UP

PSALM 32 AND FORGIVENESS

By Ronald W. Leigh, Ph.D.
Bible and Cross
June 29, 2013
Copyright © 2008 Ronald W. Leigh
Bible quotations are from the New International Version and
the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted.
———————————— Contents ————————————
A. Introduction
B. Text comparison
C. Outline of Psalm 32
D. Commentary
E. Condensed paraphrase
F. A singable version
G. A song of prevention
H. The requirements of forgiveness, a matter of grace
I. The logic and justice of forgiveness, missing from Islam
J. The attributes of God and false views of forgiveness
K. Classification of sin
L. Are a believer's future sins forgiven?
M. Practical and devotional questions for discussion
N. Internet resources
————————————————————————————

A.  INTRODUCTION

Among all the world religions with their so-called sacred scriptures, the Bible is the only book that teaches that God will forgive a person's sins completely.

Forgiveness is only one of the many benefits of salvation.  These benefits are all very closely related and include such things as:

There are many questions that could be asked about forgiveness:  The need?  The basis?  The requirements?  The process?  The results?  Etc.  Psalm 32 focuses on the process and the results.  (There are also many questions that could be asked about human forgiveness, but this paper considers only divine forgiveness.)

B.  TEXT COMPARISON

New International Version, 1984   New American Standard Bible, 1995
Of David. A maskil.   A Psalm of David, A Maskil.
Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 1 How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered!
Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. 2

How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit!

When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 3 When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Selah 4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD" – and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah 5 I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"; And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah.
Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him. 6 Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found; Surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him.
You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah 7 You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. 8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.
Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. 9 Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, Otherwise they will not come near to you.
Many are the woes of the wicked, but the LORD's unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him. 10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked; But he who trusts in the LORD, lovingkindness shall surround him.
Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart! 11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones; And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.

C.  OUTLINE OF PSALM 32

Verses       Who is
speaking
To
whom
1-2 I. The blessing of being forgiven David Anyone
3-6 II. David's testimony regarding forgiveness    
3-4   A. My silent delay and its terrible results David God
5   B. My confession David God
6   C. The point – immediate confession David God
7-9 III. God's protection and guidance    
7   A. Protection David God
8-9   B. Guidance – pay attention God Anyone
10-11 IV. Conclusion    
10   A. Contrast: The wicked and the righteous David Anyone
11   B. Response: Rejoice David The upright

D.  COMMENTARY

Title

The psalms were written over a period of 900 or 1,000 years, from the time of Moses (Psalm 90) to after the return from Babylon (Psalm 126).

Although the titles of the psalms are ancient (well before the Septuagint, that is, before approximately 200 B.C.) they were not part of the original text.  They may have been added as the various psalms were collected and catalogued.  Yet, for some psalms the title can provide background information helpful in interpreting those psalms.

"Of David" – This part of the title is not necessarily as easy to interpret at it might seem.  "Of David" may indicate Davidic authorship, but the phrase can also mean concerning David, dedicated to David, belonging to David (part of the collection he produced), etc.  However, in the case of Psalm 32, we have additional reason to believe that David is in fact the author.  In Romans 4:6-8 Paul names David as the author when he quotes the first two verses of this psalm.

Some may consider Paul's quotation less than an air-tight argument for David's authorship of this psalm in view of certain other quotations in which the cited author does not match the actual quotation, such as Matthew 27:9 and Mark 1:2.  But the Mark passage combines quotations from more than one source, giving rise to the possibility that Mark used synecdoche (substituting the part, Isaiah, for the whole, the prophets).  Also, both the Matthew and Mark passages contain textual difficulties in the wording which cites the author.  In contrast, Paul's quotation is not a combination of two passages, nor does it have any of the textual difficulties of the other passages.  In the final analysis, it is highly likely that David is the author of Psalm 32; thus his authorship is assumed throughout this paper.

David was a man after God's own heart (1 Samuel 13:14;  Acts 13:22).

