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Bailey Sadler Class



Study Theme: Storm Shelter: Psalms of God’s Embrace

What This Study Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:

The focus of this study is taken from Psalm 32 as we continue learning about the shelter God provides in the storms of life, and just how forgiving God truly is.


Dec. 07

The Shelter of God’s Presence


Dec. 14

The Shelter of God’s Salvation


Dec. 21

The Shelter of God’s Forgiveness


Dec. 28

The Shelter of God’s Encouragement


Jan. 4

The Shelter of God’s Peace


Jan. 11

The Shelter of God’s Protection



God’s forgiveness brings restoration and joy.


Psalm 32:1-7





Forgiveness Produces Blessedness (Ps. 32:1-2)

No Confession, No Forgiveness (Ps. 32:3-5)

Forgiveness Brings Deliverance (Ps. 32:6-7)


Even though being “completely devoted to Yahweh his God” (1 Kings 11:4), and being identified by God as “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22, NIV), David committed many sins in his life.  Perhaps best know among his transgressions was his affair with Bathsheba and his attempt to cover up his illicit activity.  God did not fall for any of the cover up and sent Nathan to spotlight David’s guilt.  David did many things he later regretted.  In Psalm 51, David poured out his heart in repentance over the sin and sought God’s forgiveness.  In Psalm 32, he rejoiced over that forgiveness.

Overview is adapted from the following sources:

The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


There is a terrible weight we carry when we’ve made a mistake or hurt another person. If they refuse to forgive us, it’s like a power they have over us. Unforgiveness can be a weapon used against us; we never know when the person will fire one of our failures back at us. God never responds this way. Psalm 32 reveals just how forgiving God is and, subsequently, just how freeing it can be living under the shelter of His forgiveness.

Introduction is adapted from the following source:

The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


Forgiveness Produces Blessedness (Ps. 32:1-2)

1 How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!  2 How joyful is the man the Lord does not charge with sin [iniquity, KJV] and in whose spirit is no deceit!








1.   How would you describe God’s forgiveness?

2.   Who are the joyful [blessed, KJV] (v. 1)?

3.   What three words are used to describe human failure before the Lord?

4.   Is there difference in the three words David used to describe sin? If so, how would you describe it? (See article, “Sin, Iniquity, Transgression: What Is The Difference?” for a deeper discussion of these three words.)

5.   What three words describe the Lord’s response?

6.   Is the Lord’s forgiveness conditional?  Why, or why not?

7.   If so, what are the conditions?

8.   Why do you think a believer should be joyful as a result of the Lord’s forgiveness?

9.   What do you think the phrase in whose spirit is no deceit means?

10.   How do you know that when you ask God to forgive you, He grants it?

11.   What emotions do you experience when you receive forgiveness?

12.   What emotions do you experience when you extend forgiveness?

13.   Do you the emotions you may experience include relief and release?  Why, or why not?

14.   Is so, how does that manifest itself in your life?

15.   Do you think that it is easy to take God’s forgiveness for granted?  Why, or why not?

16.   How can a believer shield him/herself from taking God’s forgiveness for granted?


Lasting Lessons in Psalm 32:1-2:

1.  Sin can be forgiven.

2.  Such forgiveness of sin should cause us to rejoice.

3.  We must be open about our sin before God and not try to conceal or deny it.



No Confession, No Forgiveness (Ps. 32:3-5)

3 When I kept silent, my bones became brittle from my groaning all day long.  4 For day and night Your hand was heavy on me; my strength was drained as in the summer’s heat.  5  Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not conceal my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and You took away the guilt of my sin.  Selah.

1.   Based on this passage, how would you summarize the affect David’s sin had on him?

2.   What indicates that God was still reaching out to David even in his sin?

3.   What did David decide to do about his sin (v. 5)?

4.   How did the Lord respond to David’s acknowledgment of his sin against God? (v. 5c)?

5.   What more might bones refer to than merely the literal meaning (v. 3)?

6.   What does the expression Your hand was heavy on me mean to you (v. 4)?

7.   What translation difficulties are in verse 4?

8.   What brought about the forgiveness of David’s sin (v. 5)?

9.   Who alone can remove the guilt of sin (v. 5)?

10.   To what might the term Selah mean?  (See NOTE at end of the different translations of God’s Word.)

11.   Why is confession critical for God’s forgiveness?

12.   What’s at stake when we hold on to unconfessed sin?

13.   What do you think unconfessed sin in the life of a believer, cost him/her?

14.   Why do you think some believers continue to hold on to unconfessed sin?

15.   Do you believe that  unconfessed sin has a tendency to eat away at a believer? 

16.   Do you think that the that the weight of God’s hand is at work when this happens?

17.   If so, what are some ways you think this happens? 

18.   What step(s) can a believer take to help him/her to want to willingly and immediately confess hidden sin?

19.   What are the benefits of His forgiveness in the life of a believer?

20.   How would you describe the process of confessing sin to God to a new believer?


Lasting Lessons in Psalm 32:3-5:

1.  Unconfessed and hidden sin will affect the Lord’s people to the core of their being.

2.  Not only does sin bring emotional distress, it also brings God’s hand of judgment in divine punishment.

3.  When we confess our sin, the Lord will take away the guilt of our sin.



Forgiveness Brings Deliverance (Ps. 32:6-7)

6  Therefore let everyone who is faithful pray to You at a time that You may be found. When great floodwaters come, they will not reach him.  7  You are my hiding place; You protect me from trouble. You surround me with joyful shouts of deliverance.

1.   What was the summons David issued to others (v. 6)?

2.   Based on this passage, what do you think a believer who comes seeking the Lord in times of trouble can expect?

3.   Why did David feel he was surrounded by shouts (songs, KJV) of deliverance (v. 7)?

4.   What is the way we talk to God?

5.   Do you believe there are times when God can’t be found?  Why, or why not?

6.   What do the great floodwaters signify in the life of a believer?

7.   How does God protect us in those times when we may be experiencing great floodwaters  in our lives?

8.   What type of sounds are you surrounded by in your time of trouble?

9.   According to this passage, what three things will God do for us when we seek His deliverance from sin?

10.   When we confess our sins, how does God provide us shelter?

11.   Why do you think we have nothing to fear when our relationship with God is restored because of confessed sin?

12.   Because our confessed sin releases us from our sin and restores our relationship with the Lord, how should we respond?

