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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 25

Verse 1



We have entitled this psalm "A Prayer for Forgiveness," because of the triple plea to that effect in the psalm. Halley called it, "The Prayer of a Sin-oppressed Soul,"[1] which is also a very appropriate title.

Some writers have supposed that the author of this psalm was not, in any sense, writing it as a personal prayer for himself, but as a prayer suggested for others who might need to pray such a prayer. As Taylor expressed it, "The writer is not composing an address to God on his own behalf but constructing, rather, a form of prayer for the use of anyone who in a time of distress seeks divine help."[2]

We reject such a notion altogether. McCaw entitled this psalm, "A Personal Prayer,"[3] and we believe that is exactly what it is.

As for who is the author here, the ancient inscriptions ascribe it to David, the king of Israel: "And there is nothing that stands in the way of accepting the claim that stands in the heading that David was the author; nor is there any need of departing from a purely personal interpretation of it."[4]

Some critics date the psalm "in post-exilic times,"[5] but they do so upon very insufficient evidence. As Leupold said, "That claim is based upon two factors, (1) that the psalm is an acrostic (imperfect), and (2) that Psalms 25:4,5,12,13,14 contain motifs identified with the wisdom literature (which critics claim was unknown in the days of David and Solomon)."[6] Leupold rejected both reasons as unproved.

"The fact that wisdom literature had not been developed in the days of David and Solomon is one of many unproved assertions; and besides, we know too little about the acrostic form to ascribe only late dates to it."[7]

Spurgeon's comment was that, "This is evidently a composition from David's later days; he mentions the sins of his youth; and from the craft and cruelty of many foes, it seems to refer to the times of the rebellion of Absalom. This has been styled one of the seven Penitential Psalms. It is the mark of a true saint that his sorrows remind him of his sins, and his sorrow for sin drives him to God in prayer."[8]

As DeHoff pointed out, "This is also one of the nine acrostic psalms."[9] Taylor enumerated the imperfections in the acrostic pattern. The perfect acrostic begins each line or each section of a composition with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet from Aleph to Tav; but as Taylor noted, some letters are omitted and some are used twice in this psalm.

Rhodes divided the psalm into three paragraphs: (1) A prayer for Protection, Guidance and Forgiveness (Psalms 25:1-7); (2) God's Dealings with his People (Psalms 25:8-15); and (3) A renewed prayer for Protection and Forgiveness.[10]

Psalms 25:1-7

"Unto thee, O Jehovah, do I lift up my soul.

O my God, in thee have I trusted,

Let me not be put to shame;

Let not mine enemies triumph over me.

Yea, none that wait for thee shall be put to shame:

They shall be put to shame who deal treacherously without cause.

Show me thy ways, O Jehovah;

Teach me thy paths. Guide me in thy truth, and teach me;

For thou art the God of my salvation;

For thee do I wait all the day.

Remember, O Jehovah, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses;

For they have been ever of old.

Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions:

According to thy lovingkindness remember thou me,

For thy goodness sake, O Jehovah."

"Let me not be put to shame" (Psalms 25:2). The distress of the petitioner is evident throughout the psalm. He is acutely conscious of his enemies and the treachery of those whom he has trusted. He is oppressed by the consciousness that he does not really know what to do under the distressing circumstances, hence the cry:

"Show me... guide me" (Psalms 25:4,5). "Man is so wanting in spiritual understanding, so morally blind and ignorant, that, unless enlightened from on high, he cannot discern `the way of godliness.' He does not know at any given moment what God would have him do."[11]

The distress and uncertainty send the psalmist to God for sure and certain answers. He is acutely conscious of sins in his life reaching all the way back to his youth; and there is an instinctive reaction to this in that all suffering, disease, sorrows and distresses are associated in the human mind with sins. True, they are not always directly related, as in the case of the man born blind (John 9); but there is a sub-conscious reaction of the human race which does not fail to relate sin and suffering as cause and effect, whether true or not.

This is the background that prompts the psalmist to pray for the forgiveness of the sins of his youth.

"Remember thy mercies ... lovingkindness ... thy goodness" (Psalms 25:6-7). It is significant that David here based his plea that God "Remember not" the sins of his youth, not upon the basis of any merit of his own, but solely upon the goodness, kindness and mercy of God.

"Remember... remember not ..." (Psalms 25:6-7). Only God can "forget" sins, an achievement of which men are incapable. The promise that God would both forgive and forget sins was revealed by the prophet Jeremiah as the outstanding characteristic of the New Covenant. "I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more" (Jeremiah 31:34).

All of the forgiveness available under the Old Covenant fell short of the absolute sense of it in the New Testament, because the Atonement of Christ was yet in the future. In the practical sense, however, a type of forgiveness was granted to Old Testament saints in the action of God whose "passing over of the sins done aforetime" (Romans 3:25) may be viewed as a practical equivalent of New Testament forgiveness "in Christ."