Some commentators interpret Psalm 32 in light of Psalm 51, which includes in its title, "When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba."  On the one hand, it is true that by studying both psalms a more complete understanding of confession and forgiveness will be obtained (and by studying many other passages as well).  On the other hand, we should not assume, just because there are certain similarities between these two psalms, that both were written in response to the same historical event.  It is possible, for example, that Psalm 32 was written long before Psalm 51, or long after.  It is also possible that Psalm 32 was not written in response to any one particular historical event, but is based on several of David's experiences.  It is also possible that this psalm pertains to David's initial conversion experience.

"A maskil" – The NASB notes that this term may mean contemplative, or didactic, or skillful.  However, its limited use in only 13 psalm titles would seem to argue against such meanings.  After all, aren't all psalms to be contemplated, learned from, and handled skillfully?  The fact that the word appears only in the psalms suggests that it is a musical term.  The word appears only once in the body of a psalm (Psalm 47:7) and even there it is variously translated:  the NIV has "psalm of praise" while the NASB has "skillful psalm."

Verse 1-2

"Blessed" is literally "O how happy" or "Oh the happiness."

"whose sin the Lord does not count against him,"  Compare 2 Corinthians 5:19 "not counting men's sins against them."  Compare Isaiah 53:4-6, "the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (same Hebrew word for "sin" in Psalm 32 and "iniquity" in Isaiah).  This is substitution – the heart of the gospel, which is "of first importance," namely, that "Christ died for our sins" (1 Corinthians 15:3).

The three doctrines of substitution, imputation, and justification are very closely related to each other.

When Jesus Christ died on the cross, he suffered the punishment, not for his own sins, but for our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21;  1 Peter 2:24).  This was substitution – Jesus took our punishment (1 Peter 3:18).  Later, when we accept Jesus Christ as our personal savior, there is a two-way imputation that takes place – God assigns our guilt to Christ (Isaiah 53:6) and assigns Christ's righteousness to us (Romans 4:24), and thus God can declare us righteous.  This is justification.  (This is not an experience that we detect with our senses, but a fact of God's reckoning which we bank on, based on God's Word.)  Our justification is a positional reality and is the basis of our practical walk with the Lord.  This, and our entire salvation, is based on the substitutionary death of Christ – Praise the Lord!

The poet Horatius Bonar (1843) said it well when he penned the words of "I Lay My Sins on Jesus" (stanza 1):

I lay my sins on Jesus, The spotless Lamb of God;
He bears them all, and frees us From the accursed load.
I bring my guilt to Jesus, To wash my crimson stains
White in His blood most precious, Till not a spot remains.

In Romans 4:7-8 Paul quotes verses 1-2a of this psalm.  In the context preceding this quotation, Paul is explaining that righteousness, or justification, is a free gift from God.  It is credited to those who trust in him, rather than being an obligation based on a person's good works.  Paul then states that David says the same thing.  David's point, rather than being identical, is more like a corollary to Paul's point.  In the verses that Paul quotes, David does not even mention faith or works.  However, David does refer to the man to whom God "does not impute iniquity" (NASB), and later says that forgiveness comes as a result of honest acknowledgment and confession of sin (verse 5) and that the person who trusts God is surrounded by God's unfailing love (verse 10).  Thus, the psalm correlates closely with Paul's argument.

"no deceit" probably refers to no self-deception regarding his sin.  Compare Psalm 51:6, which is in the middle of a confession.  Also compare John 1:47.

Question:  Is this psalm primarily about forgiveness at salvation, or after salvation?  It was written for Israel, but remember that there were saved and lost individuals in Israel  (Romans 10:1,16)

Verse 3

"When I kept silent," probably not admitting his sins.  If so, this phrase is in direct contrast to the "no deceit" of the previous verse.

"bones" – Compare: in Psalm 6:2 bones are in agony and in Psalm 51:8 bones rejoice.  These are all ways of referring to the inner person.

