It is helpful for us to see these articles in the context of their origins where this article, together with the preceding four  articles by Brother Colin, has been compiled over several years of reflections upon the Psalms and the experience  of burden-sharing. Many in the household, when caught up in the vortex of sin and despair, have deeply valued the  sweet counsel and heart cleansing effects of the Psalms gently administered by faithful and compassionate brethren  and sisters. We can all attest to a certain empathy with this particular Psalm knowing that, at times, we vainly try to  hide our secret thoughts (and actions) from the all seeing eye and scrutiny of our God who searches the hearts and  the reins. Responding to the thoughts of this article, we should look upon our God as our “hiding place” and One before  whom we can freely acknowledge our sin since He can, in His amazing balance of mercy and forgiveness, “cover”  our sin and “impute not iniquity”.

Psalm 32

A Psalm of David, Maschil

1 ¶ Blessed is he whose

transgression is forgiven,

whose sin is covered.

2 Blessed is the man

unto whom the Lord

imputeth not iniquity,

and in whose spirit there is no guile.

3 When I kept silence,

my bones waxed old

through my roaring all

the day long.

4 For day and night thy

hand was heavy upon me:

my moisture is turned

into the drought of

summer. Selah.

5 I acknowledged my

sin unto thee, and mine

iniquity have I not hid. I said,

I will confess my

transgressions unto the

Lord; and thou forgavest the

iniquity of my sin. Selah.

6 For this shall every one

that is godly pray unto

thee in a time when thou

mayest be found: surely in

the floods of great waters

they shall not come

nigh unto him.

7 ¶ Thou art my hiding

place; thou shalt preserve

me from trouble; thou

shalt compass me about

with songs of deliverance.

Selah.

8 I will instruct thee and

teach thee in the way

which thou shalt go: I

will guide thee

with mine eye.

9 Be ye not as the horse,

or as the mule, which

have no understanding:

whose mouth must be

held in with bit and

bridle, lest they come near unto thee.

10 Many sorrows shall

be to the wicked: but he

that trusteth in the Lord,

mercy shall compass him about.

11 Be glad in the Lord,

and rejoice, ye righteous:

and shout for joy, all ye

that are upright in heart.

There is a very old adage that affirms: “the beginning of knowledge is to know yourself to be a sinner”. But, with inspired authority, the foundational exposition to the book of Romans affirms:

“I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no not one…’”  (Rom 3:9 RSV)

In this last article in our series on the theme of  “Psalms for the Night Seasons”, we will consider yet another Psalm that describes the disciple’s  struggle in a spiritual “night”. David declares in  Psalm 32: “For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me” (v4). Why was this happening? The issue  is clear from David’s own confession that David  lays bear in the 11 verses of this Psalm. David had  drawn himself into a prolonged nightmare because he denied himself an honest appraisal of wrong thinking and behaviour. In 2 Samuel 12 the prophet Nathan is sent to needle David’s conscience by a  pointed and probing parable that forced David to  finally look in the mirror and “acknowledge my  sin… I said, I will confess… and thou forgavest  the iniquity of my sin” (Psa 32:5). But this was not a quick and easy admission — a Divine hand was needed to press and pry the conscience that had been slammed shut. Moffat captures the sense of David’s admission:

“So long as I refused to own my guilt, I moaned  unceasingly, life ebbed away.”

So David created his own bleak “night”! Sometimes  our “night seasons” cast their shadows by influences that are far removed from personal responsibility But in the case of the events briefly sketched in Psalm  32, David this time had created his own night. David’s response to serious personal failure was the key irritant. After waiting for David, with no satisfying response, God’s hand began to press down (v4).  David resisted, and while he continued to sit in his own darkness, his spiritual strength drained away as  “moisture” (v4)  evaporating from a plant1 under the summer’s heat. David became a pathetic illustration of what Solomon later warned about in the Proverbs: “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov 28:13).

The issue of avoidance or denial was central to David’s problem. The gloom and torture of the “night” was only dissipated when David allowed  the “Sun” to shine—the scrutiny of God was finally let into David’s conscience by the penetrating light of Nathan’s parable (2 Samuel 12).

