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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 26

Introduction

Psalms 26

The Psalmist begins at Psalms 26:1 with the prayer to God for help in trouble, which he grounds on his earnest moral efforts and his unfeigned piety, especially his trust in God. He then turns first, in Psalms 26:2-8, to expand this basis of his prayer: his heart is pure, and needs not fear the strictest scrutiny; for (as the expansion of, I have trusted in the Lord) he has had the love of God and the faithfulness of God always before his eyes and in his heart, and in regard to them ( I have walked in mine integrity), he has shunned all intercourse with the wicked in their wickedness: towards his neighbour he has acted blamelessly, and towards God his heart is filled with fear and love. After this follows the development of the prayer, that God would not, as regards community of experience, join him with those from whom he is inwardly separated: that He would not give him over, like the wicked, to death. He obtains, in Psalms 26:12, the confidence of being heard in this prayer, so that, at the conclusion, he is able to give utterance to a purpose involving the most assured confidence of salvation— to thank God.

We have thus an introductory and a concluding verse, and two main divisions. All the significant numbers of the Old Testament we here find brought into use. The whole Psalm has twelve verses: the main body is complete in ten; the first division of this main body, containing the description of the fulfilment of the duties of the covenant (comp. Psalms 25:10, such as keep His covenant), in seven, the number of the covenant; and the second division, containing the prayer for the blessing of the covenant, in three, which is the number of the Mosaic blessing.

The situation of the Psalmist, and the occasion of the Psalm, have been almost without exception misunderstood by recent expositors. Thus De Wette remarks: “The prayer in Psalms 26:9 has no special reference, but means, that when God sits in judgment and inflicts punishments, He will exempt the Psalmist from these;” and Ewald concludes from the same verse, “that the Psalm was composed on the occasion of a pestilence.” The situation is not that of one who fears misery; it is that of one who finds himself already in misery: the prayer is not one for preservation from misery, but for deliverance out of misery, and for defence against utter destruction, against that annihilating punishment which belongs only to the wicked; while of the righteous it is said, “God afflicteth me sore, but He does not give me over to destruction.” There is not a word throughout the whole Psalm of general judgments or pestilences. That this is the correct view, is evident from the very first word, judge me; that is, “interpose to give me justice, deliver me from a condition in which, if it were to be regarded as permanent, it would be unrighteous to suffer me to remain.” The prayer for the judgment of God always proceeds from such as are already in misery. It is still further evident from the ( Psalms 26:11) 11th verse, deliver me, or redeem me, after which De Wette inaccurately supplies the words, from threatening judgment, and also from the clause, have mercy on me. The same use may be made of the first clause of the concluding verse, my foot standeth in an even place, which implies that hitherto the Psalmist had been standing on difficult and dangerous ground.

All attempts to find out an individual application for our Psalm, or to mark out any historical circumstances with which it may be connected, have utterly failed. Thus Ewald, from the strong contrast drawn between the wicked and the righteous, concludes that it was composed at a late period, and from Psalms 26:6-8, that it was composed in the temple. The circumstance, that the trouble is nowhere carefully defined, and that the language used is manifestly and designedly as general as it could possibly be, is sufficient to show that the Psalmist speaks in the name and out of the soul of the righteous man. If this be established, it is also clear that the Psalm is of a hortatory character. The theme is this: “Only he who can with truth say, I have walked in mine integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord, may hope for Divine aid in trouble, but he may do so with full confidence.” The general tendency is also clear from the connection with Psalms 25.

In pointing out the general character of our Psalm, we also remove an objection which Köster has drawn, from the graphic descriptions, and from the uniform division of the verses into two parts, against its Davidic origin. Its origin is fully confirmed, not only by the superscription, but also by its manifest relationship to Psalms 17, Psalms 18:21, Psalms 15 and Psalms 23.