The suffering in verses 3-4 is often understood to be physical (for example, see the NIV Study Bible notes).  However, the lack of any reference to the physical in verse 5 (which gives the solution to all this suffering) favors the view that the suffering was spiritual, that is, guilt before God and its effects on the soul.

Verse 4

"day and night" indicates a somewhat extended period, especially if the "day and night" refers to a cycle.

Modern song writers have expressed the same inner pain found in verses 3 and 4.  Consider, for example, "Lord, I'm Coming Home" written by William J. Kirkpatrick (stanza 4):

My soul is sick, my heart is sore – Now I'm coming home;
My strength renew, my hope restore – Lord, I'm coming home.

Also consider "Love Lifted Me" written by James Rowe (stanza 1):

I was sinking deep in sin, Far from the peaceful shore,
Very deeply stained within, Sinking to rise no more;
But the Master of the sea Heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me, Now safe am I.

"Selah" may be a musical mark indicating a pause or a musical interlude.

Verse 5

Regarding the acknowledgment of sin, compare 2 Samuel 12:1-13 (esp. v. 13) and Psalm 51:1-4.

Compare 1 John 1:9;  Proverbs 28:13

Confession is "to the Lord."  God, not any human being, is the only one who can forgive sins.  Even the Pharisees knew that only God could forgive sins (Mark 2:7).  Jesus used the Pharisees' knowledge about forgiveness as a way of proving to them that he must be God.  While they could not check out Jesus' supernatural authority in the invisible realm (that is, forgiving the paralytic's sins), they could check out his supernatural authority in the visible realm by watching Jesus heal the paralytic.

"guilt" refers to real guilt, not just guilt feelings.

Verse 6

"while you may be found" – This phrase is difficult to translate, and we will suggest a different rendering.

Below is Psalm 32:6 from an online-interlinear (scripture4all.org).  The Hebrew is from the Westminster Leningrad Codex (same as the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia), the text which forms the basis for the New International Version, the New American Standard Bible, and most other standard English translations.

The phrase we are concerned with here, "while you may be found," comes from only two Hebrew words, marked above.  The first word refers to a time element or season; the second refers to the action of finding.  The phrase can be literally translated "in a time of finding out" or "as the time to find."  The important thing to notice is that there is no noun or pronoun in this short phrase which explicitly refers to God.  Keep in mind that translation is a process of interpreting and transferring meaning from the source language to the target language, not just the mechanical substitution of one word for another.  Thus, it is legitimate for the translators to add what they think will make the phrase most meaningful to the English reader.  The difficulty is: what should be added?

Should "distress" be added?  The New Revised Standard Version renders the phrase "at a time of distress."  (Compare The Jerusalem Bible, "trouble.")  This not only adds the idea of distress but also removes the idea of finding.

Should God ("you") be added?  The renderings found in the NIV and NASB insert the idea of God, which is in the context but not in the two-word phrase itself.  In fact, these two renderings, by inserting God, imply that he is available some times and not other times.  We will attempt to show that the intent of this verse, far from suggesting that God's availability is limited, is to recommend immediate confession of sin, which implies that God is always available.

Some find the notion that God is not always available in the following passage.

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.  ( Isaiah 55:6)

However, the above passage is addressed to Judah as a nation (see verses 3-5), looking ahead to the Babylonian captivity.  The time was after the fall of Israel but well before the fall of Judah, which would be followed by 70 years of captivity.  Isaiah is warning Judah to repent while it was still possible that the Lord might relent from his punishment of the nation, as he did later for Nineveh when they repented (Jonah 3:10).  So, while there is a time limit on God's patience for a wicked nation, as the Amorites found out (Genesis 15:16), as Israel found out (2 Kings 17:1-23), and as Judah found out (2 Kings 25:1-26), there is no limit on God's availability to the individual who repents and confesses his sins.  "Now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2 ).  Compare Acts 17:27-28.  Compare Elijah's mockery of the "god" Baal who was not available (1 Kings 18:27).

Should "sin" be added?  Here are three renderings which add the idea of sin.

