Of David, a contemplation. Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Psalm 32:1 (here is the link to the Blue Letter Bible but you will notice that even it leaves out the Hebrew words)
Of David. A contemplation – Some translations don’t even include this opening indication. Apparently, authorship and context are not inspired. But the Hebrew text contains the phrase le-david maskil, “of David, a maskil.” OK, so what is a maskil?
A maskil is the noun form of the verb sakal which means “to be prudent, to give insight, to teach, to prosper, to consider, to ponder, to understand, to act with devotion.” Oh, my! What a lot of territory is covered by this verb! A maskil is, therefore, much more than contemplation. It is a guide, an insight, a teaching, a prosperous saying, a prudent consideration and an attitude of devoted action. This is context, plain and simple. If we thought we could just jump right into “blessed is the man” without recognizing the fabric of this insight, we are mistaken.
Notice the connective tissue of sakal. All of these uses are actions that are intended to lead to transformation. There is no point in being prudent, getting insight, teaching, considering or understanding if nothing changes in your life. That helps us see the context of the first verb in the psalm – blessed. To be blessed is to be changed! There is no passive receipt of a gift here. Forgiveness brings transformation, period. If our lives aren’t altered as a result of God’s blessing of forgiveness, we have not received a maskil. We are like the impenetrable concrete sea wall. The waves caress and kiss the wall, but it is not affected. It’s washed over, but unmoved.
There are a lot of maskilim in the psalms. We would call them “insights for living.” Yes, Psalms is filled with devotions, prayers and praises. But mixed in with them are maskilim, contemplations about the way God works, designed to point us toward righteousness.
Do you read the Psalms because its words speak to your soul? Do you find emotional comfort in them? Can you identify with the pathos, the intensity, the victory and the dependence of these treasured words? Most of us go to the Psalms because in them we find our own emotional circumstances. They give us help and hope. But while we are looking for those words that will lift us up, let us not forget maskil. Insight! Understanding! Prudent action! David thought long and hard about his life, the life of God’s people and the ways of the Lord. How tragic it would be if we read his words only for emotional sustenance. What a shame if we did not see that he pries open the lid of the universe for us so that we can stare into the inner workings of the hand of God.
“Of David. A maskil.” We need these first few, often ignored, words to help us see that there is more here than thanksgiving for forgiveness. A maskil is a revelation of the deep. Look hard!
Topical Index: maskil, Psalm 32:1