Psalm 32 • Dealing with Sin


Psalm 32 is the first to be designated a “Maskil”. We’re not 100% certain what this means, but many Jewish commentators from old often identify it as a Psalm that is to be explained and accompanied by an interpreter. In other words, it was designed not just as a song or prayer but as a tool to instruct others. In this case, the teaching is how one is brought to a clear sense of their sin, acknowledge it, and discover the pardoning power of God’s grace. This is an Old Testament teaching on the doctrine of the forgiveness of sin by the grace of God. This is a particularly powerful Old Testament teaching in that there is no mention whatsoever of the Mosaic sacrifices often associated with sin. David provides an application of how the process is supposed to work and an indirect revelation of the true role of the ritual sacrifices.

Read verses 1-2

Q: Why does David begin with the end result of this teaching concerning God’s forgiveness of sin?

A: As a teaching tool, it’s an introduction to the overall content of the lesson. We are provided the goal of the teaching in advance and to what the following verses specifically address.

Q: What is the implication of v.2 for those whose sins are not forgiven? What is the consequence?

A: God charges the person according to their sins, also known as “iniquity”. Final judgment will either provide pardon or condemnation.

Q: What is the further implication in v.2 concerning the person that has been forgiven?

A: The statement, “in whose spirit there is no deceit” describes someone who is not just thoroughly convinced of their sin, but sincere in their own repentance. Their confession was devoid of deceit or hypocrisy and therefore came from a sincere heart.

Application: The process of forgiveness involves sincerity on the part of the seeker, not just going through the motions of asking to be forgiven “yet again”.

Read verses 3-5

Q: What are the basic things being compared and contrasted here?

A: In v.3-4 it’s “keeping silent about my sin” versus v.5’s “I acknowledged my sin to You”.

Q: What is the main difference between keeping silent versus confessing?

A: Keeping silent led not to forgiveness but further burdens and problems; confession was the only option resulting in forgiveness.

Application: What has been your experience in trying to live with sin? Have you noticed that sin is often associated with the word “burden”? What might be indicated by someone who no longer feels the burden of sin and its consequences?

Q: In the context of the Old Testament rituals of sacrifices for sin, what is David teaching in this first step of silence versus confession?

A: There has to be personal, discernible confession, not just a sacrifice to cover things up. The process begins with how one feels about sin and whether they’re willing to acknowledge it.

Application: The process begins with how one feels about sin and whether they’re willing to acknowledge it.

Read verses 6-7

Q: Besides David, who are additional biblical characters that prayed for the forgiveness of sin?

A: Moses and Daniel are prominent examples who began the process not by burning sacrifices but by engaging God in prayer. However, none is more preeminent than Christ Himself:

And forgive us our sins,

For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

And lead us not into temptation.’”

— Luke 11:4

Q: What is implied in the caveat that one should pray to God “in a time when You may be found”?

A: At the highest level, the opportunity to come to Christ for forgiveness of sin will come to an end. At a more granular level, it probably also refers to seeking God at every opportunity, not just during appointed times associated with rituals or the operation of the Tabernacle/Temple. (For us today, it’s not waiting for a church service.)

Q: What do you suppose the reference to “a flood of great waters” means?

A: Think of the example of Noah: Those who remained in a right, forgiven relationship with God were saved in spite of the overwhelming flood which destroyed everyone else. Forgiveness of sin is the only real and valid “rescue” from God’s point of view since He sees what sin (or its forgiveness) will produce for us in eternity.

Q: Why do you suppose so many terms of protection are employed in v.7 to describe the state of the forgiven person, such as “hiding place”, “preserver”, and “surround”?

A: It conveys the teaching that Believers are not immune from the problems of this life, but protected.

Application: Beyond seeking forgiveness of sin, seek God’s protection from it.

Read verses 8-9

Q: What are the 3 things that God will do subsequent to forgiveness of sin that are the most effective means of not revisiting sin?

  1. “I will instruct you” is the biblical way of stating, “I will make you understand”, not simply convey information. God provides understanding not just of the consequences of sin, but the benefits of righteousness.
  2. “...teach you in the way you should go” is God’s promise to provide the path that leads to Him, defined by His will and ways so that we know for sure the right way to walk in Him.
  3. “I will counsel you with My eye upon you” is a way of stating that He will not just guide us with His Word but accompanied by His very presence.

Q: How are the things in v.8 contrasted with the example of the horse and mule in v.9?

A: An integral part of the process of forgiveness of sins is to learn the right lesson and become better for it, ceasing to repeat the same behavior over and over again.

Point: These things combine to describe the work of sanctification, one wholly and exclusively devoted to God’s will and way alone. The teaching here is that forgiveness is but a beginning leading to a lifestyle AWAY from sin and TOWARDS a life dedicated to God.

Application: Forgiveness is but a beginning leading to a lifestyle away from sin and toward a life dedicated to God.

Read verses 10-11

Q: What is the proper context of v.10 given the discussion to this point?

A: Those who are like mules and learn nothing incur greater sorrows as they’re mired in the same, repeated behavior. Those who embrace His instruction, teaching, and counsel are showing that they are “he who trusts in the Lord” and therefore experiences not just forgiveness, but the whole of God’s grace.

Q: What is the key phrase provided in v.11 that describes the goal of not just being forgiven, but living in the abundance of God’s grace?

A: “Upright in heart”. It describes someone who has undergone real, legitimate change from a heart predisposed to sin to a heart inclined towards God’s ways. It sums up the true goal of forgiveness, to effect permanent and lasting change.

Application: Real change is characterized by a heart that goes from being predisposed to sin to a heart inclined toward God’s ways.


The purpose of the Old Testament sacrifices were designed as the END of the process, not the process in and of itself. Each person, coming to the personal realization of their sin and first seeking God through prayer, finalized the process with a sacrifice. In our New Testament world, this is what Christ did for us on the cross. In either case, God’s desire is for the person to be changed from the heart, no longer bound to nor seeking sin, but fully engaged in the process of sanctification—being wholly dedicated from the heart.