Covered Sins - Psalm 32
A service plan for Lent focused on Psalm 32, which expresses guilt, humble confession, and the peace of being forgiven in a Lenten series on the Psalms.
Also in this Series
Psalms for a Lenten Journey
This series of worship services for Lent is built around a sampling of the Psalms.
Theme of the Service
This is the third of this series of Psalms for a Lenten Journey, and this time of worship is formed by the message of Psalm 32. (See the material provided for an introduction to the season of Lent, suggestions for worship planning during this season, and a listing of the Psalms that will be included throughout this season.)
Psalm 32 is a well-known Psalm for its pointed expression of the experience of guilt, its humble confession, and its joyful expression of peace that comes through being pardoned. These themes shape this worship service. Contrary to the normal pattern, you will find that the Service of Confession/Renewal in this service takes place after the sermon. The sermon on this rich Psalm calls us and prepares us to make our confessions, and we respond by doing so.
We are grateful for the collaborative efforts of Carl Bosma, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary, who will be providing helpful information on each of the Psalms during this season. You will find the information he has provided at the end of the worship service.
* * * * *
WE GATHER IN WORSHIP
Prelude: Settings of Psalm 103
or: “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” [see
The Call to Worship: Psalm 32:11
*Song of Praise: "O Come, My Soul, Sing Praise to God" PsH 297:1-2; TH 6:1-2
*Our Declaration of Trust and God's Greeting:
Brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, in whom do you trust?
Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.
Grace, mercy and peace to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
*Response of Praise: "Bless His Holy Name" PsH 627, RN 16, TWC 36, WOV 798
GOD SPEAKS THROUGH HIS WORD
The Prayer for Illumination:
Blessed are you, God of all creation.
You spoke in the beginning, and all things came to be.
You spoke, and your Word came to live with us,
Full of grace and truth.
Bless this place where we would hear your voice.
Bless this place where we would hear your story.
As we listen, may our ears be attuned to you.
As the Word is spoken, may your speak to us.
May all we hear lead us to you.
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. (TWS, 3.1.26)
The Old Testament Reading: Psalm 32
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!
The New Testament Reading: Romans 5:1-11
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!
Sung Scripture: "How Blest Are They Who Trespass" PsH 32:1-2; TH 551:1-2
Sermon: COVERED SINS
[Psalms for a Lenten Journey #3]
*Song of Faith: "My God, How Wonderful You Are" PsH 499:3-5; TH 35:3-5
WE ARE RENEWED IN GRACE
The Call to Confession:
Because we trust in God's covenant faithfulness, we are free to make our confession to God and call for his compassion. Let us, therefore, confess our sins that we may be renewed in his grace.
The Prayer of Confession:
O Master, great and awesome God.
You never waver in your covenant commitment,
never give up on those who love you and do what you say.
Yet we have sinned in every way imaginable.
We've done evil things, rebelled, dodged
and taken detours around your clearly marked paths.
Compassion is our only hope,
the compassion of you, the Master, our God,
since in our rebellion we've forfeited our rights.
Master, you are our God,
for you delivered your people
from the land of Egypt in such a show of power that
people are still talking about it!
We confess that we have sinned,
that we have lived bad lives.
Turn your ears our way, God, and listen.
Open your eyes and take a long look at us,
your people named after you.
We know that we don't deserve a hearing from you.
Our appeal is to your compassion.
This prayer is our last and only hope:
Master, listen to us!
Master, forgive us!
Through Christ, your Lamb, our Lord. Amen. (adapted from Daniel 9 in The Message)
The Assurance of Pardon:
The Gospel of Christ speaks to us of the pardon we may have through the finished work of Jesus Christ. Please rise for the reading of the Gospel.
(The worshipers rise.)
The reading of John 10:7-10
This is the Gospel of Christ.
Thanks be to God.
On the basis of the Gospel of Christ,
we may be assured that our sins
are forgiven for the sake of Christ.
Our Psalm for today declares:
"Blessed is he whose transgression are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him
and in whose spirit is no deceit." (Psalm 32:1,2)
Passing the Peace
The Peace of Christ be with you all.
And also with you.
