This Psalm is a combination of worship and instruction that can be read in six sections. The Psalmist speaks from personal experience, both to God and to us, the readers.
In the first section he introduces the advantages of the Lord’s forgiveness, which is the message of the Psalm.
In the second and third sections he outlines the agony he went through, when he did not ask God for forgiveness, and then the transformation, when he finally did ask for forgiveness.
He starts the fourth section with the word “therefore”, as he encourages us to learn from his experience, before imploring us, in the fifth section, not to be like the horse or the mule.
In what way can we be like the horse or the mule? We will return to this question later.
Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.
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.
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.
Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.
You are my hiding-place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on 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.
Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the Lord’s unfailing love
surrounds the one who trusts in him.
Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
sing, all you who are upright in heart!
Psalm 32 (NIV)
The fifth section starts with an offer to instruct us in the way we should go.
Any reference to “the way” makes us think of Jesus who said about himself: “I am the way and the truth and the life.”
Jesus offers forgiveness. Jesus is the way to forgiveness.
So, why does the Psalmist then instruct us: “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?”
Surely the Psalmist has deliberately chosen these two animals, as they speak to us of stubborness.
When we have stubborn hearts that refuse to confess our sins to God, he cannot pour on us the blessings of forgiveness.
Maybe we need to ask God to soften our hearts.
How does this Psalm speak to us?
The Psalm ends by saying: “Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!”
This is the promise in store for us - if we are willing to learn from this challenging Psalm.