Joy in the Secret Place (Psalm 32:6-11)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (15:12)

Caves above Engedi in the Judean wilderness.
Caves above Engedi in the Judean wilderness.

Psalm 32 gave me a kind of quiet joy as I was reading it in my morning devotions recently thinking about the safety, the intimacy, the good counsel, and the joy we have in God's Secret Place. Psalm 32:1-5 talk about the wonder of confession of sins and forgiveness. I have commented on them elsewhere.1 Verses 6 through 11, where I'd like to focus today, talk about the joy of the believer in God's intimate presence.

A Journey of Prayer (Psalm 32:6a)

The tenor of the psalm from verse 6 on is an acknowledgement of God as Savior and Protector:

"Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you
while you may be found."
(Psalm 32:6a, NIV)

The life of the believer is a life of prayer, communing with God throughout our day-to-day lives, as well as calling out to him when dangers or challenges appear. Literally, verse 6 is a command to:

"... pray to You at the time for finding."

The verb is ṣāʾ, "to find," or perhaps "to seek."2 Sometimes we relegate prayer to particular days or times. But David urges us not to wait but to pray to the Lord "while you may be found" (NIV). The text implies that there are definite times when God is near and accessible to us, and times when, because of our sin or hardness or our situation, we are unable or unwilling to come to him. We must take advantage of the opportunities he gives us to draw close to him. There is a joy in walking with him at our side in the cool of the morning, as well as through the heat of the day.

Higher Ground in Flood Season (Psalm 32:6b)

We are tempted to call upon the Lord only we're in deep trouble. At other times, our relationship is too often more casual, more infrequent, less intense. Blessed are we if we walk with the Lord day by day so that when problems arise -- and they do! -- we know how to rely on him, how to find that special place of faith in crisis. David speaks of the godly in our psalm:

"Surely when the mighty waters rise,3
they will not reach
4 him." (Psalm 32:6b)

No matter how blessed we are, how well life may be going, there will always be a time when the flood-waters threaten to engulf us. In these times we need him to lead us to higher ground.

We often balk at going deeper, moving higher in Christ until those times of stress come when we must trust and follow -- far out of our comfort zone -- acutely aware that we are not able to solve all our challenges independently. An old gospel hymn calls us upward.

"Lord, lift me up, and let me stand
By faith, on heaven's tableland;
A higher plane than I have found,
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground."5

A Hiding Place in Trouble (Psalm 32:7)

There are times of great danger when we are called to stand bravely against the enemy (Ephesians 6:11-13), but there are also times to run and hide. David experienced this when he was fleeing from Saul's armies, constantly seeking out a safe place among the rocks and crags and caves of the Judean wilderness in which to hide. In this psalm and others he calls Yahweh his Hiding Place.

"You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble."
(Psalm 32:7, NIV)

"Hiding place" is sēter, from sātar, "hide, conceal."6 The noun occurs several times in reference to God as the believer's place of refuge and protection, translated in different ways.

"He will conceal me under the cover of his tent." (Psalm 27:5b)
"In the shelter of your presence you hide them." (Psalm 31:20a)
"I long to ... take refuge in the shelter of your wings." (Psalm 61:4)
"The shelter of the Most High." (Psalm 91:1)
"My refuge and my shield." (Psalm 119:114)

A number of songs and hymns have been written about this Hiding Place, as songwriters have discovered the comfort and joy of God's presence for themselves. For example:

"You Are My Hiding Place," by Michael Ledner (1981)
"The Secret Place," by Phil Wickham and Pete Kipley (2016)

For us believers today, Christ is our Hiding Place, our "hidey-hole," our mountain hideout to shelter us when the enemy is combing the hills to plunder and harm and destroy.

"For you died,
and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 3:3)

But Yahweh's Hiding Place is not characterized by stillness or fear. The psalmist recounts,

"You ... surround me with songs of deliverance. " (Psalm 32:7)

I love the imagery! We are surrounded,7 not by the enemy but by shouts and songs8 of salvation, escape, deliverance.9 These songs are what you would expect in the camp of a victorious army, but they surround us in the Secret Place of the Most High. God both protects us and encourages our faith.

A Promise of God's Leadership (Psalm 32:8)

Now God draws us close in his Secret Place with an assurance of his presence and his on-going care for us.

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you and watch over you."
(Psalm 32:8, NIV)

First, God promises instruction. The verb here is śākal, with the idea of giving insight, comprehension, wisdom.10 This isn't formal "book-learning." Rather, it consists of practical insights on the "way, path, or road" that we should travel, guidance for our direction, instruction on our way of living. God will give us practical wisdom to help us prosper in our everyday lives -- if we will listen.

