Preached by Rev. Gary Dalton, March 5, 2017
Scripture: Psalm 32
“My Precious!” “My Precious!” Many of you will recognize who spoke those two words.
If ever there was an illustration tailor-made to Psalm 32, it is Tolkien’s trilogy fantasy novels, The Lord of the Rings. At the heart of the conflict is who will control the magical gold ring of the evil Lord, Sauron.
Through many and long misadventures the gold ring is lost until the day two simple and innocent hobbits named Deagol and Smeagol find the ring. The gold ring immediately asserts is diabolical powers over the two hobbit friends, with Smeagol finally strangling to death his friend, Deagol, so that he alone may possess the gold ring.
Over the many years that follow, Smeagol hides himself away so no one dare discover his precious possession, the gold ring. In his secretive and isolated existence, the hobbit, Smeagol, deteriorates and transforms in a withered and wretched creature known as Gollum. Gollum is consumed with only one passion, jealously hiding and guarding and adoring the gold ring he now calls, “My Precious!”
Our Psalmist would have appreciated Gollum’s desperate plight. Keep in mind, this writer of Psalm 32 was a good person. He was among God’s covenant people. In the eyes of his community, he was a wise man and teacher; probably he was a priest.
He, most definitely, was not among the unclean and unredeemed people known in the Hebrew as the “goyim”. But, though he was not among the goyim, he seems well on his way toward becoming some kind of ancient Gollum.
There had come a time in his life when he seized upon some desire, some act, which in turn, had laid hold on him. He could not let it go, whatever it was.
The consequences, he recalls now for his listeners, were devastating:
“When I declared not my sin, my body wasted away through
my groaning all day long.
For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me; my strength
was dried up as by the heat of summer.” (verse 3)
Whatever this man’s sin was, he understood his action was contrary to God as he had come to know and to understand God.
The Hebrew word for “sin”, you’ll recall, means “to miss the mark”. It means that you knew you were supposed to be aiming your efforts one way. But, for whatever reason, you missed it. Apparently, this guy missed the mark in a big way.
But, he says, in verse 3, I couldn’t admit my failing to God, “I declared not my sin”, he says. He persists in denying the truth of this betrayal of conscience between himself and God. Instead, by what he says in verse 5, he did what? He tried to hide his sin from God.
The energy it takes him to keep up the pretense that “all is well with my soul” brings him to the brink of ruin. Thankfully, finally, he just gives up. He surrenders himself to God, ready to face whatever consequences must come. He recalls, in verse 5, “I acknowledged my sin to thee, and I did not hide my iniquity [anymore]; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’”
What happened next is not what he feared would happen. Whatever his dread of God’s retribution, he discovered that fear and dread of God were unfounded. He recalls the experience, in wonder and in worship, “thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin.” And, then, God never mentions it again.
In verse 5, the writer uses a phrase to describe how he once hid his sin from God. It’s the exact same phrase he uses up in verse 1, where he writes of God hiding the psalmist’s now-forgiven sin. In verse 5, he says he had covered up his unconfessed sin in hope that God would not see him for what he had done. In verse 1, he says that, even better, God covered up his confessed sin so nobody—not even God—ever saw it again.
The psalmist does mention hiding in one other place in his account. Down in verse 7, he says with great assurance before God, “thou art a hiding place for me, thou preservest me from trouble; thou does encompass me with deliverance.” This time, the phrase “hiding place” comes from a whole other word in the Hebrew language than the word he used earlier to speak of his hiding his sin from God and God then hiding his confessed and forgiven sin.
With God, we never have to play this desperate game of hiding sin. Whatever we think to hide from God, yes, God also wants to hide it, putting it far away out of sight for all time from both God and us. So, bring that sin to God and let God deal with it in forgiveness and compassion. God is not our enemy set upon robbing us or hurting us. As verse 7 tells us, God “encompasses us with deliverance.”
The psalmist wants us to understand this truth he had discovered in his own life. That’s why he’s willing to share this embarrassing story with us. So, he challenges us with a bit of humor in verse 9, “be not like a [stubborn] horse or a [dumb] donkey,” as I was.
When I was about twelve or thirteen, I was staying with my aunt and uncle, who lived on a farm down in Pittsylvania County. My uncle and cousins were hunters; that was an important part of their rural identity. Hunting was not at all part of my upbringing.
So, while I was staying with them, my uncle thought it might be good to introduce me to using a shotgun.
He took me out to the edge of some woods that bordered a pasture, well away from anything that I might accidentally shoot. He brought along a paper target he was going to clothes-pin to a bush for me to shoot at.
My uncle broke open the barrel and showed me how to insert the shell into the chamber. He closed the barrel, and then he paused with great deliberation and said, “these triggers are very sensitive, so you don’t rest your finger on the trigger. You keep it outside of the trigger guard until you’re ready to take your shot.”
Then, without thinking better of it, my uncle gave me the shotgun to hold while he walked over to clothes-pin the paper target to a bush. And, of course, as my uncle walks away from me, I naturally turn my body in the direction whence my uncle was now walking with his back to me.
As my uncle began pinning the target on the bush, apparently I let my finger come to rest on the trigger. Instantly, KABOOM! and just to the left of my uncle’s derriere a grouping of bushes flew apart in a flutter of leaves as birdshot scattered through them.
My uncle, with great control so as not to run back and throttle his nephew, turned and looked at me from his kneeling position, and firmly said, “I told you those triggers are sensitive and not to do that, didn’t I?” “Yes, sir, you did,” I replied. “I’m sorry.” And, that was that.
I had missed the mark in the biblical sense by neglecting what my uncle had told me about the trigger. Thankfully, I also missed hitting my uncle’s backside with birdshot. My uncle never mentioned that incident to me again. I know for a fact, he never told my own father, because my Dad would have really laid into me one way or the other if he’d found out I had nearly shot his brother.
For my uncle and cousins, a shotgun was not a weapon of self-defense. It was a tool for providing wild game for themselves to eat because they enjoyed it. But, the shotgun also is a tool that can bring terrible harm, intended or not, as I almost demonstrated when I ignored my uncle’s attempts to teach me its proper use.
God has entrusted to us these incredible tools of human soul and human mind and human aspiration and human body. Sometimes through ignorance, oftentimes through willful neglect, and sometimes through malicious intent, we misuse what God has entrusted to us. We miss the mark. We sin.
However this psalmist had missed the mark with God, yes, God knew, just as certainly as my uncle knew the instant I ignored his warning about the trigger. God in some way spoke to this man about what he’d done, not in words, but in this psalmist’s own God-shaped conscience, his God-informed understanding spoke to him of his sin.
We dare not try to hide from God nor should we dare hold on to what would make us want to hide from God in the first place. We can offer ourselves and our sins openly to God, to be forgiven, to be released of that burden, and to be restored into the full and unfettered joy of God’s love for us.
Then, we can join the psalmist in verse 11, and “Be glad in the Lord and rejoice…and shout for joy…you [also] upright in heart.”