Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Psalm 32:10 - The Joys of Repentance

Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
But he who trusts in the LORD, lovingkindness shall surround him.

By the time one gets to the end of Psalm 32, repentance starts to look wonderful. And it is.

Here in verse 10, we find that godly sorrow helps us to avoid ultimate sorrow. We see that repentance brings joy, while the anguish of sin only multiplies through unbelief and continued rebellion. It is indeed a paradox that our real and lasting joy rises out of sorrow. Until we have experienced sorrow for sin, we cannot know the joy of the Lord. Repentance is the way to true happiness - the abiding, eternal happiness that comes from a life lived in God's presence. Paul touches on this in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10

I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.

For believers, sorrow is a step on the path toward the good things that are coming. But for the world, sorrow is just a bleak reflection of the bad things that have happened - and a reminder that more bad things are on the way.

Psalm 32:10 is a good example of the inherent beauty of Biblical poetry. The Hebrews, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, were deft and careful with their words. They often used parallel constructions and grammatical structures to pack amplified meaning into every phrase. In essence, the parts of a verse become a lens through which the other parts are magnified and clarified. Consider this brief color-coded analysis:

Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
But he who trusts in the LORD, lovingkindness shall surround him.

"wicked" is put against "He who trusts in the LORD." These are contrasting phrases, showing us these things: at a root level, the only way to turn from wickedness is to trust in the LORD. Trustful dependence (a.k.a. "faith") characterizes those who repent, while wickedness characterizes those who do not trust God. Faith always treats sin with repentance, and repentance always defeats sin with faith. All sin reveals our lack of trust in God, and unbelief always leads toward sin. These are broad principles that give us direction when we are at our wits' end, struggling with the turmoil of life's challenges. These truths form the subject matter of our confession before God. "Lord, I lied because I do not trust You as I should. I should have spoken the truth as You command. Please forgive me, and help me to change."

"Sorrows" is put against "lovingkindness." Another set of telling contrasts. Here David uses the word HESED, the famous Hebrew term for mercy (it's discussed at length in the post on verse 6). The sorrow brought on by sin is a result of separation from God's mercy. Repentance and faith reconnect us with that mercy. Put another way, our relationship with God is governed by this principle: BY GRACE (or MERCY), THROUGH FAITH (or TRUST). The reformers cried out "Sola Gratia" (by grace alone) and "Sola Fide" (through faith alone), reflecting Paul's words in Ephesians 2:8-9. These principles pervade the whole of Scripture from beginning to end.

"Many" is placed parallel to "surround." Rather than a contrast, here we have mutually descriptive terms (i.e., the two words function as synonyms). From this we understand that the wicked are surrounded by many sorrows, and those who trust in the LORD receive many mercies - so many that they become surrounded by them.

Note the double-edged promise in this verse. For the unrepentant, many sorrows are forecast. But for those who repent, mercy is guaranteed. And it is not guaranteed on the ground of our good works, but on the ground of our faith.

All of this leads us back to the overall theme of Psalm 32: God's mercy is so great that we can trust Him with our worst sins. We can go to Him. We can confess. We can find His forgiveness. We can have restored fellowship with Him. We can be changed through repentance and faith. We can overcome sin. We can walk with God. All of these things we CAN do because of His unfailing mercy, which surrounds us and prevails over us like a flood.

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