Chapel - Andrew Witt

Dr. Andrew Witt

Dr. Andrew Witt, Assistant Professor of Old Testament (Undergraduate), will be sharing his reflections on one of his favourite Psalms with a message entitled “Psalms 32: The Happiness of Sins Confessed”.

In his short time at Tyndale, Andy has become a respected colleague and much appreciated professor amongst his students. He grew up in Pittsburgh, eventually making his way up to Toronto for doctoral studies at Wycliffe College. In his spare time he enjoys hiking in conservation areas and photography.

Podcast Transcript

Good morning, Tyndale community. It's with great pleasure that I have been asked to share with you from one of my favourite Psalms today. Psalm 32.

Within the Christian tradition, this Psalm has been considered one of the seven penitential Psalms, alongside Psalms 6, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143. So what does this mean? What is a penitential Psalm? Well, penitence is a word that refers to a feeling of being sorrowful for doing something wrong. It comes from the same word, or word root, as repentance. And it's often associated with the confession of sins. And the goal of that, of course, being reconciliation both with God and with our neighbours. A, Psalm 32, however, it also has this additional component with it, that makes it stand out, in terms of the penitential Psalms, because it shows us the connection between confessing sins and a kind of internal reconciliation, or a reconciliation with yourself. Now with sin, there's often guilt and shame that can take root in our hearts, causing us to hide from God or to be superficial around other people, as we mask our true selves. So what we learn in this Psalm, in contemporary terms, is connected to our mental health, our mental well being.

When we come to the Psalms, we often think about them as either praises that we can offer up to God, or as perhaps laments, where we lament over different situations of suffering or pain in our lives, we bring these concerns to God. And in these cases, the Psalms are understood as something that is kind of outward focused. They are things that we're bringing to God about these external circumstances. And one of the most important contributions, and kind of the long history of interpretation of the Psalms, right throughout Christian history, is that the Psalms also have this internal focus as well. So someone like St. Augustine, for instance, he can write in his exposition of the Psalms, and I quote him here. "If the psalm prays, you pray. If it laments, you lament. If it exalts, you rejoice. If it hopes, you hope. If it fears, you fear. Everything written here, is a mirror for us." Everything written here is a mirror for us. Alright, did you catch that? Augustine is helping us to see something important about the Psalms? They're meant to be a mirror? And we are meant to mirror them, because something about participating in the Psalms in that way, is beneficial to us. So we're kind of imitating where the Psalms go.

Now, about half a century or so, before Augustine, there was another early church interpreter named Athanasius of Alexandria. And he penned, I think one of the most important little introductions to the Psalms that we have, and it's called the letter of Marcellinus. And, and so it's this little read letter that he wrote to this monk, who is this monk in training, named Marcellinus, who was wondering how to read and pray through the Psalms. And so here's what he writes about them and you'll hear a little bit of what Augustine would later write. So, he says, that "the Psalter contains the emotions of the soul and it has the changes and rectifications of these delineated and regulated in itself. Therefore, anyone who wishes boundlessly to receive and understand from it, so as to mould himself, it is written there". So this idea, so as to mould himself. So for for both Augustine and for Athanasius, the Psalms are this kind of mirror. This, you know Athanasius said "the emotions of the soul". So the Psalms are this mirror that we have for moulding. And as we seek to imitate the emotions of the soul contained in the Psalms, we encounter something about ourselves. And so fast forwarding another 1000 years to John Calvin. He would join both Augustine and Athanasius. And noting how the Psalms are, what he called, an anatomy of the soul. And he, and he writes about how the Psalms give us a window into our hearts, allowing us to see parts of ourselves that would otherwise remain obscure, and that would be to our great detriment. So he writes this, " All the griefs, sorrows, fears, misgivings, hopes, cares, anxieties, in short, all the disquieting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated, the Holy Spirit has here pictured to the life". So for him, the Psalms are an invitation for self examination. And, and kind of, in my analogy, there's something like a metal detector for the soul. They, they seek out what Calvin says, "Every lurking place of the heart." And they allow those lurking places to be explored, and the darkness that we find in them to be brought into the light. So when we come to Psalm 32, then we come to learn something about ourselves. And, in particular, for this Psam. We're being taught something about our sin, about what happens within us when we hold on to our sins, and also about the great relief and benefits of bringing ourselves kind of bear before God, unadorned.

