The Blessedness of Forgiveness! (Psalm 32)
He should have known better. He never should have stayed at home alone while his army was fighting in the field. He never should have lingered late at night on his rooftop. He never should have set his eyes on that beautiful lady. He never should have inquired about who she was, nor should he have sent for her, nor should he have slept with her. He should have known better. But King David sinned and Bathsheba conceived.
He should have known better. He never should have tried to force Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, to sleep with her, hoping that he would think the child was his own. He never should have arranged for Uriah’s death. He should have known better. But King David sinned and Uriah died.
He should have known better. Having committed adultery with Bathsheba he should have acknowledged his sin to the Lord. But he didn’t. Having conspired to kill Uriah, her husband, he should have confessed his transgression. But he didn’t.
He kept quiet about his sin. He suppressed it. He shoved it deep down inside, thinking it gone for good. He ignored the tug on his heart. He denied the pain in his conscience. He numbed his soul to the persistent pangs of conviction.
Then one day the prophet Nathan told David a story. It was all about a rich man who stole the one little ewe lamb of a poor man rather than taking a sheep from his own huge flock. “Surely this man deserves to die,” shouted an enraged David.
With a bony finger pointed at David’s nose, Nathan calmly declared, “You are the man! . . . Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife” (2 Samuel 12:7,9).
David should have known better.
Adultery and murder make for a sensational story. Many a TV mini-series have rocketed to the top of the Nielsen ratings on the wings of those two sins. Rarely, though, does Hollywood portray the anguish and turmoil they inflict. Listen to what David says in Psalm 32 about the impact of his sin as it festered unconfessed and unforgiven in his heart. Then listen more closely still to the song of God’s forgiving love.
“For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer” (vv. 3-4).
Someone described David’s anguish as “the inner misery of the lacerated heart.” David “kept silent” about his sin. He ignored the voice of the Holy Spirit and suppressed the piercing conviction that stabbed repeatedly at his conscience. He refused to deal openly and honestly and forthrightly with God. He would not face his sin. He was living under the delusion that if he could somehow forget about it, God would too.
David portrays the impact of his sin in physical terms. Some think this is metaphorical language, that David is using physical symptoms to describe his spiritual anguish. Whereas that’s possible, I suspect that David was feeling the brunt of his sin in his body as well.
What we see here is a law of life in God’s world. If you bottle up sin in your soul it will eventually leak out like acid and eat away at your bones. Unconfessed sin is like a festering sore. You can ignore it for a while, but not forever.
The physical effects of his spiritual choices are agonizingly explicit. There was dissipation: “my bones wasted away” (cf. Psalm 6:2). There was distress: “my groaning all day long.” And David was drained: “my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” Like a plant withering under the torrid desert sun, so too was David dried up and drained out from suppressing his sin.
In other words, he was quite literally sick because of his refusal to “come clean” with God. His body ached because his soul was in rebellion. Spiritual decisions always have physical consequences. “The Spanish Inquisition,” wrote Charles Spurgeon, “with all its tortures was nothing to the inquest which conscience holds within the heart” (1b:82).
God simply will not let his children sin with impunity. It was in fact God’s hand that lay heavily on David’s heart. To sin without feeling the sting of God’s disciplinary hand is the sign of illegitimacy.
All of us can identify with David’s reluctance. No one likes to admit being wrong. No one relishes the thought of confession, far less something as serious as adultery and murder. Facing our faults, whether intellectual or moral, is terribly discomforting.
But here is the good news! This psalm is not primarily about the agony of denial and the pain of repression. It is about the joy and blessedness of forgiving love!
“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. . . . I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin’” (vv. 1-2,5).
David ransacks the dictionary to describe the full extent of his failure. He calls what he did a “transgression” (v. 1), a word that refers to the rebellious and disloyal nature of his actions. He refers to it as a “sin” (v. 1), a word that points to any act that misses the mark of God’s revealed will. And he calls it “iniquity” (v. 5), that is to say, a crooked deed, a conscious intent to deviate from what is right.
Why do you think David goes to such verbal lengths to portray his sin? My sense is that he does so to emphasize that every sin, any sin, whatever its cause or character, no matter how small or big, secret or public, intentional or inadvertent, all sin can be forgiven!
David also uses three different words to describe his confession (v. 5). He “acknowledged” his sin to the Lord. He refused to “cover” his iniquity. He was determined to “confess” his transgressions.
Nothing is held back. There is no cutting of corners. No compromise. He comes totally clean. All the cupboards of his soul are emptied. All little black books are opened and read aloud. His confession is like opening the floodgates of a dam. It may be messy at first, but the release of ever-increasing pressure is life to his burdened heart.
Three different words for sin. Three different words for confession. But better still, three different words for forgiveness!
Blessed is the man whose transgressions are “forgiven” (v. 1.). The word literally means “to carry away.” David’s sin, my sin, your sin, is like an oppressive weight from which we long to be relieved. Forgiveness lifts the burden from our shoulders.
Blessed is he whose sin is “covered” (v. 1). It’s as if David says, “Oh, dear Father, what joy to know that if I will ‘uncover’ (v. 5) my sin and not hide it, you will!” David doesn’t mean to suggest that his sin is merely concealed from view but somehow still present to condemn and defeat him. The point is that God sees it no more. He has covered it from all view.
Blessed is that man or woman, young or old, whose sin the Lord does not “impute” or “count” against them (v. 2). No record is kept. God isn’t a spiritual scorekeeper to those who seek his pardoning favor!
I don’t know how all this affects you, but I agree with David when he says (shouts?), “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven . . . Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity” (vv. 1,2).
Having experienced for himself the joy of forgiving love, David encourages others to seek God’s pardoning favor:
“Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance” (vv. 6-7).
God is like a high rock on which we stand when the flood waters of adversity begin to rise. God is a hiding place, a shelter in whom we find safety and protection from all that threatens the soul. And remember, all this for men and women like David who have spurned his ways and transgressed his will!
What accounts for this willingness in God to forgive? To what do we attribute the peace and release and joy that flood the pardoned soul? David puts his finger on it in verse ten: “Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord” (v. 10). God’s love is the bulwark of our lives, the bodyguard of our souls, the atmosphere of immutable affection in which we move and live and breathe.
Perhaps you haven’t sinned as David did. Adultery and murder may not be on your list. Perhaps your sins are more subtle and less public, whether fewer or greater in number. Whatever the case, your only hope, David’s only hope, is the unfailing love of God.