By James R. Strange, Ph.D.
Professor of biblical and religious studies, Samford University
Recovering from a Fall into Temptation
We continue our lessons on dealing with temptation by turning to Psalm 32, the first of 13 psalms labeled as a maskil, perhaps to be translated “a contemplative [psalm].” If that is the meaning, then those who read Psalm 32 are invited to contemplate God’s forgiveness of sin, the power of confession and the joy of forgiveness. They join the psalmist’s encouragement to confess all to God. God, after all, cannot be shocked.
“A psalm of David” need not mean that David wrote the psalm. The introduction to Psalm 51 ties it to David’s sexual sin and subsequent taking of a life.
Psalm 32 might do something similar. Rather than temptations to sin, however, Psalm 32 focuses on the reluctance to confess, to admit wrongdoing. Silence before God is also a potent temptation.
Read the entire Psalm.
Joy and blessing flow from God’s forgiveness. (1–2)
Verses 1 and 2 are beatitudes, a biblical form made famous by Jesus in Matthew 5:3–10 (and Luke 6:20–26). The psalmist begins at the end of the story — not with sin, but with the blessed state of being forgiven.
Hebrew tends to emphasize tactile reality rather than abstract ideas. Hence, verse 1 speaks of the person “whose rebellion is carried away, whose wrongdoing is covered over” (compare this with verse 5, in which the psalmist doesn’t try to hide or cover iniquity from God’s sight).
Verse 2 speaks of one “in whose breath there is no treachery,” implying a person who uses speech honorably and justly.
Verse 1 is passive, implying God’s action, whereas verse 2 is active, making it clear God could take count of a person’s iniquity, but does not do so.
There is no confession without forgiveness of sin. (3–5)
Verse 3 provides a flashback to the beginning of the problem: a refusal to confess sin or a fear of admitting one’s wrongdoing. The psalmist again describes the result of this silence in physical terms.
The psalmist relents in verse 5, finally confessing wrongdoing to God and learning there was nothing to fear, for God responded immediately with the gift of forgiveness.
Living in a restored relationship with God helps us avoid future sin and temptation. (6–7)
These verses demonstrate the consequences of God’s generosity. The psalmist tells God all godly people should pray “while You may be found.” Surely this is subtle irony. There is no time God is unreachable or when He will not hear a prayer of confession and repentance. Even “in the rush of great waters” God is “a hiding place” of forgiveness. In the final verses the psalmist speaks as a wise sage, calling people to understand the truth of God’s forgiveness and to place their trust in Him for reconciliation. The result is true joy.
The weight of sin can feel overwhelming. Someone may think God will grow weary of hearing confession or that one can commit a sin too big to be forgiven. If Peter was expected to forgive “seventy times seven” times (Matt. 18:22), how much more can the sinner expect from the God who responded to the first sin, not with death but with lesser penalties (Gen. 3:1–19)?
Let us resist the temptation to not confess. For the psalmist and for us, sin has neither the first nor the last word. God’s forgiveness does.
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