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Wednesday, June 12th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 101

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes


This psalm purports to be a Psalm of David, and there is no reason to doubt that it was composed by him, though it is not possible to ascertain why it did not have a place in the collection of his psalms in the early part of the book Ps. 1–72. There are several such, however, scattered through the latter part of the Book of Psalms, leading us to suppose that this which may have been an early collection or “edition” of his psalms, became known as the Psalms of David, and that miscellaneous psalms - and among them not a few of his composition - perhaps later psalms - were subsequently “added” to the volume.

The time when it was composed cannot be ascertained with any certainty or probability. It would “seem” to have been written when he was entering on domestic life, as the psalm consists of “rules” which he appears to have laid down for himself as the head of a family, or as indicating the course which he purposed to pursue in the management of his household. As such, the psalm has a universal application, and may be useful in all times and in all places. Few questions are more important than those which occur to one entering on married life, in regard to his own conduct as the head of a family, to the principles which he shall maintain in his own dwelling, and to the rules by which he shall govern his own conduct. For one in such circumstances it is an inestimable advantage to have an inspired composition like this, indicating what is proper, and suggesting the rules which should guide one in such circumstances.

The psalm consists of the following parts:

I. The introduction - the purpose to praise God with respect to “mercy and judgment;” that is, to make these the theme of his song, Psalms 101:1.

II. His purpose to lead an upright life - a life characterized by wisdom - especially in his own family, Psalms 101:2-3. It is a purpose to “begin” life in this relation aright; “to be” an upright man in his family.

III. The principles on which he purposed to do this, especially in reference to those who should be in his employ as domestics, servants, or laborers, Psalms 101:4-7 :

(1) He would employ no “froward” person,Psalms 101:4; Psalms 101:4.

(2) He would employ no one who was a “slanderer,” Psalms 101:5.

(3) He would employ no one who had “a high look or a proud heart,” Psalms 101:5.

(4) He would seek out the faithful and the pious in the land to be in his service,Psalms 101:6; Psalms 101:6.

(5) He would employ no one who was deceitful; no one who could not be trusted; no one who was a liar, Psalms 101:7.

IV. These same principles, he says, should govern him in a higher relation - as a sovereign and monarch, for they were principles which were as needful in administering the government of a nation, as in a family; they were principles which a good man should take with him to all the public duties of life, whatever might be his rank, Psalms 101:8. Thus understood, the psalm contains important principles applicable

(a) to man or woman entering on the married life;

(b) to those who are at the head of manufacturing establishments;

(c) to farmers and mechanics;

(d) to those who occupy official positions, and who administer the government of a land - judges, rulers, princes, monarchs.

No better rules could be given to guide those who have others under them or in their employ, in respect to their own conduct, or in respect to those who shall be employed, than such as the psalmist here says should guide him.

Verse 1

I will sing of mercy and judgment - That is, In the psalm which he was about to compose, he would make these the burden of his song; he would, in fact, by stating his views as to the regulation of his own conduct, commend these virtues - mercy and justice - to mankind, and celebrate their value. He who himself “adopts” the principles of mercy, kindness, truth, and justice, as his own guide, commends these virtues to mankind in the best way possible. No language can do it effectually, unless a man practices these virtues himself.

Unto thee, O Lord, will I sing - As commending and approving these things; as having put it into my heart to practice them; as displaying them in thine own higher administration: for a father of a family, or a magistrate, is but the representative of God.

Verse 2

I will behave myself wisely - In the choice of principles to guide me; in my conduct in my family; in my official relations. This expresses a “desire” to act wisely, and a “purpose” to do it.

In a perfect way - In accordance with the perfect rules of right. I will make these my guide. I will “aim” to be perfect; I will have before me a perfect standard.

O when wilt thou come unto me? - Perhaps this would be better rendered, “When thou dost come unto me;” that is, When then dost visit me and my dwelling, thou shalt find that these are the principles which regulate and govern me in my house. The idea is that God would come to visit his habitation, and inspect his conduct; and that whenever this should occur, however often it might be, or however unexpectedly he might come, he should “always” find these principles governing him in his family. A man should so live that “whenever” God comes into his dwelling, or when anyone comes, or however narrow and searching may be the inspection, these principles shal be found to regulate his conduct.

