Uplifting Psalms for Heavy Hearts

A common denominator among most counselees is the presence of trouble in their lives for which they have no answers. The counselee feels helpless and hopeless in the midst of such trouble, even though God has already provided many resources for solutions. This “helpless” condition requires the counselor to offer genuine hope to the counselee – hope of solutions and hope of change. The Psalms, in particular, are filled with such hope and help.

Psalm 32 not only offers deep insights into the nature of forgiveness and resulting wisdom but also provides a broad-stroke picture of God’s deliverance. As with many psalms, the exegete may have some difficulty identifying a unifying theme in Psalm 32. At first glance, forgiveness captures our attention because of the relational ramifications. If we were to focus on this aspect alone, however, we would overlook important features in the rest of the psalm and would miss important teaching that is equally useful in counseling. This psalm requires the use of a common technique in analyzing the Psalms. First, identify the main ideas of the psalm and then ask the question, “What do these main ideas have in common?” The thought invested in this meditative exercise is time well-spent in God’s Word.

The two main ideas in Psalm 32 are David’s struggles both with sin (internal, vv. 3-5) and with trouble (external, v. 6). In each case, God provides hope of deliverance when an individual follows God’s instructions. David develops this theme through two key thoughts:

  • God provides deliverance for the helpless (vv. 1-7)
  • God provides instruction for the humble (vv. 8-110)

God Provides Deliverance

David provides two examples of God’s deliverance and protection for the helpless. The first is deliverance from guilt (vv. 1-5). He describes this deliverance with a two-fold blessing that stresses the true blessedness (happiness) one enjoys in forgiveness (vv. 1-2).David identifies the serious nature of sin with four different terms: “transgression” (pesha), “sin” (hata’ah), “iniquity” (‘awon), and “guile” (remiyya). Although these Hebrew words overlap in meaning, each word also highlights a distinct characteristic of sinfulness. “Transgression” emphasizes a rebellious spirit in the individual that results in revolt against God’s authority. The word for “sin” focuses on the person “missing the mark,” often intentionally, while “iniquity” shows the perverseness or crookedness of sin. The psalmist further stresses the twisted nature of sin with the word “guile,” an untruth that results in deceptive betrayal of another. Delitzsch notes that such deceit stands in the way of genuine justification.

In spite of the serious nature of rebellion, God offers forgiveness to the one who seeks it. David uses three expressions to describe the nature of pardon. “Forgiven” describes the lifting and removal of sin. One can imagine a person stooping under the weight of guilt who is now unburdened through the “lifting” of sin. The second Hebrew term translates easily into English as “covered,” implying that God conceals the sin from view. The synonymous parallelism in verse 1 shows the absolute confidence that the person’s sin is completely gone! David further states that the Lord “imputeth not iniquity,” indicating that He does not form judgment of guilt against such a person (v. 1).

As reassuring as these truths are, a person may still resist seeking forgiveness. David warns against such obstinacy through his personal testimony. When David comments that his bones grew old through his roaring all day, that God’s hand was heavy upon him, and that his moisture dried up, we picture a person experiencing internal disintegration, grief, conviction, and hopelessness. Such a person is “sapped” of all spiritual strength.

David not only speaks of the blessedness of forgiveness and the danger of keeping silent but also describes the method one uses in finding forgiveness through confession (v. 5). Again he uses three terms to describe confession: “acknowledge,” “not hid[den],” and “confess.” Both of the positive words are synonymous in their meaning of “acknowledging” or “making [sin] known.” The negative expression, “not hid,” is the same word for “concealing” that David uses in connection with God’s forgiveness in verse 1. This contrast is profound; if you confess your sin, God covers it. On the other hand, if you attempt to conceal your sin, you will experience frustration and hopelessness. Genuine deliverance is found only through God’s methods. Therefore, God offers genuine deliverance from the crushing weight of guilt if the sinner genuinely acknowledges his sin to God rather than concealing it.

David also describes deliverance from trouble (vv. 6-7). The psalmist reminds us that a person must seek God when He can be found. The implication is that if we have not learned to seek God in day-to-day life, we will not know how to find Him when we face trouble. This truth should direct the counselee to pursue a long-term relationship with God rather than view Him as a “genie-in-a-bottle” who rescues us when we are in a pinch.

David offers assurance of God’s protection when “the floods of great waters” rise (v. 6). It is not uncommon to feel “swamped” with problems, unable to “keep our head above water.” The counselee will certainly be able to identify with the psalmists’s feelings.

David also confesses his personal trust in God’s ability to protect him through several personal assertions about God. Rather than finding protection in a cold, iimpersonal fortress, David finds shelter in the warmth and care of a person, confessing that God is his “hiding place.” Furthermore, God’s personal shelter provides preservation for the psalmist through his time of trouble, resulting in “songs of deliverance” that surround David. This statement may seem strange from our perspective, but the phrase “songs of deliverance” anticipates God’s deliverance with such certainty that even in the midst of trouble, the psalmist can resound with songs of praise. In fact, this is the first of two items that surround the psalmist – songs and mercy (cf. v. 10).

God Provides Instruction

Having described God’s provision of deliverance, David now focuses on God’s provision of instruction. The psalmist begins this section with a direct statement from God concerning His instruction and direction (v. 8). Again, the synonymous parallelism provides a complete picture of all God is doing through David’s consistent use of three verbs. God says He will “instruct,” “teach,” and “guide.” These three verbs include the concepts of giving counsel and understanding (wisdom).

David follows this reminder with a strong admonition (vv. 9-10). God’s children are not to be like brute beasts (horses or mules) that stubbornly seek their own way without regard for the owner. Such obstinacy reveals a lack of understanding and freedom. The difference is internal control through wisdom and instruction versus external control through coercion and restraint. The one who trusts God’s instruction (manifested by obedience to His instruction and a desire to draw near to Him) enjoys God’s mercy (chesed) rather than many sorrows (v. 10). God’s loving mercy surrounds David like the loving arms of a mother.

David concludes his psalm with a three-fold exhortation to be “glad in the Lord,” to “rejoice,” and to “shout for joy.” We should notice a few observations concerning the psalmist’s conclusion. First, David connects this joy with those who are trusting the Deliverer and are therefore “righteous” and “upright in heart” (v. 10). Second, the trouble that David experienced at the beginning of the psalm has now turned to rejoicing because he has experienced God’s deliverance, instruction, and care. Although the righteous may suffer  trouble, the psalmist reminds us that the wicked “suffer many sorrows.” We must understand that trouble is an opportunity to experience the Lord in a personal way that actually draws us closer to Him.

All believers suffer “trouble.” Those who lose hope and feel helpless need the gentle assistance of a biblical counselor. Because the psalmist shows us that God’s protection and deliverance are sufficient in times of trouble when we submit to His guidance and instruction, we can direct the counselee to Psalm 32 for hope. By focusing on forgiveness and deliverance, we lead the individual to the true source of help and care for his or her trouble. Through this psalm, the counselee learns to trust God, His instruction, His forgiveness, and His care. The alternative is a life of “many sorrows,” a life of constant deterioration, a  “bucking” against God’s direction. The one who trusts His instructions finds genuine deliverance.

Originally published Winter/Spring 2004