Psalm 26 Meaning: Let’s turn to Psalm 26.
Now, when we’re first reading through this psalm we might be surprised by the wording that David uses. He challenges the Lord to examine him. He asserts that he’s walked in integrity and in God’s truth.
The statements that David makes can sound almost boastful. He can come across as arrogant.
Really, after reading Psalm 25 last time, David here in this psalm can seem almost out of touch with reality! Remember – Psalm 25’s theme was How to Pray After You’ve Sinned. And David there was providing us an example of how a believer ought to pray after he’s sinned. But David wasn’t just being theoretical. David himself was the sinner. And the prayer he was providing as an example to us was literally one that he had to pray to God because of his own really grievous sin.
But now David turns around in the very next psalm and it can almost seem like he is ignoring his own sin. It can seem like he’s painting a picture of himself that just is maybe a little too positive.
So, how can we explain this? How should we interpret the shift from Psalm 25 to Psalm 26?
Psalm 26 Meaning: Context
There is a way to do this. The way involves understanding the context of each of these psalms.
In Psalm 25, David is suffering as a result of his sin with Bathsheba. So, he seeks God in prayer in the context of the guilt and danger that situation would have brought to his life.
But here in Psalm 26 the situation is different. It’s very likely that this psalm was written as David was being hunted by King Saul. And so, David then appeals to God for help on the basis of the fact that he did nothing to deserve the treatment he was receiving from Saul. That’s where these appeals to his integrity come from.
We might look at those appeals outside of the context and think, “Wow. David is being really arrogant here. He’s acting like he’s never sinned.” But that’s not at all what he’s communicating. He is appealing to God for help in the form of protection from Saul on the basis of the fact that he didn’t deserve to be hunted like an animal. It’s not his sin that has caused his suffering.
So, Psalm 26 is a model of Praying when You’re Suffering, but not for Sin. When you need God’s help in times of suffering and you can confidently assert that the reason for that suffering is not your own personal sin.
There are times when we are experiencing a great deal of trouble in this life. And when that trouble – as far as we can tell – has not been caused by our sin and God’s subsequent chastening of that sin… that’s when it would be appropriate to pray after the pattern of this psalm.
Psalm 26 Meaning v1
So, now that we’ve seen the general message of this psalm, let’s study the details.
KJV Psalm 26:1 <A Psalm of David.>
And we’ve already seen how Psalm 26 can easily fit David’s life when King Saul was chasing him. So, we can be confident from that and this superscription that David wrote Psalm 26.
So, David begins this lament psalm with a combination of an invocation, a petition, and an expression of confidence.
[Judge/Vindicate] me, O LORD;
for I [have walked in mine/have] integrity:
David wants God to judge him.
And we can get the wrong impression that David is arguing for his sinlessness. And yet, we have statements from David in other psalms that say something like this, “LORD, if you were to keep track of sin, who would stand?” David acknowledges that no one – not even he – is sinless.
So, it’s not that David here is arguing that he’s sinless and that’s why he’s confident that God could judge him and he would be found innocent.
No, the judgement he seeks is in regard to Saul’s persecuting him. David knows that God is sovereign over everything. Even Saul’s persecution is under God’s control. And so, David appeals to the only one who can do anything about it. And he asks this sovereign Lord to judge him – to consider whether David really deserves this treatment by his king.
And then David supplies his defense. He has walked in integrity.
What is this integrity then?
This word is contrasted with perverseness twice in the book of Proverbs. So, whatever integrity is, it isn’t perverseness. It isn’t twisted or crooked morally. It is something like moral purity or innocence. So, David is saying that he feels confident that if God were to judge him and consider whether he deserved the treatment that he was receiving from King Saul that he would be found unworthy of this punishment. Why? Because his life was characterized by moral purity and innocence. He wasn’t crooked and perverse.
And we might wonder if perhaps that all changed with David’s great sin with Bathsheba. Maybe after that incident, David would not have been able to plead this integrity before God.