I will walk within my house - Before my family; in the principles which shall govern me there.

With a perfect heart - Always aiming to do exactly that which is right: in my general conduct; in the rules by which I live; in my treatment of all under my charge and in my employ. The great principles of “right,” in everything - in the smallest matters - shall guide and govern me.

Verse 3

I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes - That is, I will propose no wicked thing to be done; I will have no such object in view; I will employ no one to do that which is wrong. The margin, as the Hebrew, is, “thing of Belial.” See the notes at Psalms 41:8. It here means that which is worthless, bad, wicked. He would have no wicked aim; he would not look upon a wicked thing for a moment, or with the least favor.

I hate the work of them that turn aside - All their doings, motives, plans. The word rendered “turn aside” means to turn out of the way; out of the right path: Wanderers - transgressors - those who leave the path of truth and honesty.

It shall not cleave to me - I will have nothing to do with it. It shall not he allowed to attach itself to me. A wicked plan or purpose is thus represented as having a tendency to fasten itself on a man, or to “stick to him” - as pitch, or wax, as a “burn” does.

Verse 4

A froward heart shall depart from me - The word here rendered froward means perverse, false, deceitful, depraved. See the notes at Psalms 18:26. The “idea” here is that of one who is inclined to evil; who has some wrong passion or inclination to indulge; who has an obstinate and perverse will; who does not listen to reason or the voice of wise persuasion; who will do wrong, despite all the means which may be employed to induce him to do right. The language may either refer to the author of the psalm himself, as regulating his own conduct; or it may refer to those in his employ. In the former sense, it would mean that he would not himself be perverse and froward; in the latter sense, that he would not have such persons in his employ. The connection seems to require that we should understand it in the latter sense, as referring to the class of persons that the psalmist would have about him.

I will not know a wicked person - I will not countenance such a one; I will not recognize such a one among those who are admitted into my house, or own him as my friend; or, I will not have such in my employ. Probably the language embraces both these ideas - as it should in the case of all who are at the head of a family:

(a) I will not countenance or recognize as among my friends, who are to be admitted to my fireside and family, and who are to be familiar with me and my children, those who are profligate, wicked, and unprincipled, whatever may be their rank, their wealth, their accomplishments, their fascination of manner, or their power of conversation;

(b) I will have in my employ no one who is not honest, temperate, virtuous, pure. The welfare of a family depends more on the former of these things than the latter; no family can be well ordered where both are not found.

Verse 5

Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour - literally, “One who speaks concerning his neighbor in secret.” If a man has any good to say of another, he will be likely to say it openly; if he has any evil to say, it will be likely to be said in secret. Hence, to speak in secret of anyone comes to mean the same thing as to slander him.

Him will I cut off - That is, I will cut him off from me; I will not employ him. He would not have one in his house, or in his service, who did injustice to the character of others; who stabbed their reputation in the dark. This was alike indicative of the personal character of the author of the psalm, and of his purpose as the head of a family. It is hardly necessary to say that no one should employ another who is in the habit of slandering his neighbor.

Him that hath an high look - That is proud - as a proud man commonly carries his head high.

And a proud heart - The Hebrew word here rendered “proud” commonly means wide, broad, large, as of the sea, or of an extended country, Job 11:9; Exodus 3:8. It is applied also to the law of God as comprehensive, and without limit, Psalms 119:96. Then it comes to mean swelled up - made large - inflated Proverbs 28:25; and hence, proud and arrogant.

Will not I suffer - I will not tolerate such a person near me. No one can have peace in his house who has such a class of servants or domestics; no one should countenance such persons. Humility is the very foundation of all virtue.