Next, he promises teaching, a similar word that suggests more formal instruction. The verb is yārâ, "to teach, instruct," the root of Torah (tôrâ).11 As God taught Moses both what to do and say (Exodus 4:15) and instructs those who fear him in what direction to go (Psalm 25:8-9, 10-12), so he promises to lead us. The Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Counselor, the Comforter will teach us all things, remind us of what Jesus said (John 14:26), and guide us into all truth (John 16:13).

Finally, God promises wise counsel based on our circumstances, literally:

"I will counsel13 you with my eye upon you."12 (Psalm 32:8, ESV)

My mental image is of a helicopter hundreds of feet above us radioing down to us conditions ahead so that we can make good decisions. God knows the path ahead.

When David was fleeing from his son Absalom, one of David's greatest concerns was that Absalom would follow the wise counsel of Ahithophel, the king's advisor.

"Now in those days the counsel that Ahithophel gave was as if one consulted the word of God; so was all the counsel of Ahithophel esteemed, both by David and by Absalom." (2 Samuel 16:23)

But Absalom disregarded Ahithophel's counsel at a crucial juncture, and David was saved.

How much more valuable is the counsel, the timely advice, of the Most High? So often we neglect to seek his counsel, or we don't listen carefully, or, even worse, we go against it.

God is a good, good Father. In working out his divine plans, he seeks our good also.

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28, NIV)

As I consider Psalm 32:8, I marvel that God doesn't command or order us here. Rather, he teaches, enlightens, and counsels us in his Secret Place so that we can make good decisions ourselves. If you order the lives of your children beyond their early years, they can never grow to maturity. God leads the way and trusts us to follow. That is our part in this journey of faith.

Don't Be a Mule! (Psalm 32:9)

The alternative to seeking God's counsel, of course, is stubbornness.

We humans start out as extremely self-centered infants. We feed, we mess diapers, we sleep, and we cry when something isn't quite to our liking. But we change (I hope). We grow. We respond to love and to discipline. Our parents patiently teach us in a thousand moments to listen, to obey, to be polite, to love, to care about others. All is well -- and then we become teenagers, hard-wired by the Creator to become independent of our parents. Those years can be tough, and some of us never outgrow the rebelliousness. God warns us through the psalmist:

"Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you."
(Psalm 32:8-9)

Have you grown to the point that God can take off the bridle that forces you to go a particular direction? Do you come to God of your own free will or only when you're afraid? Does your path of life indicate your trust in him or only in yourself?

Two Paths (Psalm 32:10)

In verse 10, the psalmist offers two paths, two choices -- pain or God's solid love.

"Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the LORD's unfailing love
surrounds the man who trusts in him."
(Psalm 32:10, NIV)

The Hebrew word behind the "woes" (NIV), "sorrows" (ESV, KJV), "torments" (NRSV) of the wicked suggests mental anguish.15 You would think that when we choose the path that offers the most pleasure (hedonism) we would end up being happy. But the end of that road is misery -- on earth and beyond.

The alternative is being recipients of God's steadfast, unfailing love. The Hebrew noun is hesed. No one English word encompasses the full meaning. Essentially, hesed is unremitting love within a covenant relationship, even when one party fails or is unfaithful to the covenant.16 When you consider hesed, you think of a word developed by Paul in the New Testament -- "grace" (Greek charis) -- favor that is extended to a person unilaterally, not on the basis of how well one performs or behaves or reciprocates that love. Grace, hesed, steadfast love is God's favor that is neither earned nor deserved.

Don't be like a stubborn mule, the Lord says, let me teach you. Let my steadfast love surround you. Don't resist me. Sin causes us to run away from God, to "kick against the goads" (Acts 26:14). Relax, let your fear and distrust, your rebellion and sin fall away, and hear his words of instruction to you.

Rejoice and Be Glad (Psalm 32:11)

The psalm concludes by calling God's children to joy.

"Rejoice17 in the LORD and be glad,18 you righteous;
19 all you who are upright in heart!" (Psalm 32:11)

These righteous ones are not the self-righteous, but those who have been made right with God through the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord. The "upright in heart" aren't dour, joyless, religious robots. No! That is a false stereotype. Rather, those who see that their heart stays in tune with the Lord, who are quick to repent when they are in the wrong, they are the ones who have reason to party and rejoice in his presence. They are the ones who revel in his hesed, his grace, his steadfast love.

Our present life is guided by our Father and a future in heaven with him awaits us. Hallelujah! What more could we ask?

My friend, what is keeping you from running to the Father's Secret Place right now?