13.   Do you think a some believers never offer a joyful response to the Lord for His forgiveness? 

14.   If so, why do you think this is so?  And what do you think causes this kind of reaction from a forgiven believer?

15.   Or do you think a believer with this kind of non-response to God’s forgiveness is really repentant to begin with?

16.   How would you describe your attitude when you seek the Lord’s deliverance in times of turmoil in your life?

17.    How good it is to rest in the knowledge that Jesus brings us complete restoration and joy? 

18.   What steps can we take to celebrate our forgiveness?

19.   What can we do to make it a habitual response when we ask God for forgiveness and restoration?


Lasting Lessons in Psalm 32:6-7:

1.  God’s faithful people have regular times of communion with the Lord in which they speak to Him in prayer.

2.  Whatever crises we may experience, they do not reach God.

3.  Because of that, God can be our shelter when troubles, floodwaters, or trials come upon us.

4.  We should shout for joy in testimony to God’s great deliverance of us.



David’s story is our story.  God forgives us when we repent and confess our sins and choose to trust His way rather than follow our own ways.  When we realize just how blessed we are—forgiven and restored to a right-relationship with Him, we should show that through our joy and express it by sharing it with others, who can participate in the same joy when they are in a right-relationship with the Lord.  We should be overwhelmed with songs of joy and praise to Him who has, does, and will continue to deliver, protect and keep us until that day!

We should remember, true joy comes only by surrendering our will, confessing our sins, and placing ourselves in the shelter of God’s forgiveness.  That is the only place where we will find restoration and joy that only comes from a right relationship with God? 

So, when do you stand with God when it comes to unconfessed sin? Do you have unconfessed sin in your life? If so, how do you feel about it? On a scale of 1 (indifference) to 10 (seeking deliverance), how would you rate your attitude regarding any unconfessed sin you may have in your life? Ask God to help you to change your attitude? He will!

What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.


Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


FOCAL PASSAGE:  Genesis 50:

Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:

King James Version: Psalm 32:1-7:

1 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile. When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer.  Selah

I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.  Selah

 6 For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him.  Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance.  Selah*   (KJV)

New International Version: Psalm 32:1-7:

1 Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  2 Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.  3  When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.  Selah

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”—and you forgave the guilt of my sin.  Selah

6 Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him.  7 You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.  Selah*   (NIV)

New Living Translation: Psalm 32:1-7:

1 Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! 2 Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!  3 When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long.  4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.  My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.    Interlude

5 Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt.  I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.”  And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.    Interlude

6 Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time, that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.  7 For you are my hiding place; you protect me from trouble.  You surround me with songs of victory.   Interlude*  (NLT)


*NOTE: SELAH (ssee’ luh): Term of unknown meaning appearing in psalms, outside Psalms only in Habakkuk 3. Scholars have advanced various unproveable theories: a pause either for silence or musical interlude, a signal for the congregation to sing, recite, or fall prostrate on the ground, a cue for the cymbals to crash, a word to be shouted by the congregation, a sign to the choir to sing a higher pitch or louder. The earliest Jewish traditions thought it meant “for ever.”

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.


Lesson Outline — “” —




Forgiveness Produces Blessedness (Ps. 32:1-2)

No Confession, No Forgiveness (Ps. 32:3-5)

Forgiveness Brings Deliverance (Ps. 32:6-7)



(NOTE:  Commentary for the focal passage comes from three sources: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament,Believer's Bible Commentary,” andThe Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament: Psalm 32:1-7

The Blessing of Forgiveness and Wise Living:

Psalm 32 has a special significance in the life of the church and the Christian. It is one of the seven penitential psalms (6; 32; 38; 51; 102; 130; 143), and its association with David encourages the Christian to use the psalm as an assurance of God’s forgiveness. Yet this psalm is more than a penitential psalm. It includes elements of thanksgiving (vv. 3-8) and wisdom (vv. 1-2, 9-11). The thanksgiving is structured within the context of wisdom (cf. Prov 28:13). The psalm shares the wisdom language and forms of expression (“blessed,” vv. 1-2; “instruct,” “teach,” “way,” “counsel,” v. 8; contrast between righteous and wicked, v. 10; and advantages of godliness, passim). We conclude that Psalm 32 is an adaptation of a thanksgiving psalm to the wisdom tradition. The didactic element also projects the confession of sin into the context of wisdom. Contrition is viewed here in its truly biblical context as a deep sorrow for sin coupled with and followed by confession, forgiveness, and an openness to the wisdom of God. Some scholars view this psalm together with the other penitential psalms as examples of psalms of disorientation in which God’s people are not asking for redress but for renewal in their covenantal relationship. The psalm shows a clear structure. The blessing (vv. 1-2) presupposes the experience of sorrow, confession, and forgiveness (vv. 3-5). The experience of forgiveness leads into an encouragement of the godly to find refuge in the Lord (vv. 6-7) and to be instructed by him (vv. 8-10). The last verse is a fitting closure, as the psalmist calls on the righteous to rejoice in the Lord (v. 11). The expository structure may be outlined as follows: A. Blessing of Forgiveness (vv. 1-2) B. Lesson From Experience (vv. 3-5) C. God’s Protection (vv. 6-7) D. Promise of Wisdom (v. 8) B’. Lesson From Experience (v. 9) C’. God’s Protection (v. 10) A’. Rejoicing in Forgiveness (v. 11) The advantage of this structure is that it sets apart the promise of God (v. 8) as the center of the psalm. The assurance of forgiveness and protection is conditioned on a readiness to learn from the Lord. The person who learns from him is blessed (vv. 1-2) and has cause for rejoicing (v. 11).