Inserting the concept of sin into the phrase is quite reasonable since it preserves the flow of thought that began in verse 1.  The focus of verses 1-2 is sin and forgiveness.  In verses 3-4 the focus is on David's failure to confess sin and its negative results.  In verse 5 David finally confesses his sin and is forgiven.  The obvious lesson to be learned from David's experience is that sin should be confessed immediately, which is the point that comes through best from the above three renderings.  Adding the concept of sin fits comfortably in the context of this phrase. You could even say that the context makes it obvious that what is found is sin.

Also, remember that verse 6 starts with "Therefore," so we would expect some meaningful relationship between verse 6 and the preceding verses.  The rendering in the NIV and NASB seems to lack that relationship, but the rendering found in the ASV, the TANAKH and the CEV preserves it.  In a nutshell, verses 3-5 describe the problems with delayed confession of sin, verse 6 recommends immediate confession of sin.  The fact that God is always available is captured by the poet, Johnson Oatman, Jr., in the hymn "No, Not One!" (stanza 3):

There's not an hour that He is not near us – No, not one!  no, not one!
No night so dark but His love can cheer us – No, not one!  no, not one!

"mighty waters" in some other psalms refers to foreign enemies (compare Psalm 144:7).  However, here in context, it more likely refers to personal, inner troubles.

Verse 7

"You are my hiding place"  Compare Adam and Eve (not yet confessing and still unforgiven) hiding from God  (Genesis 3:8).  This statement is in profound contrast to the terrible experiences of verses 3-4.

Verse 8

This verse, along with verse 9, is the only section in which God speaks.  It may be a quotation from one of the "songs of deliverance" mentioned in verse 7.

"watch over you" – Compare Psalm 33:18-19.  A child may think of the "eye of God" as something to be feared, but in these passages it is positive, giving help and direction.

Verse 9

This verse is difficult to translate and a wide variety of renderings appear in the various translations.  However, there is an obvious parallel between this verse and David's testimony regarding forgiveness in verses 3-6.  David was not quick to confess his sin and thus he needed external prodding from God.  In that sense, he was the mule.  God had to apply "bit and bridle" to make David confess and come near.

Constrained obedience is for a beast; free and voluntary obedience, for a man.  (Adam Clarke's commentary)

By the way, since it is God who applies the bit and bridle and does so with a heavy hand (verse 4), it would make little sense if, when the sinner finally repents, God is not available.  This lends support to the interpretation of verse 6 that we suggested above.

Verse 10-11

Verse 10 summarizes the basic thought of the entire psalm by contrasting the wicked and the righteous as they are described in the earlier verses.

The wicked The righteous
Unrepentant  (2-3)
Without understanding  (9)
Sins are forgiven  (1-2a)
No deceit in his spirit  (2b)
Confesses his sin  (5)
Prays immediately  (6)
Hides in God and has songs of deliverance  (7)
Taught by and led by the Lord  (8)

Then verse 11 gives the response that is so obviously appropriate in view of that contrast – Rejoice!

E.  CONDENSED PARAPHRASE

v. 1-2  Blessed is the person whose sins have all been forgiven by the Lord and removed from his record, and whose heart is honest.
v. 3-4  When I ignored my sin, I was miserable and weak, day and night.
v. 5  Then I finally admitted my sins and confessed them to you, Lord.  And you forgave all my guilt.
v. 6  So everyone who wants to do what is right should pray to you as soon as he realizes his sin.  This will save him a lot of turmoil.
v. 7  Lord, I am safe with you.  You give me reason to sing!
v. 8  I will teach you how to live, and personally counsel you.
v. 9  Don't be like a stupid animal and force me to prod you to return to me.
v. 10-11  The wicked have many troubles, but those who trust in the Lord enjoy his care.  Let the upright rejoice in their Lord!

