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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 26

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-12

Psalms 26:1-12

THE image of "the way" which is characteristic of Psalms 25:1-22 reappears in a modified form in this psalm, which speaks of "walking in integrity" and truth and of "feet standing in an even place." Other resemblances to the preceding psalm are the use of "redeem," "be merciful"; the references to God’s lovingkindness and truth, in which the psalmist walks, and to his own integrity. These similarities may or may not indicate common authorship, but probably guided the compilers in placing the psalm here. It has not clear marks of date or of the writer’s circumstances. Its two ground tones are profession of integrity and of revulsion from the society of the wicked and prayer for vindication of innocence by the fact of deliverance. The verses are usually grouped in couples, but with some irregularity.

The two keynotes are both struck in the first group of three verses, in which Psalms 26:2 and Psalms 26:3 are substantially an expansion of Psalms 26:1. The prayer, "Judge me," asks for a Divine act of deliverance based upon a Divine recognition of the psalmist’s sincerity and unwavering trust. Both the prayer and its ground are startling. It grates upon ears accustomed to the tone of the New Testament that a suppliant should allege his single eyed simplicity and steadfast faith as pleas with God, and the strange tone sounds on through the whole psalm. The threefold prayer in Psalms 26:2 courts Divine scrutiny, as conscious of innocence, and bares, the inmost recesses of affection and impulse for testing, proving by circumstances, and smelting by any fire. The psalmist is ready for the ordeal, because he has kept God’s "lovingkindness" steadily in sight through all the glamour of earthly brightnesses, and his outward life has been all, as it were, transacted in the sphere of God’s truthfulness; i.e., the inward contemplation of His mercy and faithfulness has been the active principle of his life. Such self-consciousness is strange enough to us, but, strange as it is, it cannot fairly be stigmatised as Pharisaic self-righteousness. The psalmist knows that all goodness comes from God, and he clings to God in childlike trust. The humblest Christian heart might venture in similar language to declare its recoil from evil-doers and its deepest spring of action as being trust. Such professions are not inconsistent with consciousness of sin, which is, in fact, often associated with them in other psalms (Psalms 25:20-21; Psalms 7:11; Psa 7:18). They do indicate a lower stage of religious development, a less keen sense of sinfulness and of sins. a less clear recognition of the worthlessness before God of all man’s goodness, than belong to Christian feeling. The same language when spoken at one stage of revelation may be childlike and lowly, and be swelling arrogance and self-righteous self-ignorance, if spoken at another.

Such high and sweet communion cannot but breed profound distaste for the society of evildoers. The eyes which have God’s lovingkindness ever before them are endowed with penetrative clearness of vision into the true hollowness of most of the objects pursued by men, and with a terrible sagacity which detects hypocrisy and shams. Association with such men is necessary, else we must needs go out of the world, and leaven must be in contact with dough in order to do its transforming work; but it is impossible for a man whose heart is truly in touch with God not to feel ill at ease when brought into contact with those who have no share in his deepest convictions and emotions. "Men of vanity" is a general designation for the ungodly, pronouncing on every such life the sentence that it is devoted to empty unrealities and partakes of the nature of that to which it is given up. One who has Jehovah’s lovingkindness before his eyes cannot "sit" with such men in friendly association, as if sharing their ways of thinking, nor "go" with them in their course of conduct. "Those who mask themselves" are another class, namely hypocrites who conceal their pursuit of vanity under the show of religion. The psalmist’s revulsion is intensified in Psalms 26:5 into "hate," because the evil-doers and sinners spoken of there are of a deeper tint of blackness, and are banded together in a "congregation," the opposite and parody of the assemblies of the righteous, whom he feels to be his kindred. No doubt separateness from evil-doers is but part of a godly man’s duty, and has often been exaggerated into selfish withdrawal, from a world which needs good men’s presence all the more the worse it is; but it is a part of his duty, and "Come out from among them and be separate" is not yet an abrogated command. No man will ever mingle with "men of vanity," so as to draw them from the shadows of earth to the substance in God, unless his loving association with them rests on profound revulsion from their principles of action. None comes so near to sinful men as the sinless Christ; and if He had not been ever "separate from sinners," He would never have been near enough to redeem them. We may safely imitate His free companionship, which earned Him His glorious name of their Friend, if we imitate His remoteness from their evil.