The manifest resemblance between the clause, judge me, O God, for I have walked in mine INTEGRITY, at the beginning of our Psalm, and the one, INTEGRITY and uprightness shall preserve me, near the close of Psalms 25, is sufficient to lead to the idea, that the two Psalms are very nearly related to each other. This idea is confirmed by the similarity between them as to formal arrangement: in Psalms 25 we have, 1. 20. 1.,—an introductory verse, two decades, and a concluding verse,—and in the Psalm before us, 1. 10. 1. Perhaps also in the (Psalms 25) 25th Psalm, the effort not to go beyond the number 20 may have been the cause why the ו and the ק were omitted. Along with this outward similarity, there is an inward resemblance of the closest kind. The contents of the one Psalm supplement those of the other. In the one Psalm, the suffering righteous man is directed to seek refuge in the Divine compassion, which secures forgiveness for manifold sins of infirmity: in the other, again, he is led, from a consideration of the Divine righteousness, which must make a distinction between the righteous and the wicked, to entertain the firm hope of deliverance. We have, therefore, before us a pair of Psalms, which point to the compassion and the righteousness of God, as the two foundations on which the Lord’s people may rest a confident hope of deliverance. In order that the two might be connected, as it were, by a bridge, the idea which, in the one Psalm, is brought prominently forward, and has the first place assigned to it, is introduced as a subordinate element at the close of the other.

Verse 1

Ver. 1. Judge me, O Lord, for I have walked in mine integrity; and I have trusted in the Lord, therefore may I not slide. The two members of this verse are parallel to each other. I walk in mine integrity, corresponds to, I trust in the Lord; and judge me, to, may I not slide. In each member there is contained the description of a subjective condition, and a prayer grounded on that condition. This manifest parallelism would be destroyed, were we, with most recent expositors, to translate: “and I trust in the Lord without sliding.” Against this interpretation, moreover, we may urge: 1st, That to slide occurs frequently in the sense of to perish, Job 12:3; Psalms 18:36, Psalms 37:31; while there is no such expression anywhere else, as to slide in trusting in God. 2d, I have trusted in the Lord, which is not at all a suitable expression in an address to God. 3d, My foot standeth in an even place, at the close of the Psalm, announces that the prayer, may I not slide, has been heard, just as, I shall praise the Lord, implies that an answer has been received to judge me, O God. Judge me is, in the mouth of a righteous man, equivalent to, help me. For if God takes up the cause of such a one, He must decide it in his favour. Only he can say, help me, in confidence of being heard, who can with a good conscience also change help me into judge me. That תם is more than openness or sincerity, that it denotes moral blamelessness, and purity in all its extent, is evident from its development ( Psalms 26:4-6), and from its opposite in Psalms 26:10: compare also the similar Psalms 101. This is also the fundamental meaning. In 1 Kings 22:34, the word is used in an improper or popular sense. To walk is to act. The blamelessness of the Psalmist is that in which his conduct rests, the guiding principle of his life. The blamelessness of the Psalmist is the quality, the character, the walk, the procedure thereby determined. Hence it appears that the suffix in mine integrity is by no means superfluous, as it is permissible to interpret, in the integrity to which I have been accustomed.

To walk in integrity has reference to the commandments of the second table; and to trust in the Lord, to those of the first. To walk in integrity is co-ordinate with to trust in the Lord, only in the sense in which the commandment to love our neighbour is co-ordinate with the commandment to love God, in Matthew 22:39. Trust in God is the fountain of integrity. Whoever places his hope in God need not seek to advance his worldly interests by neglecting his duties: he expects everything from above, and, at the same time, always takes heed that he do not deprive himself of the favour of his heavenly Saviour through violating His commandments.

There follows now, in Psalms 26:2-8, the development of I have walked in integrity, and trusted in the Lord. The Psalmist first affirms the cleanness and the purity of his heart, Psalms 26:2; then he grounds this affirmation, Psalms 26:3-8, in which he first descends from piety to morality, Psalms 26:3-5, and then comes back again from morality to piety, as at Psalms 26:1. The first division of the Psalm, which is complete in seven verses, has thus a threefold division within itself—an introduction, and two strophes, each of the latter consisting of three verses. The thrice-repeated name of Jehovah is in unison with this.

