Calvary Road Baptist Church


Psalm 32.8-9

Whenever you read God’s Word it is beneficial to read with an engaged and questioning mind. Understand that the benefit of reading God’s Word does not come from questioning as you read with a critical spirit of doubt and skepticism, but rather from questioning as you read with a curious and inquiring spirit that seeks to know, to understand, and to gain wisdom. James directed us to “receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls,” James 1.21. With such an approach to reading this 32nd Psalm, perhaps you have already discovered in your reading and meditating time in this psalm that David is very keen in this poem to make reference to time frames, declaring present blessednesses in verses 1 and 2, and rehearsing his personal history in verses 3, 4 and 5. He then anticipates the future reactions of some others in verse 6, and confidently declares his secure relationship with God in verse 7, bringing us to our text for today. Perhaps you also noticed as you read the psalm that different people are speaking throughout. Verses 1-6 is mostly narrative, with David indicating what he said to God in the second half of verse 5: “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” In verse 7, David again addresses the LORD: “Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance.” He then recommends a pause, “Selah.”

Verses 8-9 comprise our text for this morning. Please stand and read along with me silently while I read aloud:

8      I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.

9      Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.

Who is speaking in these two verses? Whose words are we reading? When David speaks, he clearly indicates he is talking, such as when he writes, in verse 5, “I said.” Though respected commentators Keil and Delitzsch are persuaded that here the psalmist is doing what he promises to do in Psalm 51.15, “Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee,” I am convinced it is more reasonable that verses 8-9 are understood to be the words of God, assuring His instruction of those He has forgiven.[1],[2]

What, according to David, are God’s Words to those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered, the blessed unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile? We find two entirely different types of comment made to the blessed who are forgiven:


Verse 8 is most encouraging: “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.”

Keeping in mind that God makes use of means to accomplish His purposes, such as prophets in Old Testament times and gospel ministers and more mature Christians in New Testament times, consider two aspects of God’s commitments to His own mentioned by David:

In the first half of the verse, the LORD declares what His intentions are for those He has forgiven: “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go.” It would difficult to imagine anything more encouraging to the child of God than words such as these. After all, the sinner having humbled himself before God, having acknowledged and confessed his sins and his sinfulness, he is oftentimes overwhelmed with a profound sense of ignorance and the recognition that he does not know what to do or where to go. It is in response to this clear sense of ignorance of spiritual things and an awareness that even though your sins and transgressions have been forgiven, there is still the profoundly important matter of how to live before the LORD, how to serve Him, and how to live righteously according to His will. Thankfully, we have a whole host of comforting passages in God’s Word, of which I want to draw your attention to only two: First, of course, is the verse before us: “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go.” That is a promise from God, with more on this in a moment. Then there is Psalm 119.105: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” So you see, we have God, Himself, and we also have God’s Word, as a lamp to tell you where you are, and as a light to show you where to place your feet to make progress in life.” Now, we consider more specifically what is meant by the phrase “I will instruct thee and teach thee,” after which I will explain the phrase “in the way which thou shalt go.” The Hebrew word translated “instruct” refers to giving someone insight, perhaps concerning principles and abstract truth.[3] The word “teach” translates the Hebrew word for direction and instruction, perhaps referring to specific guidance concerning how to do what is taught.[4] “The way” has to do with your manner of life, specifically with respect to your duty.[5] Thus, the LORD has promised to provide both principled and practical guidance to show you how you should live your life, how you should do your duty. Trust Him to do just that and you will see that the LORD is faithful.

Now we turn to the last half of the verse, where the LORD uses imagery to convey His intentions regarding those He has forgiven: “I will guide thee with mine eye.” Imagine a devoted pupil who has been thoroughly instructed by his mentor concerning the goal of his training and the details of how to accomplish the tasks that lead to reaching his goal. As the pupil seeks to please his mentor and perform his duty, he frequently looks up from his work for the smile of approval or the frown of concern. However, he also watches intently, as his mentor guides him with his eyes. If you have ever been tutored you have had this experience. Having been taught the general principles of the task, and having been given training about the specific details of what to do, there is still hesitancy when the task is performed for the first time. On such occasions, it is quite normal for the eager pupil to look with interest at his mentor, who typically gives subtle hints of what to do next merely by flicking his gaze first here and then there. Such hints are likely to be detected only by the student whose real interest is in pleasing his mentor. Do you see what we have in this verse? We are promised by the LORD that those who are forgiven will be trained and coached by Him to obey Him, with the additional promise that He will guide us with His eye. Thus, here is yet another reason why the discouraged and disconsolate believer should look unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of his faith, Hebrews 12.2. He will guide us with His eye as we look upon Him with the eyes of faith. What comforting promises God has given to His own, to those who have acknowledged their sins, who have confessed their sins, and whose sins have been forgiven.