A. Blessing of Forgiveness (32:1-2):

32:1-2 By a twofold repetition of “blessed,” three synonyms for sin, and a threefold expression of forgiveness, the assurance of forgiveness is promised to the person “in whose spirit is no deceit” (v. 2). Forgiveness is freely and graciously given, regardless of whether it be of a “transgression,” “sin,” or “iniquity” (v. 2; NIV, “sin”). The three words for sin may in certain contexts connote different reactions to God and his commandments: (1) “transgression” (pesha‘) is an act of rebellion and disloyalty (cf. TWOT, 2:741-42); (2) “sin” (hata’ah) is an act that misses—often intentionally—God’s expressed and revealed will (cf. TWOT, 1:277); and (3) “sin” (‘awon “iniquity”) is a crooked or wrong act, often associated with a conscious and intentional intent to do wrong (cf. TWOT, 2:650). The three words here do not signify three distinct kinds of sin, because the synonyms overlap. The psalmist declares that the forgiveness of sin, of whatever kind—whether against God or man, whether great or small, whether conscientious or inadvertent, or whether by omission or commission—is to be found in God. The nature of the sin is not as important here as is the blessedness of forgiveness. The three verbs express the absoluteness of divine forgiveness: (1) “are forgiven” (nesuy lit., “carried away”) is the act of removal of sin, guilt, and the remembrance of sin; (2) “are covered” (kesuy) is the gracious act of atonement by which the sinner is reconciled and the sin is a matter of the past, so that the Lord does not bring it up anymore as a ground for his displeasure; (3) “does not count” (lo’ yahshob) expresses God’s attitude toward those forgiven as “justified”. There is an expression of joyous excitement in these verses. The voice of wisdom is heard in the last colon where the blessedness of forgiveness is contingent on integrity. The Lord hates those who purposely sin against him. God knows the “spirit” of man, whether the request of forgiveness is expressive of true repentance and sorrow for sin or of regrets for the consequences. To teach the godly both the blessedness of forgiveness and the way of integrity, David has given us a psalm to lead the godly into the path of wisdom. The joy of forgiveness was a reality among the OT saints (cf. Rom 4:6-8). How great is the blessedness of all who have tasted of God’s forgiveness in Christ (cf. 1 John 1:9)! However, God expects no less from those whom he has forgiven than blamelessness (cf. Rev 14:5).

B. Lesson From Experience (32:3-5):

32:3-4 To encourage the pursuit of godliness, the psalmist draws from his own personal experience. If David is the author, it does not follow that the psalm arose out of the context of his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah. He learned that unconfessed sin is a festering sore. The description of the anguish of suffering is compared to the wasting away of “bones” (cf. 6:2) and the sapping of strength (cf. 22:15; Prov 17:22). In Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the bones (ch. 37), the bones signify the hopelessness and meaninglessness of life apart from the grace of God. The language may be metaphorical; hence the psalmist need not have been physically sick to have experienced the Lord’s heavy hand on him. God’s discipline weighed so heavily that the psalmist nearly succumbed under its pressure. It was also continuous (“all day long,” “day and night,” vv. 3-4). God’s discipline, like the hot, dry Mediterranean summer climate (v. 4), dries up the psalmist’s vigor like a plant in the heat of summer deprived of water. How different is his condition from the description of the wise man, likened to a verdant tree (1:3)! He did not experience relief until he recognized sin for what it was.

32:5 In a truly repentant spirit, the psalmist confessed his sin. The three words for sin (vv. 1-2) are used again in v. 5 but in a different order. The three synonyms for sin associated with three synonyms for forgiveness (two positive and one negative) are now associated with three verbs for confession (two positive and one negative): (1) he “acknowledged” (a Hiphil form from the root y-d-‘ “to make known”); (2) he “did not cover up” from the same root as “atone” or “cover” (cf. v. 1); and (3) he did “confess,” a Hiphil form of y-d-h (“confess,” also “praise”). The exact nature of his sin is here not important because he intends to teach the joy of Yahweh’s forgiveness.

C. God’s Protection (32:6-7)

32:6-7 Suffering need not be a form of discipline for sin (cf. Job). However, adversity is always an occasion for the wise in heart to draw near to the Lord in prayer (v. 6) and to find solace in him (vv. 6-7). The psalmist encourages the “godly” (hasid v. 6; see 4:3) to draw near to God in his affirmation of God’s ability to protect and to deliver from adversity. Even in the greatest of adversities, likened to the rush of water pushing through the narrow confines of a wadi, the Lord will protect those who have sought refuge in him. He is their “hiding place” (v. 7; “shelter” in 31:20). Their joy in deliverance expresses itself in joyful shouts as a tribute to God’s fidelity.

SOURCE: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament; Frank E. Gaebelein; General Editor; Zondervan Publishing House; A Division of Harper Collins Publishers


Believer's Bible Commentary: Psalm 32:1-7

Psalm 32: Forgiven!

Happiness is to be forgiven! It is an emotion that defies description. It is the relief of an enormous burden lifted, of a debt canceled, of a conscience at rest. Guilt is gone, warfare is ended, peace is enjoyed. To David it meant the forgiveness of his great transgression, the covering of his sin, the non-imputation of his iniquity, and the cleansing of his spirit from deceit. To the believer today it means more than the mere covering of his sin; that was the OT concept of atonement. In this age the believer knows that his sins have been put away completely and buried forever in the sea of God's forgetfulness.

32:1, 2.  In Romans 4:7, 8 the Apostle Paul quotes Psalm 32:1, 2 to show that justification was by faith apart from works even in the OT period. But the proof lies not so much in what David says as in what he does not say. He is not speaking about a righteous man who earns or deserves salvation. He is talking about a sinner who has been forgiven. And he makes no mention of works in describing the blessedness of the forgiven man. Through the Holy Spirit Paul deduces from this that David is describing the happiness of the one to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works altogether (Rom. 4:6).

32:3, 4.  Next David switches to a minor key. After he had committed adultery with Bathsheba and plotted the death of Uriah, he steadfastly refused to confess his sin. He tried to sweep it all under the rug. Perhaps he rationalized that "time heals all things." But in his stubborn refusal to break, he was fighting against God and against his own best interests. He became a physical wreck, and it was all caused by his unrelieved anguish of spirit. He realized that God's hand was heavy upon him, blocking him, thwarting him, frustrating him at every turn. Nothing worked out right anymore. The gears of life never meshed. The carefree days had vanished, and continued existence was as unappealing as an arid wilderness.

32:5.  After a year of this impenitence, David finally came to the place where he was willing to utter the three words that God had been waiting for—"I have sinned." Then the whole shameful story came out like pus from an abscess. Now there is no attempt to gloss over, to mitigate or to excuse. David finally calls sin by its real name—"my sin... my iniquity... my transgressions." As soon as he confesses, he receives the instant assurance that the Lord has forgiven the iniquity of his sin.

32:6. His experience of answered prayer moves him to pray that all God's people would prove their Lord in the same way. Those who live in fellowship with the Lord will be delivered in a time of distress. The rush of great waters will never reach them.