Verse 2

Ver. 2. Prove me, O Lord, and try me; for my heart and my reins are purified. The Psalmist had, in the preceding verse, grounded his prayer for help on his trust in God, and on his integrity. But these could form a good basis for prayer only if they were true, unfeigned, heartfelt; for, as everything depends on the heart, it is at it that the law points expressively. In order, then, to represent them as such, the Psalmist calls upon God to try his innermost heart, and affirms that this trial will be most satisfactory in its results. Psalms 17:3 is exactly parallel. The reading in the text is צדופה , the part. paul, my reins and my heart are purified. The union of the feminine singular with the plural is quite common: compare Mich. 1:9, Ew. Sm. Gr. p. 568. The connection with the first clause may either be thus explained: the Psalmist confidently exhorts God to make trial;—for his heart has been purified, so that the trial cannot but be satisfactory to him,—when Thou makest the trial, Thou shalt find, etc.: or we may consider the two clauses as simply co-ordinate, and the first in the sense, I need not fear the strictest scrutiny. The reading on the margin, צָ רְ פָ ה , the imperative, is a mere conjecture, and is indebted for its existence only to the effort to produce a conformity between the two clauses. The textual reading is favoured by the for at the beginning of the following verse, which, with the marginal reading, could not be so easily explained.

Verse 3

Ver. 3. For Thy loving-kindness was before my eyes, and I walked in Thy truth. The for refers, not only to the verse, but to the whole section, Psalms 26:3-8; the object of which is to establish the assertion of the Psalmist, that he did not fear the strictest scrutiny, because (or, and that) his heart is purified. To a purified heart there belongs first sincere piety: this the Psalmist claims for himself, here and at the end of this section, in the second half of Psalms 26:6, and in Psalms 26:7 and Psalms 26:8. The second part of purity of heart is true righteousness: this the Psalmist claims in Psalms 26:4-5, and the first half of Psalms 26:6. The copiousness in regard to piety in the second strophe, corresponds to the brevity on the same subject in the first. The Psalmist designedly begins and ends with piety: righteousness, of which it is the cause and source, is in this way enclosed within it. The import of I have walked in Thy truth, is obvious from the parallel, Thy love was before my eyes, i.e. I have always kept my eyes fixed upon Thy love. Hence the truth of God,

His faithfulness to His promises,—is the domain within which the Psalmist spiritually moves, the territory on which he walks: I continually thought upon the truth. The inward connection between morality and piety is here clearly exhibited. Whoever has the love of God before his eyes, and His truth in his heart, or, in one word, whoever trusts in God (for our verse is only the development of I have trusted in the Lord, Psalms 26:1), will not sit with men of falsehood, etc. Wherever the consciousness of the grace and faithfulness of God rules the life, the man will quietly expect from on high that which one living without God in the world, and acting under the impulse of his own strong natural desire for enjoyment, will endeavour to take in his own way, and with violation of the holy commandments of God.

Expositions such as those of Hitzig, for love of Thee was before mine eyes, and I have walked in faithfulness to Thee, disappear of themselves, as soon as we gain a real insight into the organism of the Psalm. Besides, אמת is not “faithfulness:” חסד יהוה signifies always, “the love of God,” never, “love to God” (compare Psalms 5:8), and אמת יהוה always, “the truth of God;” compare Psalms 25:5. It will not do, with Maurer and others, to understand by the truth of God, His commandments, because חסד and אמת always refer, when used in this connection, to the love of God, and to His faithfulness in keeping His promises. Lastly, we cannot translate, with Muis: “I have Thy love and truth always before me for imitation.” For the love and the faithfulness of God are never brought before us as a pattern or example, but always only as a ground of confidence.