Hiding is Hopeless

There is an ironically instructive play on related  terms dealing with David’s struggle in Psalm 32. The sin that had previously been hidden (v5) was  now given David’s full admission and confession. Only by this open recognition before God had David’s sin been “covered” (v1), and rather than  seeking refuge through rationalization, David  now sought Yahweh as his “hiding place” (v7).  Mercy and forgiveness were waiting with open arms, if only David would be honest with himself.  God’s grace is never in short supply when we hide ourselves in Him, rather than hiding in the refuge of proud resistance. Paul assures us of the same comfort in Romans: “where sin abounded, grace did  much more abound” (5:20). The power of Psalm 32 is that it provides a case study of what was really an agonizing process of return and redemption—“the  beginning of knowledge is to know yourself to be a sinner”. Of course, none of us are innocent of  making this kind of deceitful trap for ourselves. Psalm 32 is not an invitation to point fingers at other fellow sinners, but an urgent reminder to keep the Divine mirror in front of ourselves through our own  self-examination. Regular “check-ups” with our family doctor help to ensure that any encroaching illness will be identified early. We need to submit  ourselves to regular, honest self-examination in  the light of God’s word2, to humble ourselves to the wise counsel of others3, so that like David we might benefit from others who might be able to see  our blemishes more objectively.4 Whether given from spouse, friend or family, we all need to heed  the wisdom of Solomon’s exhortation, that “open  rebuke is better than secret love” (Prov 27:5).

The friend must not shirk and the receiver must not sizzle. Pride is usually the lock on the door, and in loving humility others can sometimes help turn the key to allow the redeeming light of God to reach the conscience of our valued brother or sister.

Self-examination

In Diseases of the Soul Brother Dennis Gillett has an appropriate comment on the challenges that we face when struggling with these issues in ourselves or with others. As he opens his chapter on “Hardening”, Brother Gillett writes:

That which at first seemed like a silken thread, at last becomes an iron chain. The deceit of sin [emphasis—CB] is that it makes plausible that which ought to be repudiated and condemned. Slowly the conscience is dulled. The voice is silenced. The tears are dried up. The spirit is enslaved. Sin promises freedom and enwraps a man with bondage. Nearly always it begins with accepting a false argument—that is part of the deceit. So, if the process is unchecked, bit by bit a man becomes as hard as a nether millstone.5

Notice Brother Gillett’s reference to self—“deceit”  in this quote and see how it has an appropriate link to  what David himself needed to comes to terms with:  “Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not  iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile” (Psa  32:2). Surely there is an echo here to Nathan’s rebuke  to David in the Samuel narrative: “For thou didst it secretly6”. Ironically, David dragged his feet, heavy  with guilt, but once he freely confessed (“David said  unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD” 2Sam  12:13), there was no fumbling with God’s forgiveness.  Quickly, the sin was “covered” and forgiven: “And  Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away  thy sin; thou shalt not die” (2 Sam 12:13; link also  to Psa 32:1,5).

Our Need, God’s Provision

We all need the encouragement not to dither and  drag our burdens needlessly by not unloading  their weight before His throne of mercy. In Psalm  32 David’s example is intended to help us to be  courageously clear of denial or rationalizations in  our self-examination. David needed courage and  honesty to arrive at his confession. This is the godly  response that lifts a sinner from failure to victory by  the strength of God’s helping hand (1Cor 15:57).  Our complete failures are more than matched by  Yahweh’s assurance that “sin”, “iniquity”, and  “transgression” (Psa 32:5) are all completely “put  away” (2 Sam 12:13). We have noted previously  that when David finished faltering, Nathan  immediately assured him that there was no similar  fumbling in God’s actions—He forgave quickly and  completely. The word used in the Samuel account,  “put away” is a Hebrew word that usually means  passage or transition. Significantly, it is used in  Exodus 12:23 and 15:16 in reference to Yahweh  “passing over” the doors atoned by blood and later  the actual “passing over/through” the Red Sea.  Undoubtedly, this is exactly the OT allusion made  by Paul in Romans when he affirms: “whom God  set forth to be a propitiation [Mercy Seat] through faith in his blood,  to declare his  righteousness for  the remission [AV  margin: ‘passing  over’] of sins that  are past.” Those  who pass over  and through the  cleansing waters,  put their backs to  the bondage and  dominion of Sin  and place their  complete trust  in God to guide  them through the  wilderness ahead.  In turn, they are  blessed by God  “passing over” or  “putting away”  their personal  sins, iniquity and  transgressions.