32:7.  The one who had been so hard and impenitent is now contrite and broken. With keen gratitude He acknowledges that God is his hiding place, his protection from trouble, and the One who surrounds him with songs of deliverance.

SOURCE: Believer's Bible Commentary; by William MacDonald; Copyright © 1995, 1992, 1990, 1989 by William McDonald. Database © 2014 WORDsearch.


The Complete Biblical Library Commentary: Psalm 32:1-7

Psalm 32. Across the dimness of many years, we hear this man speaking our sins, our penitence, our joy. The antique words are as fresh, and fit as close to our experiences, as if they had been welled up from a living heart today. The theme is the way of forgiveness and its blessedness. This is set forth in two parts: the first (vv. 1-5) is a leaf from the psalmist’s autobiography, and the second (v. 6 to end) is the generalization of individual experience and its application to others.

32:1-2. The psalmist begins abruptly with an exclamation (“Oh, the blessedness”). His new joy wells up irrepressibly. To think that he who had gone so far down in the mire, and has locked his lips in silence for so long, should find himself so blessed! Joy so exuberant cannot content itself with one statement of its grounds. It runs over in synonyms for sin and its forgiveness, which are not unnecessary repetition or accidental redundancy. The heart is too full to be emptied at one outpouring. The first designation, rendered “transgression” (HED #6840), conceives of it as rebellion against rightful authority; the second, “sin” (HED #2494), describes it as knowingly missing a mark. The last synonym, “iniquity” (HED #5988) means “crookedness” or “distortion.”

The three expressions for pardon are also eloquent in their variety. The first word (HED #5558) means “taken away” or “lifted off,” as a burden from aching shoulders. It implies more than holding back penal consequences. The second (HED #3803), “covered,” paints pardon as God’s shrouding the foul thing from his pure eyes so that his action is no longer determined by its existence. The third (HED #3940, 2913) describes forgiveness as God’s not reckoning a man’s sin to him, in which expression hovers some allusion to canceling a debt.

32:3-4.  Retrospect of the dismal depth from which it has climbed is natural to a soul sunning itself on high. Therefore, on the overflowing description of present blessedness follows a shuddering glance downward to past unrest. Sullen silence caused the one; frank acknowledgment brought the other. He who will not speak his sin to God has to groan. A dumb conscience often makes a loud-voiced pain. This man’s sin had indeed missed its aim, for it had brought about three things: rotting bones (which may be merely a strong metaphor or may be a physical fact), the consciousness of God’s displeasure dimly felt as if a great hand were pressing him down, and the drying up of the sap of his life, as if the fierce heat of summer had burned the marrow in his bones. These were the fruits of pleasant sin, and by reason of them, many a moan broke from his locked lips. Stolid indifference may delay remorse, but its serpent fang strikes sooner or later, and then strength and joy die. The selah indicates a swell or prolongation of the accompaniment to emphasize this terrible picture of a soul gnawing itself.

32:5. The abrupt turn to the description of the opposite disposition in v. 5 suggests a sudden gush of penitence. As at a bound, the soul passes from dreary remorse. The break with the former self is complete and effected in one wrench. Some things are best done by degrees, and some, of which forsaking sin is one, are best done quickly. As swift as the resolve to crave pardon, so swift is the answer giving it. We are reminded of that gospel compressed into a verse, “David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin” (2 Sam. 12:13). It parts the autobiographical section from the more general one which follows.

32:6-7. In the second part, the solitary soul translates its experience into exhortations for all and woos men to follow on the same path by setting forth in rich variety the joys of pardon. The exhortation first dwells on the positive blessings associated with penitence (vv. 6f) and next on the degradation and sorrow involved in obstinate hard-heartedness (vv. 8ff). The natural impulse of him who has known both is to beseech others to share his happy experience, and the psalmist’s course of thought obeys that impulse.

The penitent, praying, pardoned man is set as on a rock islet in the midst of floods, whether these be conceived of as temptation to sin or as calamities. The hortatory tone is broken in v. 7 by the recurrence of the personal element, since the singer’s heart was too full for silence. But there is no real interruption, for the joyous utterance of one’s own faith is often the most winning persuasive, and a devout man can scarcely hold out to others the sweetness of finding God without at the same time tasting what He offers. The shout of joy is caught up by the selah.

SOURCE: The Complete Biblical Library Commentary – Acts.  Database © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.



Hand was heavy—The Bible speaks of a “heavy hand” in several places.  In one text, Exodus 17:12, the expression is used fairly literally to mean that Moses’ arms were tired.  “When Moses’ hands grew heavy, they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat down on it.  Then Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other.”  Usually, however, the expression idiomatically means to dominate or to afflict someone.  In Judges 1:35, it refers to military conquest: “the hand of the house of Joseph was heavy against the Amorites” (HCSB: “the house of Joseph got the upper hand”).  Often the subject is God.  In 1 Samuel 5:6,11, the expression describes how God punished the Philistines with physical sickness because they had taken the Ark of the Covenant.  In Job 23:2, Job complained that God’s hand had been heavy upon him in reference to the severe affliction he had received.  This included both a severe skin disease for Job, the loss of his wealth, and the deaths of all of his children.  All of these examples suggest that the hand was heavy of Psalm 32:4 is not just a guilty conscience but also some kind of punishment David received from God.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Hand was heavy: The expression that God’s hand was heavy (v. 4) was a figurative way of speaking about he convicting power of the Lord that reminded the sinner of his need for confession and repentance.  God’s hand was depicted as emotionally and spiritually heavy on the mind and heart of the sinner because, though he was aware of the need, he refused to yield to the Lord.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Hiding place—The Hebrew word for hiding place (32:7; sether; SHE-ther) can describe any kind of secret place or activity.  The word appears in Isaiah 45:19: “I have not spoken in secret.”  In Proverbs 9:17, Woman Folly says, “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten secretly is tasty!”  Often, the word refers to a place to hide from danger.  A good example is 1 Samuel 19:2, “So he told him: ‘My father Saul intends to kill you.  Be on your guard in the morning and hide in a secret place and stay there.’”  We usually think of God bringing about victory for his people, but in Psalm 32:7 God keeps them hidden.  The implication is that although God will deal with the wicked, He does not always do it right away.  There may be a time during which evil flourishes, but God can hide us from danger until the storm passes.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Hiding place:  Frequently applied to God in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word rendered hiding place (v. 7) refers to a secret place of shelter and protection, a place out of reach by those who pose a threat.  It is this thought of protection that distinguishes the root of the word from synonyms such as conceal or withdraw.  God is more than a place to withdraw or be concealed.  He is a place of refuge and protection from all dangers.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.