So let's read Psalm 32. together. And afterwards, I just want to spend a few minutes pointing out some features of this Psalm for further consideration. So let's read Psalm 32.

  1. Of David. A maskil.
    O the happiness of a transgression carried away, of a sin covered over!
  2. Happy is the person to whom YHWH does not reckon guilty,
    and there is not in their spirit deception.
  3. When I had kept silent my bones became brittle,
    with my moaning all day long.
  4. For day and night your hand was heavy against me,
    my moisture was overturned by the droughts of summer. Selah.
  5. My sin I have made known to you,
    and my iniquity I did not cover;
    I said, “I will confess my transgressions to YHWH,”
    And you—you carried away the guilt/punishment of my sin.  Selah.
  6. For this reason, may all the faithful pray to you
    at a time of finding;
    surely, in a great flood of waters,
    to him they will not reach.
  7. You are a hiding place for me,
    from distress you will keep me;
    with joyful shouts of salvation you will encompass me.
  8. Let me impart to you understanding,
    and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will give counsel,
    with my eye upon you (sg).
  9. Do not be like a horse, like a mule,
    without intelligence;
    with bit and bridle its strength is controlled,
    or they will not come near to you.
  10. Many are the torments of the wicked,
    but those who trust in YHWH,
    with steadfast love they are encompassed.
  11. Be glad in YHWH,
    and rejoice, O righteous ones;
    and shout for joy, all who are upright of heart!

Let us pray. Lord, let the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight. Lord, our God in our Redeemer.


Psalm 32 opens up with a few statements about happiness. The happiness of a transgression carried away, of a sin covered over. Happy is the person to whom the Lord does not reckon guilty, and there is not in their spirit deception. So this question about happiness. It's such an important one in our culture. Where do we find happiness?  Where do you find happiness? What brings you joy? What is the cause of joy in our lives? You know, if you type into Google, how do I become happy, and I did that, as I was preparing this, you're going to be presented with hundreds, perhaps thousands of these, quote, unquote, "how to be happy" lists. And most are pretty ambiguous in terms of what happiness itself means. But they want us to know, that ultimately, we are the ones, who define what happiness means for ourselves. But when you actually get into the content of these lists, what you find are pretty much the same thing, in everyone, and most of them are based on changing habits. So there's habitual things that we can do in our lives that, that tend toward happiness, that tend toward a more satisfying life. And so you've probably heard a lot of these things, right, trying to smile more often, getting some regular exercise, getting proper amounts of sleep, eating healthy foods, practicing, having gratitude for things in your life, giving compliments, having some deep breathing exercises, being willing to admit when bad things actually happen. Journaling through things, scheduling your week, decluttering your space, seeing friends, unplugging from technology, and getting out into nature, things like meditating, giving back, having some "me days", and, or, or even moving to having a shorter commute to work. Right. So a lot of different things that you can change in your life, to make it more happy, or more satisfying. And by the hundreds of lists you see here, this is something that's pretty standard right in the culture around us. But as you look through these lists, you can kind of look in vain to find any concern about connections to spiritual life, right? Some vague ideas of meditation or breathing exercises, something like that. But nothing in these lists that connect us to God, connect us to the one who created us and designed this world to be a place where we can flourish in his presence, and in the edifying graces of the communities of faith.

So Psalm 32, then, begins by speaking about a very different kind of happiness than the one that we encounter around us. It's a happiness that involves reconciliation between you and God. And in the Psalm he, David talks about a life without reconciliation as something that's a torment, in verse 10. And, and this feeling of kind of pressing anxiety, earlier on in Psalms three, or in verses three and four. So true joy and true happiness, so David says, are found in having one's sins carried away, having one's sins covered over, being counted innocent and righteous by God, and by living a life of authenticity, and honesty, of bringing one's true self before God, and before one's neighbours. Now, throughout the rest of the Psalm, David will go on to describe how he has come to this joy, and to this happiness, and how we too, can join him there before God, testifying to the overwhelming blessings of God's encompassing, steadfast love.

