Introduction: Faith and Psalms | Davidic Authorship: Historicity and Psalms
Part I: Psalm 6 | Part II: Psalm 38 | Part III: Psalm 51

Traditionally Psalms 6, 32, 38, and 51 were considered written after David had committed sin with Bathsheba. Hence, these psalms presented a look into a truly penitent heart. They show a faithful servant of God who confessed and repented of his sin, who knew God had forgiven him, and who knew God would be glorified by his confession.

Now if one were to remove the traditional historical setting from these psalms, will we still arrive at the same conclusions presented above, or will we arrive at fundamentally different conclusions—thus affecting the faith of the 21st century Christian.

PSALM 32

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,

Whose sin is covered.

Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity,

And in whose spirit there is no deceit.

When I kept silent, my bones grew old

Through my groaning all the day long.

For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;

My vitality was turned into the drought of summer.

Selah

I acknowledged my sin to You,

And my iniquity I have not hidden.

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”

And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.

Selah

For this cause everyone who is godly shall pray to You

In a time when You may be found;

Surely in a flood of great waters

They shall not come near him.

You are my hiding place;

You shall preserve me from trouble;

You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.

Selah

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;

I will guide you with My eye.

Do not be like the horse or like the mule,

Which have no understanding,

Which must be harnessed with bit and bridle,

Else they will not come near you.

Many sorrows shall be to the wicked;

But he who trusts in the Lord, mercy shall surround him.

Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous;

And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

The Various views and their significance:

  1. A penitential prayer teaching forgiveness. Samuel Terrien presents a psalm with an unknown date of composition, but a psalm nonetheless that can only be described as hymnic thankfulness. Describing Psalm 32 he comments, “A theology of sublime compassion is absent. The psalmist’s attitude precedes by several centuries a soteriology that in time has been known as ‘semi-Pelagianism.’”
  2. A testimony designed for private relationship strengthening. John Goldingay explains the topic of the testimony focuses on owning up to a committed sin after once denying it; at the end the author directs the reader to rejoice in God for what He has accomplished in a repentant heart. Goldingay rightly contends “the worshiper is declaring that there needs to be the kind of openness in relationships that acknowledges those realities rather than trying deceive anyone about them.” Specifically Goldingay holds that Psalm 32 is designed to provide divine enlightenment on a relationship with God; in regards to David and Bathsheba he notes it “would make a telling context.”
  3. David’s inward peace recovered. Keil and Delitzsch hold Psalm 32 to be a continuation from Psalm 51: “In the midst of this fearful anguish of soul he [King David] composed Ps. 51, whereas Ps. 32 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 topic behind this psalm pertains directly to forgiveness and its interrelationship to sincere confession; the joy that results and God’s protection of the penitent.

To begin with, a comment about Terrien’s alleged connection of Psalm 32 to semi-Pelagianism is warranted. Basically Pelagianism was an early Christian belief that one could come to God through one’s strength of will; that the human race has the capacity to choose good or evil apart from the aid of the Holy Spirit (i.e. one could come to salvation by will alone). Strongly opposed by Augustine who holds grace is absolutely necessary, Pelagianism was deemed heresy in 416 by the council of Carthage and condemned; by the 6th century A.D. Pelagianism ceased to exist as a movement—in its place arose semi-Pelagianism. The basic premise is that man could possibly make the initial move toward salvation and God will complete the process. Consequently, semi-Pelagianism was also condemned in the church about 100 years later. While the movement has disappeared the theological argument has anything but vanished. On a theological perspective, Terrien claims Psalm 32 projects a semi-Pelagian view of salvation. While the thrust of this study is not theology but on the affect each view has on faith, a slight detour to properly explore Terrien’s claim is essential to properly understand how faith is affected by what he asserts.

Terrien contends the attitude, or mindset, of the psalmist reflects a theology which holds that man can make the first step toward God; then God will provide mercy bringing said individual to salvation. Whether the Bible teaches semi-Pelagianism is not the issue at hand, it’s whether Psalm 32 teaches it. Terrien’s claim comes from the verse, “But he who trusts in the Lord, mercy shall surround him” (Ps 32:10b). Semi-Pelagian theology states that first one trusts God and then salvation results. Yet that is not what this verse is saying, in the broader context of the psalm a completely different picture comes to light. The psalmist instead teaches that instead of being stubborn as a mule (v. 9), trust in the Lord; the contrast implies that the Holy Spirit must already be working in ones’ life. Think of it this way, man cannot be stubborn against nothing–the psalmist understands God works in the hearts of the unregenerate. He therefore requests the stubborn to let down their guard and allow God to enter into their life, trust God and His mercy shall follow. Thus, the notion that Psalm 32 teaches a semi-Pelagian theology is inaccurate. An erroneous view that one could possibly choose God on their own merit undermines faith; instead of trusting God, an unhealthy pride in one’s own ability will result.

Due to the implications mentioned above, view (1) is thus removed from consideration. Therefore, we are left with view (2) which focuses on a right relationship with God, and view (3) expressed by a King David who truly understands his condition and now wants to teach his new found joy to others. In this case, while strongly holding to Keil and Delitzsch I would note that Goldingay correctly asserts the psalmist focuses on a right relationship with God. However, while view (2) captures the thrust of Psalm 32, only view (3) places it into a proper context. The historical setting greatly affects faith; in view (2) an ambiguous sin is committed, only view (3) presents an unmistakable sin and the joyous repentant heart.

The penitent worshiper at his finest hour.

-Next concluding thoughts, tying it all together-


[1] The Psalms, p 294.

[2] Psalms, pp 452-454.

[3] Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 5, p 252.

[4] To refrain from any confusion, the author of this essay believes that man does not have the capacity to choose God. It is only by the initial prompting of the Holy Spirit which in turn allows man to choose God.

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