(The worshipers greet each other saying, "The peace of Christ be with you".)
Our Grateful Affirmation:
I believe that every thing God reveals in his Word is true.
I also believe that true faith is not only a knowledge and conviction.
It is also a deep-rooted assurance,
created in me by the Holy Spirit through the gospel,
that, out of sheer grace earned for us by Christ,
not only others, but I too,
have had my sins forgiven,
have been made forever right with God,
and have been granted salvation. (from the Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 21)
Song of Testimony: "When Peace Like a River" PsH 489:1, 3; TH 691:1, 3; TWC 519:1, 3; UMH 377:1, 3
The Prayers of the People
Our offering of music: “When Peace Like a River” [see
Our offering of gifts for….
WE CELEBRATE GOD'S FORGIVENESS [see
The Welcome to the Table
Our Participation in the Bread
Our Participation in the Cup
The Prayer of Thanksgiving
*Our Song of Testimony: "My Jesus, I Love Thee" PsH 557: 1-2, RN 275:1-2, TH 648:1-2, TWC 100/101:1-2, UMH 172:1-2
WE LEAVE WITH GOD'S PEACE
*The Benediction with Congregational Amen!
*Song of Faith: "When Peace Like a River" PsH 489:2-3, TH 691:2-3; TWC 519:2-3; UMH 377:2-3
Postlude: “Choral Song”, Wesley [see
* You are invited to stand
* * * * *
After the paired introduction to the Psalter, the next psalm that contains a beatitude is Psalm 32. Significantly, Psalm 32 belongs to a cluster of three psalms that contain beatitudes: Psalms 32, 33 and 34. Like Psalm 1, Psalm 32 also begins with a beatitude. Unlike Psalm 1, however, Psalm 32 begins with a double beatitude (cf. Ps 119:1-2). As in Psalm 119:1-2, the repetition of beatitudes in Psalm 32 hammers home the theme of genuine happiness, but with a different twist. According to the twice repeated expression “Happy are those,” in verses 1-2, divine forgiveness of sins is the gateway to happiness. As a result, “Psalm 32 serves as an important check against any tendency to misunderstand Psalm 1.”
Psalm 32 has occupied a very significant place in Christian faith. Paul, for example, quotes the opening beatitudes in Romans 4:7-8 to support his claim that Genesis 15:6 teaches justification by faith. Moreover, tradition has it that Augustine had the words of this psalm engraved on the walls of his bedroom so that every time he got out of bed he would be reminded of its powerful words.
Although Psalm 32 has been treated as a psalm of penance (cf. Ps 51), from a form critical perspective it is a modified psalm of thanksgiving by an individual,
For homiletical purposes it is important to note that the setting of psalms of thanksgiving is the worship service (Ps 66.13-15). In this setting the primary function of this type of psalms is to witness to God’s mighty deeds (Ps 66.16) in order to motivate the audience to praise the LORD with him (Ps 32.11) and to instruct them about the benefits of these deeds so that they too will fear the LORD (Ps 34.11; 40.3).
Opinions differ on the compositional structure of this well-known psalm.
A. Verses 1-2: The Happiness of the Forgiven Sinner
As we noted above, Psalm 32 begins with two beatitudes that recall the beatitudes of the two-part introduction to the Psalter (Ps 1.1-2; 2.12).
In the first beatitude, for example, the congratulatory exclamation is followed by two substantive passive participial phrases that imply divine action: “whose rebellion has been borne (by God)” and “whose sin has been covered up (by God).”
Two stylistic features of the opening beatitudes of Psalm 32 require special attention. The first feature is the repetition of key thematic words. To illumine the extent of divine forgiveness, three different verbal roots are employed in verses 1-2: “to carry,” “to cover,” and “to impute,” two of which are repeated in verse 5. Second, to avoid the reduction of human wrong doing to a cliché, verses 1-2 also employ the three most common words for wrong words and deeds in the O.T. (cf. Ps 51.1-5),
The repetition of these synonymous terms for forgiveness and wrongdoing illumine the comprehensive scope of divine forgiveness and the radical and pervasive nature of human sin. In fact, a comparison with Leviticus 16:21, in which the same terms occur in inverse order, suggests that an expiation ritual is implied.