F.  A SINGABLE VERSION

Biblical Hebrew poetry did not have the same sort of meter and rhyme that our Western poetry has.  Even if it did, the meter and rhyme would be ruined by the process of accurately translating the meaning into English.  In order to be able to sing a psalm as we would sing a regular hymn, it must be rewritten with our style of meter and rhyme and with the resulting paraphrase still true to the meaning of the original.  The Psalter Hymnal, published by the Christian Reformed Church, contains all 150 psalms rewritten in hymn form.  Below is their version of Psalm 32, with their tune replaced by the tune for "The Church's One Foundation."  We have also altered stanza 3 to read "as soon as sins appear" in order to reflect the interpretation of verse 6 suggested above.


G.  A SONG OF PREVENTION

Psalm 32 speaks of the cure for sin.  As great as this divine forgiveness is, and as necessary as it is for the nonbeliever, for the believer it would be better not to sin and to stop the cycle.  In 1749 Charles Wesley wrote the following poem which speaks of a prevention for sin, an internal principle of sensitivity to the approach of sin.  (Can be sung to the tune of "O for a Thousand Tongues")

I want a principle within of watchful, godly fear,
A sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near.
I want the first approach to feel of pride or wrong desire,
To catch the wandering of my will, and quench the kindling fire.

From Thee that I no more may stray, no more Thy goodness grieve,
Grant me the filial awe, I pray, the tender conscience give.
Quick as the apple of an eye, O God, my conscience make;
Awake my soul when sin is nigh, and keep it still awake.

Almighty God of truth and love, to me Thy power impart;
The mountain from my soul remove, the hardness from my heart.
O may the least omission pain my reawakened soul,
And drive me to that blood again, which makes the wounded whole.

H.  THE REQUIREMENTS OF FORGIVENESS, A MATTER OF GRACE

What is required of a person to be forgiven?  Must he

The Bible teaches that God requires none of these for forgiveness!  David's answer in Psalm 32:5,10 is to acknowledge our sin (that is, to confess it and not cover it up) and to trust in God.  The New Testament explanation uses the words repentance from sin and faith in Christ.  Repentance and faith – these are two sides of the same coin and always go together.  Regarding the importance of repentance in both John the Baptist's message and Jesus' message, see Matthew 3:1; 4:17.  See also Luke 3:3;  24:47;  Acts 2:38;  3:19.

We, as guilty sinners, try to hide from God (as did Adam and Eve), but God seeks us out (compare Genesis 3:8).  This is why we say that our forgiveness and our salvation is all of grace.  First and most basic, Christ died for our sins (1 Peter 3:18a) and for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).  But also, God seeks us out and works in our minds and hearts by enlightening all men (John 1:9), by convicting all men (John 16:8-11) and by drawing all men to himself (John 12:32).  If God did not seek us we would all surely remain lost, so we insist that our salvation is all of grace.

I.  THE LOGIC AND JUSTICE OF FORGIVENESS, MISSING FROM ISLAM

Psalm 32:2 refers to sins which God "does not count against" the man.  If this were merely a matter of overlooking sin, God would be unjust.  But God's justice is maintained because of the fact that the spiritual death of Jesus (Matthew 27:46) was substitutionary (1 Peter 3:18a, Romans 3:25-26).  The following chart attempts to illustrate the various facts that form the logical and just basis for a biblical view of forgiveness.  Each idea on the chart is logically dependent on other ideas that lead up to it.

The above logic is entirely missing from Islam.  Without the fall, Islam has no room for the idea of a positional salvation.  Without the deity of Christ and his substitutionary death, divine forgiveness in Islam is completely arbitrary.

