In his book on Biblical genres, Leland Ryken the various structures Biblical poetry typically takes including narrative structure, expository structure, and descriptive structure. Psalm 32 would like fall into what he labels psychological structure, where the poetry follows “the very flow of a speaker’s consciousness and jump[s] abruptly from one subject to another,” and where “the point of unity is that it is all happening in the mind and consciousness of the speaker” (p. 209). When we engage the poetry, when it works, we too are drawn more or less into the same consciousness. Perhaps this does not happen every time we read a psalm, like 32, but hopefully more often than not it does.
Biblical poetry often deals in contrasts and this Psalm is no exception. The most significant such contrast is that between David’s experiences in hiding his sin in contrast to his experience once he had acknowledged that sin to God. Perhaps this step also involved fully acknowledging it to himself as well. In discussing David’s first state, Walter Brueggeman focuses on the burden that he bears in choosing not to confess his sin:
That blockage works on its bearer. There is here a profound and uncomplicated understanding of psychosomatic realities. The body pays for covenantal disturbances. There is weight loss and discomfort, restlessness and weakness. (The Message of the Psalms, p. 96)
But David’s experience, and this psalm, does not end there but rather progress to his confession and the happiness he experiences as a result.
There is an important Biblical doctrine raised in this verse, imputation. The term imputation comes from a Latin word meaning “to reckon,” or “to charge to one’s account.” As God reckoned Abraham righteous on the basis of his faith (Genesis 15:6) so are believers today reckoned righteous by their faith (Romans 4:3).
The opening and closing verses of the psalm, as we have seen in other psalms, state the thesis or conclusion of the psalm, “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” Indeed. St. Augustine is said to have had the words of Psalm 32 inscribed above his bed so that it would be the first thing he saw upon awaking each morning.
Psalm 32 is one of seven penitential psalms. Try reading all of them in one sitting (Psalm 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143).