The second feature is that the second beatitude has a different compositional structure from the first. Like the first beatitude, it also consists of two descriptive statements. The first descriptive statement repeats and intensifies the concept of divine forgiveness. However, whereas the first beatitude underscores the implied atonement, the first descriptive statement of the second beatitude emphasizes the declaratory nature of divine forgiveness.
B. Verses 3-7: A Personal Testimony of Confession and Forgiveness
The concluding descriptive statement of the second beatitude forms an effective transition to the next section of Psalm 32, verses 3-7. These verses serve as the basis for the message of the two introductory beatitudes of verses 1-2 and stands at the center of the poem. In this report the psalmist recollects his own denial of sin and his experience of God’s immediate forgiveness when at last he confessed his sin. The shift of address in verses 4-7 shows that the psalmist’s extended report is addressed directly to the LORD but, as is evident from verse 6 and from the concluding call to praise in verse 11, it is also intended for those assembled at the worship center. By recounting his own experience the psalmist aims to teach the audience about the benefits of the practice of penitence.
The psalmist’s powerful testimony can be divided into three parts: verses 3-4, the pivotal verse 5 and verses 6-7. We will examine each section separately.
In the first section (vv. 3-4) the psalmist describes his traumatic experience of unconfessed sin. He acknowledges, first of all, in verse 3 that because he was stubbornly (v. 8) silent, he suffered awful psychosomatic torments (cf. Ps 38.5-8).
Verse 5, the pivotal verse of the psalmist’s narrative account,
Significantly, in this dramatic report the psalmist even quotes the words of his resolution: “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD!”
From a stylistic perspective it is important to note, first of all, that, as verse 1 mentions three times the act of forgiveness, so verse 5 employs three verbs for confession: “I will acknowledge,” “I will not hide,” and “I will confess.” This repetition emphasizes that genuine confession happens only when it is voiced to God (Prov 28.12).
Second, two of the verbs for forgiveness in verse 1 are repeated in verse 5. The first verb to be repeated from verse 1 is “to cover.” It is repeated in the psalmist’s resolve not to cover up his iniquity. The repetition of the verb “to cover” sets up a significant play on words that shows that those who do not cover up their iniquity (v. 5) have their sin covered by God (v. 1). The atonement is, so to speak, God’s big cover up. The second verb that is repeated from verse 1 is “to carry.” It is repeated in the emphatic concluding statement about forgiveness: “But You, You bore the punishment of my sin!” Instead of the psalmist bearing the guilt of his sin, God bore it.
Third, verse 5 also repeats from verses 1-2 the three most common words for sin. Strikingly, they are repeated in chiastic order:
With respect to this interesting inversion, we would note, first of all, that, the first two nouns, “sin” and “iniquity, are the emphatic direct objects of the first two clauses of verse 5. Second, the third term is plural: rebellions. Third, the last two words, “iniquity” and “sin” are actually a unique construct phrase in the concluding climactic recollection of the LORD’s bearing the “iniquity of my sin.”
In connection with this unique phrase, we would note, first of all, that both nouns, “iniquity” and “sin,” can, according to Gerhard von Rad, “stand both for sin as act and for the consequences of sin, that is, for penalty.”
The psalmist’s dramatic experience of the LORD’s immediate comprehensive forgiveness of his rebellious acts prompts him in verse 6 to draw, as the word “therefore” shows, a vitally important practical implication for all those who are loyal (hasid) to God. Although verse 6 is addressed as a confession to God, it is also intended for the worshiping community (cf. v. 11). Indirectly, therefore, he admonishes every believer to pray
The psalmist’s recollection of his experience to God comes to its climactic conclusion in verse 7 with a joyous proclamation of confidence that in the midst of trouble one can find shelter in the LORD. This expression of confidence begins with the emphatic declaration: “You are my hiding place!” Significantly, as in verse 5, the personal pronoun “you” stands in the emphatic position. Moreover, the word “hiding place” belongs to the semantic field of the foundational metaphor “refuge” first encountered in the beatitude of Psalm 2.12.
