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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 32

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



This psalm was immortalized by the Apostle Paul who quoted the opening verses here as follows:

“Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, And whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not reckon sin” (Romans 4:7-8).

A warning should be sounded here to the effect that many of the things written by commentators regarding this psalm are incorrect. This psalm is not “The Old Testament outcropping of the Pauline doctrine of salvation by `faith alone.’“ As a matter of basic truth there is no New Testament doctrine of ’salvation by faith only,’ either by Paul or any other New Testament writer.

Despite the appearance in the ancient inscription of the word “Maschil,” meaning “didactic,” that is, “intended to instruct,” it is certainly not any form of instruction on “how to be saved.” “This meaning of the psalm cannot be maintained.”(F1)

Those who might be interested in a further discussion of these questions are referred to Chapter 4 in Vol. 6 of my New Testament series of commentaries (Romans), especially pp. 145-158.

It is sufficient here to point out that David, who is usually received as the author of this psalm, was already in covenant relationship with God at the time of his great sin; and his forgiveness is here unrelated in any sense whatever to the salvation of alien sinners. Any New Testament application must find its parallel in the “Second Law of Pardon,” as expounded by the apostle Peter in Acts 8:22, where that law is announced, `Repentance and Prayer,’ being revealed as the basic elements of it.

Paul’s quotation of this psalm was for the purpose of stressing the “happiness” of persons whose sins God has remitted, or forgiven. Another purpose appears in the necessary deduction that God’s forgiveness is never on the basis of human merit. Paul’s proposition that “salvation is not of works,” simply means “not from keeping the Law of Moses,” and has no reference at all to “the work of faith.” The great New Testament doctrine of salvation “By Faith,” is valid indeed; but it should be understood as “Salvation by an OBEDIENT FAITH.” The New Testament flatly declares that, “One is not justified by faith alone” (James 2:24).

The authorship of this psalm, as stated in the ancient inscription is, “A Psalm of David”; and, as Leupold said, “This cannot be brushed aside lightly. Against the background of 2 Samuel 12, everything stated here fits excellently into place.”(F2)

However, in fairness, it must be pointed out that many scholars fail to find David anywhere in this psalm. Yates, Ash, Dahood, and others make no mention of him in their comment on this chapter. There are also some statements in the psalm itself which, in our view, do not exactly fit the behavior of David in his affair with Bathsheba.

Nevertheless, some of the best Bible students of the ages still insist that this is one of the seven Penitential Psalms, unhesitatingly ascribing it to David at a time following his forgiveness for adultery and murder.

Halley’s analysis of this psalm is as follows:

“Occasioned, no doubt, by David’s sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12), he can find no words to express his shame and humiliation. Yet this is the same David who repeatedly avowed his righteousness (Psalms 7:3; Psalms 7:8; Psalms 17:1-5; Psalms 18:20-24; and Psalms 6:1-10). How can we reconcile these paradoxical features of David’s life?

(1) His claims of righteousness may have been made before his great sin.

(2) In most things he was really righteous.

(3) There is a difference between “willful sin and sin through weakness.” Even a good man may sin through weakness.(F3)

There is also a fourth consideration which we shall add to Halley’s three. (4) David’s “righteousness” was a relative thing. Absolutely righteous? No! Like Noah, “He was righteous in his generation,” meaning that in comparison with all the people of his day, he was relatively righteous.

David was an absolute monarch; and when his response to Nathan the prophet, wherein he freely admitted that, “I have sinned against the Lord,” is compared with what any other king in that whole millennium would certainly have done in the same situation, we may see the relative nature of David’s righteousness. Any other king of that era would have beheaded Nathan and continued in his sin.

This is usually included in the “Penitential Psalms” as follows: Psalms 6; Psalms 25; Psalms 32; Psalms 38; Psalms 51; Psalms 102; Psalms 130; and Psalms 143. Sequentially, “In the order of history, it seems to follow the 51st Psalm.”(F4) Rawlinson also agreed that it was written, “Soon after his repentance, but not immediately after.”(F5)

The following paragraphing of the psalm is that of Baigent: (1) joy of having received God’s forgiveness (Psalms 32:1-2); (2) the effects of unconfessed sin (Psalms 32:3-5); (3) an exhortation for men to pray to God while they have the opportunity (Psalms 32:6-7); (4) Divine instructions for the people (Psalms 32:8-9); and (5) a call for God’s people to make the sanctuary resound with their songs of praise (Psalms 32:10-11).(F6)

Verses 1-2


“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom Jehovah imputeth not iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no guile.”

The point of these verses is the happiness that comes from the knowledge that God has indeed forgiven our sins. From the New Testament, it will be remembered that when the Ethiopian eunuch was baptized into Christ, “He went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39). So it was also with the Philippian jailer, who after his baptism, along with his household, “Rejoiced greatly, with all his house” (Acts 16:34). This great rejoicing that always comes from the consciousness of God’s forgiveness has been personally experienced by every person who ever obeyed the gospel.