References and Abbreviations

[1] You can find more about verse 1-5 in my exposition of the psalm chapter 11 of Experiencing the Psalms (JesusWalk Publications, 2007, 2010,

[2] Qal infinitive construct of ṣāʾ, "to find" the thing for which one is looking. (Holladay, p. 209), perhaps also "to come upon, meet, reach." It can also carry the thoughts of actively seeking (Victor P. Hamilton, TWOT #1231). Scholars have struggled to make sense of verse 6a. One approach is to assume thatṣāʾ ("find"), should be emended in the last consonant to read "stress." Thus NRSV, "at a time of distress" with the next line. I prefer it without any emendation.

[3] "Rise" (NIV), "rush" (ESV, NRSV), "floods" (KJV) is the noun šeṭep, "flood, downpour" (TWOT #2373a), from šāṭap, "wash, rinse, overflow, engulf."

[4] "Reach" is the Hiphil of the verb nāgaʿ, "touch, reach (to)" (Holladay, p. 227).

[5] "Higher Ground" (1898) words: Johnson Oatman, Jr.; music: Charles H. Gabriel.

[6] Sēter, Holladay, p. 261; R.D. Patterson, TWOT #1551a.

[7] "Surround" sābab, "go about, encircle, surround," here and in verse 10 in the Polel, "encircle someone protectively" (Holladay, p. 252; R.D. Patterson, TWOT #1456).

[8] "Songs" is the plural of rōn, "shout of joy," from rānan, "cry out, shout for joy" (William White, TWOT #2179a). The noun suggests a "ringing cry," which can be of joy or sorrow -- here, of joy.

[9] "Deliverance" is the Piel of pallē, "bring to safety," from pāla, "escape, save, deliver" (Holladay, p. 292; TWOT 1774a).

[10] "Instruct" is the Hiphil of śākal, "understand, prosper," here, "make someone keen, clever" (Holladay, p. 352, Hiphil, 5), "have insight, comprehension, wisdom" (Louis Goldberg, TWOT #2263).

[11] "Teach" is the Hiphil of yārâ, "teach, instruct" (Holladay, p. 144, III, Hiphil, 1). This verb is the root of Torah (tôrâ), "law, teaching" (John E. Hartley, TWOT #910).

[12] The NIV's "watch over" suggests a fourth verb, but it rather it interprets a phrase explaining how Yahweh will counsel us: "with my eye on you."

[13] "Counsel" (ESV, NIV, NRSV), "guide" (KJV) is the Qal of ʿaṣ, "advise, counsel, purpose, devise, plan" (TWOT #887; Holladay, p. 186).

[14] "Without understanding" uses the Hiphil infinitive construct of bîn, "have insight, comprehend, understand" (Holladay, p. 38).

[15] "Woes" (NIV), "sorrows" (ESV, KJV), "torments" (NRSV) is the plural of makʾōb, "pain, suffering" (Holladay, p. 193; TWOT #940b), from ʾab, "be sore, have pain, be sorrowful." Although the root can be used to express physical suffering, it much more commonly has to do with mental anguish. Of the 16 occurrences of this noun, at least 11 have to do with mental suffering (John N. Oswalt, TWOT #940b).

[16] In his landmark study Gordon Clark concludes: "Hesed is not merely an attitude or an emotion; it is an emotion that leads to an activity beneficial to the recipient. The relative status of the participants is never a feature of the hesed act, which may be described as a beneficent action performed, in the context of a deep and enduring commitment between two persons or parties, by one who is able to render assistance to the needy party who, in the circumstances, is unable to help him or herself" (Gordon R. Clark, The Word Hesed in the Hebrew Bible (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), p. 267. See also Robin Routledge, "Hesed as Obligation: A Re-Examination," Tyndale Bulletin, Vol. 46, No. 1 (1995), pp. 179-196; R. Laird Harris, hesed, TWOT #698).

[17] "Rejoice" (NIV), "be glad" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is the Qal imperative of śāma. "The root ś-m- denotes being glad or joyful with the whole disposition as indicated by its association with the heart, the soul; and with the lighting up of the eyes" (Bruce K. Waltke, TWOT #2268).

[18] "Be glad" (NIV), "rejoice" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is the Qal imperative of gîl. "The root meaning is 'to circle around' from which such ideas as 'to circle in joy' are readily derived. The root meaning is more applicable to vigorous, enthusiastic expressions of joy; but, in the Old Testament, it and its derivatives serve as poetic and prophetic terms for various kinds of joy" (Jack P. Lewis, TWOT #346).

[19] "Sing" (NIV), "shout for joy" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is the Hiphil imperative of rānan. The initial is in Leviticus 9:24 where the shout of jubilation is connected with a divinely appointed sacrifice. This usage of the term to describe the joy of Israel at God's saving acts is carried on throughout the Old Testament" (William White, TWOT #2179).

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