Verses 4-5

Ver. 4. I sat not with men of falsehood, and with dissemblers I do not come. The change of tense is to be carefully observed. The Preterite indicates what the Psalmist had hitherto done; the Future, what he would take care to do. It is not without design that the Psalmist begins with falsehood. The conviction of the truth of God raises him above all temptation to be untrue. This reference to the preceding verse clearly requires us to understand שוא , in its usual sense of “lying,” “falsehood.” We cannot, therefore, with Hitzig, translate it by crime, nor, with others, by vanity, worthlessness: the parallel term is also against all such renderings, נעלמים dissemblers, qui frontem aperiunt, mentem tegunt. After I do not come, we are to understand, to their meeting or assembly, which is very easily supplied out of the first clause. Compare Genesis 49:6.

Ver. 5. I hated the assembly of the evil-doers, and with the wicked I do not sit. The import is: “I take no part in the assemblies for the ruin of others.” In Psalms 26:4, also, the “ sitting,” and the “ coming,” do not refer to intercourse and conversation generally, but to the making common cause in some respect or other.

Verse 6

Ver. 6. I wash mine hands in innocency, and I will compass Thine altar, O Lord. The threefold Jehovah of the section is so divided, that it opens it, and concludes it, and stands here in the first verse of the second strophe,—the strophe of the ascent from morality to piety. The hands are considered, in the first clause, as the instruments of action: innocence is the spiritual water; compare Psalms 72:13, where the washing of the hands in innocency corresponds to cleansing the heart; Job 9:30, where instead of innocency there stands “potash;” and Deuteronomy 21:6, and Matthew 27:34, where the hands were washed in protestation of innocence. The Psalmist describes himself as one integer vitae scelerisque purus.

The second clause is translated by Gesenius and others: “I go round about Thy altar.” But סובב never occurs in the sense of “to go round anything.” And besides, there is no mention elsewhere of processions round the altar. Luther seized the true sense: “I hold fast by Thine altar, O Lord.” To encompass, is used of a single individual, to denote a clinging to, or strong attachment to: compare Jeremiah 31:22; see on the passage the Christology, P. III. p. 567. The altar of the Lord, which the Psalmist approaches, is placed in opposition to the assembly of the wicked, which he shuns. The Fut. parag. may very suitably be taken in its usual sense: “I will encompass.” As the Psalmist had done it hitherto, so is he determined to continue to do it in future. The changes of the Preterite, of the common Future, and of the paragogic Future, are assuredly not accidental, and must not be overlooked. De Wette does not seem to have had a correct view of the contents of this verse “Besides pure morality, the poet is a zealous observer of religious rites.” To this it may be replied, it is not the outward worship of God, as such, that is referred to in the clause, I have trusted in God, of which the passage before us is merely the development. The verse, moreover, is connected with the one following; and from that verse it is obvious that the object which the Psalmist has in view in coming to God’s altar, the thing which brings him there, is not that he may offer outward sacrifices (to this, as a matter of inferior moment, assuredly no allusion is made), as if they were meritorious in themselves, but that he may bless and praise God, and may express his trust in Him in the place consecrated to His service, and in the presence of His Church. Thus the expression, I encompass Thine altar, is very suitable after my heart has been purified, and stands related, as is obviously designed by the Psalmist, as cause to effect, to I wash my hands in innocency.

Verse 7

Ver. 7. That I may cause the voice of praise to be heard, and may make known all Thy wonders. There is no reason for translating לשמיע , contracted for להשמיע , contrary to the usual import of the infinitive with ל , by in that I tune up. Though the construction of השמיע , followed by ב , cannot without difficulty admit of the sense of tuning up, there is no objection here, as in Ezekiel 27:30, to take the sense of to cause to be heard, to cause that others hear, with ב as the instr. ב . The wonders of the Lord, the manifestations of His glory in guiding Israel, and especially the Psalmist, form the subject of the praise. Only he whose heart is so full of these wonders, that his mouth cannot refrain from uttering them, can offer up, in a manner worthy of being heard, the prayer, judge me, O Lord, and shall be made to share in new wonders. For wonders are designed only for trust, and trust calls forth praise and thanks.

