Editor’s note: This post is Part 2 of 2 that look at David’s experience with biblical confession in Psalm 32. Part 1 lays out the blessings & consequences at stake for the sinner considering confession. Here in Part 2, we see how David highlights three further realities of confession: what makes confession genuine; God’s hope for those who confess; and the exhortation to confess.
In verses 1-4 of Psalm 32, David muses on (1) the importance of remembering the joy that comes from confession & forgiveness, and (2) the consequences that come from avoiding confession. After verse 4, notice the marginal word — “Selah,” which means something like, “Stop and think about it!” What is the consequence of not confessing sin (vv. 3-4)? And what is the blessing of confessing (vv. 1-2)? With this note to pause (“Selah”), David wants the singers of this psalm to reflect (and act) on that difference.
As if David hasn’t yet been clear enough, he then offers his own testimony of what he did in confession and how it brought restorative joy (v. 5).
3. Remember the Picture of Genuine Confession (v. 5)
In verse 5, David offered a three-fold confession for his “three-fold sin.”
First, he says, “I acknowledged my sin to You.” He made his sin known to God. That doesn’t mean that God knew nothing about the sin until he confessed. It means that he was finally submitting himself to God and agreeing with God that he had sinned.
Second, he adds, “My iniquity I did not hide.” Previously David had kept silent about his sin and like Achan (Josh. 7:1ff) he attempted to hide his sin. In confession he was willing to say, “This is who I am and this is all that I have done” — he withheld nothing in his confession.
Third, he affirms, “I will confess my transgression to the Lord.” He affirmed the reality of his sin (Prov. 28:13). Confession is not merely asking God to whiten the black slate of sin; it is to name the sin, agree with God that it is sin, and ask God to change you in the future (2 Cor. 7:11).
This is a picture of genuine confession. Someone has said that our fleshly tendency is to manage our sin instead of repenting of our sin. Here David repented and turned away from his sin. He didn’t want it anymore. He was finished with managing his sin. And what was the result?
David says to the Lord, “You forgave,” which is the same word as “forgiven” in verse 1 and means “carried away” (Lev. 16:21-22). What is noteworthy in this verse is that forgiveness immediately followed confession! “As soon as I said ‘I will confess,’ You forgave.” David is still overwhelmed by the immediacy and thoroughness of God’s forgiveness.
This is the same picture of forgiveness in Exodus 34:6-7 (David uses the same words for sin as Moses) and Paul refers to this psalm as a demonstration of the work of God to justify sinners (Rom. 4:6-7ff). Our forgiveness is a gift of God’s grace. The basis of forgiveness is in the Forgiver, not in the one forgiven — the One sinned against paid for forgiveness (Rom. 5:8)!
But also be sure to note this — there was no forgiveness until David confessed (1 Jn. 1:9). Our counselees may long for forgiveness. They may want freedom from their condemning consciences. They may want to feel spiritually healthy. But they will only receive the help and hope they desire when they confess their sins.
4. Remember God’s Hope for Those Who Confess (vv. 6-8)
In verses 6-8, David applies the lesson of God’s grace and forgiveness to the readers and singers of this song. When he says “Therefore” (v. 6), he means that because of these truths, there are lessons to be learned from his example of confession and forgiveness.
So he exhorts, “let the godly pray. “ The lesson is that repentance isn’t just for David — it’s for everyone! The word “godly” is an interesting word to choose. Just who is godly? Godliness indicates a lack of sin. No one is godly on his own. So what David means here is that the godly person is the one who willingly confronts and confesses his sin. He does not claim perfection. In fact he regularly claims imperfection, and comes to the only One who can perfect him.
What happens when this man prays? Because he prays with sincerity (“no deceit,” v. 2b), God “will be found” (v. 6a). God will not hide from anyone who honestly and truly confesses! Further, though the sin problem may seem overwhelming, when he confesses, he won’t drown. The “flood” of sin (v. 6b) will not overwhelm the confessing sinner.
David further reminds us of three-fold response of God: He becomes a “hiding place” (v. 7a) for the repentant sinner; instead of hiding from God, when one confesses, he is hidden in God, from sin (119:114; 27:5). When our sin is no longer hidden, we are hidden from the wrath against our sin. He will also “preserve” (v. 7a) the repentant sinner. That is, God is one’s perpetual, keeping salvation; God will keep him alive. What David asserts here is similar to what Peter affirms in his first letter: the believer has been regenerated “to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pt. 1:4-5 NASB).
Finally, God “surrounds me with songs of deliverance” (v. 7b). David is referring to the deliverance from the penalty of sin and from the judgment of God. He is saved by God and from God. The repentant sinner learns that instead of God being his enemy, confession gives him the confident certainty (which is the sense of the biblical concept of hope) that God is no longer against him, but is working for him, protecting, keeping, and saving him.
