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The title affirms this to be a psalm of David, and there is no reason to doubt the correctness of the superscription; but there are no indications by which we can determine on what occasion it was written.
It is not difficult, however, to ascertain from its contents the state of mind in which it was composed; and as that state of mind is not uncommon among those who are the professed people of God, the psalm will be useful in all ages of the world. The state of mind is that in which there is deep solicitude in regard to personal piety, or on the question whether the evidences of our piety, are genuine, and are such as we may rely on as warranting our hope of salvation. In this state of mind, and under this deep solicitude, the psalmist appeals to God to search him, or to judge in his case; he then recounts the evidences on which he relied as a ground for concluding that he was truly a friend of God; and then expresses the earliest desire of his heart to be found among the friends of God, and not to be united in character or in destiny with the wicked.
The psalm, therefore, properly consists of three parts:
I. A solemn appeal to God, or an earnest prayer that He would examine and judge of the evidences of piety on which the psalmist was accustomed to rely, Psalms 26:1-2. He was conscious of integrity or uprightness of intention, but he still felt that there was a possibility that he might deceive himself, and he, therefore, prays that God would search his heart and try his reins - that He would examine the evidences of his personal piety, and save him from delusion.
II. A statement of the evidences on which he relied, Psalms 26:3-8.
These evidences were the following:
(1) That God’s loving-kindness was before his eyes, and that he had walked in his truth, Psalms 26:3.
(2) That he had not been the companion of the wicked, nor had he delighted to associate with them, Psalms 26:4-5).
(3) The desire of his heart to approach the altar of God with purity, and to celebrate the praises of God; or his delight in public worship, Psalms 26:6-7.
(4) That he had loved the place where God dwelt, or the habitation of his house, Psalms 26:8.
III. His earnest wish to be found among the friends of God, or to have his portion with them, Psalms 26:9-12.
(1) His “prayer” that this might be his lot, Psalms 26:9-10.
(2) His “purpose” to walk with the just and the holy, or to be found among the friends of God, Psalms 26:11-12.
In reference to all this, he asks the guidance and direction of God; he prays for the searching of His eye; he pleads that God would enable him sincerely to carry out these desires and purposes of his soul. The psalm is a beautiful illustration of the nature of true religion, and of the desire of a truly pious man that all the evidences of his piety - all which is his ground of reliance - may be submitted to the searching eye of God.
Judge me, O Lord - That is, determine in regard to my case whether I am truly thy friend, or whether the evidences of my piety are genuine. The psalmist asks an examination of his own case; he brings the matter before God for Him to decide; he submits the facts in regard to himself to God, so that He may pronounce upon them whether they constitute evidence of real piety.
For I have walked in mine integrity - On the word “walk,” see the notes at Psalms 1:1. The word “integrity” here is the same which is elsewhere rendered “perfection.” See the notes at Job 1:1. Compare Psalms 37:37. See also Psalms 7:8; Psalms 25:21; where the word is rendered, as here, “integrity.” It means here “uprightness, sincerity.” This is the first thing which he brings before God for him to examine - the consciousness that he had endeavored to live an upright life; and yet it is referred to as if he was sensible that he “might” have deceived himself, and therefore, he prays that God would determine whether his life had been really upright.
I have trusted also in the Lord - Of this, likewise, he felt conscious; but this too he desired to submit to God. Trust in Yahweh, and an upright life, constituted the evidence of piety, or were the constituents of true religion according to the views of the Hebrews, as they are the constituents of true religion everywhere; and the purpose of the psalmist was to ascertain whether his piety was really of that character.
Therefore I shall not slide - If these are really traits of my character, if I really possess these, I shall not be moved. My feet will be firm, and I shall be secure. Or this may be regarded as a further declaration in regard to himself, as indicating firm confidence in God, and as meaning that he was conscious that he would not be moved, or would not swerve in this purpose of life. And yet the next verse shows that, with all this confidence as to his own character, he felt that there was a “possibility” of his having deceived himself; and, therefore, he pleaded that God would search and test him.
Examine me, O Lord - The meaning of this verse is, that he asked of God a strict and rigid examination of his case. To express this, the psalmist uses three words - “examine; prove; try.” These words are designed to include the modes in which the reality of anything is tested, and they imply together that he wished the most “thorough” investigation to be made; he did not shrink from any test. He evidently felt that it was essential to his welfare that the most rigid examination should be made; that the exact truth should be known; that if he was deceived, it was best for himself that he should not be left under the delusion, but that, understanding his own case, he might be led to secure his salvation. The word rendered “examine” means, “to try, to prove,” and is applicable especially to metals: Jeremiah 9:7; Zechariah 13:9. It means here, “Apply to me such tests as are applied to metals in order to determine their genuineness and their value.”