C. Verses 8-9: A Priestly Word from the LORD
The change in subject and a shift of addressee in verse 8 marks a new segment in the poem . A key question for the interpretation of this and the following verses pertains to the identity of the speaker.
Some claim that the speaker is the psalmist himself (Ps 51:13). In this case, however, one would have expected a plural form of the pronoun “you.” Others suggest that the speaker is the Lord, who addresses the psalmist in response to his profession of faith in verse 7. Should this be the case, then the LORDpromises to make the psalmist wise and teach him in the way he should go, a thought that not only recalls Psalm 1:2 but also agrees with specific requests in lament psalms that the LORD teach his ways to the suppliant.
The first word of instruction (v. 9) is a second person plural admonition. It exhorts the psalmist and the audience not to be like a horse or stubborn mule that needs a bridle (Prov 26:3) because they lack understanding.
The second word of instruction (v.10) is a proverb-like statement that is common in the Psalter (cf. Ps 31.23). According to this proverbial statement, the lifestyle of the wicked is a closed circuit of trouble. In sharp contrast, those who trust in the LORD, i.e., the righteous, are encircled by God’s amazing covenant loyalty (hesed).
This proverbial statement provides a reason for verse 9 and is chiastic in structure. Like the chiastic summary statement of Psalm 1:6, this declaration urges its audience to make a choice. Like the wicked, one can deny sin and experience its negative consequences. Or, like those who trust in the LORD, one can be surrounded by the LORD’s active covenant loyalty (hesed).
D. Verse 11: A Summons to Praise
Psalm 32 closes with a triple summons to praise addressed to the circle of worshipers. Such calls to praise are common in psalms of thanksgiving (cf. Ps 30.5). The addressees are called “righteous” (Ps 1) and “upright in heart.”
II. CHALLENGES FOR PROCLAMATION.
A sermon on Psalm 32 should stress the primary theme that divine forgiveness is the only gateway to genuine happiness. Such a sermon should emphasize the two sides of divine forgiveness in the two introductory beatitudes, i.e. the atonement and the declaratory act. With the psalmist the goal of the sermon should be to encourage the audience to confess their sins.
Because the psalmist does not confess a particular sin, there is no great hermeneutical gap between this ancient text and the contemporary Christian reader. Nevertheless, there are two challenges that preachers will need to consider in their sermon preparation.
The first challenge is that we live in a culture that has lost, as Karl A. Menninger has documented in his book, Whatever Became of Sin?,
The second challenge that preachers will have to reckon with in this Lenten season is the demise of the practice of confession of sin in Protestant churches. However, as Robert W. Jenson underscores poignantly, “it is just such silence which did not suffice the psalmist!”
“The problem is that sin is like garbage. You don’t want to let it build up. Confessing sin is like taking out the garbage. You want to do it regularly because taking out the garbage is an extremely healthy thing to do.”
Brueggemann, Walter. The Message of the Psalms, Augsburg Old Testament Studies: A Theological Commentary. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1984, pp. 95-98.
Jenson, Robert W. “Psalm 32,” Interpretation 33 (1979): 172-176.
Mays, James Luther. Psalms, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994.
McCann, J. Clinton. “The Book of the Psalms: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections,” The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, Volume IV. Nashville: Abdingdon Press, 1996.
Snyman, Stephanus D. “Psalm 32—Structure, Genre, Intent and Liturgical Use,” in Psalms and Liturgy, eds. Dirk J. Human and Cas J. A. Vos ( London: T & T Clark, 2004), 155-167.
Glossary of Hymnal Abbreviations:
PH The Presbyterian Hymnal (Presbyterian Church USA; Westminster/John Knox Press)
PsH The Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
RL Rejoice in the Lord (Reformed Church in America; W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
RN Renew! (Hope Publishing Company)
SFL Songs for LiFE (children's songbook; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
SNC Sing! A New Creation (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Christian Reformed Church,
Reformed Church in America; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
TH Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America; Great
TWC The Worshiping Church (Hope Publishing Company)
UMH The United Methodist Hymnal (United Methodist Publishing House)
WOV With One Voice (Augsburg Fortress)
The suggestions for prelude could include settings of Psalm 103 based on the tunes ANGELIC SONGS/TIDINGS and GENEVAN 103 or settings of NETTLETON. While none of these suggestions are based upon Psalm 32, the texts associated with these tunes are very consistent with the themes of Psalm 32.