“Faith in his blood”

A note should be made here that the use of these  three Hebrew words7 used for sin in Psalm 32  is intended to be comprehensive or thorough  in describing the full scope of human sin and weakness. But, the thoroughness of David’s  admission (describing his sin in three key terms)  is matched by Nathan’s assurance that David’s sins have been thoroughly “put away”8. The dark, prolonged “night” of Egyptian bondage and torture was eclipsed by light and liberation in the homes of  those who, in Paul’s carefully chosen words, had “faith in his blood” (Rom 3:25). And isn’t that a key aspect of David’s victory over the sin described in Psalm 32! So powerfully and simply expressed by  Paul, but how our “faith in his blood” falters as we often fall into despair and weave a protective web to cocoon ourselves from shame and admission of  weakness. We need to have “faith in his blood”—  not faith in our previous reputation, or human ability to still get on with it. Dialoguing about the  atonement is one thing—doing the atonement is quite another. Faith in His promise to forgive is at the nerve of practising the atonement in the life of a disciple. Prayer is not pleading against the Father’s reluctance, but having faith in His eagerness to extend grace and mercy as we approach Him with humility and honesty.

The specific sin of David, marked out in Psalm  32, changed David’s life: from a human, temporal  point of view, there still was a journey of frustration  and crowds of hypocritical finger-pointers to pass through, but, eternally, David’s humbled spirit was a saving element, and in a sense more meaningful and deeper than his earlier youthful years. He was still able to remain “a man after God’s own  heart” (Acts 13:22). Now, notice how this is very  powerfully confirmed in Psalm 32 itself as we  complete our following sections.

Atonement “Basics”

It is true that there are aspects of an in-depth study of the atonement that are profound and not always easily understood. But in this pointed little Psalm there is a clear indicator that David was concerned about disciples not understanding atonement principles that are far more basic than what are sometimes at the center of our own complicated requirements of understanding:

“I will instruct9 thee and teach thee…I will guide thee with mine eye. Be not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding” (Psa 32:8,9)

David’s recent mulish reluctance to offer recognition of basic atoning principles—to himself and more importantly to his heavenly Father—caused him to “instruct” others not to be so without understanding. The horse is proud and the mule is stubborn! The same can be true of disciples, no less. And who is completely innocent of these weaknesses? Again, this is not an invitation to shoot arrows of accusation, but to purge our own selves of these common failings and to show loving patience towards others who are struggling with the same weaknesses.

Extend a Hand—Not a Stone

Psalm 32 is a positive and triumphant declaration  of a sinner who began in “silence” (v3) but ended his journey with  a “shout for joy”  (v11). He began  as an isolated “silent” sinner, and he ended by joyfully including  himself, when he  declared: “For this  cause shall every  one that is godly  pray unto thee”  (Psa 32:6). Could David truthfully  put on this Divine apparel—describing himself as “godly” in view of all his sins and the impediments he placed in  recovery’s path? Indeed he knew he could! Having finally submitted to the right means of return and reconciliation he, like the prodigal, had finally “come to himself” (Luke 15:17). The prodigal’s  brother, like the finger-pointing Pharisee of Luke  18:11, was the Shimei of David’s day who could  only throw dust and cast stones as David was  picking his way to recovery.

Let these sorry examples of fellow hypocritical  “lepers” be a poignant warning to us, since we are afflicted with all the same diseases as our fellow  brethren. Casting stones of condemnation would  have allowed Shimei to put David to death10. God  offered life, if David would change. If we extend loving patience and instruction (‘maskal’) to those  in need, while facing issues that need to be faced,  we will ensure that we have grasped the final  exhortation at the close of this wonderful Psalm for  the “night seasons”. One of our own “songs” (Hymn  357) provides an apt summary and reminder to help others as they struggle through the night seasons of  sin and weakness:

“But reach forth your hand and

Remember your brother,

Forget all your troubles

In meeting his need.”

Let us go and do likewise!