But the protection of God is not just David’s idea. Following David’s confession, God responds (v. 8). Rather than God’s hand being heavy on David (v. 4), God (gently) instructs, teaches, and counsels (v. 8) him. Not only is David forgiven, but there is also full restoration and fellowship. God is showing David the way to go — guiding him on the pathway to life (Prov. 3:18-26).
Further, now God’s eye is on David to protect and keep him (v. 8b; see also 17:8; 18:24; 33:18; 34:15). The one who doesn’t confess is hopeful that he will be able to escape the scrutinizing exam of God. He can’t. But the one who affirms and confesses his sin is freed from that sin and from the wrath of God, and enters into the eternally protective custody of God.
There are at least two implications for us to remind our counselees about the hope of God. First, if they are not followers of Christ, none of hope this psalm is true for them. Their sin is not forgiven, it is not covered, and iniquity has been imputed to them. They are not blessed; they are condemned by God. They cannot hide from God; they will never be hidden from God (Rev. 14:10).
But if they confess their sin, God will move from being their enemy to their friend; instead of hunting them, He will protect them; instead of condemning them, He will liberate and save them. If they have rejected Christ, they can confess their sin and turn to Him in repentance. That is their only hope.
If our counselees are followers of Christ, they still will sin (it is likely why they have come to see us for help). And that sin, while having been washed and cleansed by Christ, still necessitates confession. The child of God, as David was, cannot live in willful sin and expect to experience the blessing of God; if they belong to God and are willfully and intentionally sinning and not confessing, this psalm is for them; God will discipline them until they come to him in confession so that they will live in obedience to Him. We do well to exhort them to repent of their sin and begin living in obedience to God and His Word.
As a fifth reminder, David tells us in the final verses why all that he has said is so very important.
5. Remember the Exhortation to Confess (vv. 9-11)
Again, one does not have to confess his sin. But David likens that to being like an ignorant horse or mule by which he means, “don’t be stubborn” (v. 9). When we refuse to confess and be forgiven, we demonstrate that we are just like an unreasoning animal (Jer. 8:6); the only way to control a donkey is by the force of bit and bridle. So we exhort our counselees: don’t be unreasoning; submit yourself to the kind leading of God.
Then David reminds the readers of the costs of unrepentance and benefits of confession (v. 10).
There are “many sorrows” for the wicked (and “wicked” includes anyone who refuses to confess). There is great sorrow now and in eternity for refusing God’s forgiveness. God is unrelenting in His wrath. As an example, six times in Matthew Jesus calls Hell “outer darkness” or “the furnace of fire…in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30). Not only is Hell unrelenting and eternal, but it is also profoundly, unimaginably horrible in its horrors.
But there is also great compassion in forgiveness. The one who “trusts in the Lord, lovingkindness will surround him” (v. 10a). The one who confesses sin and trusts in God and Christ for His forgiveness will be overwhelmed, covered up, and surrounded by God’s grace. Sin will always offer allurement of happiness, but real joy is found only in choosing God and walking with Him (v. 11).
Do we want gladness and do we want our counselees to find gladness? Then “Be glad in the Lord” (v. 11). Exhort your counselee not to continue to be glad in sin, but to find joy and satisfaction in being obedient to God. If you want to be “righteous” and “upright in heart,” then “rejoice” and “shout for joy” in God (v. 11). Why confess sin? Because joy is found in confession. So David has returned to the theme of verse 1 — the blessed life is the life that is built on confession of sin.
This psalm was a favorite of Augustine, the fourth century pastor. It is said that he often read this psalm with weeping heart and eyes. And while sick with the illness that would take his life, he had this psalm written over his bed so that he could be comforted by it while in his sick-bed. He said about this psalm, “The beginning of knowledge is to know yourself to be a sinner.” Only when we acknowledge our sin will we know the joy and hope of forgiveness. And only when we help our counselees to acknowledge their sin in full confession will they know the joy and hope of forgiveness. When you have sinning counselees point them to the restorative work of God that comes through repentance.
Editor’s note: If you haven’t yet, make sure you read Part 1 of this post.
These two posts are the third installment in the series “Songs of the Heart” by Terry Enns, a collection of studies on the Psalms and Biblical Counseling. Other titles in this series include “One Thing” – Parts 1 and 2 & “Joy Comes in the Morning.”
Terry Enns is the pastor of Grace Bible Church in Granbury Texas. He has over twenty years of pastoral counseling experience, and is a certified counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC, formerly NANC). In addition to his preaching and pastoral duties at Grace, Terry maintains an active blog at Words of Grace.
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