Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The Way to the Forgiveness of Sins
There are several prominent marks by which this Psalm is coupled with the preceding (vid., Symbolae ֗52). In both Psalms, with the word אמרתּי, the psalmist looks back upon some fact of his spiritual life; and both close with an exhortation to the godly, which stands in the relation of a general inference to the whole Psalm. But in other respects the two Psalms differ. For Ps 31 is a prayer under circumstances of outward distress, and Psa 32:1-11 is a didactic Psalm, concerning the way of penitence which leads to the forgiveness of sins; it is the second of the seven Psalmi paenitentiales of the church, and Augustine's favourite Psalm. We might take Augustine's words as its motto: intelligentia prima est ut te noris peccatorem. The poet bases it upon his own personal experience, and then applies the general teaching which he deduces from it, to each individual in the church of God. For a whole year after his adultery David was like one under sentence of condemnation. In the midst of this fearful anguish of soul he composed Ps 51, whereas Psa 32:1-11 was composed after his deliverance from this state of mind. The former was written in the very midst of the penitential struggle; the latter after he had recovered his inward peace. The theme of this Psalm is the precious treasure which he brought up out of that abyss of spiritual distress, viz., the doctrine of the blessedness of forgiveness, the sincere and unreserved confession of sin as the way to it, and the protection of God in every danger, together with joy in God, as its fruits.
In the signification psalmus didascalicus s. informatorius (Reuchlin: ut si liceret dicere intellectificum vel resipiscentificum), משׂכּי would after all be as appropriate a designation as we could have for this Psalm which teachers the way of salvation. This meaning, however, cannot be sustained. It is improbable that משׂכּיל, which, in all other instances, signifies intelligens, should, as a technical term, mean intelligentem faciens; because the Hiph. השׂכּיל, in the causative meaning "to impart understanding," occurs only in solitary instances (Psa 32:8, Pro 21:11) in the Hebrew of the period before the Exile, and only came into common use in the later language (in Daniel, Chronicles, and Nehemiah). But, that which is decisive against the meaning "a didactic poem" is the fact, that among the thirteen Psalms which are inscribed משׂיל, there are only two (Psa 32:1-11 and Ps 78) which can be regarded as didactic poems. Ps 45 is called, in addition, שׁיר ידידת, and Psa 142:1-7, תּפּלּה, two names which ill accord with a didactic intention and plan. Even Psa 47:8, a passage of importance in the determining of the right idea of the word, in which משׂיל occurs as an accusative of the object, excludes the meaning "didactic poem." Ewald observes (Dichter des Alten Bundes, i. 31) that "in Psa 47:8 we have the safest guide to the correct meaning of the word; in this passage משׂיל stands side by side with זמּר as a more exact definition of the singing and there can be no doubt, that an intelligent, melodious song must be equivalent to choice or delicate, skillfully composed song." But in all other cases, משׂיל is only found as an attribute of persons, because it is not that which makes prudent, but that which is itself intelligent, that is so named. Even in Ch2 30:22, where allusion is made to the Maskı̂l Psalms, it is the Levite musicians themselves who are called (שׂכל טוב) המשׂכילים (i.e., those who play skillfully with delicate tact). Thus then we are driven to the Hiphil meaning of pensive meditation in Psa 106:7, cf. Psa 41:2, Pro 16:20; so that משׂכּיל signifies that which meditates, then meditation, just like מכבּיר, that which multiplies, and then fulness; משׁחית, that which destroys, and then destruction. From the Maskı̂l Psalms, as e.g., from Psa 54:1-7 and Psa 142:1-7, we cannot discover anything special as to the technical meaning or use of the word. The word means just pia meditatio, a devout meditation, and nothing more.
The Psalm begins with the celebration of the happiness of the man who experiences God's justifying grace, when he gives himself up unreservedly to Him. Sin is called פּשׁע, as being a breaking loose or tearing away from God; חטאה, as a deviation from that which is well-pleasing to God; עון, as a perversion, distortion, misdeed. The forgiveness of sin is styled נשׂא (Exo 34:7), as a lifting up and taking away, αἴρειν and ἀφαιρεῖν, Exo 34:7; כּסּה (Psa 85:3, Pro 10:12, Neh 4:5), as a covering, so that it becomes invisible to God, the Holy One, and is as though it had never taken place; לא חשׁב (Sa2 19:20, cf. Arab. ḥsb, to number, reckon, ου ̓ λογίζεσθαι, Rom 4:6-9), as a non-imputing; the δικαιοσύνη χωρὶς ἔργων is here distinctly expressed. The justified one is called נשׂוּי־פּשׁע, as being one who is exempted from transgression, praevaricatione levatus (Ges. ֗135, 1); נשׂוּי, instead of נשׁא, Isa 33:24, is intended to rhyme with כּסוּי (which is the part. to כּסּה, just as בּרוּך is the participle to כּרך); vid., on Isa 22:13. One "covered of sin" is one over whose sin lies the covering of expiation (כּפּר, root כף, to cover, cogn. Arab. gfr, chfr, chmr, gmr) before the holy eyes of God. The third designation is an attributive clause: "to whom Jahve doth not reckon misdeed," inasmuch as He, on the contrary, regards it as discharged or as settled. He who is thus justified, however, is only he in whose spirit there is no רמיּה, no deceit, which denies and hides, or extenuates and excuses, this or that favourite sin. One such sin designedly retained is a secret ban, which stands in the way of justification.