So let me just point out a couple of things here about these verses, before we come to a close. In verses three to seven, we really get to see the transformation that happens within David's heart, with it internally within his soul, in three and four he describes himself before this happiness of verses 1 and 2 come, before he'd been deemed righteous, and really when his soul was kind of being deceptive, in his own being, and he describes these things as, as kind of growing old and weak. His bones become brittle. He's moaning all day. He feelskind of the weight of God's hand pressing down on his chest. The weight of sin on him. And, and really, he feels kind of his life and his strength evaporating right before him, just like water, in the droughts of summer. So he's being, the life is just being taken out of him. This is the feeling that he has. And until we get to verse five, the turning point, my sin I have made known to you. And he's giving up this deception that he has within his heart. He's no longer hiding his sins from the Lord and keeping them to themselves himself, or he's no longer covering them up. Instead, he wants God to take them and to cover them up.  And so this begins as kind of an internal procedure. And so he says, to himself, I will confess my transgressions to the Lord. So this begins at this kind of internal recognition of one's own sins, and the need, to bring them into the light, to bring them before God to admit one's wrongdoing. And David here uses some emphatic words, in the Hebrew and You, You carried away the guilt of my sin. So bringing these things before God, and God releases them. He, he carries them off, and he takes the burden of them and removes them from David's presence, he carries them away, and covers them over. So we're going back to verses one and two here in verse five, the carrying of transgression away, matched by the carrying away the guilt of sin, and of David's covering over his own sins, and now God is covering them over.

So what a turnaround, what a change that's been happening, now that God has taken them and, and as a result, David can express this kind of happiness that he has in verses one and two, and so and so he exhorts us, then in verse six, from this experience. May all the faithful pray to you at a time of finding. So this is something we're very familiar with, from somewhere like the book of Hebrews. Hebrews chapter three, verses 12 and 13, where the author there says, "Take care brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Or Hebrews is talking exactly about what we find here in Psalm 32. This is the time of finding, today, to unburden yourself of your sins. And so David is encouraging to do this. So, so what do we do? How does this work? Well in verse seven, he goes on, to talk about what this faith looks like, and he calls God His hiding place. From distress, you will keep me. And so we have this turnaround, and, you know, we can think back to people like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, who sin and then hide from God. But David is telling us to reverse that, that, that we need to find the courage, to take shelter, and in under God's wings, within God's special care for us, and, and it's in, within that space, that God will keep us from distresses, and it's in that space, that instead of having the weight of sin bearing down, and guilt and moaning happening, we find joyful shouts of salvation. So songs of praise, redemption, those things can surround us. And so from here then, David takes up again, this voice of a teacher, and he wants to remind us of, of what of what we're supposed to learn from this counsel and, and we get to see here a bit, in verses eight and nine, a bit of a contrast. We have, I think God speaking to us. I will give counsel, with my eye upon you. There's God's kind of watchful eye, watchful counsel, that's in work. But what first nine does for us, is it shows us that the kind of counsel that God has for us is not, he doesn't want it to be a controlling kind of council. You know, God doesn't want us to be dumb animals. And animals without intelligence, the sign of that, is that they're uncontrolled, They don't know how to control their strength, and they need a bit and a bridle to be held under control, else they'll just kind of run away. So what God wants us to do, and what David wants us to do, is to learn to grow in the understanding about our sins, and about what happens when they get held in, that they don't need to control us, that God doesn't need to. I mean, God doesn't even need to come down and control us with some kind of sin protector barrier or something, like a horse or a mule. But But God wants us to learn from David, to unleash our sins, showing our mastery and our control over them. That we can confess them to the God, to God, and let God bear them away for us. So that's where we kind of are left. There are torments for the wicked, but for those who trust in the Lord, they are surrounded, they're encompassed by his steadfast love. And so what we're left with, is rejoicing, over and over and over again. So this is the promise and the hope of Psalm 32. That God is not only willing and waiting for us to come before him with the burden of our sins in our hands. But he is prepared to bear the weight of our sins for us, carrying them off, far away, and covering them over.

So the question for us then, today, as we reflect on this Psalm, is how will we move forward? Or will we bring relief to ourselves today, by unveiling ourselves before God? And will we allow the reign of God's grace to replenish us to refresh up the dried up streams of our hearts from this kind of summer drought, torment of unconfessed sin. So I encourage you to come to God through Christ today. And that you would find a welcoming embrace, in God's overflowing, steadfast love. Amen.

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