ANGELIC SONGS/TIDINGS [“O Come, My Soul, Sing Praise to God”]
Sedio, Mark. Augsburg Organ Library – Epiphany. Augsburg 11-11073  (E-M)
Sedio, Mark. The Praises of Zion. CPH 97-6728  (E-M)
GENEVAN 103 [“Come, Praise the Lord, My Soul”]
Dragt, Jaap. Psalm 103. Ars Nova 484  (E-D, a partita on the psalm tune)
NETTLETON [“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”]
Bish, Diane. The Diane Bish Organ Book, vol. 4. Fred Bock B-G0776  (M)
Callahan, Charles. Six Meditations on American Folk Hymns. Concordia
97-6140  (E-M)
Cherwien, David. Groundings. Augsburg 11-11119  (E-M)
Eggert, John. Partita on Nettleton. Concordia 97-6862 
(E, most could be adapted to piano)
Hildebrand, Kevin. Easy Hymn Preludes for Organ, vol. 3. Concordia 97-7052  (E-M)
Hobby, Robert A. Three Hymns of Praise, s et 6. Morningstar MSM-10-542  (E-M)
Manz, Paul. God of Grace. Morningstar MSM-10-599  (E-M)
Manz, Paul. Ten Chorale Improvisations, set 9. Concordia 97-5556  (E-M)
Martin, Gilbert. Two Preludes on American Hymn Tunes. H. W. Grey GSTC 962  (E-M)
Wood, Dale. Wood Works. SMP KK357  (E-M)
Young, Gordon. Variations on an American Hymn Tune. Fischer 9288  (M-D)
Carter, John. Folk Hymns for Piano. Hope 240  (E-M)
Carter, John. Hymns for Piano II. Hope 8197  (M)
David, Anne Marie. Here I Am, Lord. Augsburg ISBN 0-8006-7566-5  (M)
Medema, Ken. Sanctuary. Genevox 4181-16  (M)
Bish, Diane. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. Fred Bock BG0798 
(4-5 octaves, level 4)
McChesney, Kevin. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. (3-5 octaves) (E-M)
The suggestions for offertory music are as follows:
VILLE DU HAVRE [When Peace Like a River]
Medema, Ken. Sanctuary. Genevox 4181-16  (M)
Porter, Rachel Trelstad. Day by Day. Augsburg 11-10772  (M)
Sanborn, Jan. Piano Music for the Care of the Soul. Ron Harris RHP0403  (M)
Schubert, Myra. Give Him Praise. Lillenas MB-511  (D)
Wilhelmi, Teresa. Hymns…Light Jazz Style. Word 301 0136 315  (M)
Burroughs, Bob. It Is Well With My Soul. Triune HB 160  (3 octaves C Instrument, E-M)
Moklebust, Cathy. It Is Well With My Soul. Alfred 20206 
(3-5 octaves with opt. handchiimes and C instrument, level 3)
The organ postlude “Choral Song” by Wesley can be found in “Wedding Music” Part 1, published by Concordia 97-1369  (M)
1. The communication of Scripture comes through in multiple ways in this service. The Old Testament reading of Psalm 32 is paired with the New Testament proclamation of God's peace through pardon in Romans 5. In addition, the congregation reinforces the message of Psalm 32 through song.
2. As previously mentioned, the Service of Confession/Renewal follows as a response to the Word in this service. The sermon on Psalm 32 should prepare us well for our confession of sin and receipt of God's pardon.
3. We suggest that you consider the inclusion of the Lord's Supper in this service. Such a celebration is very compatible with, and an excellent response to, the truths of Psalm 32. We have given only an outline for the sacrament. You will want to use the forms suggested by your church/denomination in designing this liturgy. Excellent materials can also be found in The Worship Sourcebook, pages 305-349. If your practice is to read Scripture while the elements are distributed, we suggest Mark 2:1-12 and/or Luke 7:36-48, both passages in which Christ clearly declares forgiveness to a sinner.