Sin, Iniquity, Transgression:

What Is The Difference?

By John T. Bunn

Dr. Bunn is pastor of First Baptist Church, Sylva, North Carolina.


HE VOCABULARY for the manifestation of evil in the Old Testament, commonly referred to as sin, is extensive and, at times, quite confusing.  Each of the Hebrew words used to denote an offense against God, estrangement from God, or a breach of God’s law is symbolic of an idea or an action.

There are some eighteen terms used to refer to people’s disobedience before God.  Yet, three of the terms are used more frequently in the Old Testament than the other fifteen: kata, awon, and pesha.

The words are translated “sin,” “iniquity,” and “transgression,” in that order.  As such, the three terms may be used together to encompass the sum total of man’s offenses against God; or each may express, according to the context in Scripture, a different aspect or symptom of the presence of evil in life.  Yet, at times, one of the terms (kata = “sin”) apparently is used as an inclusive expression covering all aspects of humanity’s wickedness (see Jer. 33:8; Lev. 16:21; Ps. 32:5).  Each of these three major words share a common implied meaning of something broken.1  As each word is discussed, its symbolic meaning will be explained.

It also is interesting to note at the onset how frequently these primary words for evil’s presence were used together.  The following is but a partial listing of such usage: Exodus 34:7-9; Leviticus 16:21; Numbers 14:18; Joshua 24:19; Job 13:23; Isaiah 6:7; Jeremiah 36:3; Micah 1:5.  In certain instances when all three words were utilized by the writer, the emphasis was upon personal estrangement from God which had brought to the individual a sense of awesome void (see Ps. 32:1-5; Ps. 51:1-13; Jer. 33:8).  When the psalmist or prophet expressed guilt and shame through the use of the three terms “sin, iniquity, and transgression” the consciousness of personal sinfulness was presented completely. 

As one studies the terminology of humanity’s breach of relationship with God it is necessary to be reminded that the biblical writer was attempting to convey the inner feelings of people.  The disobedient responses of a person toward God could be anywhere in the spectrum for subtle to demonic.  Thus the author attempted to use those terms which more precisely described the offense committed.  To the Hebrew mind-set one did not sin in general, only in particular!  It was for this reason that many expressions arose in the language to identify various aspects of human insubordination.

What then is meant by each of these terms?

“Sin,” kata, is first presented to the Bible reader in Genesis 4:7 where it was depicted as a wild beast lurking at the doorway of life.2  As a force it became that manifestation of evil in the human life which caused one to deviate from the goal or the way which God had set for life.  Hebrew words are seldom abstract, but have concrete images behind them.  The basic imagery behind the term kata is that of an archer, slingsman, or spearman who has missed the target.  In essence, this category of offense implies one has failed to reach the goal, hit the target, or arrive at a destination set by God.  A most graphic way of expressing the meaning of the term is that it depicts a traveler who fails to reach the final stage of a journey.

Some of the older books in Old Testament theology forcefully deal with the nature of this word by affirming its equivalency to the New Testament Greek word anartia which implies a missing or abandoning of the straight road or norm for life.3  The offense is not one of willful disobedience, rather it seems neglect or lapse of discipline.  This gradual slipping away is a straying from the right way (that is, the norm of righteousness), a doing of that which is forbidden without an attitude of stubborn defiance of God, and perhaps, simply omitting to do those things which one ought to do.  In other words, kata means missing the objective standard of righteousness for one’s life.

“Iniquity,” awon, is the second term to be explored.  This means a deliberate acceptance of the wrong goals, aims, or objectives in life by a perverse turning aside from the course prescribed by God.  There is an inherent meaning in “iniquity” of distortion or perversion of right brought about by an inner inclination for evil.4  In the more explicit passages delineating evil within people and its consequence, the term “iniquity” was seen as that distortion or perversion of right which brought a tremendous burden to the offender, whether it was an individual Israelite (see Gen. 4:13; 15:16; 43:9; 44:16; Isa. 1:4; 40:2) or Israel as a nation (see 2 Sam. 1:16; 4:11; 1 Kings 2:32; 2 Kings 9:7).  A striking thing about the committing of iniquity is that in many passages the act was accompanied by a sense of pervasive guilt (see Ps. 32:5; Judg. 11:35; 2 Sam. 24:10).

The third of the big three words for offenses against God is “transgression,” pesha.  “Transgression” does not capture its meaning completely.5  It is an exceedingly strong term denoting defiance of and secession from a superior or a source of authority.  It is the casting aside of all restraints, literally a “running wild.”  Both Amos and Micah employed the term with devastating effect in their prophetic messages (see Amos 1:3,6,9,11,13; Micah 3:8; 6:7; 7:18).  This particular type of conduct was directed at the person of God or those offices or things ordained by God such as the covenant, king, or priest.  In addition it expressed a contempt for authority and the assertion of self-determination.  In essence it was that posture or self-assertion that put one above God and beyond the authority of His ordinances, commands, and precepts.  It is this word which is used in 1 Kings 12:19 in reference to the continuing rebellion of the Northern Kingdom, Israel, against the Southern Kingdom, Judah (also see 2 Kings 17:21).  The same word also was employed in a number of passages of similar connotation (see 2 Kings 1:1; 2 Chron. 10:19; Isa. 1:2).

What then is the difference between the three major words employed to denote offenses against God, God’s objective standards for life, or that authority sanctioned by God?  It has been stated previously that the three words “sin,” “iniquity,” and “transgression” often are found together in certain passages.  Their use in relationship to each other in Psalm 51:1-4 and Psalm 32:1-2 provides excellent insight into their meaning.  When the words are used together it enhances and heightens the implications of their meanings.

Mankind’s open insult of a sovereign God has subjective and objective impact.  When one sins, that is, misses the goal or the target, it is without malicious intent, as is the case with “transgression.”  It is also without evil disposition, as in the case with “iniquity.”  Yet it does affect God, for it is a straying from His established norms for people and it does affect each person as the betrayal is sensed (Ps. 32:1-5).6  Intensity of the nature of the offense is heightened, however, with employment of the terms “iniquity” and “transgression.”  It almost is like using the expressions “bad,” “worse” and “worst” denoting a progression, and saying it is bad to sin (kata), worse to commit iniquity (awon), but worst to transgress (pesha).  This moves in orderly steps from laxity of discipline to open rebellion.