"Sins of my youth, nor my transgressions" (Psalms 25:7). There are two classes of sins here, concerning which the psalmist pleaded that God would not remember them. (1) These were the "sins of his youth," and (2) his "transgressions." Perhaps he had found, as so many others have discovered, that "the sins of youth" are never terminated automatically with the arrival of maturity. On the other hand, sins have a way of fastening themselves upon the sinner and increasing as the years go by. An apostle warned us that "wickedness shall wax worse and worse."

Verse 8

"Good and upright is Jehovah:

Therefore will he instruct sinners in the way.

The meek will he guide in justice;

And the meek will he teach his way.

All the paths of Jehovah are lovingkindness and truth

Unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.

For thy name's sake, O Jehovah,

Pardon mine iniquity, for it is great.

What man is he that feareth Jehovah?

Him shall he instruct in the way that he shall choose.

His soul shall dwell at ease;

And his seed shall inherit the land.

The friendship of Jehovah is with them that fear him;

And he will show them his covenant.

Mine eyes are ever toward Jehovah;

For he will pluck my feet out of the net."

"He will instruct sinners" (Psalms 25:8). "The sinners here are not the habitually wicked, but the humble, among whom the psalmist numbers himself."[12] Nevertheless, David most certainly feels an estrangement from God in this passage, as evidenced by his triple plea for pardon in Psalms 25:7,11,18. A passage such as this thunders the message that, "God's true people are not sinless."[13] Yes, forgiveness is available for those who in penitence and meekness seek it, and who do not place themselves in the fatal position of the wicked by refusing to seek it, or to trust the grace and goodness of God to bestow it.

"The meek ... such as keep his commandments" (Psalms 25:9,10). The kind of sinners who may expect God's forgiveness appear in this psalm as (1) those who repent, (2) those who seek God's forgiveness, (3) the meek, or humble, and (4) those who keep the Lord's commandments.

"Pardon mine iniquity" (Psalms 25:11). Another word is here added as an explanation of the grounds upon which David asked God's pardon, namely, for thy name's sake. Added to the mercy, lovingkindness, and goodness mentioned in Psalms 25:6-7, we have a four fold statement of the grounds upon which the saints of God may request forgiveness of their sins. See our discussion of this phrase in the Shepherd Psalm, above.

"For it is great" (Psalms 25:11). Rawlinson identified the "great sin" mentioned by David in this place as that revolving around Bathsheba the wife of Uriah the Hittite in "2 Samuel 11:4-17."[14]

David's prayer for pardon was granted. "Psalms 25:12-15 indicate that the psalmist's intimacy with the Lord was developed, and that, successively, the promises are made of forgiveness, guidance, security, friendship and deliverance, arising respectively from an attitude of confession, reverence, and reliance."[15]

Verse 16

"Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me;

For I am desolate and afflicted.

The troubles of my heart are enlarged:

O bring thou me out of my distresses.

Consider mine affliction and my travail;

And forgive all my sins.

Consider mine enemies, for they are many;

And they hate me with cruel hatred.

O keep my soul, and deliver me:

Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in thee.

Let integrity and uprightness preserve me,

For I wait for thee.

Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles."

"Desolate ... afflicted ... troubles enlarged" (Psalms 25:16-17). Also "distresses, affliction, travail, enemies" (Psalms 25:16-19). Behold here the fruits of sin! There can be no doubt of the personal nature of this psalm. The agony of a soul oppressed with the burning consciousness of sins committed is clearly in the forefront of a passage like this.

"Forgive all my sins" (Psalms 25:18). This is the final plea for forgiveness (Psalms 25:7,11,18). "We still do not know the exact relation between his sins and his suffering, except that the removal of the former seems an essential prerequisite to the relief of the latter. Otherwise, the request to consider affliction and forgive sins would be strange indeed."[16]

"Let integrity and uprightness preserve me" (Psalms 25:21). It should be noted here that David does not say, "Let MY integrity and uprightness preserve me. It is the uprightness of Jehovah (Psalms 25:8) to which David is here looking.

We have already noted that the human mind instinctively connects suffering and distress with sin, whether or not such is actually the case. "Even when we cannot trace any direct connection between trouble and sin, every affliction suggests the general fact that we are sinners, and that all our troubles are originated in that fact."[17]

"Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles" (Psalms 25:22). "This is not a trivial appendage, nor a loose and inappropriate addition. We are never to become so immersed in our own problems as to forget the needs of all of God's people."[18] Also, this verse has the utility of contrasting the needs of all Israel with the individual and personal needs of the petitioner in this psalm. This refutes the notion that the entire psalm should be understood as a prayer for the relief of the distressed nation of Israel.

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 25". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.