And prove me - A word of similar import. In the original meaning of the word there is a reference to “smell;” to try by the smell; to ascertain the qualities of an object by the smell. Hence, it comes to be used in a more general sense to denote any way of ascertaining the quality of an object.
Try my reins - The word here rendered “try” (test) is one that is most commonly applied to metals; and the three words together express the earnest desire of the psalmist that God would examine into the evidences of his piety - those evidences to which he immediately refers - and apply the proper kind of tests to determine whether that piety was genuine. The word rendered “reins” means properly the “kidneys,” and hence, it is used to denote the inward part, the mind, the soul - the seat of the desires and the affections. See Psalms 7:9, note; Psalms 16:7, note. We speak now of the “heart” as the seat of the affections or of love. The Hebrews more commonly spoke of the heart as the seat of intelligence or knowledge, and the reins or the “bowels” as the seat of the affections. In itself there was no more impropriety in their speaking of the reins or kidneys as the seat of the affections than there is of our speaking of the heart in that manner. Neither of them is strictly correct; and both modes of speech are founded on popular usage.
For thy loving-kindness is before mine eyes - Thy favor or friendship is constantly before me, in the sense that it is the object of my desire. I wish to secure it; I long to know whether I have sufficient evidence that it is mine. This is a reason why he desires that God would search him. The favor or the friendship of God was an object of intense desire with him. He had evidence upon which he relied, and which seemed to him to be satisfactory, that God was his friend. But the object was so great, the matter was so important, the danger of self-deception was so imminent, that he did not dare to trust his own judgment, and he prayed that God would search him. The thought here is, that it was a steady purpose of his life to secure the favor of God. His eye was never turned from this. It was always before Him.
And I have walked in thy truth - I have embraced the truth; I have regulated my life by the truth. This is the first thing to which he refers. He was certain that this had been his aim. Compare the notes at 3 John 1:4. See also 2 Kings 20:3. One of the first characteristics of piety is a desire to know what is true, and to live in accordance with the truth. The psalmist was conscious that he had “arrived” at this, and that he had endeavored to make it a ruling principle in his conduct. Whether he had done this, or whether he had deceived himself in the matter, was what he now wished to submit to the all-searching eye of God.
I have not sat with vain persons - That is, I have not been found among them; I have not made them my companions. See the notes at Psalms 1:1. The word “vain” here is in contrast with those who are sincere and true. The expression would be applied to people who are false and hollow; to those who have no sincerity or solidity of character; to those who are hypocrites and pretenders. The psalmist urges it as one evidence of his attachment to God that he had not been found among that class of persons, either as making them his companions, or as taking part with them in their counsels.
Neither will I go in with dissemblers - Neither will I walk with them; neither will I be found in their company. The word here rendered “dissemblers” means properly those who are “hidden” or “concealed;” then, those who hide their purposes or designs from others, or who conceal their real character and intentions. Thus used, the word denotes hypocrites, whose real character is “concealed” or “hidden” from the world. The psalmist says that he had not associated with such people, but that His companionship had been with the open, the frank, the sincere. On this he relied as one evidence of his piety; and this is always an evidence of true religion. See the notes at Psalms 1:1.
I have hated - We have here the same evidence of his piety repeated in another and a stronger form. In the previous verse he had merely stated that he had not been found among that class of persons, or that he had not made them his companions. He here says positively that he disapproved of their principles; that he hated the purpose for which they gathered themselves together; that he had no sympathy whatever with them.
The congregation of evil-doers - All such assemblages as were gathered together for wicked purposes, for sin and revelry; to plot wickedness; to injure men; to oppose God.
And will not sit with the wicked - That is, I will not be associated with them. This was the fixed purpose of his soul; and this was then, as it is now, an evidence of true piety. This, moreover, is an “indispensable” evidence of piety. He who does thus sit with the wicked; who makes them his companions and friends; who unites with them in their plans and purposes; who partakes with them in their special amusements and pursuits, cannot possibly be a pious man. If he mingles with such people at all, it must be only as demanded by the necessities of social or civil life; or in the transactions of business; or for the purpose of doing them good. If it is for other purposes, if he makes them his chosen companions and friends, he gives the clearest evidence that his heart is with them, and that it is not with God.