Verse 9: “Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.”

Recognize that the psalmist does not here deny that horses and mules can learn, that they can adapt. He is in this verse making a general statement about two beasts of burden and their general behavior for the purpose of warning us not to be like that. There are two parts to this verse:

First, the warning not to behave like the horse or the mule, having no understanding. The horse is a breed and the mule is a hybrid, the sterile product of a horse mating with a donkey. So, how are human beings urged to be different from horses and mules? Horses and mules have to be trained, while human beings, particularly those whose sins are forgiven and who are serious about not committing sins against God in the future, can be explained. “Understanding” translates a Hebrew word whose root meaning is discern.[6] What is used to alter the behavior of a horse or a mule? Two things: A carrot and a stick. Having no vocabulary, animals do not have the capacity for rational thought, and are only imagined to be capable of rational thought by people who insist on projecting human personality characteristics onto animals that do not actually possess them. Can these animals learn? Can they be trained? Yes, to both questions. However, they are entirely incapable of abstract thoughts, of grasping higher principles, of really discerning. We are warned against such base conduct, and it is a warning that is especially needed in our day when so many people respond to urges and appetites without any consideration of the moral aspect of their conduct. Stallion sees mare. Stallion mounts mare. Nothing wrong with that, since they are beasts that are incapable of understanding, entirely governed by appetites. However, man sees woman not his wife. Man and woman not his wife engaging in sexual activity, is terribly wrong . . . because human beings are not beasts, are very capable of understanding abstract principles of right and wrong, and are absolutely responsible to comply with God’s prohibition against the sexual sin of fornication. Lesson? Do not mimic beasts.

The second part of this verse provides an illustration of how horses and mules must oftentimes be controlled: “whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.” This sentence is frequently misunderstood because of how several words are translated, as well as by those who do not pay enough attention to the final phrase. This word translated “bit” is the Hebrew word for what we commonly understand as a bridle, a device by which a horse is guided, comprised of a headstall, bit, and reins.[7],[8] The word translated “bridle” in this verse actually refers to a device placed over a horse’s mouth to prevent it from biting.[9] We more commonly see them placed over the muzzles of dogs to prevent them from biting anyone. I have many times as a youngster had horses and donkeys try to bite me, when they recognized they had been mounted by an inexperienced rider. Next, the phrase “lest they come near thee.” Most commentators twist the meaning of this phrase around to refer to horses or mules who do their best to stay away from someone who tries to approach them with a bridle, the animal staying away to avoid being worked hard. However, that is not the meaning of this phrase at all. As mentioned before, it refers to the horse or mule coming near to you . . . to bite you. How does this in any way apply to the forgiven sinner? I would suggest that this is a warning against the forgiven sinner behaving like a beast of burden that needs to be controlled lest it retaliate against the one who is supposed to influence its course and direction. Will the forgiven sinner ever attempt to retaliate against the guidance and direction of God? Yes, it does happen. Sometimes it happens unconsciously, when a believer reacts against the instruction he has received from God’s Word by a pastor or Christian mentor. Sometimes it occurs consciously as a result of frustration or ignorance. However it happens it is wrong, and God has warned against it. To forgo any possibility of the forgiven sinner temporarily backsliding and lashing out in frustration against God or against the man God has called to equip you for service and ministry, things should be in place: First, the minister should emulate the Lord Jesus Christ in his dealings with people, Matthew 12.20, “A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench.” The Savior was always so very gentle and tender with the humble, even when rebuking them. Then, on your part, remember that God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble, James 4.6 and First Peter 5.5. The humble believer is the believer with a teachable spirit.

