Psalm 26: Pure devotion

An absorbed delight in the presence and house of God makes the core of this psalm (verses 6–8) a personal confession that shames our ‘faint desires’. The surrounding verses point to the source of this joy, in the realm of choice rather than temperament: the costly choice of allegiance which has thrown David back on God’s protection and made clear to him where his heart and treasure lie, and in what company he is supremely at home.

In each of Psalms 26–28 the Lord’s house comes into view. In Psalm 26 the worshipper, as he approaches, is searched by God’s demand for sincerity (cf. Pss 15 and 24) and, in the last verse, rejoices to have found access. In Psalm 27 he sees this house as sanctuary from his enemies, and as the place of vision, face to face with God. In Psalm 28 he brings forward his petition, spreading his hands as a suppliant towards the holy of holies, and receives his answer.

26:1–3. Nothing to hide

In this opening, David’s fellow men are not yet in the picture, though his defensiveness tells its own tale of them. With the cry ‘Yahweh, be my judge!’ (JB), he wisely appeals over the heads of friends and enemies alike. It is the secret of true independence, as Paul was to find in the cross-current of criticism and intrigue: cf. 1 Corinthians 4:3–5. On the claim to be in the right, and on readiness to be judged, see on Psalm 5:4–6; note too that God himself used the word integrity of David in 1 Kings 9:4. Its basic meaning is wholeness, usually in the sense of wholeheartedness or sincerity, rather than faultlessness. When David thought of his ways in detail, not merely of his overall loyalty, his pleas to be searched and known became no longer a demand, as here (2), but a surrender (139:23f.).

The phrase, without wavering (1) is lit. ‘I shall not (or, do not) slip’, referring either to the outcome of his trust, as in AV, or more probably to its quality. Another expression with two possible meanings is in faithfulness to thee (3), lit. ‘in thy truth’ (AV, RV, NEB), since ‘truth’ in the Old Testament is largely faithfulness. But grammatically this is more easily taken to be God’s than David’s, and it would then match thy steadfast love. Perhaps we can trace a meaningful shift of emphasis from ‘my integrity’ in verse 1 to ‘thy faithfulness’ here.

26:4, 5. Nothing in common
If these verses sound arrogant, we mistake them. These men are potential allies, potential enemies; and David has made his choice. Hating their company is not a matter of social preference but of spiritual alignment; ‘company’ here means congregation or party, a rival group to God’s own. David’s character and his kingdom were both at stake in this choice of associates, as is the character of any enterprise. In each of these two verses there is a decisive tense followed by an open one; a clear-cut attitude and a resolve to maintain it. Cf. NEB; ‘I have not … nor do I …; I hate … and will not …’. See also on verse 11.

26:6–8. Into his courts
The dry precision of the law books blossoms into life with this glimpse of a singing procession round the altar in the open court. The scene is even more animated in e.g. 27:6; 42:4; 68:24ff. Between the altar and the tent stood the laver, where the priests washed their hands and feet before approaching either of them (Exod. 40:30–32); and David takes this to heart in the spirit of Psalm 24:4 (where see references).

7. For examples of a personal song of thanksgiving, which would accompany the sacrifice of Leviticus 7:12ff., see e.g. Psalm 40 or 116; and for corporate remembrance of God’s miracles of salvation (wondrous deeds) see such psalms as 78, 105, etc. In both these ways the past lives on to enrich the present and give precision to one’s praise.

8. Love, like the hate in verse 5, is fundamentally an expression of choice: this is where his heart is, not with the worldly. But the heart has warmed to the choice and to the company. The word habitation need not be changed to ‘beauty’ (NEB), which is the reading of the Hebrew consonants in the reverse order. Habitation adds its emphasis to the phrase where thy glory dwells, in case we should miss the marvel of God’s taking up residence among us. In the wilderness his glory had dwelt visibly on the tabernacle (Exod. 40:34ff.), and in Judaism the word for ‘dwelling’, shekinah, which is akin to dwells here, became a standard term for this. But John 1:14 announces the reality foreshadowed in the cloud and fire: ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt’—note the term85—‘among us …; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.’

26:9, 10. Men with no future
The picture behind the term for sweep … away is of gathering up what is be thrown out, much as in the parable of the tares in Matthew 13:30. David is conscious that however strongly he has meant to reject the way of the wicked (4, 5), it is God’s verdict on him that counts, and he must come to him as a suppliant. It is left to the final stanza to sum the matter up.

26:11, 12. Love without fear
These two verses give a rounded view of a godly man’s profession. Its first element is integrity, i.e. wholeheartedness (see on verse 1); and here David shows his will to persist on this path, by his change of tense from ‘I have walked’ (1) to ‘I (will) walk’ (cf. the last comment on verses 4, 5, above). This is loyalty, not self-righteousness, since the second element is deep humility (11b): a confession of inability to do without help (redeem me) and unfitness to claim it as of right (be gracious). The third element is assurance (12), for no-one pleads (11b), or trusts (1b), in vain. So the psalm which began defensively, much aware of the anti-church (see on verse 5), ends with praise and the joy of adding one’s voice to those of multitudes of fellow believers (for congregation is in the plural here).