I am working through Psalm 32 in an attempt to share it’s depth with you as well as help my endeavor to commit it to memory. Read my thoughts on the previous stanza here.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding,
Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check,
Otherwise they will not come near to you.
First, a slightly more academic observation.
The obvious reading of this stanza is that by direction of the Holy Spirit, David takes on the role of a pure prophet and dictates for the Lord. God speaks to David and subsequently the reader to assure us that He will guide us at every step. This is the general interpretation by most who read this psalm, among whom seem to include MacArthur and Piper.
I found an interesting angle, however, in my Bible Knowledge Commentary by Walvoord & Zuck. They assert this this psalm was most likely liturgical in nature, meaning it would be akin to something in a book of common prayer. The point they make is that the assembly would read along with David for most of the psalm, but the last two stanzas would be more of an address from David (or the leader) to the people. Thus, David is the one pledging to be their guide and watch over them.
I don’t read Hebrew, but I have a feeling that even if I did, it wouldn’t answer the question. Honestly, I don’t think it makes a HUGE difference since there are other scripture references that speak of both God’s guidance and the guidance of God’s earthly shepherds.
If we read this from the perspective of God speaking, we can take comfort that God is always watching over us, ready with the guidance we need if we will seek it out. If we read it as David speaking, we can take the same comfort that God has proven in history that He will raise up leaders who will watch over us, ready with the guidance we need if we will seek it out. The latter interpretation is simply a method of the truth of the former interpretation. Six in one hand, a half dozen in the other.
Second, observations for application
God is doesn’t want us to fail! God has laid out His guidance in His word for us, He sent the perfect example in His Son for us, He gave us the Holy Spirit… When we fail it is because we rebel against His better judgment. It is a bit humbling to imagine that when we sin, we are acting as a horse or a mule. No understanding, just a dumb animal sitting in the mud to spite it’s owner. Even in sitting down to write this post, I was chomping at the bit about something.
Note that when a horse or mule disobeys its owner, it is not excused from the task at hand. The owner will just need to tug harder and rap the animal’s hide with a little more zeal to get it going. Sounds like we’re back to stanza two!
I think it’s important to keep in mind the context of this stanza (duh!). This psalm is about how God deals with sin in the life of His children. He chastises, He forgives, He protects, and here He gives guidance. While it is true that God can and will provide guidance on important decisions, the study of His Word, etc…, this passage deals with guidance to sin less and less in our lives. In short, this verse is for sanctification, not for passing your midterm exam tomorrow morning. Sorry.
So despite the possible confusion over whether it is David or God speaking here, the message is clear. God is a benevolent teacher who wants us to succeed on the path of sanctification. He is in constant contact and has all the resources we need at His disposal. Our failure is in our own stupidity and stubbornness. There is implied contingency in the “bit and bridle” wherein God will pull us back in line.
One of the traits of God that has become more and more apparent to me as my study of this psalm has unfolded is His faithfulness. God is faithful to forgive, He is faithful to discipline, He is faithful to forgive completely, He is faithful to protect us, He is faithful to watch over us. Next, we’ll see how He is faithful to change our hearts.
Come back soon to read about the next stanza of Psalm 32.