A Great Man’s Great Testimony, Part 4

By James Boice

Theme: A Striking Verse

In this week’s lessons we see what the proper approach to our own sin needs to be, and what God does for us in response.

Scripture: Psalm 32:1-11

What is really striking about this second stanza is verse 5, in which David explains how God forgave his sin once he had confessed it. God forgave it completely and immediately. It is not brought up again.

Notice a few things about this verse. First, it is the longest verse of the psalm, which is a way of saying that it is the most important verse or the heart of the psalm. If this psalm is David’s testimony, then this verse is the heart of that testimony. In the same way, our experience of the forgiveness of God in Christ should be the heart of our spiritual experience and the very center of what we try to convey to others when we speak of spiritual things.

Second, verse 5 contains each of the three words for sin introduced in verses 1 and 2: “transgression,” “sin” and “iniquity” (translated “sin”). At the beginning of the psalm the words were chosen to cover the entire scope of sin in all its aspects. So here the words recur to show that all David’s sin was confessed—he did not hold back from confession in any area—and therefore that all his sin was forgiven. David confessed it all, and God forgave it all. The slate was wiped clean.

Third, the forgiveness was immediate. I think this is the best thing of all, and probably David did too because of how he writes. Notice how the words follow one another. David said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” Then immediately: “and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”

At the right margin of the page you will see three occurrences of the word selah which probably means “pause and take notice.” One occurrence of the word is immediately before verse 5, after David’s description of the debilitating effect of unconfessed sin on him. The next occurrence is immediately after verse 5, after the words “and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” We are to pause and reflect on that. But notice: there is no “pause” within the verse, no hesitation whatever between the confession of sin and God’s forgiveness of it. In fact, David does not even say that he voiced the confession. What he says is that he determined to do it, saying, “I will confess my transgressions …,” and as soon as he did that God forgave him.

I cannot read this without thinking of the nearly identical sequence in Jesus’ story of the prodigal son. The son had sinned against God and against his father, as he acknowledges in the story (Luke 15:18). He says, “I will… go back” and confess my sin to my father, asking to be received merely as one of my father’s hired men. But the son does not actually get to say this. He starts his confession. But before he finishes it the father is already calling out to the servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fatted calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (vv. 22-24).

That is an insight into God’s nature by him who is himself God, and it should be the greatest possible encouragement to each of us. God is ready and even yearning to forgive and restore us fully—if only we will confess our sin and come to him believing in Jesus Christ, who has made atonement for it.

Study Questions:

  1. What does verse 5 show us about God’s nature? How does the Parable of the Prodigal Son help our understanding of who God is?
  2. Define the word selah. How is it used in the Psalms?

Key Point: If this psalm is David’s testimony, then this verse [v. 5] is the heart of that testimony. In the same way, our experience of the forgiveness of God in Christ should be the heart of our spiritual experience and the very center of what we try to convey to others when we speak of spiritual things.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.