I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go. We must suppose the "godly man" of Psalms 32:6 addressed, if we regard David as the speaker. Such a man was not beyond the need of instruction and teaching, since he was liable to sins of infirmity, and even to grievous falls, as had been seen by David's example. I will guide thee with mine eye; i.e. "I will keep watch over thee with mine eye, and guide thee as I see to be necessary."
This psalm is one of those historically established as David's. £ It has long been a favourite with the greatest saints, who are the very ones that own themselves the greatest sinners. Luther referred to it as one of his special psalms. So Dr. Chalmers, who, it is said, could scarcely read its first three verses without tears filling his eyes. The compression necessary to keep this work within moderate limits renders it impossible to do more than point out how it might profitably be expanded and expounded in a course of sermons. It is headed, "a Psalm, giving instruction;" i.e. a didactic psalm—a doctrinal one, in fact, and as such is to be one of the songs of the sanctuary. Note: They fall into error who do not regard the rehearsal of Divine truth as a fitting method of sacred song. We may not only sing praise to God, but may speak "to one another in psalms, and hymns, £ and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord." This psalm is a grateful rehearsal of the blessedness of Divine forgiveness. We see therein—
I. FORGIVENESS NEEDED . Here, indeed, the expositor must be clear, firm, direct, swift, pointed. We have:
1 . Sin committed. The Hebrew language, poor as is its vocabulary in many directions, is abundant in the terms used in connection with sin. £ It is and ever will remain the differential feature of the education of the Hebrew people, that they were taught so emphatically and constantly the evil of sin. For this purpose the Law was their child-guide with a view to Christ ( Galatians 3:24 ). Of the several terms used to express sin, three are employed here. £ One, which denotes "missing the mark;" a second, which denotes "overstepping the mark;" a third, which denotes "crookedness or unevenness." Over and above corresponding terms in the New Testament, we have two definitions of sin. One in 1 John 3:4 , "Sin is the transgression of law;" another in 1 John 5:1 , "All injustice is sin." We can never show men the value of the gospel until they see the evil of sin. Some minds are most effectively reached by one aspect of truth, and others by another; but surely from one or other of these Scripture terms or phrases the preacher may prepare a set of arrows that by God's blessing will pierce some through the joints of their armour. Nor can the reality or evil of sin be fairly evaded by any plea drawn from the modern doctrine of evolution; since, even if that theory be valid, the emergence of consciousness and of moral responsibility at a certain stage of evolution is as certain a phenomenon as any other. Men know they have done wrong, and it behoves the preacher not to quit his hold of them till he has driven conviction of the evil of sin against God deeply into the soul!
2 . Sin concealed. ( 1 John 5:2 .) "I kept silence," i.e. towards God. In the specific case referred to here, sin had disclosed its fearful reality by breaking out openly; it was known, yet unacknowledged. Hence:
3 . Sin rankled within ( 1 John 5:2 , "my bones," etc.). Remorse and self-reproach succeeded to the numbness which was the first effect of the sin. There was a reaction—restlessness seized on the guilty one. The action of a guilty conscience brings within a man the most terribly consuming of all agitation. He cannot flee from himself, and his guilt and dread pursue him everywhere ( Job 15:20-25 ; Job 18:11 ; Job 20:11-29 ; £ , Proverbs 28:1 ). Hence it is a great relief to note the next stage.
4 . Sin confessed. ( 1 John 5:5 .) What a mercy that our God is one to whom we can unburden our guilt, telling him all, knowing that in the storehouse of infinite grace and love there is exhaustless mercy that wilt "multiply pardons" ( Isaiah 55:7 , Hebrew)!
5 . Sin put away. ( 1 John 5:2 .) "In whose spirit there is no guile;" i.e. no deceit, no reserve, no concealment, no continuing in the sin which is thus bemoaned, but, at the moment it is confessed towards God, honestly and entirely putting it away. And when once the sin and guilt are thus put away before God, it will not be long ere the penitent has to recount the experience of—
II. FORGIVENESS OBTAINED AND ENJOYED . He who guilelessly puts away sin by repentance will surely find that God lovingly' puts it away by pardon ( 1 John 5:5 ). And as the Hebrew is ample in its terms for sin, so also is it in the varied words and phrases to express Divine forgiveness. Three of these are used here; but in the Hebrew there are, at least, ten others, £
1 . "Forgiven." ( 1 John 5:1 .) The Hebrew word means "lifted off;" in this case the LXX . render "remitted," but sometimes they translate the Hebrew term literally, by a word which also means "to lift off," "to lift up," "to bear," and "to bear away." £ (cf. John 1:29 ; 1 John 3:5 ; Matthew 9:5 , Matthew 9:6 ). In Divine forgiveness, the burden of sin is lifted off from us and borne away by the Son of God; the penitent is also "let go." His indictment is cancelled, and from sin's penalty he is set free. £
2 . Covered ; as with a lid, or a veil: put out of sight. God looks on it no more ( Micah 7:18 ).
3 . " Iniquity not imputed. " It is no more reckoned to the penitent. With absolution there is complete and entire acquittal, and with the non-imputation of sin there is the imputation of righteousness ( Romans 3:1-31 ; Romans 4:1-25 ; Romans 5:1-21 .), or the full and free reception of the pardoned one into the Divine favour, in which a standing of privilege, that in his own right he could not claim, is freely accorded to him through the aboundings of Divine grace.