For, as his own experience has taught the poet, he who does not in confession pour out all his corruption before God, only tortures himself until he unburdens himself of his secret curse. Since Psa 32:3 by itself cannot be regarded as the reason for the proposition just laid down, כּי signifies either "because, quod" (e.g., Pro 22:22) or "when, quum" (Jdg 16:16; Hos 11:10. The שׁאגה was an outburst of the tortures which his accusing conscience prepared for him. The more he strove against confessing, the louder did conscience speak; and while it was not in his power to silence this inward voice, in which the wrath of God found utterance, he cried the whole day, viz., for help; but while his heart was still unbroken, he cried yet received no answer. He cried all day long, for God's punishing right hand (Psa 38:3; Psa 39:11) lay heavey upon him day and night; the feeling of divine wrath left him no rest, cf. Job 33:14. A fire burned within him which threatened completely to devour him. The expression is בּחרבני (like בעשׂן in Psa 37:20; Psa 102:4), without כ, inasmuch as the fears which burn fiercely within him even to his heart and, as it were, scorch him up, he directly calls the droughts of summer. The בּ is the Beth of the state or condition, in connection with which the change, i.e., degeneration (Job 20:14), took place; for mutare in aliquid is expressed by הפך ל. The ל (which Saadia and others have mistaken) in לשׁדּי is part of the root; לשׁד (from לשׁד, Arab. lsd, to suck), inflected after the analogy of גּמל and the like, signifies succus. In the summer-heat of anxiety his vital moisture underwent a change: it burned and dried up. Here the music becomes louder and does its part in depicting these torments of the awakened conscience in connection with a heart that still remains unbroken. In spite of this διάψαλμα, however, the historical connection still retains sufficient influence to give אודיעך the force of the imperfect (cf. Psa 30:9): "I made known my sin and my guilt did I not cover up (כּסּה used here as in Pro 27:13; Job 31:33); I made the resolve: I will confess my transgressions to the Lord (הודה = חתודּה, Neh 1:6; Neh 9:2; elsewhere construed with the accusative, vid., Pro 28:13) - then Thou forgavest," etc. Hupfeld is inclined to place אמרתי before חטאתי אודיעך, by which אודיעך and אודה would become futures; but ועוני לא כסיתי sounds like an assertion of a fact, not the statement of an intention, and ואתה נשׂאת is the natural continuation of the אמרתי which immediately precedes. The form ואתה נשׂאת is designedly used instead of ותּשּׂא. Simultaneously with his confession of sin, made fide supplice, came also the absolution: then Thou forgavest the guilt (עון, misdeed, as a deed and also as a matter of fact, i.e., guilt contracted, and penance or punishment, cf. Lam 4:6; Zac 14:19) of my sin. Vox nondum est in ore, says Augustine, et vulnus sanatur in corde. The סלה here is the antithesis of the former one. There we have a shrill lament over the sinner who tortures himself in vain, here the clear tones of joy at the blessed experience of one who pours forth his soul to God - a musical Yea and Amen to the great truth of justifying grace.
For this mercy, which is provided for every sinner who repents and confesses his sin, let then, every חסיד, who longs for חסד, turn in prayer to Jahve לעת מצא, at the time (Psa 21:10; Ch1 12:22; cf. בּעת, Isa 49:8) when He, and His mercy, is to be found (cf. Deu 4:29 with Jer 29:13; Isa 55:6, בּהמּצאו). This hortatory wish is followed by a promissory assurance. The fact of לשׁטף מים רבּים being virtually a protasis: quam inundant aquae magnae (ל of the time), which separates רק from אליו, prohibits our regarding רק as belonging to אליו in this instance, although like אף, אך, גּם, and פּן, רק is also placed per hypallage at the head of the clause (as in Pro 13:10 : with pride there is only contention), even when belonging to a part of the clause that follows further on. The restrictive meaning of רק here, as is frequently the case (Deu 4:6; Jdg 14:16; Kg1 21:25, cf. Psa 91:8), has passed over to the affirmative: certo quum, etc. Inundation or flooding is an exemplificative description of the divine judgment (cf. Nah 1:8); Psa 32:6 is a brief form of expressing the promise which is expanded in Ps 91. In Psa 32:7, David confirms it from his own experience. The assonance in מצּר תּצּרני (Thou wilt preserve me, so that צר, angustum = angustiae, does not come upon me, Psa 119:143) is not undesigned; and after תצרני comes רני, just like כלו after בהיכלו in Psa 29:9. There is no sufficient ground for setting aside רני, with Houbigant and others, as a repetition of the half of the word תצרני. The infinitive רן (Job 38:7) might, like רב, plur. רבּי, חק, plur. חקּי, with equal right be inflected as a substantive; and פּלּט (as in Psa 56:8), which is likewise treated as a substantive, cf. נפּץ, Dan 12:7, presents, as a genitive, no more difficulty than does דעת in the expression אישׁ דּעת. With songs of deliverance doth Jahve surround him, so that they encompass him on all sides, and on occasion of exulting meets him in whatever direction he turns. The music here again for the third time becomes forte, and that to express the highest feeling of delight.