There is not a word in these two verses with regard to the basis upon which God forgave David or to anything that David did before God forgave him.

“Blessed is he” (Psalms 32:1). “One hesitates to abandon the classical rendition in the word ’blessed,’ here”;(F7) but Yates affirmed that the Hebrew here is, “Literally, O how happy.”(F8) Kidner also preferred the word “Happy,” stating that, “It is a more exuberant word than ’blessed.’“(F9)

Note that sin is mentioned here under four names: (1) transgression, which means breaking the law; (2) sin, which means missing the mark; (3) iniquity, which is gross wickedness; and (4) guile, which is deceitfulness, or hypocrisy.

Notice also that sin is stated here to have been: (1) forgiven; (2) covered; and (3) not imputed to the sinner. Paul’s deduction from this in Romans 4:7-8, “Implies that when God treats us as righteous, it is God’s gift to us apart from what we merit or deserve.”(F10) This, of course, is profoundly true; but the foolish notion that God’s gift is “unconditional,” or that it is in no manner connected with human behavior is absolutely false.

“Any idea that we are free to ’continue in sin that grace may abound’ is firmly excluded by the emphasis upon ’sincerity’ at the close of Psalms 32:2.”(F11) Thus there appears in these two verses, one of the conditions absolutely prerequisite to God’s forgiveness of any person whomsoever, i.e., sincerity. There are also other preconditions.

Some of the comments one encounters on this psalm suggest that all one has to do to be saved is to shout, “God I’m a sinner”! and presto! automatically, God accounts him as a righteous man. It did not work for King Saul (1 Samuel 26:11); and we do not believe it will work for anyone.

“In whose spirit there is no guile” (Psalms 32:2). The person whose sin is forgiven and covered, as promised in this passage, however, “Is only he in whose spirit there is no deceit that denies and hides or extenuates and excuses this or that favorite sin. One such sin designedly retained is a secret ban that stands in the way of justification.”(F12)

Verses 3-5


“When I kept silence, my bones wasted away Through my groanings all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: My moisture was changed as with the drought of summer I acknowledged my sin unto thee, (Selah) And mine iniquity did I not hide: I said, I will confess my transgressions unto Jehovah; And thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.”

“When I kept silence” (Psalms 32:3). This speaks of a period when David did not acknowledge his sin, nor confess it. “The time here spoken of is that immediately after David’s sin of adultery and murder and which continued till Nathan uttered the words, ’Thou art the man.’“(F13)

What is described here is the punishment inwardly inflicted upon God’s people by their guilty consciences. Spurgeon described this punishment. “What a killing thing is sin! It is a pestilent disease! a fire in the bosom! While we smother our sin, it rages within and like a gathering wound swells horribly and torments terribly.”(F14)

Dummelow thought these words might refer, “Either to an actual sickness brought on by sin, or to a spiritual suffering represented by physical terminology.”(F15) We prefer the latter option of understanding the passage.

“I acknowledged my sin unto thee” (Psalms 32:5). This means that David acknowledge his sin “to God.” There’s not a hint here that he openly acknowledged it before men.

“And mine iniquity did I not hide” (Psalms 32:5). This is the passage with which this writer has difficulty in the assignment of it to David. Did he not make every possible human effort to “hide” his sin? He brought Uriah home in the hope that Uriah’s homecoming would hide it; but it didn’t; then he had Uriah murdered to cover it up, but that didn’t work either. The whole nation knew of the shameful conduct of their king; and it appears to us that a much more appropriate statement in David’s mouth would have been, “Lord, I tried every thing I could think of to hide my sin, but I couldn’t hide it,” Of course, it is also true that he did not hide it.

Perhaps in this abbreviated account, the reference is to the time when David did freely acknowledge his transgressions and sought and received God’s forgiveness, which is so dramatically stated in this verse.

“I said, I will confess my transgressions unto Jehovah; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin” (Psalms 32:5). In this entire verse, the confession mentioned is that of confession “to God,” not acknowledging transgressions before men. The Romish doctrine of “Auricular Confession,” is contrary to everything the Bible teaches regarding the confession of sins.

This verse has been made the basis of some very broad statements, which in our view seem to go beyond what is taught.

“The clear teaching of these verses, therefore, is that by simple confession sin in all its aspects - the outward act (sin), the rebellious disobedience (transgression), and the inward corruption (iniquity) is completely forgiven, and covered, so as to remain no longer an issue between God and man.”(F16)

Just confess (not to men, but to God). That’s all, just ’simple confession’ followed by total forgiveness! Without repentance? Without any acknowledgment of sins before men? Without any effort toward restitution, or any kind of justice toward those who were wronged! In this writer’s opinion, someone is reading a lot more into this passage than may legitimately be extracted from it.