III. FORGIVENESS BEARING FRUIT . This psalm is itself the product of a forgiven man's pen. It would be a psychological impossibility for an unregenerate and unpardoned man ever to have written it. The psalmist's experience of forgiving love bears fruit:
1 . In grateful song. ( 1 John 5:7 .) "Songs of deliverance" will now take the place of consuming remorse and penitential groans.
2 . In new thoughts of God. ( 1 John 5:7 .) "Thou art my Hiding-place" etc. In the God whose pardoning love he has known, he will now find a perpetual Protector and Friend.
4 . In exhortation . ( 1 John 5:8 , 1 John 5:9 .) We regard these as the psalmist's words, £ in which he uses his own experience to counsel others. Broken-hearted penitents make the best evangelists. The exhortation is threefold.
I. THE PLACE OF GUIDANCE . Unless we are able to see God's eye, we cannot be guided. What hinders? Our sins. "Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up" ( Psalms 40:12 ). The great thing, therefore, is to confess our sins, that they may be put away, and then, "accepted in the Beloved," we can "look up " with childlike trust, and cry, "Abba, Father!"
II. THE MANNER OF GUIDANCE .
1 . Authoritative. As master and servant ( Psalms 123:2 ).
3 . Sure. Moses knew the desert well, but he might err. He was glad, therefore, of the help of Hobab, "Thou mayest be to us instead of eyes" ( Numbers 10:31 ). How much more surely may we depend upon God in our wilderness journey! "Except the eye of the Lord be put out, we cannot be put out of his sight and care" (Donne).
III. THE HAPPY RESULTS OF GUIDANCE .
1 . Peace. We cannot guide ourselves; nor can we trust to others, even the wisest and the best, to guide us; but when we put ourselves under the care and direction of God, we feel that all is well ( Jeremiah 10:23 ; Psalms 119:165 ).
2 . Freedom. God does not take pleasure in "the bit and bridle." He would have us be guided through our reason and heart rather than by restraint and force. He works in us both "to will and to do." He makes us free by the truth, that our service may be not from fear, but love.
3 . Courageousness. ( 2 Chronicles 20:12 .) God's eye upon us is an inspiration. Gideon felt a new man when the Lord looked upon him ( 6:14 ). Paul had a heart for any fate when Christ stood by him in the storm ( Acts 27:23 ). Stephen went to a cruel death with love and joy under the eye of his Master ( Acts 7:56-60 ).
4 . Hope. In humble, trustful self surrender and love we can go forward with confidence. God's eye upon us, and our eye upon God, we are safe for time and for eternity,—W.F.
The attitude of the penitent.
Because of the grace thus vouchsafed to every penitent, David would encourage all the godly to seek him who deals so graciously with sinners. Out of his past and present experience he will now counsel others, and especially those who are still impenitent, and the tenor of his counsel is that they should not, like brutes, refuse submission till they are forced into it. The passage may be divided into two parts:
1 . Confidence in God for others. ( Psalms 32:6 .) What God has done for him, he will do for all the penitent and godly. Not a partial God, but his principles of action are universal. God can always be found by the truly penitent; i.e. he always hears them when they call upon him ( Psalms 32:6 ). Its averts from them the judgments ("great waters") that threaten to overwhelm the wicked ( Psalms 32:6 ).
2 . Confidence in God for himself. ( Psalms 32:7 .) He lives in God as his Castle or Hiding-place, secure from danger and trouble. This idea is enlarged and exalted by Christianity. "Your life is bid with Christ in God." The security is all the greater because we are joined with Christ in God. God will surround him with abundant causes of thankful songs—songs of deliverance. Turn where he may, he finds the delivering hand of God at work on his behalf.
II. HIS ATTITUDE AS A TEACHER OF THE IMPENITENT . ( Psalms 32:8-11 .)
1 . His experience qualifies him to show men the way they should go. "Then—after thou hast delivered me—will I teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee." He knew the road which he urged them to take—knew it from experience, not from any theory.
2 . This made him a gentle , sympathetic guide. He will guide them with the gentle guidance of the eye. A look is enough for those who are willing to go in the right way—a look in the direction which is to be pointed out. Experience taught him to be pitiful.
3 . He exhorts men against a brutish and stubborn impenitence. ( Psalms 32:9 .) Do not be like the brute, which must be compelled to service, "who doth not willingly come unto thee;" but as reasonable religious creatures, be willing for the service which is great and blessed.
4 . He sums up the whole question. ( Psalms 32:10 .) The sorrows which encompass the wicked, and the mercy that follows those who trust in God. "Mercy;" equivalent to "loving-kindness." A tremendous contrast.
5 . An exhortation to the righteous to realize their blessed estate. ( Psalms 32:11 .)—S.
The last word of the title, "Maschil," is thought to mean that the psalm was intended for instruction, warning, or admonition; the word maschil , or rather maskil , being formed from askil ," to instruct"—the opening word of the eighth verso—used also in Psalms 2:10 ; Psalms 53:2 , etc. There are thirteen psalms thus inscribed, all more or less of a didactic character.
Rhythmically, the psalm seems to be composed of six strophes, each of two verses; but in the third strophe the two verses have been joined in one.
St. Jerome, and others after him, including Dr. Kay, have regarded this passage as an utterance of God, who first admonishes David, and then passes on to an admonition of the Israelites generally. But such a sudden intrusion of a Divine utterance, without any notice of a change of speaker, is without parallel in the Psalms, and should certainly not be admitted without some plain necessity. Here is no necessity at all. The words are quite suitable in the mouth of David, as an admonition to the Israelites of his time; they accord with the title, which he himself seems to have prefixed to the psalm, and explain it; and they fulfil the promise made in Psalms 51:15 .