From the uncongenial companionship of the wicked the psalmist’s yearnings instinctively turn to his heart’s home, the sanctuary. The more a man feels out of sympathy with a godless world, the more longingly he presses into the depths of communion with God; and, conversely, the more he feels at home in still communion, the more does the tumult of sense-bound crowds grate on his soul. The psalmist, then, in the next group of verses (Psalms 26:6-7), opposes access to the house of God and the solemn joy of thankful praises sounding there to the loathed consorting with evil. He will not sit with men of vanity because he will enter the sanctuary. Outward participation in its worship may be included in his vows and wishes, but the tone of the verses rather points to a symbolical use of the externalities of ritual. Cleansing the hands alludes to priestly lustration; compassing the altar is not known to have been a Jewish practice, and probably is to be taken as simply a picturesque way of describing himself as one of the joyous circle of worshippers; the sacrifice is praise. The psalmist rises to the height of the true Israelite’s priestly vocation, and ritual has become transparent to him. None the less may he have clung to the outwardnesses of ceremonial worship, because he apprehended them in their highest significance and had learned that the qualification of the worshipper was purity, and the best offering praise. Well for those who, like him, are driven to the sanctuary by the revulsion from vanities and from those who pursue them!

Psalms 26:8 is closely connected with the two preceding, but is perhaps best united with the following verse, as being the ground of the prayer there. Hate of the congregation of evil-doers has love to God’s house for its complement or foundation. The measure of attachment is that of detachment. The designations of the sanctuary in Psalms 26:8 show the aspects in which it drew the psalmist’s love. It was "the shelter of Thy house," where he could hide himself from the strife of tongues and escape the pain of herding with evil-doers: it was "the place of the dwelling of Thy glory." the abode of that symbol of Divine presence which flamed between the cherubim and lit the darkness of the innermost shrine. Because the sinner felt his true home to be there, he prayed that his soul might not be gathered with sinners, i.e., that he might not be involved in their fate. He has had no fellowship with them in their evil, and therefore he asks that he may be separate from them in their punishment. To "gather the soul" is equivalent to taking away the life. God’s judgments sort out characters and bring like to like, as the tares are bound in bundles or as, with so different a purpose, Christ made the multitudes sit down by companies on the green sward. General judgments are not indiscriminate. The prayer of the psalmist may not have looked beyond exemption from calamities or from death, but the essence of the faith which it expresses is eternally true: that distinction of attitude towards God and goodness must secure distinction of lot, even though external circumstances are identical. The same things are not the same to men so profoundly different. The picture of the evil-doers from whom the psalmist recoils is darker in these last verses than before. It is evidently a portrait and points to a state of society in winch violence, outrage, and corruption were rampant. The psalmist washed his hands in innocency, but these men had violence and bribes in theirs. They were therefore persons in authority, prostituting justice. The description fits too many periods too well to give a clue to the date of the psalm.

Once more the consciousness of difference and the resolve not to be like such men break forth in the closing couple of verses. The psalm began with the profession that he had walked in his integrity; it ends with the vow that he will. It had begun with the prayer "Judge me"; it ends with the expansion of it into "Redeem me"-i.e., from existing dangers, from evildoers, or from their fate-and "Be gracious unto me," the positive side of the same petition. He who purposes to walk uprightly has the right to expect God’s delivering and giving hand to be extended to him. The resolve to walk uprightly unaccompanied with the prayer for that hand to hold up is as rash as the prayer without the resolve is vain. But if these two go together, quiet confidence will steal into the heart; and though there be no change in circumstances, the mood of mind will be so soothed and lightened that the suppliant will feel that he has suddenly emerged from the steep gorge where he had been struggling and shut up, and stands on the level ground of the "shining table lands, whereof our God Himself is sun and moon." Such peaceful foretaste of coming security is the forerunner which visits the faithful heart. Gladdened by it, the psalmist is sure that his desire of compassing God’s altar with praise will be fulfilled, and that, instead of compulsory association with the "congregation of evil-doers," he will bless Jehovah "in the congregations" where His name is loved and find himself among those who, like himself, delight in His praise.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 26". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/psalms-26.html.
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