Psalm 32:1–2 reads, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” David uses three specific Hebrew words to describe sin. First, “transgression” means a breaking loose or rebellion in that we have committed treason against our Infinite Creator. Second, David uses the basic Hebrew word for “sin” which conveys a deviation, falling short, missing the mark, or turning from the right path. This word describes how archers would shoot arrows and miss the target. “Sin” describes how we fall short of God’s holy standard of the law. Third, David employs the word “iniquity” which connotes our spiritual condition as distorted, twisted, and corrupt to the core. These three expressions of sin sum up the totality of what it means to stand condemned under God’s wrath. Not only have we offended him personally and rebelled against his law, but we are radically depraved by nature.
How does the LORD respond to this overwhelming sinfulness inherent in humans? First of all, God pronounces the blessing of forgiveness. This Hebrew word means to be lifted off or carried away. Psalm 103:12 beautifully captures this idea: “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” Isaiah 43:25 reads, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” We are forgiven in the Son!
Second, David describes the LORD as “covering” our sin which refers to the Day of Atonement. The word “cover” means to propitiate God’s wrath against sin. On that special day, the high priest would take blood from an animal that had been sacrificed into the Holy of Holies which was in the very center of the tabernacle. He would then sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat, which was the lid or covering of the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark represented God’s presence, and it also contained the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. The cherubim, or flaming creatures inscribed in gold on the lid, represented the absolute holiness of God. The seat, or lid, showed the clear separation between a holy God and the broken law inside the Ark. The blood sprinkled on the mercy seat covered or appeased God’s wrath, shielding the Israelites from his rightful judgment because they had broken his law. Propitiation, or the covering of sin, means that on the cross Jesus as our substitute fully absorbed the wrath of God that stood against us. He deflected this justice that should have been aimed directly at us by becoming a curse for us.
Third, David expresses how the LORD does not “count” our sin against us. This is none other than an Old Testament reference to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The Father does not count or credit our sins against us in his courtroom because the righteousness of Christ declares us not guilty through justification. Paul quotes this psalm in Romans to support the doctrine of imputed righteousness of Christ. Romans 4:5–8 reads, “And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’”
Martin Luther is so helpful here: “Learn to know Christ and him crucified. Learn to sing to him and say, ‘Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin. You took on you what was mine; yet set on me what was yours. You became what you were not, that I might become what I was not!” That’s profoundly stated. What was Jesus not? A sinner! And yet what did he become? A sin offering in our place condemned by God. And yet what were we not? Righteous and accepted by God. But yet, now because of this beautiful transaction, we can stand in the righteousness of Christ.