Verse 8

Ver. 8. O Lord, I loved the place of Thine house, and the place where Thine honour dwelleth. The Psalmist proceeds to show that he has approved himself, through fulfilling the commandments of the first table, as one to whom the help of God belongs. The sum thereof, even in the law, is love to God; and this love is directed, not to a distant and abstract God, but to one made known to His people, and dwelling in the midst of them: just as a Christian can love God only in Christ, so, under the Old Testament, love to God was at the same time love to the place of His house. The honour of God is His glory, which is wherever He is, for He is the glorious God:— where Thou dwellest, the glorious God; compare Exodus 40:34-35; Numbers 9:15-16.

De Wette maintains, that the circumstance of so much importance being attached to repairing to the sanctuary, betrays the late period of the writer. But there is assuredly nothing said of repairing to the sanctuary; and the idea, that as there is but one Lord, so there is but one sanctuary, is exceedingly suitable to the time of David. It is shown in the Beitr., P. 3, p. 54, etc., that even during the period of the Judges, the ark of the covenant, which had its place at Shiloh, was considered, as it ought to be according to the law, as the heart, the spiritual centre-point of the nation, and the Lord and the ark were viewed as inseparably connected together. As a proof that in David’s time the ark of the covenant, which was brought by him to Mount Zion (compare, for example, Psalms 15:1), occupied the same position, it is sufficient to refer to 2 Samuel 15:25: “And the king said unto Zadok, Carry back the ark of the covenant into the city: if I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, He will bring me again, and show me both it and His habitation.” The ark and the Lord appear here as inseparably connected: to see the dwelling-place of the Lord, is at the same time to see Himself. In full accordance with this, are those Psalms, manifestly of Davidic origin, in which the expression of hope of help from Mount Zion so frequently occurs: compare, for example, Psalms 14:7, Psalms 20:3.

The development of I have walked in mine integrity, and trusted in the Lord, is followed by the development of judge me, and may I not slide.

Verse 9

Ver. 9. Take not away my soul with the wicked, and my life with men of blood. עם here plainly refers to עם in Psalms 26:4-5. The Psalmist prays that God would not, in contradiction to His own nature, and His word grounded therein, bind him up in community of outward condition with those with whom he had always avoided having any communion in thought and action; that He would not visit one, who was already in a suffering condition, with that irremediable ruin which is the portion of the wicked—the penalty of daring sin, not the fatherly chastisement of infirmity compare Psalms 86:1-2: “Bow down Thine ear, O Lord, hear me; for I am poor and needy. Preserve my soul, for I am holy: O Thou my God, save Thy servant who trusteth in Thee.” Calvin: “It might appear, at first sight, an absurd prayer, that God would not involve the righteous in destruction with the ungodly; but God, in the exercise of His fatherly indulgence, permits His people to give such free expression to their feelings, that they may, even by the exercise of prayer itself, alleviate their care. For David, in giving utterance to this wish, sets the righteous judgment of God before his eyes for the purpose of delivering himself from care and fear, inasmuch as nothing can be more strange to God than to blend together good and evil.” There is an allusion to Genesis 18:23, etc.

Verse 10

Ver. 10. In whose hand is crime, and whose right hand is full of bribery. Compare for the first clause, Psalms 7:3; and for the second, Psalms 15:5.

Verse 11

Ver. 11. But I walk in mine integrity; redeem me, and be merciful unto me. The reason why the Psalmist, in this second part, makes mention only of duties of the second table, is because these are more tangible, because mistakes as to one’s own condition or that of others are not so easy here, and because the opposites are clear, and cannot be mistaken for each other.

Verse 12

Ver. 12. My foot stands in an even place; in the assemblies will I praise the Lord. עמדה is the prophet. Preterite. The Psalmist in faith sees his deliverance as already present. It is clear as day that the first clause refers to this, and not to righteousness. This is required by the connection, by the parallelism, by the relation in which the words stand to may I not slide, Psalms 26:7 (whose fulfilment they announce), by the ordinary use of the term, Psalms 27:11, Psalms 143:10, and by the analogy of the Preterites in the concluding verses of those Psalms which are generally prophetic. The even place stands in opposition to a difficult territory, full of steep cliffs and precipices.