But surprisingly, even after that awful sin of murder and adultery, when God speaks to David’s son Solomon in 1 Kings 9:4, he says this, “…if thou wilt walk before me, as David thy father walked, in integrity of heart, and in uprightness, …”
The point is – in God’s mind, he can look back over David’s life – and even after David’s horrific failure he can say to David’s own son that David walked in integrity – just like David claims in this psalm.
And hand-in-hand with David’s walking in integrity – living a morally pure and innocent life – is his trust in the Lord…
I have trusted also in the LORD;
[therefore I shall not slide/without wavering].
So, here’s more confidence from David. David trusted in the Lord without sliding or wavering.
He wasn’t trusting in false gods. He wasn’t trusting in himself or in his military might or anything else like that. He was trusting in the Lord.
And if you and I in our personal lives – or we as a church – are wanting vindication – to be shown that we’re innocent and undeserving of whatever difficult situation we face, we need this unwavering trust in the Lord.
That’s not to say that he will immediately deliver us from our troubling situations. God works all things together for our good and he knows how long we need to undergo whatever trials we face. He allowed David to be hunted by Saul for years. So, this prayer is not some magical formula to get out of trouble quick.
But as part of trusting in the Lord – as David does here – praying this way helps us cope with whatever harrowing trial we’re facing. Praying this way and letting God vindicate us – letting him prove us right in the world’s eyes – is itself indicating that we’re trusting the Lord.
Psalm 26 Meaning v2
Well, David continues with his bold petitions to the Lord in verse 2.
2 Examine me, O LORD, and [prove/try/test] me;
[try/test/evaluate] my [reins/mind/inner thoughts] and my [heart/motives].
The reins are David’s inner thoughts and his heart stands for his motives. David is asking the Lord to evaluate his inner man – his thoughts and motives. And David is confident that if God does this, he would be found blameless – he would be found to be a man of integrity.
Once again, he would not be found to be a sinless individual. But David is suffering this life-threatening persecution from his government – headed by King Saul. And so, what David is saying here is that he is innocent and does not deserve this treatment. And so he’s praying to the Lord that his situation would be known – that he is indeed innocent and not deserving of this persecution. That the Lord himself would test him like metal and see if he was genuine. And David was convinced that if the Lord were to do that, he would find his servant David to be undeserving of such treatment.
But folks, in order to pray this way, we really do need to share this moral purity and innocence that David had. We can’t just mouth these words while holding on to sins in our life and not confessing them to the Lord. Because really, God chastens his children. He also resists the proud. If we have difficulties in our lives, the first thing to do is to examine our lives and to see if there is any cause for God bringing these troubles.
That’s certainly what David would have done. And having done that, David was able to sincerely assert to God that he didn’t believe that his being persecuted by Saul was warranted.
Psalm 26 Meaning v3
Then David continues giving confident justification for his petitions in verse 3…
3 For thy lovingkindness is before mine eyes: [i.e., I am ever aware of it…]
and I [have walked in/am continually motivated by] thy truth.
David is saying that he was always aware of God’s loyal covenant love. He’s aware of God’s faithful devotion to him. And therefore, you can imagine how puzzling it must have been for David to experience this persecution.
But God meant it for good. And even in the midst of Saul’s persecution – and even that was under God’s sovereign control – God showed his loyal covenant love to David all along. In the palace with spears flying. In the caves, hiding like an animal. Around the mountain passes just barely avoiding death. God was showing his loyal covenant love to his servant David.
And, so closely connected to God’s loyal covenant love is God’s truth. That is, his word. David loved God’s loyal covenant love which was revealed to him in God’s word. David elsewhere declares “O how I love your law!”
Would a sinner who hates God and therefore deserves difficulty in life – would that kind of a person be able to say with confidence that he was constantly aware of God’s love and was constantly motivated by God’s word? No. And that’s why David is bringing these facts to the Lord’s attention. He wants God to declare, “This persecution can’t be a result of David sin. Just look at what motivates him! He’s not perfect, but he can say with a clear conscience that he loves my word.”
