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TEXT: Psalm 32:1-2
SUBJECT: Psalm 32 #1: The Joy of Forgiveness
Today, with God's blessing, I hope to begin a four-part study of Psalm 32. I've divided it into four parts-I hope-- because it is divided that way. It was the Psalmist who wrote it in four stanzas, and the Lord who caused him to do it. The outline is simple"
The importance and relevance of the Psalm cannot be exaggerated. If offers no footnotes on theology or ethics or the history of salvation, but deals with the things that matter most: sin and forgiveness. This means the Psalm is for you and me, for everyone is a sinner, and no one needs anything more than forgiveness. It is the one thing needful.
We can live happy lives and go to heaven when we die without a job or medical insurance or a home or a family or good health. What we cannot do is live happy lives and go to heaven when we die without the forgiveness of sin! But, when our sins are forgiven-and we know they are-then the bitterest parts of life are sweetened and the sweet parts are only appetizers for the feast God has for us at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb!
Dear me! How stupid and silly and shallow we are to dwell on the many problems we face every day, when in fact, there's only one real problem-and that's sin. And how ungrateful we are to brood over the things we don't have, and forget the thing we do have-the forgiveness of sin!
Psalm 32 is about life-the Psalmist's life, of course, but our lives as well. May the God who raised Jesus from the dead, speak to us today, and give us the-
Ears to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
AUTHOR AND SETTING
The author of Psalm 32 is David, and we know he is because Paul says so in Romans 4:6-7. The fact that he wrote it-and not somebody else-adds a depth and a texture to our reading, for David was a man who knew sin and forgiveness as few others have.
The sin behind Psalm 32 is the most scandalous sin in the Bible, other than Judas betraying the Lord with a kiss. You can read the sordid details in II Samuel 11-12.
Here's the story in brief. When the kings in that part of the world went to war, David stayed home, and not because he was too sick or old to fight the battles of the Lord, but because he had gotten lazy and presumptuous. Since God had promised him victory, why not loaf around on the patio?
Here's why not: Because idle eyes are the devil's workshop. He spots a beautiful young woman bathing in a nearby stream. David sees her, takes her, and, a few weeks later, gets a letter saying she's pregnant.
To say he's embarrassed is putting it mildly; he's also in trouble, for the woman is married to one of the king's most loyal and dangerous soldiers. Needing a way to explain the pregnancy, he orders the soldier home, but the man is so dutiful to his king and country, he won't spend the night with his wife-Why should I? he wonders-if the ark and armies of God are in the field. Not as clever as he thinks he is, David sends the man back to the lines with a letter to his commanding officer: Put Uriah way out front-and then retreat. The officers follows orders, Uriah is killed in battle, and after a due time of mourning, his widow marries the king.
This is the backdrop of Psalm 32. David has committed one of the worst sins in history, betraying God, his country, and a friend who would have happily died in his service.
I wish he hadn't done this, of course, but knowing what he did deepens the Psalm and gives hope to people, who haven't messed up once or twice, but who have done things of great wickedness.
David's sin was serious and so is the Psalm. One scholar says, Deep, searching, personal experience lies at the root of this confession. Another adds, It was written with the very blood of its author.
If light of what occasioned the Psalm, you expect it to open with a guilty cry, but it doesn't. Its first word is-
The word means happy, and it's in the Hebrew plural, suggesting a rich variety of joys. David, who had acted so shamefully, and felt his shame so keenly, is overflowing with happiness. The joy was deeply felt and publicly expressed.
The happiness he felt that day was nothing new to him. Though David had more problems than most men, he did not sink into despair or forget the joy of the Lord.
Over the years, many things made him happy, of course, but one thing stands out above his family or fame or success or long life-the forgiveness of his sin!
He describes it in four ways-
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity and in whose spirit there is no guile.
Let's go over each line, starting with transgression forgiven. To trangress is to rebel; it is a willful act, stemming from a heart not submitted to God. Most days, David was not this way, but this day, he was. This was not a slip up, or even a single act of adultery (bad as that is). David did not plan the affair, but once he fell into it, he plotted Uriah's death, and he did not stop till the man was dead. He wasn't guilty of manslaughter, but of murder in the first degree.
If ever there was a transgression, this was it. He knew God's will, and he didn't care! What Woody Allen said about his shameful affair, David might have said, too-
The heart wants what it wants.
Under the Old Covenant, the penalty for this crime was death. And, in the justice of God, this death on earth pointed to an eternal death. This is what David had coming, but he got something else. He got forgiveness.
To forgive means to 'carry off'. To David, it brought to mind the scapegoat. You can read about it in Leviticus 16. One day a year, Yom Kippur, the High Priest of Israel laid his hands on a goat, charged it with all the sins of the people, and led it way off into the distance. A second priest took it from there, and walked even farther, then a third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh priest led him away-literally out of Israel's sight, and, symbolically, out of God's sight.
