, we may observe that the antithesis is not between the wicked and the absolutely righteous, but between the wicked and the man trusting in Jehovah, and that the effect ascribed to this trust is not the recognition of the man’s inherent righteousness, but his experience of God’s mercy, which implies that he is guilty and unworthy in himself, and can only be delivered from the necessary consequences of his sin, by simply trusting in the mercy of the very Being whom he has offended.—Of the two constructions given in the version of the closing words, the last is recommended by the analogy of ver. 7, where the same verb governs two accusatives.

11. Rejoice in Jehovah, and exult, ye righteous, and shout (or sing), all ye upright in heart! This is the practical use to be made of the preceding doctrine; for, if that be true, it follows that the righteous have abundant cause for exultation, not in themselves but in Jehovah, i.e. in their knowledge and possession and enjoyment of him.—The righteous, as opposed to the wicked; not the absolutely perfect, but those trusting in the mercy of Jehovah for deliverance both from punishment and sin. The verb of the second clause is properly a causative, and means to make others shout or sing for joy. See Deut. 32:43, Ps. 65:9 (8), Job 29:13. In one place, however, Ps. 81:2 (1), it appears to be intransitive, and such may be the case here, where the other verbs mean simply to rejoice.

Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 137–140). Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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