So, that’s some positive justification as to why David is not experiencing difficulty in his life due to his own waywardness or sin. He positively loves God’s word and faithfulness to him.
Psalm 26 Meaning v4
But negatively, David didn’t find his delight in the presence of people who hated God, according to verse 4.
4 I [have not sat/do not associate] with [vain/deceitful] persons,
neither will I [go in/consort] with [dissemblers/pretenders/those who are dishonest].
Now, God is a God of truth. He hates lies. Liars, as we know from the book of Revelation, will have their part in the Lake of Fire.
And David here says that he has no interest in identifying with those people.
Now, whenever we New Testament Christians hear something like this – when we hear David saying that he won’t associate with sinners – we probably start to feel a little uneasy.
Because we know that David was godly. And in fact, he’s held out here in Psalm 26 as an example for us to follow.
And yet, we also know that Jesus ate with sinners. We know he received them and spoke with them.
So, is there a disconnect here? Is there a new standard in the New Testament that somehow contradicts the Old Testament standard of how to treat sinners?
And I think that we just need to remind ourselves of Jesus’ purpose in eating with sinners.
Was Jesus’ purpose in eating with sinners to enjoy and participate in their vile conversation? Or was the Son of God associating with sinners to speak truth to them and save them?
Jesus’ contact with sinners was redemptive. That was his purpose – to treat them like a physician would treat a sick person. Not to participate in evil with them and enjoy their sin.
And so, when David here in Psalm 26 says that he doesn’t sit or go in with liars, he’s not expressing a “holier than thou” attitude. He’s simply saying that he’s not participating with those sinners in their sin – which is something that God wanted in the Old Testament and the New. God does not want his people participating in the sins of ungodly people around them.
So, there really is no discord between what David says here and how Jesus Christ lived – and how we’re to live.
And, again, David is testifying to the fact that his suffering at the hands of King Saul is not due to any personal sin on his part.
Psalm 26 Meaning v5
And David gets even a little more enthusiastic about his claims of innocence in verse 5.
5 I have hated the [congregation/assembly/mob] of evil doers;
and will not [sit/associate] with the wicked.
Can you picture a gathering of Islamic terrorists. Or an assembly of abortionists. Or a meeting of the United Nations in which they’re planning to thwart God’s counsel. Did you know it’s OK to hate those congregations – those gatherings of evil doers?
Now, God is absolutely not calling for individual New Testament Christians or the Church as a whole to commit violence against these groups. Our role as individual believers and as the Church corporately is to minister and to turn the other cheek and to evangelize these individual people. The Church is not to take up arms and attack these people.
However, that doesn’t negate the fact that we have here an inspired example of David’s emotions when it comes to these kinds of gatherings. He hated these gatherings. And we can and should, as well.
Again, that doesn’t justify violence. But it does validate our extreme disgust at the thoughts of these groups who congregate in order to resist God.
And David didn’t sit or associate with the wicked. And it’s interesting that that’s the extent to which David’s hatred of these gatherings leads him to act. So often we connect hatred with violence. And yet, look at what even King David is pointing to as the result of his hatred of evil doers. It’s not sitting or associating with them.
And for us Christians, the association that’s forbidden to us is the kind of associating that has us participating in their evil. But we have an example for us in the Lord Jesus Christ who ate with sinners – not to participate in their evil deeds – but rather to seek their redemption.
Psalm 26 Meaning v6
And we have David expressing more confidence in verse 6.
6 I [will wash mine hands in innocency/maintain a pure liftesyle]:
so will I [compass/go about/appear before] thine altar, O LORD:
Washing hands was something that the Lord commanded Aaron and his sons to do in the bronze “sea” or washing bowl that was outside of the Tabernacle. They could not minister in the Tabernacle before washing their hands.
And so, David borrows that imagery to anticipate his coming before the Lord – compassing or appearing before the Lord’s altar to worship him.
