Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Psalm 32 - Joy of Forgiveness

1Oh, what joy for those
whose disobedience is forgiven,
whose sin is put out of sight!
2Yes, what joy for those
whose record the LORD has cleared of guilt,b
whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
3When I refused to confess my sin,
my body wasted away,
and I groaned all day long.
4Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.
5Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.”
And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.
6Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time,
that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.
7For you are my hiding place;
you protect me from trouble.
You surround me with songs of victory.
8The LORD says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
I will advise you and watch over you.
9Do not be like a senseless horse or mule
that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”
10Many sorrows come to the wicked,
but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the LORD.
11So rejoice in the LORD and be glad, all you who obey him! 
            Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!


Psalm 32 opening verses lay out the theme for the rest of the psalm: forgiveness yields joy. They recall the wisdom phrases bracketing Psalms 1 and 2 as declarative wisdom sayings "Oh, what joy for those...," . As J. Clinton McCann, Jr., points out, "By defining joy in terms of forgiveness, Psalm 32 functions as an important check against any tendency to misunderstand Psalm 1. That is, to be righteous is not a matter of being sinless but a matter of being forgiven, of being open to God's instruction, and of trusting God rather than self".

Here, the writer, David, intends for the reader to understand that the blessedness of the forgiven individual in verses 1 and 2 consists not only in peace of conscience but also in the protection that God now gives in the midst of troubles. 

Or, to put it another way, when I pray and confess my sin to God, I am blessed not only because of what God does not do—namely, hold me guilty—but is also blessed by what God does do—namely, protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. For God is not against me, He is mightily for me. So the second half of verse 6 and verse 7 function as an added incentive for the godly to pray and confess their sins to God, because the forgiveness of sins is the basis and most essential for God's subsequent blessings.

In verse 8, God takes the pen in His own hand, as it were, and promises not only protection but instruction and counsel for how I should live from day to day: "I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you." The blessing of protection in verse 7 is great indeed, but it would be incomplete if it were not accompanied by the blessing of direction. What good would it be if He guarded me from destruction but did not tell me which way to go? 

Protection with direction, care with counsel, that is the joyful condition of the person who prays to God and receives forgiveness for sin.

In the psalm there are a two imperatives:Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time, that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment" - it is the positive command to pray. The second imperative which is the negative counterpart: "Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”  Both are really commanding the same thing but using different words; one saying it positively (what I should do), and the other saying it negatively (what I should not do). 

God cares for His own, He shows them where they need to go, and supplies a place for their protection. But there is one that gives God an awful time, namely, the mule. The mule is stupid and stubborn and you can't tell which comes first—stubbornness or stupidity.

God desires to teach us by our personal name and then calls us by name. "I will instruct you and teach you the way that you should go." But the person who is like a mule will not respond to that sort of direction. He or she is without understanding. So God gets in His pick-up truck and goes out in the field, puts the bit and bridle in the mule's mouth, hitches it to the truck, and drags him or her stiff-legged and snorting all the way back.

David intends for us to understand verse 6 as the alternative to mule-like behavior because he "has been there, done that". (Remember the story with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11?) David was the mule before he learned to pray for forgiveness. "When I kept silent (about my sin) my body wasted away through my groaning all day long." There he is out in the middle of the field, stubborn as a mule, refusing to acknowledge his need. When David acted like a mule God put the bridle of suffering on him and dragged him to the barn. A guilty conscience and all the agonies that go with it is a merciful gift to the unrepentant. 

As I pray, I will discover the delights of God's benefits of praying. Then because of this discovery I am moved to pray more. And praying more I experience more of God. And so my experience spirals further up and further in to an ever more intimate relationship with God and an ever deeper enjoyment of His forgiveness, protection, and counsel for life. 

Therefore, let us pray to God while He may be found, because the contrite, un-mule-like heart which prays is forgiven, protected, counseled, and made ever more glad in an intimate fellowship with the Lord.