In Muslim theology – with its rejection of the cross – there is forgiveness but no real basis for this forgiveness. For Muslims reject Christ's sacrificial payment for sin to a just God by which he can then justly justify the unjust who accept Christ's payment on their behalf (cf. Rom. 3:21-26). After all, a truly just God cannot simply close his eyes to sin; he cannot overlook evil. … Lacking the crucifixion, the Muslim system has no way to explain how Allah can be merciful when he is also just.  (Geisler and Saleeb, Answering Islam, 2ed., Baker Books, 2002, p. 290)

God's forgiveness requires no bloody sacrifice, no atonement, certainly no agony on the part of God. God simply wills it, and it is so.  (Timothy George, Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?, Zondervan, 2002, p. 108)

God may choose to pardon – to be merciful and forgive – but he may just as well choose not to do so.  His forgiveness is inscrutable.  There is no assurance that God will choose to forgive any particular sinner of any particular sin on the day of judgment.  Even when Muhammad himself was dying, he expressed doubt about whether he would be accepted by God …  (Timothy George, op. cit., p. 112)

In contrast, in biblical Christianity we don't have to wonder whether our sins are forgiven or not.  The biblical system of theology "hangs together" around the substitutionary death of Christ.  And, we have the promises (Psalm 32;  1 John 1:9;  etc.).

J.  THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD AND FALSE VIEWS OF FORGIVENESS

There are three attributes of God (his holiness, justice, and love) which form a direct logical basis for the gospel message.  If we are aware of God's holiness, then our sin becomes obvious.  If we realize that God is just, then we also realize that we deserve God's punishment for our sin.  And because of God's holiness, that punishment is essentially separation from God.  These facts, sin and the punishment of separation from God, are the bad news which makes the gospel the good news.  The good news, which is based on God's love, is that Jesus Christ took the punishment for our sin so that, if we repent of our sins and accept Christ as our savior, God forgives our sins and brings us back to God  (1 Peter 3:18a;  John 1:12;  3:16).  But not every system of thought holds these three attributes of God in their proper scriptural balance.

Overlooking sin

One false view of forgiveness is the idea that God will simply overlook sin.  This view sees God as loving, but ignores his justice.  This view appeals to many people but it is built on a pretend god, not the biblical God, and makes the substitutionary death of Christ unnecessary.  Remember, "he does not leave the guilty unpunished" (Exodus 34:7).

Outbalancing sin

Another false view of forgiveness is the notion that, in order to deal with sins, we must build up more and more good works to outbalance our sins.  This view forgets about God's holiness.  God does not look at the amount of good deeds and bad deeds and make a judgment on quantity (or even on quality).  For one thing, none of our deeds done in our own power are good in God's sight, for "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags"  (Isaiah 64:6).  When God looks for a righteous person on earth, he finds that "there is no one who does good, not even one"  (Psalm 14:2-3).  In addition, God cannot even look upon sin.  "Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you"  (Isaiah 59:2).  Doing good works (even if we could) can never solve our sin problem.  This view, like the first false view, makes the substitutionary death of Christ unnecessary.

Universalism

Then there is the universalist notion that forgiveness has already been extended to everyone.  Universalism has appeared in many forms over the centuries, but here we will consider only Neo-orthodoxy because of its extremely widespread influence in today's churches.  Those who sit under Neo-orthodox preaching and teaching get the idea that they are already forgiven, not because they have repented and confessed their sins, but because God has already applied the work of Christ to everyone.  The founders of Neo-orthodoxy (Barth, Brunner, etc.) asserted that all human beings are elect in Christ and identified with Christ in his death, even if they are not aware of it  (see, for example, Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II, Part 2, p. 167 and Church Dogmatics IV, Part 1, p. 53).

It is true that Christ died for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2), which means that his substitutionary death is sufficient for all.  However, that does not mean that everyone is automatically saved, as Jesus clearly taught when he said that many take the road that leads to destruction  (Matthew 7:13-14).

All of the above views eliminate the need for us to recognize and confess our sin.

K.  CLASSIFICATION OF SIN

Some commentators point out that David uses three different Hebrew words for sin in verses 1-2 and verse 5 (see the wording of the NASB).  The word "transgression" (Heb. PESHA) focuses on rebellion; "sin" (Heb. CHATAAH) focuses on missing God's will; and "iniquity" (Heb. AVON) focuses on a crooked or perverse action.  In view of these different words and the way they are used in certain verses in Psalm 32, it would be easy to create some false distinctions, as illustrated in the following table.