True, David’s life indeed exhibited valid evidence of sincere repentance, and acknowledgment of his sins before all men, as well as “unto God”; and he even took Bathsheba into his harem; but the statement from McCaw is not based on the conduct of David, but upon what is said in this text.

It is precisely this verse that entered into Barnes’ comment that:

“Whether this Psalm refers to David’s experience in the matter of Bathsheba and Uriah or to some other occasion of his life when he was troubled at the remembrance of sin, it is impossible now to determine.”(F17)

“I will confess my transgressions” (Psalms 32:5). The importance of acknowledging sins, however, cannot be overstated; as DeHoff wrote, “In a practical sense, the unpardonable sin is the unconfessed sin.”(F18)

Verses 6-7

“For this let every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found: Surely when the great waters overflow they shall not reach unto him. Thou art my hiding place; thou wilt preserve me from trouble; Thou wilt compass me about with songs of deliverance. (Selah)”

“Let every one that is godly pray unto thee” (Psalms 32:6). “Godly” here is a reference to persons in covenant relationship with God. Leupold complained vigorously about this verse, writing, “Unwarranted conclusions are drawn from Psalms 32:6; Psalms 32:10, to the effect that forgiveness is made available only to the righteous.” In our view, that is exactly what the passage actually teaches. All of the talk about the free, unmerited grace and forgiveness of God does not nullify, nor can it ever do so, the declaration of the Holy Spirit that, “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14 KJV).

Yes, yes, the grace and favor and forgiveness of God are indeed free; and they are made available to men who cannot either earn or merit such marvelous blessings; but God’s forgiveness is “conditional.” If it is not so, why then, does the Lord tell us that the vast majority of mankind will travel “the broad way that leadeth to destruction” (Matthew 7:13)?

“In a time when thou mayest be found” (Psalms 32:6). “This is a reference to turning to God from sin while the opportunity remains.”(F19) Procrastination may rob one of eternal life; and we may speculate that of the myriads who die without God and without hope, doubtless a great many of them intended to make their peace with God “later”!

“When the great waters overflow, they shall not reach him” (Psalms 32:6). This is evidently a symbolical reference to the judgment of God, based upon the passage’s suggestion of the Great Deluge. Kidner tells us that this verse inspired Charles Wesley’s great hymn, “Jesus Lover of my Soul.”

“While the nearer waters roll, While the tempest still is high;
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide.”(F20)

“Thou art my hiding place” (Psalms 32:7). “This is an allusion to the Old Testament Cities of Refuge where men fled for protection.”(F21)

How much more wonderful than those ancient cities is the blessed hiding place provided for the Redeemed in the love of the Father!

Verses 8-9

“I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go; I will counsel thee with mine eye upon thee. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding; Whose trappings must be bit and bridle to hold them in. Else they will not come near unto thee.”

These words sound like instructions from God, and some scholars have so understood them; but many attribute them to David. “Because of the availability of God’s forgiveness, David here exhorts men to pray. On the basis of his own profound experience, he becomes a teacher, an instructor, and a guide, using the language of a sage.”(F22)

“The horse… the mule” (Psalms 32:9). The purpose of introducing these animals seems to be that of admonishing men to seek the Lord without waiting to be forced to do so, as animals are forced to come near men. “One’s refusal to be guided by the Lord’s kind instruction puts him in the class with brute beasts.”(F23)

Verses 10-11

“Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; But he that trusteth Jehovah, lovingkindness shall compass him about. Be glad in Jehovah, and rejoice, ye righteous; And shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.”

“Many sorrows shall be to the wicked” (Psalms 32:10). What a lie is that of Satan who advertises his way as that of “liberty,” or “freedom.” The simple truth is here bluntly stated. “The way of the transgressor is hard” (Proverbs 13:15). The sinful way is the way of sorrow, heartbreak, failure, and remorse.

It appears that Psalms 51 was probably written by David under the impact of the forgiveness that God bestowed upon him soon afterward; but this psalm gives the impression of being the fruit of a far longer meditation upon that event, in the course of which there is a more general statement of issues involved. This 32nd Psalm might therefore be viewed as the fulfilment of the vow David made in Psalms 51:13.(F24)

“How stark is the contrast between Psalms 32:3-4; Psalms 32:11! Who should want to choose the former over the latter?”(F25)

This psalm gives us a dramatic contrast between the wicked and the righteous. “The wicked envisioned here are the enemies of God; the righteous are those who live in the Covenant of their God. They are not perfect, but they confess their sins and acknowledge their duties in the household of faith.”(F26)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 32". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/psalms-32.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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