This psalm is ascribed to David. It may relate to his sin with Bath-sheba, reflecting his feelings before and after confessing his transgression. The meaning of “maskil” is uncertain. Conjectural interpretations include “contemplative poem” and “memory passage.” In the Septuagint, the corresponding expression is synéseos, signifying “of intelligence,” “of understanding,” or “of insight.”
Blessed, fortunate, or in an enviable state is the person whose transgression is “taken away” or forgiven, whose sin (failure to meet the divine standard in thought, word, or action) is “covered” (totally concealed out of sight and therefore treated as not existing).
Fortunate is the man to whom YHWH does not reckon guilt or against whom he does not hold the record of iniquity. This man is one without “deceit” or “treachery” in his “spirit” or the motivating faculty of his life. In view of the context of forgiveness, the absence of deceit is suggestive of complete confession, not concealing anything. According to the Septuagint, the man is one whose mouth is free of deceit.
When the psalmist remained silent, holding back from confessing his sin, he suffered physically as he groaned all day long, evidently because of being tormented by his guilty conscience. His “bones” or his entire frame or organism seemed to “waste away” as in the progressive decline of strength associated with old age.
Both day and night he had no rest. Apparently the effect of his guilty conscience made him feel that God’s hand was heavy upon him. His “sap” or “moisture” was “overturned” by the “heat of summer.” Evidently he felt totally drained or in a state comparable to a tree that loses life-sustaining moisture during the hot summer or a period of extreme drought. The Septuagint makes no mention of “moisture,” but suggests that the psalmist came to be in distress because of a “thorn” stuck in him.
Finally, David acknowledged his sin and did not hide his guilt. He determined to confess his transgressions to YHWH, laying the entire record of his guilt before him. The Most High did then forgive David the “guilt of [his] sin” (the “impiety of [his] heart,” LXX).
Evidently based on his own experience, the psalmist admonished every godly person to pray at a “time of finding” (a “fitting time,” LXX). This “time of finding” could mean while God can still be found or when his favorable recognition would still be extended and not when it is too late. (Compare Isaiah 55:6, 7.) In the Tanakh, the “finding” is applied to the individual, and the words “his sin” are added. “Therefore let every faithful man pray to You upon discovering [his sin].” The Septuagint rendering may be understood to mean praying at an appropriate time or when the situation requires it (as when sin should be confessed).
As to the godly person’s not being reached by the “overflow of great waters,” this may relate to the secure position that one who is divinely approved enjoys. No perilous situation, comparable to destructive flood waters, will sweep him away.
Having been forgiven, David confidently spoke of YHWH as a hiding place for him, a place where he would be safe from all threatening circumstances. His God would preserve him from distress. According to the Septuagint, God was his refuge from the affliction that surrounded him, and his “joy,” the One who would deliver him from those who surrounded him, evidently his enemies. The Hebrew text, however, has the psalmist saying, “You surround me with cries of deliverance.” Upon witnessing or hearing about God’s deliverance of David, many would evidently be moved to shout joyously. Accordingly, the Most High who had provided the occasion for the joyous outcries surrounded the psalmist with “cries of deliverance.”
Apparently the next verse (8) represents YHWH as the speaker. He would provide the needed instruction and teaching to enable the psalmist to see the way in which he should go. The Most High would counsel or give advice while keeping his eye upon the psalmist. This suggests that YHWH would look out for him, guiding him in a way that would prevent his straying from the right path and experiencing ruin.
YHWH’s advice is to submit to his direction and not act like an unreasoning horse or mule that needs to be controlled with a bit and rein. Without bit and rein, neither the horse nor the mule will come to a person. (See the Notes section for verse 9.)
The wicked, those who deliberately disregard divine guidance, do experience the hurtful effects of their wrongdoing. “Many are their pains,” torments, or sorrows. The person who trusts in YHWH, on the other hand, is surrounded by abiding loyalty, compassionate care, steadfast love, or “mercy” (LXX). A godly person will continue to experience God’s loving care to the full, as if completely encompassed by it.
The psalm concludes with the imperative for the righteous or upright ones to be glad in YHWH and to rejoice, evidently in appreciation for all that he has done for them. Such godly ones are also upright in “heart” or in their deep inner selves. All of them are directed to cry aloud, and this would be a joyous shout. According to the Septuagint, they are to “boast” or “glory,” apparently not in themselves but because of having been recipients of God’s guidance and aid.
Psalm 32 is not found in any discovered Dead Sea Psalms scroll. Although two of the scrolls preserve parts of Psalm 31, the words that follow are those of Psalm 33.
The apostle Paul quoted from the first two verses of this psalm to show that the happy or fortunate state came about upon a person’s being accounted righteous apart from works. God’s forgiveness of transgression resulted in the repentant sinner’s being reckoned as righteous. The sinner had been guilty of transgressing God’s law and so had no works that merited being counted as acceptable to the Most High. Paul’s quotation in Romans (4:7, 8) and the words of Psalm 32(31) in the Septuagint are identical.
Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.
There is uncertainty about the significance of the Hebrew expression “selah,” with which verses 4, 5, and 7 conclude. The Septuagint rendering diápsalma has been understood to mean “pause” or “musical interlude.”
In verse 9, the Hebrew word after “bit and rein” is ‘adiy, which is commonly defined as “ornaments” or “jewelry.” The term in the Septuagint is “jaws” (plural form of siagón). Translators have variously rendered the Hebrew as “temper” (NAB, NRSV), “movement” (Tanakh), “mouth” (Margolis), and “gear” (J. P. Green). After the Hebrew verb meaning “curb,” “hold in,” or “restrain,” the text reads, “not to come near to you.” The phrase is commonly understood to mean that, without a bit and rein, the animal would not come near. This would agree with the Septuagint reading, “With bridle and muzzle their jaws to squeeze, of the ones not coming near to you.” The Tanakh interpretively renders the phrase as applying to the individual and not the horse or mule (“far be it from you!”).