I will wash mine hands in innocency - The psalmist here refers, as another evidence of his piety, to the fact that it was a ruling purpose of his life to be pure, to worship and serve his Maker in purity. He had stated that he had no sympathy with the wicked, and that he did not make them his companions; he now states what his preferences were, and where his heart was to be found. He had loved, and he still loved the worship of God; he delighted in the pure service of the Most High. Washing the hands is an emblem of purity. So Pilate Matthew 27:24 “took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person.” Compare Deuteronomy 21:6-7. The word rendered “innocency” means properly “cleanness, purity;” and perhaps the allusion here is to water that is perfectly pure. The sense of the passage is, that he would endeavor to make himself pure, and would thus worship God. He would not come, practicing iniquity, or cherishing sin in his heart. He would banish all from his mind and heart and life that was wrong, and would come with true love to God, and with the spirit of a sincere worshipper.
So will I compass thine altar, O Lord - In this manner, and with this spirit, I will worship thee. The word “compass” may either mean that he would “embrace” it by throwing his arms around it, or that he would “go round” it with others in a solemn procession in worship. The idea is, that he would come to the altar of God with his offering in sincerity and truth. It was to himself one evidence of sincere piety that he so purposed in his heart, or that he was conscious of a desire to worship God in purity and truth. This desire is always an indication of true piety.
That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving - literally, “that I may cause to be heard;” that is, that I may make known to others. The idea is, that he would make known to others what he had learned from God; or that He would make known to them the delights of His service, and seek to win them to His worship. This he would do with a thankful remembrance of the favors which he had himself enjoyed, or as an expression of his gratitude for the mercies which had been conferred on him. As expressive of his gratitude to God, he would endeavor to win others also to His service.
And tell of all thy wondrous works - The wonderful things which thou hast done - thy works of creation, providence, and salvation. His own mind was deeply impressed with the greatness of God’s works, and he would desire to make the divine actions known as far as possible in the world. Compare Psalms 22:22; Psalms 66:16; Psalms 145:5-6. This is always one of the evidences of true piety. They who have been impressed properly with a sense of the greatness and goodness of God; they who have experienced His pardoning mercy and forgiving grace, desire always to make these things known to others, and to invite them also to partake of the mercies connected with the divine favor. Compare John 1:45,
Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house - I have loved to dwell in Thy house. See the notes at Psalms 23:6. The psalmist often refers to his delight in the house of God - the place of public worship; his love to be there united with the people of God in the solemn services of religion. Compare Psalms 84:1-2, Psalms 84:4,Psalms 84:10; Psalms 27:4.
And the place where thine honour dwelleth - Margin, “the tabernacle of thine honor.” This might indeed refer to the tabernacle; and the idea might be that he loved the place where that rested in its wanderings. But the more correct meaning is, that he loved the place where the “glory” of God - the Shekinah - the symbol of His presence - rested; that is, the place where God was pleased to manifest Himself, and where He dwelt. Wherever that was, he found pleasure in being there; and that he did thus love the place where God manifested Himself, was to his own mind an evidence of true piety. It is always an evidence of piety, for there can be no true religion where the soul does not find pleasure in the worship of God. A person who does not delight in such a service here, is not prepared for heaven, where God eternally dwells.
Gather not my soul with sinners - Margin, “take not away.” The word rendered “gather,” means properly to “collect;” to “gather,” as fruits, Exodus 23:10; ears of grain, Ruth 2:7; money, 2 Kings 22:4. There is the idea of assembling together, or collecting; and the meaning here is, that he desired not to be united with wicked people, or to be regarded as one of their number. It does not refer particularly, as I apprehend, to death, as if he prayed that he might not be cut down with wicked people; but it has a more general meaning - that he did not wish either in this life, in death, or in the future world, to be united with the wicked. He desired that his lot might be with those who revered God, and not with those who were His foes. He was united with those who feared God now; he desired that he might be united with them forever. This is expressive of true religion; and this prayer must go forth really from every pious heart. They who truly love God must desire that their lot should be with his friends, alike in this world and in the world to come, however poor, and humble, and despised they may be; not with sinners, however prosperous, or honored, or joyful, or rich, they may be. The word “my soul” here is synonymous with “me;” and the meaning is, he desired that “he himself” should not thus be gathered with sinners. It is the same word which is commonly rendered “life.”
