# 125 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 32 Horses and mules!

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The writer of Proverbs often gets straight to the point, for example when he is comparing people who he calls “wise” with those he considers “fools”. One such proverb is:

A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey,
and a rod for the backs of fools!                   (
Proverbs 26:3)

Sounds pretty harsh, but I think we understand what he is getting at. If not, maybe Psalm 32 will help.

Psalm 32 also speaks of a similar topic in verse 8-10. Prior to this David had rejoiced in God’s forgiveness of his confessed sin, despite how slow he had been in acknowledging this sin, therefore resulting in detrimental effects all round.  But then we read God’s incredibly gracious words (to help him not repeat his foolish ways):

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.


Maybe David thought he knew it all by the time he made his “shocking error of judgement” (see previous Post). That’s the temptation with power and position (just ask any politician, or celebrity or any leader!). It can go to our head and “infallible” may not be the word we use, but sometimes it seems we can feel that way, until we crash, as David did.

So, God’s graciously offers a better way, to be instructed, taught and counselled by Him, personally – very personally: with my loving eye on you! Then hopefully, history may not repeat itself and more disaster follow. He then says:

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.

Longman comments: “He warns them [and us] not to be undisciplined like a horse or a mule that will obey only if compelled by bit and bridle…[and referring to Proverbs 26:3 above]…such as fools; but the righteous wise freely and willingly submit themselves to God.” (# 30)

Kidner adds: “its call [is] for a teachable spirit…If forgiveness [from God] is good, fellowship [with God] is better.”  (# 29)

And Scroggie: “Here [we have] a Promise of Guidance (8), and then, a Warning against Obstinancy (9)…Bit and bridle are not to keep the horse from us, but near us. In like manner, trials and trouble are not to keep us at a distance from God, but are designed to bring us near.” (# 40)

And so David concludes:    

10 Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the Lord’s unfailing love
surrounds the one who trusts in him.

As Scroggie rephrases it: “The wicked have a hive of wasps around them, many sorrows; but we [those who have put their trust in God] have a swarm of bees storing honey for us.” (# 40)

If you find yourself fighting against God at the moment, then my suggestion is, stop! Reread this psalm and just say ‘yes” to God, whose unfailing love surrounds you and who knows what is best for you. Trust him. You will never regret it!

Paul suggests: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

Father instruct me, teach me, counsel me. Help me not to think and act like a horse or a mule needing a bit and bridle, but to present myself to you, freely and willingly submitting myself to your will—your good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2). Amen.

# 124 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 32 “A shocking error of judgement!”

despondant person

Everyone has a story, and sadly, everyone has some parts of that story that they would rather forget about and are very happy if they escaped the media’s attention. Fortunately for the majority of us who are “nobodies” (so to speak, as compared to the “somebodies” of the world), even when we have done things that we later regretted, nobody either knew (well, maybe not?) or nobody really cared (although that is most likely to also be untrue).

David, of course, was a somebody! We first meet him as a simple shepherd boy playing music to his sheep, but, as it does, life moves on and changes and eventually David found himself, in the purposes of God, to be the King of Israel. He certainly didn’t have an easy life leading up to this and, as all of us know who have been in some position of leadership, life can be tough at the top.

But there came a day when temptation came to David, as it does to us all, but sadly he succumbed and, in the recent words of the Australian Prime Minister concerning the actions of his deputy, he “made a shocking error of judgement!”. And, as they say, the rest is history! But this history (both David’s and the DPM’s) didn’t “escape the media’s attention” and thousands of years later we can read about David’s life (warts and all) in the Bible and in almost every language of the world.

But, as well as David’s story, we also see the heart of this man in that we are privileged to have recorded in this marvelous Book, the Psalms of David, not the least being Psalm 32 but also, relevant to his failure, Psalm 51.