Verse 6

Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land ... - I will look to them to be employed in my house, and in my service. The word rendered “faithful” means those who are worthy of belief or confidence. It does not “necessarily” mean those who are pious or religious - though it is often used to denote such persons, in reference to the principal trait in the character of the pious, that is, confidence or faith in God. The essential meaning here is, that he would seek those who were trustworthy; on whom he could place reliance; whose truth, fidelity, and honesty he could confide in. This would be most certainly found in those who are “faithful” to God, and who would then be “faithful” to lower obligations. Undoubtedly, also, it is desirable, on some accounts, to have only such in our employ, if such can be found. But we are not to regard this passage as teaching the doctrine, even by the example of the psalmist, that we are to employ no persons but such as are truly religious. There are others who will be found faithful, honest, and reliable; and they have such a claim to our confidence as to impose on us a moral obligation to show them that confidence - so far, at least, that we shall not, by any act of ours, declare them not worthy of trust because they are not religious. Besides, it may be desirable, on many accounts, that persons who are not religious should be brought under the influence of religion in pious families, and enjoy the advantages which may be connected with a religious household. In seeking our own interest, and what will be for our own welfare and happiness, we should not be unmindful of what may be for the good of others. Religion may extend itself much in the world by thus bringing into the service of religious households those who may, by example, instruction, and prayer, be led to the possession and practice of true religion.

He that walketh in a perfect way ... - Margin, “perfect in the way.” The translation in the text is the more correct. The phrase means an upright man; a man of integrity. It does not necessarily imply that he is absolutely holy, or free from all sin, but that he is upright, consistent, honest: a man whose moral character is developed in proper proportions, or is such that it may be relied on. See the notes at Job 1:1.

Verse 7

He that worketh deceit - The man who is dishonest - who is full of tricks, false pretences, and devices - who cannot be confided in as straight-forward and sincere - one whose word cannot be relied on - one whose course is subterranean or serpentine.

Shall not dwell within my house - Shall neither be employed in my service, nor be admitted as a guest and companion. I will not, in any way, patronise or countenance such a person.

He that telleth lies - In any way: by stating what is false; by promising what is not performed; by deceiving me in his professions. I will seek only those who love and speak the truth.

Shall not tarry in my sight - Margin, “shall not be established.” The idea is that of being confirmed or established. The sense here seems to be, that though such a person should gain admittance to his house on any pretence or profession, he should not obtain a permanent residence there. As soon as his real character was known, he would be dismissed or discharged. The psalmist says that he would do nothing to show him countenance; he would not give occasion to have it represented that he favored liars or dishonest persons, or that such persons might find employment with him. As a universal rule, no man should have such plans to accomplish in his family, or in his business-transactions, that he cannot employ, in accomplishing those things, persons who are perfectly honest; or, in other words, no man should engage in any undertaking, or pursue any kind of business, that would require people of loose principles - the cunning, the crafty, the deceitful, the dishonest - to carry it out. Yet there are many such employments in the world; and there are men suited for such employments, and who are willing to engage in such work. It may be a good test for a man in regard to the business in which he is engaged, to ask himself what kind of agents, clerks, or servants, it will be necessary for him to employ in carrying it out. If the business is such as to make it necessary to employ unprincipled people - people who have easy consciences - people who will violate the sabbath - men who have more skill than honesty - more cunning than principle - that very fact should determine him at once in regard to the propriety of the business.

Verse 8

I will early destroy ... - Hebrew, “In the mornings I will destroy.” That is, It shall be my first business as I enter upon the day. Possibly, also, by the use of the plural here - “in the mornings” - there may be the idea that this would be his constant rule of conduct: he would do it every day; he would do it morning by morning. He would on no day - at no time - allow the wicked to be in his service. This rule would be unvarying. It would extend through his life. The word “destroy” here may refer not only to his conduct as a man, and as the head of a family, but to the act of a magistrate; and the idea may be, that the rule which he prescribed for himself in his own house was a rule which he would carry with him into public: that is, as the psalm was composed by David, that, as a king and sovereign, it should be his aim to carry those principles to the throne; that, in respect to the state, he would do what he purposed to do in his home-relations. The strict and stern regard for truth, sincerity, honesty, fidelity, which he would evince in the one case he would evince in the other; carrying to the high employments of public life, where there were so many temptations to a contrary course, the inflexible virtues which were needful for peace, for happiness, and for success in domestic life.

That I may cut off - By discountenancing them; by punishing them if they are guilty.

All wicked doers - All violators of law.

From the city of the Lord - From Jerusalem, the place where God dwelt, and which was sacred to his service. See Psalms 46:4, note; Psalms 48:2, note; Psalms 48:8, note. Happy is the man at the head of a family - happy is the magistrate - who adopts for himself, and who faithfully carries out the principles laid down by the author of this psalm - divinely inspired to adopt such rules for himself, and to suggest them for others in all ages.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 101". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/psalms-101.html. 1870.
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