Although each of the words denotes a distinct type of error they have a fundamental commonality.  “Sin” means to miss the mark.  “Iniquity” means a deliberate going wrong.  “Transgression” means willful disobedience.  Each basically indicates a disassociation or disruption, something that creates brokenness.  Thus, each of the words is used throughout the Old Testament to denote conduct which breaks relationship with God or conduct which is a breach of established authority (that is, the authority of the covenant and the law, Torah).  Yet, each of the three terms deals more wit alienation from God than it does wit defection from a keeping of Israelite religious law.  A number of other words are employed to define social wrongdoing.  Essentially, the three categories of misconduct describe defection from God with each denoting a different attitudinal position toward Him and a different posturing of the self.  Whether it be “son,” “iniquity,” or “transgression” it is an act done directly against God (Gen. 39:9; Ps. 51:4).  “Your iniquities,” says Isaiah, “have separated between you and your God” (Isa. 59:2).  Since it was God who had established the norm of righteousness for Israel, and since it was God who had given the law and executed a covenant with Israel, all forms of disobedience had their ultimate end as an irreverent or thoughtless contempt for God.7                               Bi

1.   Jacob, Theology of the Old Testament (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1958), p. 281.

2.   Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1967), 2:380.

3.   Davidson, The Theology of the Old Testament (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1904), p. 207.

4.   Dahood, Psalms, vol. 2, The Anchor Bible (Doubleday and Co., 1968), p. 43.

5.   Davidson, p. 210; Eichrodt, p. 381.

6.   Weiser, The Psalms (London: SCM Press, 1959), pp. 402-3.

7.   Durham, Psalms, Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman, 1971), p. 275.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Summer 1986.


Prayer a Word Study

By Fred Howard

Fred Howard is retired Professor of New Testament at Wayland Baptist University, Plainview, Texas.

WHAT IS PRAYER?  Negatively, prayer is not a dramatic monologue or soliloquy, like Hamlet’s speech, beginning “To be, of not to be – that is the question.”  A biblical example of soliloquy is the so-called prayer of the self-centered Pharisee in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:10-14).  Although the Pharisee “stood and prayed”1 (proseucheto [pro SEU che toh], the usual verb for “prayer”), he actually prayed to himself instead of to God.  Some people interpret prayer simply as “asking and receiving.” Such a view implies that we pray only when we need something from God.  Although both asking and receiving are aspects of prayer, such a definition is woefully inadequate.

Many Christians believe communion with God is the essence of prayer.  I agree with that view, yet I believe it should be expanded to include a dialogue between God and His spiritual children on a one-to-one basis.  The communion may be either vocalized or silent.  According to 1 Kings 19:12, God spoke to Elijah in “a still small voice.”  Whether the description means barely audible or inaudible – meaning outside His written Word – I believe God usually speaks inaudibly by means of mental impression and deep conviction.

In addition to a two-way communion, prayer also may include adoration (praise), worship, confession, thanksgiving, petition, intercession, and commitment.  Actually, intercession (asking on behalf of another) is a special kind of petition (asking in general but usually for oneself).  I see the main purpose of prayer as the right adjustment of our relationship with God in accordance with His will.  The scope of prayer includes all human concerns.  Consequently, nothing – regardless of how remote or apparently insignificant – is beyond the scope of prayer.

Both the Hebrew and the Greek languages have a word for prayer in general.  The common Hebrew word for prayer is tephillah [te PFEE lah], occurring many times in the Old Testament.  For example, it appears twice in Psalm 66:18-20.  The nearest Greek equivalent is proseuche [pro SEU che] (noun) and proseuchomai [pro SEU cho my] (verb).  This term occurs both as a noun and a participle in Colossians 4:2-4.  The Hebrew word for “petition” or “entreaty” is tachanunim [ta cha NU neem] and appears in Psalm 28:6-7.  The Greek equivalent of “petition” or “entreaty” is deesis [de AY sis].  One example occurs in Luke 1:5-17 where Zachariah’s entreaty evidently was for a son, God’s response being the birth of John the Baptist.

Uniquely, 1 Timothy 2:1-2 contains four words pertaining to prayer: deeseis (petitions), proseuchas (prayers), enteuxeis (intercessions), and eucharistias (thanksgivings).  Evidently, the difference between proseuche and deesis is that proseuche refers to prayer in general, whereas deesis refers to prayer for particular benefits.  According to New Testament usage, enteuxis [en TEU chis] occurs only in 1 Timothy 2:1 and 4:5.  However, the verb form, entugchano, occurs four times (Rom. 8:27, 34; 11:2; Heb. 7:25).  “Giving of thanks” translates a single word, eucharistias [eu cha RIS tee ahs], literally, “thanksgivings.”  The term eucharist comes from the same Greek root and is used by some churches to designate holy communion or the observance of Lord’s Supper.  In addition, the New Testament writers often used the verb eucharisteo to express thanks to God.

Another term for prayer occurs in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, concerning Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” that he saw as “the messenger [angel] of Satan (v. 7).  Whatever the affliction was, (poor eyesight, malaria, epilepsy, insomnia, or something else), Paul “besought” parakalesa) God three times to remove it (v. 8).  The verb parakaleo literally means called alongside.  Other meanings include exhort, encourage, implore, request, and entreat.  The noun form, parakleton, appears as “Comforter” in John 14:16 and refers to the Holy Spirit.  We may transliterate the Greek noun as “Paraclete.”

The longest prayer in the Bible is Solomon’s prayer dedicating the temple (1 Kings 8:22-53).  According to verse 22, “Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven.”  This passage reminds us that posture in prayer was not uniform in Jewish practice.  Although Solomon stood at the beginning of his prayer, after he had finished praying, “he arose from before the altar of the Lord, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread up to heaven” (1 Kings 8:54 KJV).  Therefore, at some point in his prayer, Solomon changed from his standing posture and dropped to his knees.

Examples of various postures in prayer are evident in Scripture.  In Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee  and the publican (Luke 18:10-14), both men stood when they prayed.  In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus “fell on his face, and prayed” (Matt. 26:39).  Daniel “kneeled . . . three times a day, and prayed” (Dan 6:10).  Jonah likely was prostrate when he “prayed . . . out of the fish’s belly” (Jonah 2:1).