David is again repeating the conviction that he is innocent of any reason that he should be receiving persecution from King Saul. He is pure. He’s washed his hands and is ready to worship before the Lord like Aaron and his priestly sons. David should not be experiencing the suffering he was at that point. Of that, he was confident.
Psalm 26 Meaning v7
Then we have David promising to praise the Lord in verse 7.
7 That I may [publish/proclaim] with the voice of thanksgiving, [i.e., to give you thanks…]
and [tell of/declare] all thy [wondrous works/amazing deeds].
So, the flow of thought goes – David is confident of his clean hands that would allow him to gather in worship with God’s people. And while he’s there at the Tabernacle he would do the actions of verse 7.
He fully planned and desired to give thanks to the Lord. He wanted to tell others of God’s wondrous works. And certainly, in context, those works would have included God’s delivering David from his enemies – King Saul in particular.
Psalm 26 Meaning v8
And that ties in very well with verse 8 where David confesses to loving the Tabernacle because that’s where God was in a special way.
8 LORD, I have loved the [habitation of thy house/temple where you live],
and the place where thine [honour/glory/splendor] [dwelleth/is revealed].
And again, all of this is proving that David does not deserve his suffering. Does someone who loves God so much deserve to be hunted like an animal?
Psalm 26 Meaning v9
That’s where David goes next in verse 9. His sincere humble love for the Lord moves him to return to petitioning the Lord to remove his suffering in light of his innocence.
9 [Gather/Take/Sweep] not my soul [away…] with sinners,
nor [my life/execute me] with [bloody men/men of bloodshed/violent people]:
In other words, David is recognizing that the wicked deserve to die in a certain way. And in contrast, the godly should be treated differently in death. Perhaps David is thinking that there should be more dignity in the death of the righteous than in the death of the wicked.
But whatever he was thinking, he didn’t want to be lumped in with the wicked in his death.
Psalm 26 Meaning v10
And the thought of the wicked leads David to his lament. The lament of a lament psalm is where the psalmist identifies his main problem. In Psalm 26, David’s main problem is these people who are seeking to kill him. So, we see David speak of them in verse 10.
10 In whose hands is [mischief/a wicked scheme], [i.e., they’re always ready to do something wrong…]
and their right hand is full of bribes.
So, that’s the wicked and what they’re like. Always ready to do something wrong. Always ready to pay people off.
Psalm 26 Meaning v11
But David is different. Again, that’s the whole theme of this psalm. This is how to pray when you are suffering and yet you are innocent! And David brings his conduct into sharp and distinct focus in comparison to the wicked in verse 11.
11 But as for me, I will walk in mine integrity:
[redeem/rescue] me, and be [merciful/gracious] unto me.
And you remember how this psalm began in verse 1. David confidently asserted that he walked in his integrity. And now here at the end of the psalm we have this assertion repeated once more. David walked in his integrity – in stark contrast to those who were inflicting persecution on him.
And with that confidence, David makes one more petition for redemption and rescue and mercy from the Lord.
Psalm 26 Meaning v12
And finally David ends the psalm with confidence and praise in verse 12.
12 My foot standeth [in an even/on a level] place: [i.e., I am safe…]
in the congregations [of those who worship the Lord…] will I [bless/praise] the LORD.
So, with all of this emotional turmoil David has been expressing, it’s almost a little shocking to hear this final note of confidence and praise from David.
All of a sudden, David notes that his foot is standing on an even place. That is, he’s not going to stumble and fall. He’s confident of God’s protection and help.
And that’s where we need to come to when we pray to the Lord like David is doing here. We can certainly get emotionally exercised. We can pour out our bitterness and difficulties to the Lord. But by the end we need to get to where David is here – expressing and really having a confidence in the Lord’s care and protection for us.
And note David’s final promise of praise. In the congregations he will bless the Lord. He’s speaking of the congregations of those who worship the Lord. That’s in contrast to the congregations of evil doers, which David previously said he hates. He loves being in gatherings with people – like him – who love the Lord.
So, let’s not neglect using the principles of Psalm 26 to pray when we are Suffering, but not as a Result of Sin.