Nor my life - This word properly means “life;” and the prayer is, that his life might not be taken away or destroyed with that class of men. He did not wish to be associated with them when he died or was dead. He had preferred the society of the righteous; and he prayed that he might die as he had lived, united in feeling and in destiny with those who feared and loved God.
With bloody men - Margin, “men of blood.” People who shed blood - robbers, murderers - a term used to denote the wicked. See the notes at Psalms 5:6.
In whose hands is mischief - The word here rendered “mischief,” means properly “purpose, counsel, plan;” then, an evil purpose, “mischief, wickedness, crime.” The idea is, either that they intended to do mischief, and that they employed their hands to accomplish it, or that the fruit or result of their wicked plans was in their hands; that is, they had in their possession what they had secured by robbery, or plunder, or dishonesty.
And their right hand is full of bribes - Margin: “filled with.” The word here rendered “bribes” means properly “a gift,” or “present;” and then, a gift offered to a judge to procure an unjust sentence, 2 Kings 16:8; Proverbs 6:35; Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 10:17. The general meaning is that he did not desire to be associated either with men who openly committed crime, or with those who could be corrupted in the administration of justice.
But as for me - The Hebrew is, “and I.” But there is evidently a contrast between what he purposed to do, and the course of life pursued by those to whom he had just referred; and this is correctly expressed in our translation, “But as for me.” It is a statement of his profession of piety, and of his purpose to lead a religious life. He “meant” - he solemnly “purposed” - to lead a holy life.
I will walk - I will live a life of integrity. See the notes at Psalms 1:1.
In mine integrity - Hebrew, in my “perfection.” See Psalms 7:8, note; Job 1:1, note. The idea is that he intended to live a life of uprightness.
Redeem me - From sin; from trouble; from death. The word “redeem” here implies that he did not claim to be “perfect” in the most absolute sense, even when he expressed his purpose to lead a life of integrity. He felt still that he was a sinner, and that he was dependent on redeeming mercy for salvation. On the word “redeem,” see Psalms 25:22, note; Isaiah 29:22, note. Compare the notes at Isaiah 43:3.
And be merciful to me - In connection with redemption. The prayer for mercy is always an acknowledgment of guilt, and the plea here shows that with all his purposes of holy living, and notwithstanding all that he had referred to in the psalm as evidence of uprightness of intention and integrity of life, he still felt that he was a sinner, and that his only hope was in the mercy of God.
My foot standeth in an even place - The word rendered “even place” - מישׁור mı̂yshôr - means properly “righteousness,” or “justice;” then, “evenness, a level region, a plain:” Isaiah 40:4; Isaiah 42:16. DeWette renders it, “in a right path.” The idea is, either that he was standing now on smooth and level ground; or that he was walking in a straight path, in contradistinction from the crooked and perverse ways of the wicked; that is, he had found now a level road where he might walk securely. The latter is probably the true meaning. He had been anxious about his condition. He had been examining the evidences of his piety. He had had doubts and fears. He had seen much to apprehend, and he had appealed to God to determine the question on which he was so anxious - whether his hope was built on a solid foundation. His path in these inquiries, and while his mind was thus troubled, was like a journey over a rough and dangerous road - a road of hills and valleys - of rocks and ravines. Now he had found a smooth and safe path. The way was level. He felt secure; and he walked calmly and safely along, as a traveler does who has past over dangerous passes and who feels that he is on level ground. The idea is, that his doubts had been dissipated, and he now felt that his evidences of piety were well founded, and that he was truly a child of God.
In the congregations will I bless the Lord - In the assemblies of his people will I praise him. Compare Psalms 22:22. The meaning is, that in the great assembly he would offer special praise that God had resolved his doubts, and had given him so clear evidence that he was truly his friend. He would go to the house of God, and there render to Him public praise that he had been able to find the evidence which he desired. No act could be more appropriate than such an act of praise, for there is nothing for which we should render more hearty thanks than for any evidence that we are truly the friends of God, and have a well-founded hope of heaven. The whole psalm should lead us carefully to examine the evidences of our piety; to bring before God all that we rely on as proof that we are His friends; and to pray that He will enable us to examine it aright; and, when the result is, as it was in the case of the psalmist - when we can feel that we have reached a level place and found a smooth path, then we should go, as he did, and offer hearty thanks to God that we have reason to believe we are His children and are heirs of salvation.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 26". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25