These are 2 key psalms associated with David’s sin as recorded in 1 Samuel 11-12. It would appear that Psalm 51 was written soon after David’s sin had been revealed to him by a very courageous and wise prophet of God.  In fact, the heading at the beginning of this psalm says: “A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba”. In this psalm David is distraught at the depth of his sin and cries out to God for mercy and forgiveness.

He says:

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.

Psalm 31 then seems to have been written sometime after the event, not taking for granted God’s forgiveness but reflecting upon the experience (verses 1-5), then sharing with us, his readers, what he has learnt and encouraging us to learn from his experience, not making the same mistakes but trusting in the Lord and thus, receive forgiveness and blessing (verses 6-11).

Listen again to his words as he gives thanks and reflects on his experience:

1-2 What happiness for those whose guilt has been forgiven! What joys when sins are covered over! What relief for those who have confessed their sins and God has cleared their record.

There was a time when I wouldn’t admit what a sinner I was. But my dishonesty made me miserable and filled my days with frustration. All day and all night your hand was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water on a sunny day until I finally admitted all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide them. I said to myself, “I will confess them to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

He then talks to us and thanks God for his deliverance:

 6 Now I say that each believer should confess his sins to God when he is aware of them, while there is time to be forgiven. Judgment will not touch him if he does.

You are my hiding place from every storm of life; you even keep me from getting into trouble! You surround me with songs of victory.

This is followed by, what most commentators consider, the words of God:

I will instruct you (says the Lord) and guide you along the best pathway for your life; I will advise you and watch your progress. Don’t be like a senseless horse or mule that has to have a bit in its mouth to keep it in line!

Then ends with a final exhortation to us to rejoice in God:

10 Many sorrows come to the wicked, but abiding love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. 11 So rejoice in him, all those who are his, and shout for joy, all those who try to obey him. (Living Bible)

Moore sums up this psalm as follows:

“This psalm warns us that there are many different types of sin (1-2), that failure to confess them is spiritual suicide (3-5), that God’s offer of forgiveness will not last forever (6), and that those who are forgiven must live differently as a result (8-10), full of praise towards the God who has forgiven them (11).” (#36)

Now if you live in Australia, you will know that a different story is presently being told, although the similarities between this one and David’s is striking. I am talking about the political “scandal” that, unfortunately for our Deputy Prime Minister, did not escape the attention of the media nor his political opponents. Even the Irish Times mentioned it when it stated: “Australia’s deputy prime minister under fire for affair with pregnant adviser.”

So, sadly, it seems, as the saying goes, “History proves, man learns nothing from history!”.

The good news though, is that there is forgiveness!  There was for David. There has been for numerous people since David’s day, and there is today, for you, me and even politicians!

And this forgiveness is available to each one of us because as the Apostle John says:

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.     (John 3:16-18 NIV)

So, what’s your story?

Father God, grant us the wisdom and insight to “confess our sins to you when we are aware of them, while there is time to be forgiven.” (verse 6) and discover that you forgive the guilt of [our] sin” (verse 5) and that your unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.” (verse 10). Amen.


# 123 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 32 The Secret of Happiness!

The secret of Happiness

(Published in 2002 by Thomas Nelson Publishers)

There is no doubting it – everyone wants to be happy! But so often happiness evades us, and this can be for many reasons. Maybe it is due to ill health, or circumstances that are difficult, or expectations that have not been met, or breakdown in a relationship or failure to accomplish a certain task well. The list of possibilities are endless!

Sometimes though, it’s really hard to discover just why we are unhappy. On the surface of things, all looks fine and it seems strange that being happy is so evasive. Sadly, some who would appear to have everything they need for a happy life (e.g. celebrities, wealthy business people, sports stars, etc.) surprise us one day by overdosing on drugs or ending up in rehabilitation with an alcohol problem, or having endless relationship breakdowns, or even committing suicide.