Another common aspect of posture in prayer has been bowing the head.  Also, as we observed in Solomon’s dedicatory prayer, upraised hands sometimes accompanied prayer.  Smiting one’s breast during prayer symbolized penitence (Luke 18:13).  However, when Jesus criticized and labeled as “hypocrites” those who loved “to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets” (Matt.6:5), He referred to motive, not posture.  Neither did Jesus condemn public prayer by telling His audience to pray in a closet (Matt. 6:6).  Rather, He was condemning prayer when the motive was to impress others with the subject’s piety.  In this same context, Jesus gave the Model Prayer to His disciples (Matt. 6:9-13).  According to Luke’s version, Jesus’ disciples had requested Him to teach them to pray “as John [the Baptist] also taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1-4).

One of the most insightful biblical passages on prayer is James 5:14-16.  Two main reasons account for the significance of this passage.  First, it relates prayer to a particular problem, physical illness.  Second, it uses three different words for prayer.  The imperative form of proseuchomai, translated “let them pray,” appears in verse 14 and also in verse 16 as “pray one for another.”  However, rather than the usual proseuche, in verse 15 the word for “prayer” is euche, without the preposition pros prefixed.  Enche occurs only three times in the New Testament, here as “prayer” and twice as “vow” (Acts 18:18; 21:23).  Yet since the preposition pros basically means “to” or “toward,” proseuche implies praying to or toward God.

Just as the Israelites worshiped Yahweh (Jehovah), their covenant and only true God, their pagan neighbors also worshiped their so called gods, which in reality were lifeless idols.  Pagan worship included prayer and sacrifice as did Israel’s worship.  Perhaps the most detailed biblical example of pagan worship is the contest involving the prophet Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal (meaning lord or master), a fertility god (1 Kings 18:19-40).  According to Elijah’s proposal, the God who answered with fire was the true God.  After the prophets of Baal had prepared their sacrifice, they “called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us.  But there was no voice, nor any that answered.  And they leaped upon the altar” (v. 26).  The Hebrew word for “called” is qara [qah rah], the same word David used when he “called upon the Lord” (2 Sam. 22:7).  Later, Baal’s prophets “cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them” (1 Kings 18:28).  This description reminds me of Jesus’ instructions on prayer to His disciples: “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking” (Matt. 6:7).

In contrast to the highly emotional and frenzied efforts of the prophets of Baal, Elijah calmly went about preparing his sacrifice.  To prove that the forthcoming consumption of his sacrifice by fire would not be fluke, he dug a trench around the altar and had 12 barrels of water poured over his sacrifice and the wood under it.  Then Elijah calmly prayed: “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.  Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou are the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again” (1 Kings 18:36-37).  When God answered Elijah’s prayer by consuming the sacrifice with fire, the people reacted by falling on their faces and saying, “The Lord [Yahweh], he is the God; the Lord, he is the God” (vv.38-39).  Although many of the Israelites later drifted into various kinds of idolatry, the prophet Elijah corrected his generation and pointed them and their descendants in the right direction.

Paradoxically, visible but lifeless idols can neither hear, see, nor speak, whereas the invisible but living God can hear, see, and speak.  I particularly like the way the writer of Hebrews stated the permanence of divine sovereignty: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).                                                                                                                                                                                                     Bi

1.  Luke 18:11. This and subsequent Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version  of the Bible.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234, Fall 1997.


MUSIC in Celebration

By Becky Lombard

Becky Lombard is Assistant Professor of Music Theory and Organ, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, Louisiana.

WHO CAN EVEN IMAGINE the joy and thankfulness that must have filled the hearts of the Israelites who took part in the dedication of the rebuilt walls of Jerusalem.  Not only had the temple been rebuilt, but now their city was once again protected from outside invasion.  They could celebrate the success of completing the task.  They had rebuilt and repopulated Jerusalem.  They could celebrate a mighty God’s protection and leadership.1

Throughout Israel’s history, music and the expression of joy, praise, and thanksgiving had been intertwined.  Moses, Miriam, and the Israelites sang to the Lord after crossing the Red Sea (Ex. 15).  On the verge of entering the promised land, Moses sang a song of praise and thanksgiving that set forth the history of Israel’s deliverance (Deut. 32).  Deborah and Barak rejoiced through music, for God brought them victory in battle (Judg. 5).  When God rescued David from Saul and other enemies, David’s immediate response was a song of thanks and praise (2 Sam. 22).  David led the people in jubilant song when they were able to move the ark of God’s covenant back to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6). Israel sang, rejoicing when the rebuilt temple’s foundation was laid (Ezra 3:11).  The list could go on and on.  God had always cared for the children of Israel and never had forgotten them.  To praise Him in music was their joyful response.

Though this response was recurrently spontaneous and ecstatic, quite often in history Israel worshiped by more formal patterns.  King David established the musical organization of the temple when he organized the Levites into professional musical guilds and established guidelines for the use of music in temple worship.  A frequent, more formal facet of worship in festival celebrations of the Israelite communities was the procession.  It recognized God’s dominion over mankind and illustrated the ideal of an army following the king into battle.2

Nehemiah formally organized the procession for dedicating the wall (Neh. 12).  He specifically designed the makeup of each group into choirs of instruments and singers and planned the route each was to take, moving around the rebuilt walls.  He used priests, Levitical musicians, and laymen.  The first group, let by Ezra, moved south encircling one half of the city.  The second group, with Nehemiah, moved north covering the other half.  They rejoined and entered the temple, never ceasing in songs of praise and thanksgiving to the God who reigned supreme.

According to Nehemiah 12:36, the instruments used for the ceremony were those “prescribed by David the man of God.”  The writer claimed this foundation for the choice of performance and service styles three times in the course of chapter 12.  After the destruction of the temple, music and worship styles of generations of Israelites continued in the patterns that David had established before the original completion of the temple.  These tenets of music and instruments in temple worship had not been lost during the long years of exile in Babylon, even though the psalmist wondered in Psalm 137:4, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”  (NIV).  It seems that the Israelites did continue to sing, perpetuating the Israelite musical tradition.3

Trumpets of Old Testament times were fashioned into straight tubes of metal with bell-shaped ends.  Two types of metal were used: silver for sacred trumpets and bronze for trumpets used in secular settings.  Unlike our modern-day trumpets, these had no valves.  This limited to three or four the number of tones the instrument could sound.  The sound they emitted was probably not very lovely, but they probably sounded loudly enough to bring the people’s attention to God.