This is what forgiveness does-it carries our sins away. In the Law, it was a ceremony, but that's all it was, an acting out of the great work God would do in the future. The future came in Christ, and as-
The Lamb of God [He] takes away the sin of the world.
Out of our sight and out of God's sight.
David was happy because his transgression was forgiven. And not only his! Yours and mine are too!
Next, he says-Blessed is he whose.sin is covered. To sin is to miss the mark, to fall short of what God wants us to do. The rabbis found 212 rules in the Law, and, the prophets add many more (and the New Testament, too, of course).
David had missed the mark on a lot of them, including the two most important-
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself
For an hour or two he felt love for Bathsheba. But did he love her? No, he used her. He didn't care about her conscience about her reputation or about the pain her sins would cause her husband, her parents, her children. Nor did he care about her soul or standing with God. For David was not the only one who sinned that day, so did she. But so what? As long as David gets what he wants.
If David failed to love his neighbor as himself, even more did he fail to love God. The Lord loved Bathsheba, and He was grieved to see his daughter betraying him, herself, and her family to please a bored man. The Lord also loved Uriah, and wanted him to enjoy life a bit longer and do more service for Israel. And, of course, God loves His own reputation, and that was tarnished all over the world by what His king did-
You have given the enemies of the Lord cause to blaspheme.
Rather than laughing at David or faulting him for his sins, the world laughed at God, saying things like, The Kingdom of God looks a whole lot like the kingdoms of man!
David sinned terribly that day, and the weeks that followed. And his sin deserved a heavy punishment. But instead of being punished, they were covered.
This also brings to mind the Day of Atonement. On that day, the High Priest would kill an animal, catch its blood in a pan, and carry it into the Holy of Holies. Once inside, he devoutly walked to the Ark of the Covenant, where two golden angels stood, looking down on the lid of the box, which was called the mercy seat. The blood would be poured onto the seat and the angels could not see through it! In other words, they could not see the broken laws underneath it.
The angels' gaze stood for the Vision of God. When He looks down from heaven, He cannot see through the Blood, and so our sins are covered!
What the blood of the animal promised, the Blood of Christ delivered! Our sins are covered-all of them are and for all time.
How blessed we are!
Next on the list is, imputed-Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity. This is a word we don't use every day. What it means is 'charged'-like charged with a crime. David had committed the crime, there's no doubt about that, he even says so himself. The Lord also knows what he did.
But, somehow or other, He did not charge him with it. Why not? Other kings who served other gods at the time would have a ready answer: the king is above the law. This was not true in Israel! God is the True King, and every man who serves under Him is also responsible to Him. Including David.
So.why didn't he have to answer for his capital crimes? Because Someone answered for him. This, too, was deeply rooted in the religion of Israel. Remember the Passover, when every firstborn son in Egypt died? Well, some didn't die, of course, the Jewish sons. Why not? Because the Passover Lamb died in their place. Because their sins were charged to the lambs. This was enacted in Law. The life of every firstborn boy was forfeit, until he was redeemed at the cost of an innocent animal. Even Jesus was subject to death, till Joseph and Mary brought the pair of turtledoves to the Temple.
God is not blind to our sins. He sees every one of them, but, instead of charging us with them, He charged His Firstborn, who was-
Wounded for our transgressions,
Bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement of our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
Would you be happy if someone paid off your mortgage or you car or your credit card bills? You'd be walking six inches off the ground if he did. But our debt to God's Law is far steeper than what we owe other men, and a Man has paid them off in full. That Man is also God, Jesus Christ!
The fourth reason David was so happy is because-in his spirit there was no guile. Guile means hypocrisy or insincerity. When David was forgiven, he was also re-made. As we are, when we believe in Christ, who died-not only to obtain our pardon (sweet as that is), but also to-
Redeem us from all iniquity and purify for Himself a peculiar people, zealous for good works.
The forgiven man is also the grateful man, and being grateful to God produces holy living-not perfect living, but sincere discipleship.
David was a happy man, and his happiness was more than an upbeat personality. It was built on something real and lasting: God's redeeming grace.
We say we're forgiven, too. But how happy are we in Christ? Not everyone is equally sunny-and that's fine-too much sun hurts your eyes! But a dark and gloomy way of life is not the life God has for us. He wants us to be of good cheer, because whatever we don't have, we have the one thing that matters most: we have the forgiveness of sin through the death of our Savior in our place.
Do you know anything of this happiness? Not everyone does. If you're not forgiven, you're not happy-and you shouldn't be. For God did not make you to live in guilt and fear and shame. If He had, you'd be 'happy' in your 'unhappiness'. But you're not happy. And though you've tried to find happiness in money or love or success or morality or in being a rebel without a cause, you haven't found it. And you won't find it in these things, because that's not where it is.
Happiness is in forgiveness, and forgiveness is in Christ.
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