In our psalm today, David understood what it was to be unhappy, although he seemed initially to have no real understanding as to the cause of his unhappiness or maybe he was in complete denial.  Listen to his words in verses 3-4:

He speaks of his inner life being devastated. He continues that his life was filled with frustration, irrepressible anguish, and misery. He said that the pain never let up and his strength was sapped, his inner life had dried up like a spiritual drought within his soul.   (TPT).

I don’t think there was any doubt that David was not a happy man!

Most commentators would put this psalm into the context of David’s life when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and followed this up by endeavouring to hide his sin by eventually having her husband, Uriah, killed in battle (2 Samuel 11-12).

When we read this story, it appears that there was a time period after Uriah’s death when David tried to live as if nothing seriously wrong had happened. Ever tried to do that? Not an easy thing to do! Particularly when you are the only one in denial!

Blaiklock comments on verse 3 when David says, “There was a time when I wouldn’t admit what a sinner I was.” (LB). He says, “This verse is an insight into the silent months after David [committed] murder and adultery, in which David appeared insensitive and beyond realization of the enormity of his sin…hostile people murmured their resentment and their discontent…The leader no longer led…He usurped arbitrary rights, and failed to realize the fragility of such hypocrisy.”  (#37)

And the consequences, other than the dramatic effect it had upon his role as King as well as all his relationships, was to make him one very miserable individual.

Listen again to David’s words:

When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.  

This psalm was a favourite of St Augustine (354 – 430 AD) who once said, “The beginning of wisdom is to know yourself a sinner.”

The Apostle John gives some great advice in his first letter:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.      (1 John 1:8-10)

When I was 18 I was totally unaware of these truths. I had not arrived at the place of “wisdom” that Augustine refers to. Strangely though, prior to that year, I had some fairly high ideals, despite having mainly been influenced by some really bad role models. But, once I moved out into the world of work, money, friends, girls, etc. then my ideals began to crumble fairly fast. Initially I justified some of my activities by telling myself that “everyone did it!” (and it was not as if I had committed adultery or murdered anyone!). So slowly I began to accept the things I was doing as “normal” and certainly not something to have any sort of conscience about.

Until 3 months before my 19th birthday when I began to read that Book! It was simply called “Good News for Modern Man” and was an easy reading English version of the New Testament. I had picked it up in a friend’s library. And as I read it things began to change. My “seared conscience” (1 Timothy 4:2) began to once again make me feel uncomfortable with the sort of activities I was involved in. I began to feel very dissatisfied with my life and desired much more, although unaware of what that exactly was. And I, for the first time in my life, became conscious that there was a God and deep down I wanted to know Him, if that was possible.

The day I stopped hiding my sin from God (not that this is possible anyway!) was the day I discovered, like Augustine, that “The beginning of wisdom is to know yourself a sinner.” Then as John wrote in 1 John 1:9, I confessed my sin, my rebellion, my self-centredness to God, committing my life to Jesus, and experienced the happiness of knowing the forgiveness of sins and finding myself in a right relationship with God.

And this was David’s experience when, as he says at the beginning of this psalm:

Blessed [happy] is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed [happy] is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.

Proverbs 28:13 adds:

13 Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper,
but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

I trust that this has been your experience and you too have found this, “The Secret of Happiness” (the title of a book by Billy Graham written in 1955). If not, I suggest that you stop pretending that you have no sin hindering your relationship with God, recognize sin for what it is and confess this sin to your Father in Heaven, who forgives, just as David describes:

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.

Remember John’s words:

If we say that we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. And it is perfectly proper for God to do this for us because Christ died to wash away our sins. (Living Bible).

If this has been in some way helpful to you, let me know. If you have further questions, I would be happy to try and answer them for you.  (click on ‘leave a comment’ below)

Father, thank you for revealing to us that true happiness can only be found in a right relationship with you. Thank you that rather than living in denial concerning our sin, we need to confess all to you and because of what Jesus has done for us we can be assured of forgiveness. Hallelujah!