Trumpets were generally performed in pairs of larger groups.  In 2 Chronicles 5:12-13 when the ark of the covenant was brought into the temple from the city of David, 120 trumpets were blown by priests, joining singers, more trumpets, cymbals, and other instruments.  Trumpets were exclusively played by priestly descendants of Aaron for sacred occasions (Num. 10:8-10) and in war (2 Chron. 13:12).  Trumpets were sounded for numerous events in Old Testament life: to summon Israelites to the tent of meeting; to signal to Israelites to break camp; as a remembrance of God’s presence among His people, to sound an alarm in warfare; on holidays and at the beginning of the new moon; over sacrifices and burnt offerings; when the ark was moved to Jerusalem; at the dedications of the first and second temples; and to join other instruments of praise.4

Cymbals first appeared in Scripture during the time of David, in the procession that moved the ark to Jerusalem.  They were the only percussion instruments included in the temple  instruments specified by David (1 Chron. 15:16).  David appointed Heman, Asaph, and Jeduthun to the position of sounding the cymbals, a Levitical position of much distinction and privilege.  Cymbals were probably used to accompany singing with other instruments, to draw the worshiper’s attention to God, and to signal the beginning of singing in services of worship.

Made of bronze, the twin cymbals were shaped like saucers.  The centers were pierced for finger rings made of iron or wire.  Questions remain as to whether they were used horizontally or vertically, though a horizontal position is most likely.  They were sounded by striking one against the other or by touching their rims together.  Depending on the performance method, the sound of cymbals ranged from light tinkling to a dull clash.5

The harp’s construction resembled an archer’s bow.  Strings were strung across a curved wooden frame or across two pieces of wood joined at a right angle.  Each string sounded a single pitch.  In Scripture, the soft strains of the harp were most often mentioned in conjunction with the lyre.

The lyre was the most common stringed instrument of biblical times.  Though David is today known as a harpist, it was actually a lyre that he played.  Its wooden construction was typically a sound box with two upright arms attached.  Strings were stretched from a crosspiece spanning the arms to the soundbox.  A fingerboard made it possible for strings to play multiple pitches.6 It was usually played with a plectrum, which could be made of quill, wood, bone, or metal.  The lyre was always an instrument of joy.  When the occasion for joy ceased, the lyres were put away and remained silent (Ps. 137:2).  Prophets warned that if the people continued in sin, they would be punished and the lyre would no longer be heard (Ezek. 26:13). 7

The musical sound made by the masses of people worshiping on this day of dedication could probably be best described as “heterophony,” a type of performance commonly found I the musical traditions of the Near and Middle East.8 Harmony, as we know it today, did not exist in biblical times.  All participants were singing and playing the same basic melodic figures and each performer ornamented and varied the melodies in individual ways, creating what must have been a “din” of sound coming from the massive numbers of worshipers on that day.  Nehemiah 12:43 indicates that “the sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.”

Antiphonal singing was part of the design of this worship experience and is specifically indicated in verses 9, 24 where groups of Levites “stood opposite” of each other and sang in the services.  This musical design involved multiple groups exchanging repetitions of music, or one group responding to declarations of another.  This style of singing existed early in Israel’s history.

Through there is little documentation of antiphonal performances of early Hebrew music, a biblical basis for understanding this performance practice is generally accepted.  For instance, in 1 Samuel 18:6,7 as David and Saul returned in victory from battle against the Philistines, women came to greet them while singing with joy, dancing, and playing musical instruments.  Verse 7 says, “the women sang as they played, and said, ‘Saul hath slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands’” (NASB).

The nature of many psalms indicates that they were meant to be performed antiphonally.  The opening verses of Psalm 118 have a recurring refrain of “his love endures forever” (NIV).  These verses fit the pattern of antiphonal response, one group responding to another.  Returning to Nehemiah 12, the Levites’ antiphonal practice is seen (vv.9, 24) and surely, the divided musical procession around the rebuilt wall resulted in two choirs singing from opposite ends of the city, creating an antiphonal performance of praise.9

Music of this specific Old Testament celebration came from an overflow of rejoicing.  They were “rejoicing because God had given them great joy” (NIV).  The joy was so full that “the sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away” (v. 43, NIV).  What a wonderful model for those of us today who worship the same mighty God of deliverance and sustenance!  Music expresses joy and, at the same time, awakens joy.  Could it be that, if our Christian community worshiped with an overflow of rejoicing, those far outside the church’s walls might hear the testimony of that joyful celebration . . . the testimony of what God has done in our hearts and lives?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Bi

1.  H. G. M. Williamson, ed., The Dedication of the Wall (Neh. 12:27-43) in Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1993), 16:376.

2.  Janice and Richard Leonard, The Complete Library of Christian Worship, ed. Robert E. Webber (Nashville: Star Song Publishing Group, 1993), 1:43.

3.  Alfred Sendrey, Music in Ancient Israel (London: Vision Press Limited, 1969), 81-82.

4.  D. A. Foxvog and A. D. Kilmer, “Music,” in International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, rev., Geoffrey W. Bromiley, gen. Ed., (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986), 3:439-440; Alfred Sendrey, Music in the Social and Religious Life of Antiquity, (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1974), 189-191.

5.  Ivor H. Jones, “Music and Musical Instruments,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed., David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 4:935; Sendrey, 99,205-06.

6.  Webber, 237.

7.  Sendrey, Music in the Social and Religious Life of Antiquity, 171.

8.  Don Michael Randel, ed., “Heterophony” in The New Harvard Dictionary of Music (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1986), 377.

9.  Sendrey, Music in Ancient Israel, 167-169.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Fall 1998.




What Is The Answer To & Where In The Bible Is This Week’s Trivia Question Found? (12/21/14)  Four-part question: (1)Who was confined to bed for eight years (2) suffering from what disease, (3) when did he dwell?  Answer next week: (1) Who?, (2) What disease?, (3) What city?, (4) When in the Bible is it found?

The answer to last week’s trivia question:  (12/14/14)   Who did Jesus say was close to the Kingdom of God? Answer: One of the Scribes; Mark 12:28-34.