Different categories
of sin
My different
actions
God's different
responses
False

distinctions
Type 1:  transgression  (PESHA) confess forgive
Type 2:  sin  (CHATAAH) acknowledge cover
Type 3:  iniquity  (AVON) not hide not impute

But it would be a mistake to conclude that we should divide up sins into these (or any other) categories and then try to deal with different types of sins in different ways.  Is the quotation in verse 5, "I will confess my transgressions," really meant to distinguish this action from acknowledging sin or not hiding iniquity?  Certainly not.  The above table is far too arbitrary and mechanical.  In verse 5 God's response to the confession of transgression (PESHA) is to forgive the guilt of sin (CHATAAH).  And there are plenty of other places in scripture where these three so-called types of sins do not line up with the narrowly defined actions and responses suggested in the above table.  For example, transgression can be acknowledged (Psalm 51:3), and iniquity can be confessed (Psalm 38:18) and forgiven (Psalm 103:3).  And in Exodus 34:7 all three are forgiven.

This use of multiple words for the same idea is merely an example of the flexibility of human language.  In particular, it is an illustration of the fact that Hebrew poetry contains lots of repetition for emphasis and within that repetition lots of parallelism for clarity.  Of course, some sins are more serious than others, else Jesus would not have referred to the "more important matters of the law" (Matthew 23:23,  compare Luke 20:46-47;  James 3:1).  Also, there are certainly differences in the shades of meaning of the different Hebrew words for sin as mentioned above.  Nevertheless, functionally, all sin is the same.  All sin is contrary to God's holy nature.  All sin should be confessed directly to God.  And God will forgive all confessed sin and punish all unconfessed sin.  In other words, in this psalm, what David is saying about "transgression" is the same thing he is saying about both "sin" and "iniquity."

… a recognition of the basic forms of biblical poetry, particularly the forms of parallelism, make an important contribution to accurate interpretation, as it will prevent us, for example, from thinking that an author is making two separate statements when he is actually saying the same thing twice.  (F. F. Bruce, "The Poetry of the Old Testament," The New Bible Commentary, 2nd ed., Eerdmans, 1954, p.41)

Unfortunately the Roman Catholic Church teaches two distinct classifications of sin.  First is mortal (grave) sin which separates one from God and must be confessed to a priest.  Second is venial (lesser) sin which can be confessed without the aid of a priest.  It is also taught that unconfessed mortal sins lead to eternal hell, but unconfessed venial sins are punished for a limited period of time in purgatory.  These distinctions are not found in the Bible.

L.  ARE A BELIEVER'S FUTURE SINS FORGIVEN?

When a person is saved, are his future sins already forgiven?  The answer is No.  See the paper "The Positional Aspect of Salvation," especially the section entitled "Has God Forgiven the Believer's Future Sins?".

M.  PRACTICAL AND DEVOTIONAL QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

  1. Have you had your sins forgiven?  Psalm 32:1-2;  1 John 1:9
  2. As believers, what causes us to deceive ourselves and "keep silent" about our sins?
  3. Should we confess our sins just to avoid the discomforts described in verses 3-4?
  4. Many people never use the word "sin."  The concept of sin simply does not compute for them.  What are some of the factors in the various categories below which create this situation?
        - personal factors
        - family factors
        - factors in our society (education, entertainment)
        - false religious instruction, cults, world religions, etc.
        - false world view (relativism, post-modernism)
        - false "Christianity" (liberalism, neo-orthodoxy)
  5. What is the role of humility both in the salvation experience and in the Christian walk?
  6. What are the imperatives in verses 6, 9, 11 ?
  7. What are the promises implied in verses 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 ?

N.  INTERNET RESOURCES

biblegateway.com, associated with gospel.com

ccel.org, Christian Classic Ethereal Library, associated with Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan

scripture4all.org

easyenglish.info, associated with Wycliffe

cyberhymnal.org