God forgives. God forgives. Do you hear me? God forgives. Is that not wonderful? To know that your soul-damning and spirit-deadening sins and transgressions have all been forgiven by God is wonderful. It’s glorious. And what God forgives He forgets: “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more,” Hebrews 8.12. After the dreadful conviction brought on by the Holy Spirit, showing you how terrible your offenses are, and how grievously you have wronged God, it is truly wonderful to know the forgiveness of all your sins, and to come to the realization that God is your hiding place, that He has promised to preserve you from trouble, and that He will surround you with songs of deliverance.

However, what do you do now that you are forgiven? You do not know anything, or very little of anything. You may find yourself with no certain sense of direction. How are you to live now that sinning is something you want to avoid, now that the holiness of God has become a concern for you, and now that Jesus Christ is your personal Savior? Thankfully, God has promised that He will instruct you, that He will teach you in the way that you should go. He will guide you with His eye, carefully and individually taking you through the life that is set before you. Just keep in mind that you who are no beast, but who perhaps lived your former life much like a beast, are warned about acting like a beast in the future. Horses and mules have no capacity for understanding higher things. The point being, animals cannot recognize spiritual truths, while many human beings live as though spiritual truths are irrelevant or nonexistent. Don’t be like that. They have to be controlled with a bridle, and sometimes prevented from biting the one who is supposed to provide their course and direction. Don’t be like that.

Take the high road, Christian. Do not stoop to the level of life that fails to discern spiritual values, that does not appreciate right and wrong. God has promised to instruct you, to teach you in the way you should go, and to guide you with His eye. Therefore, assume responsibility to learn what God seeks to teach you, to go in the direction God would guide you, and to yield to the indwelling Holy Spirit who makes use of the Word of God to guide you in the way you should go.

I close with this observation: Everyone has religious beliefs. From the Atheist to the Animist, from the Secular Humanist to the Wiccan, and from the Muslim to the Mormon, everyone has religious beliefs. That understood, only the Christian with his Bible in hand is taught by God. Muslims, Mormons, Hindus, Buddhists, Secular Humanists, Bahai, Druze, and all the rest do not embrace the notion that God teaches them. However, we have God’s promise that He will teach us here in the 32nd Psalm. Additionally, we have the fulfillment of that promise to those who know Christ in the person of the indwelling Spirit Who teaches and guides, the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ to teach disciples, and the gifted men Christ gives to congregations to teach His Word and equip His followers for ministry.[10]

My dear lost friend, listen carefully. It is a frequent concern of the unforgiven that they will fail in living the Christian life; therefore they hesitate and hold back from a serious consideration of Christ. However, we have seen that God makes promises to those He has forgiven, and He always keeps His promises. He promises to hide you, to preserve you from trouble, and compass you about with songs of deliverance, Psalm 32.7. We saw that last week. In verse 8, we see His promise to instruct and to teach those who are forgiven in the way they should go, and to also guide them with His eye. In other words, your problem is your past, the sins you have committed and are guilty before God of. Attend to the forgiveness of your sins, my friend, by coming to Christ for forgiveness full and free. I assure you on the authority of God’s Word, your future has already been taken care of.

[1] Although Ps. 51:15 is referenced by C.F. Keil & F. Delitzsch, COMMENTARY ON THE OLD TESTAMENT, Vol 5, (Peabody, MA: reprinted by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1996), page 254, Ps. 51:13 is clearly the appropriate verse.

[2] Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary, Vol III, (New York: Abingdon Press), page 322 and John Gill, The Baptist Commentary Series Volume I, John Gill’s Exposition Of The Old And New Testaments, Vol 3, (Paris, Arkansas: the Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., reprinted 2006), page 661.

[3] Francis Brown, S. R. Driver & Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew And English Lexicon, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1979), page 968.

[4] Ibid., pages 434-435

[5] Ibid., pages 202-203

[6] Ibid., pages 106-107

[7] Ibid., page 607

[8] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 227.

[9] Keil & Delitzsch, page 255.

[10] John 16.13; 1 John 2.20, 27; Matthew 28.18-20; Ephesians 4.11-16; 2 Timothy 2.2

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