It is not Jahve, who here speaks in answer to the words that have been thus far addressed to Him. In this case the person addressed must be the poet, who, however, has already attained the knowledge here treated of. It is he himself who now directly adopts the tone of the teacher (cf. Psa 34:12). That which David, in Psa 51:15, promises to do, he here takes in hand, viz., the instruction of sinners in the way of salvation. It is unnecessary to read איעצך instead of איעצה, as Olshausen does; the suffix of אשׂכּילך and אורך (for אורך) avails also for this third verb, to which עליך עיני, equivalent to שׂם עליך עיני (fixing my eye upon thee, i.e., with sympathising love taking an interest in thee), stands in the relation of a subordinate relative clause. The lxx renders it by ἐπιστηριῶ ἐπὶ σὲ τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς μου, so that it takes יעץ, in accordance with its radical signification firmare, as the regens of עיני (I will fix my eye steadfastly upon thee); but for this there is no support in the general usage of the language. The accents give a still different rendering; they apparently make עיני an accus. adverb. (Since אעצה עליך עיני is transformed from איעצה עליך עיני: I will counsel thee with mine eye; but in every other instance, יעץ על means only a hostile determination against any one, e.g., Isa 7:5. The form of address, without changing its object, passes over, in Psa 32:9, into the plural and the expression becomes harsh in perfect keeping with the perverted character which it describes. The sense is on the whole clear: not constrained, but willing obedience is becoming to man, in distinction from an irrational animal which must be led by a bridle drawn through its mouth. The asyndeton clause: like a horse, a mule (פּרד as an animal that is isolated and does not pair; cf. Arab. fard, alone of its kind, single, unlike, the opposite of which is Arab. zawj, a pair, equal number), has nothing remarkable about it, cf. Psa 35:14; Isa 38:14. But it is not clear what עדיו is intended to mean. We might take it in its usual signification "ornament," and render "with bit and bridle, its ornament," and perhaps at once recognise therein an allusion to the senseless servility of the animal, viz., that its ornament is also the means by which it is kept in check, unless עדי, ornament, is perhaps directly equivalent to "harness." Still the rendering of the lxx is to be respected: in camo et fraeno - as Jerome reproduces it - maxilas eorum constringere qui non approximant ad te. If עדי means jaw, mouth or check, then עדיו לבלום is equivalent to ora eorum obturanda sunt (Ges. 132, rem. 1), which the lxx expressed by ἄγξαι, constringe, or following the Cod. Alex., ἄγξις (ἄγξεις), constringes. Like Ewald and Hitzig (on Eze 16:7), we may compare with עדי, the cheek, the Arabic chadd, which, being connected with גּדוּד, a furrow, signifies properly the furrow of the face, i.e., the indented part running downwards from the inner corners of the eyes to both sides of the nose, but then by synecdoche the cheek. If `dyw refers to the mouth or jaws, then it looks as if בּל קרב אליך must be translated: in order that they may not come too near thee, viz., to hurt thee (Targ., Syriac, Rashi, etc.); but this rendering does not produce any point of comparison corresponding to the context of this Psalm. Therefore, it is rather to be rendered: otherwise there is no coming near to thee. This interpretation takes the emphasis of the בל into account, and assumes that, according to a usage of the language that is without further support, one might, for instance, say: בּל לכתּי שׁמּה, "I will never go thither." In Pro 23:17, בל also includes within itself the verb to be. So here: by no means an approaching to thee, i.e., there is, if thou dost not bridle them, no approaching or coming near to thee. These words are not addressed to God, but to man, who is obliged to use harsh and forcible means in taming animals, and can only thus keep them under his control and near to him. In the antitype, it is the sinner, who will not come to God, although God only is his help, and who, as David has learned by experience, must first of all endure inward torture, before he comes to a right state of mind. This agonising life of the guilty conscience which the ungodly man leads, is contrasted in Psa 32:10 with the mercy which encompasses on all sides him, who trusts in God. רבּים, in accordance with the treatment of this adjective as if it were a numeral (vid., Psa 89:51), is an attributive or adjective placed before its noun. The final clause might be rendered: mercy encompasses him; but the Poel and Psa 32:7 favour the rendering: with mercy doth He encompass him.
After the doctrine of the Psalm has been unfolded in three unequal groups of verses, there follows, corresponding to the brief introduction, a still shorter close, which calls upon those whose happy state is there celebrated, to join in songs of exultant joy.