The second clause expresses, in like manner, the confident expectation of being heard and delivered:—the Lord will give me opportunity to praise Him. The assemblies are not private meetings of the faithful for edification, but assemblies for the public worship of God in the temple: compare Psalms 26:6 and Psalms 26:7, and Psalms 22:26. The words, I shall praise the Lord, proclaim the fulfilment of the prayer, judge me, O Lord. The “Jehovah” completes the threefold repetition of the word in the conclusion and introduction, which, in this respect, correspond to the main body of the Psalm.

At the conclusion of the exposition it is necessary to advert to the charge of self-righteousness. The older expositors had already prepared the way for the charge. Amyraldus remarks: “David speaks in such high terms of his innocence and piety, that the Psalm can be fully interpreted only by considering David as a type of Christ, and by taking it for granted that he had not so much himself as Christ before his mind when he composed it.” And De Wette has openly taken notice of the subject in the way of an objection to this Psalm. The poet, he thinks, speaks with so much self-complacency and confidence, as to let it be seen that he fully considers himself entitled to a better lot than is assigned to other men. We, whose minds have been enlightened by the teaching of the New Testament on the subject of the righteousness of faith without works, are reminded by such language of the prayer of the Pharisee. The ground of this error lies in the prominence given to legal observances among the Hebrews: to these there was more attention paid than to the requirements of morality. But that this whole charge is founded upon a complete mistake, is evident from what has been said at Psalms 17:1, Psalms 18:20, and in the introduction to the Psalm before us, on its didactic tendency, and its connection with Psalms 25, which, according to De Wette, “is distinguished for the most beautiful humility, and acknowledgment of unworthiness.” To all this the following observations may still be added.

That the Psalmist is very far from representing himself as a spotless saint, and that the righteousness and piety of which he speaks, is as yet to be formed, and relates only to the fundamental tendency of the soul, and does not exclude manifold sins of infirmity, is evident, irrespective of the connection of our Psalm with the preceding one (a connection, however, which must not be impossible), from the circumstance, that the Psalmist acknowledges, as a right in itself, the suffering to which he is exposed: it is destruction only, not chastisement, that he deprecates,—this he knows to be perfectly right in itself, and to have been fully merited by him. Righteousness in this sense is, even in the New Testament, spoken of as the indispensable prerequisite of salvation. It is thus that we read, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God;” that is, they shall experience Him to be gracious. Our Psalm is a commentary on this statement, and, indeed, generally on the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount. Let it not be said, that though this righteousness should undoubtedly be in existence, yet it must not, on any account, be a matter of consciousness: false humility is really a lie, and cannot be acceptable to a God of truth. Such a consciousness is not incompatible with the doctrine of the righteousness of faith, except when that doctrine is misemployed as subservient to the purposes of rationalism; ought and am are separated by an immense gulf: the righteousness of faith, in the scriptural sense, is the parent, not the enemy of integrity of life. Assuredly the Christian poet sings, that he who has washed away his sins in the blood of Christ, cannot but maintain a holy walk.

The prayer of the Pharisee has nothing to do with our Psalm: the righteousness there is imaginary, here it is real; there it consists in the careful observance of rites and ceremonies, here it is inward piety and outward morality; there it is absolute, here it is limited.

Finally, though there were here the expression of inordinate self-complacency, it could not well be traced to the prevalence among the Hebrews of superior regard to the ceremonial over the moral law. For how can the Psalmist be conceived to refer to ceremonial observances, when his whole language has reference to his trust in God, to his love to God, and to the blamelessness of his walk as the outward expression of the purity of his heart?

Instead of bringing forward such an unwarrantable charge, it would have been much more becoming to have expressed admiration at the high purity of the moral and religious feelings which pervade this Psalm, at its entire freedom from all false particularism, at its living insight into “Be ye holy, for I am holy,” and at its decisive opposition to everything approaching to Pharisaism, whose fundamental error is the separation between religion and morality, accompanied with completely raw conceptions as to the former.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 26". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-26.html.