Read: Psalm 32; Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:9 – 10
The eighteenth century Lithuanian Rabbi known as Elijah of Vilna designated Psalm 32 as the psalm of the day for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the highest holy day of the Jewish year, because of its teaching on repentance. Ashkenazi Jews still read Psalm 32 in worship on the Sabbath preceding Yom Kippur. The psalm is entitled in the Hebrew Scriptures “A Maskil of David.” Psalms entitled “maskil” (from a word that means “hedge”) were not simply read in synagogue worship, they were interpreted and explained for the congregation’s benefit. Psalm 32 is the second of the seven “Penitential Psalms” that address the topics of repentance, confession, and forgiveness. The other Penitential Psalms are 6, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143. In the Babylonian Talmud David is called “He who lifted the burden of repentance” because he set forth the hope that God forgives all who sincerely repent, and he demonstrated what sincere repentance and consequent forgiveness looks like. The French theologian Pierre d’Ailly (1350 – 1420) wrote that in Psalm 32 repentance involves sorrow for sin, then confession, which is then followed by remission.
Think About It: Based on the New Testament witness (e.g. Mark 1:15; Romans 3:23 and 1 John 1:9 – 10) why is an understanding of the nature of repentance so important? What qualified David to be a teacher of repentance? Does my spiritual practice indicate I believe repentance to be of crucial importance?
Prayer: Lord, grant to me that repentance that leads to life.
Read: Psalm 32:1 – 4
The value of repentance, confession, and forgiveness can best be appreciated in contrast to the misery of the unrepentant state. The Talmud distinguished three kinds of sin, based on three words used in Exodus 34:7. Avon, translated iniquity, is intentional rebellion against God’s authority; pasha, translated transgression, is also intentional, but arises from weakness in giving in to desires rather than from rebellion; chattaah, translated sin, is unintentional sin resulting from carelessness. All three types of sin require repentance (Hebrew shub – to turn back; Greek metanoeo – to change one’s mind). Repentance from iniquity requires turning back from rebellion to submission to God’s authority. Repentance from transgression involves turning away from choosing our own desires and instead choosing God’s desires. Even the unintentional sin that arises from carelessness requires a change of direction and behavior involving a desire to pay closer attention, to take greater care of one’s walk.
Think About It: In Psalm 32:1 – 2 David portrayed the state of the man who is forgiven, who can stand before God without deceit, as “blessed.” How does David describe his state of being unrepentant and unforgiven in Psalm 32:3 – 4? Other descriptions of the unrepentant, unforgiven state are found in Psalm 6:6; 38:2; 39:10; and 102:3. Given that the state of being forgiven is blessed, and the state of not being forgiven is miserable, why are we so often reluctant to repent?
Prayer: Lord, may You always find me willing to turn from my ways to Your way, to turn from my thoughts, to Your thoughts.
Read: Psalm 32:5; 2 Samuel 12:13; Psalm 38:18; Psalm 51:3; Proverbs 28:13; Luke 15:21
Psalm 32:5 contains a concise summary of what is involved in true repentance and confession. David acknowledged his sin to the Lord; the Hebrew word translated “acknowledged” means to bring forth, to clearly understand; the word translated “confess” comes from a root that can also mean “to throw down.” The Greek word for “confess” is homologomen, which means “to agree with.” Repentance involves “turning around” and “changing our mind”; confession involves acknowledging that what we have done is wrong, with thoughtful consideration of exactly what we have done that is wrong, acknowledging seriousness of our sin, and agreeing with God’s definition of sin. In Psalm 32:5 David uses all three of the words for sin that are used by the Lord in Exodus 34:7. David was admitting to sin that was intentional rebellion, that involved choosing his own desires rather than God’s will, and that was carelessness. Repentance is incomplete if it does not involve a real turning around from going our own way, and if it doesn’t fully accept God’s definition of right and wrong. Confession is insincere if it involves making excuses for our behavior, if it blames others, if it fails to take responsibility. The wonderful aspect of Psalm 32:5 is that it includes the assurance of forgiveness, immediately after the consideration of repentance and confession; much like 1 John 1:9.
Think About It: In David’s sin of adultery and murder, what aspects were intentional rebellion against God’s will? What aspects of that sin involved intentionally choosing his own desires over God’s will? What aspects of that sin arose from carelessness? How does my confession of sin sound compared to Psalm 32:5? Do I really believe that God stands ready to forgive me when I sincerely repent?
Prayer: Lord, I acknowledge my sin to you, I do not cover my iniquity, and I confess my transgressions. Thank you for forgiving my sin.
Read: Psalm 32:6; Isaiah 55:6; 2 Corinthians 6:2; 1 John 1:8, 10
David was so blessed by his experience of God’s forgiveness that he wanted everyone to offer their prayers of repentance and confession to God so that they might enjoy the same forgiveness. The “Therefore” that begins Psalm 32:6 specifically links David’s call for prayer to his own experience of confession and forgiveness. Yet David makes this call to “everyone who is godly”. Even the godly must be called to repentance because there is no one so righteous that they never fall into sin. David had a sense of urgency about the importance of confession, similar to that expressed in Isaiah 55:6 and 2 Corinthians 6:2. The problem cannot be that God goes away when the flood comes. Jonah, for example, found that God heard him from the depths of the sea. The problem is not God, it is the heart that has grown hard through slothfulness and pride; such a heart cannot reach God because it does not turn to Him.
Think About It: Do I regularly examine myself and practice repentance and confession (1 Corinthians 11:28; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Psalm 19:12 – 14)?
Prayer: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Read: Psalm 32:7; Psalm 91:1; Psalm 119:114; Psalm 121:7
David continued his song of repentance in Psalm 32:7 with a personal testimony of the blessings of the life lived in the assurance of forgiveness of sins. That blessing included experiencing God’s protection, preservation from trouble, and joyful deliverance.
Think About It: How is confession and repentance related to having assurance of God’s protection, preservation, and deliverance (see for example Psalm 66:18, Isaiah 59:2, Habakkuk 1:13)? How can I be sure that God hears my cries for help?
Prayer: Lord, help me to be diligent in keeping the lines of communication open with You.
Read: Psalm 32:8; Psalm 73:24; 2 Peter 1:20 – 21; Matthew 6:8; John 14:26; Romans 12:1 – 2
David continued in Psalm 32:8 to enumerate the blessings of the life lived in assurance of forgiveness of sins. Those blessings included God’s wonderful promise to instruct and to teach him in the way he should go, and to counsel him, keeping His eye on him.
Think About It: Is God keeping His eye on me? What means of instruction has God provided for me? How can I know the way that I should go?
Prayer: Thank you Lord, for keeping Your eye on me; help me to pay attention to Your instruction and leading.
Read: Psalm 32:9 – 11; Proverbs 13:21, 26:3
Given the message of Psalm 32, that God forgives the truly repentant and blesses them not only with forgiveness of sins but by protecting them, preserving them, delivering them from trouble, teaching them and guiding them in the way that they should go, what could possibly go wrong?
Think About It: What could possibly go wrong, according to Psalm 32:9 – 10? What does the horse and mule lack that causes the problem? What does it do because of this lack? How can I avoid the painful correction of the bit and bridle? What do I need to do in order to stay near the Lord? On the other hand, what can go right, according to Psalm 32:10 – and how should I respond, according to Psalm 32:11?
Prayer: Lord, please help me to diligently stay near You and follow Your direction.