Open your Bibles to Psalm 36 for this Psalm 36 commentary.
Psalm 36 Commentary | Genre
Psalm 36 is kind of a cross between a lament psalm and a meditative psalm.
It has all the five ingredients of a lament psalm – the lament, where David reveals the problem he needs God’s help to work through, then there’s praise to God, invoking God for help, asking God for whatever the psalmist needs, and then expressing confidence in the Lord. We’ll see all five of those components in this psalm.
But if it is a lament psalm, I think you’ll agree that it about the most upbeat and positive lament psalm we’ve ever seen.
The mood of a lament psalm is so often dark and brooding and sad. But this psalm doesn’t seem to display that tone.
So, I think of Psalm 36 as maybe a “happy lament” psalm or a “dispassionate lament” psalm. And you can see for yourself as we study through this psalm if you agree with that assessment – that there’s just something different about this psalm than what we’re used to seeing with other lament psalms.
Psalm 36 Commentary |
KJV Psalm 36:1 <To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD.>
Often the word “servant,” “David,” and “Yahweh” appear in 2Sa 7 and the Davidic Covenant. Look that up…
Psalm 36 Commentary | The Wicked | 1-4
The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart,
that there is no fear of God before his eyes.
That first line there is fairly awkward and puzzling as we have it in the King James Version. I’ll read what it says very mechanically in the Hebrew – “An utterance/oracle of transgression to the wicked man [is] in the midst of my heart.”
In other words, David has an oracle or an utterance from the Lord. And it’s concerning transgression – sin. And this oracle that’s about sin is directed to the wicked man – the individual who as a practice and way of life practices this sin. And this oracle comes from the Lord – yes – but it’s also coming through David. It’s coming from the midst of his heart – from his innermost being for this kind of person.
So, David has a message to communicate to the typical wicked man about his sin. And this message is from the Lord.
And here is the start of the message – there is no fear of God before his eyes. He has not set reverencing God before him. It’s not a priority in his life. He simply ignores God and his righteous character and demands. If he wrongs his neighbor, it’s not a big deal – because after all – in his mind – God’s not watching. And if he is watching, he’s not going to do anything. This is what’s going through the wicked man’s mind.
And, so, since the wicked man’s eyes lack the fear of God before them, he replaces that fear with something else, according to verse 2.
2 For he flattereth himself in his own eyes,
until his iniquity be found to be hateful.
That first line reads, “Because he makes smooth to him in the eyes of him.” Making smooth is often the way that flattery is portrayed in the Old Testament. The idea is that you’re using your tongue to smooth over the rough realities of the situation. The rough reality with the wicked is that he’s abhorrent to God and man. And of course, that’s not a pleasant reality – and so he smooths it over with lies and misrepresentations concerning himself.
And in this case, the wicked man isn’t just misrepresenting himself to others. Others aren’t even in view yet here in David’s oracle. The wicked man deceives his own self about his own nature. The wicked man speaks lies to himself. He flatters himself in his own eyes.
And this involves a great amount of deceit. Self-deceit. Because, of course, the reality of the wicked man is much less positive and encouraging than he would like to believe.
And even though the wicked man is able to trick himself into thinking he’s fine, he really can’t deceive others indefinitely.
That’s why that second line of verse 2 reads in the Hebrew that he engages in this flattery… “Until his sin reaches the point where it’s unable to be put up with.”
That’s where others come in to the picture. He’s been flattering himself in his own eyes. He’s been able to make himself look better to himself than he really is. However, who is not tricked by his self-flattery? Others.
Other people will eventually not be able to put up with the deceitful flattery of the wicked man. His sin – that he glosses over in his self-deception – will reach the point where others just simply cannot put up with it any longer.
He might be able to – without limit – speak deceit to himself about his true condition before God – that he is a sinner. But those around him eventually won’t be able to stand the nonsense.
But the wicked doesn’t care. Others can leave him if they wish. He’ll keep going on deceiving himself, as verse 3 continues.
3 The words of his mouth are iniquity and deceit:
he hath left off to be wise, and to do good.
The wicked man’s words are corrupt. They are characterized as iniquity – sin – and deceit – like what we’ve seen him doing in verse two – deceiving himself about his sin.
What the wicked speaks is lying sin – deceptive sin. Sin that isn’t always brash and bold and in your face. Often that makes sin unpalatable. No – you need to make the sin look good sometimes for others to embrace it. And that’s just what the wicked is doing here. His words are sin – and deceitful.
And the wicked man’s works are corrupt. Not just his words, but his works. Because both his words and his works come from his wicked heart.
He is pictured as completely stopping living in a wise manner. He doesn’t care about that anymore.
With the phrase left off it makes it sound as if this man had at one point been wise. He was engaged in living wisely at one point – at least to some degree. But now this man has just completely quit living according to God’s wisdom altogether.
And when you abandon God’s wisdom – as the wicked man does – then there’s ultimately no reason for doing good. That’s why the wicked man ceases to do good also.
And then David finishes his assessment of the wicked man in verse 4.
4 He deviseth mischief upon his bed;
he setteth himself in a way that is not good;
he abhorreth not evil.
Mischief in verse 4 is the same word as iniquity in verse 3. And it’s actually the first word of the sentence in the Hebrew. Oftentimes when that happens, the writer is trying to emphasize that word. So, MISCHIEF/INIQUITY/SIN (!) he thinks of and devises and plans upon his bed.
The bed is a place of rest. But not for the wicked. There is no rest for the wicked. No, instead of resting in bed, the wicked man is portrayed as planning evil in bed. Thinking on evil things in bed. When the wicked man’s body and mind are at rest – wickedness is where his mind immediately turns.
So, that’s his thoughts. But his actions aren’t any better. He sets or stands himself in a bad way. As if there’s a road full of evildoers and he takes his stand right in that road to go wherever it leads him with whomever he meets there.
And on that road, he abhoreth not evil. And when you abhor something, you basically reject it. What David is saying here in this verse is that there is no evil that the wicked man rejects. He’ll never turn down any sort of evil. He will embrace it all.
So, that’s David’s oracle of transgression to the wicked man. As we saw in verse 1, that oracle or utterance from God started in David’s heart. And now he’s fully vented God’s message to the wicked man concerning his transgression.
Psalm 36 Commentary | God | 5-10
But now, David is done dealing with the wicked for the next six verses. In verses 5-10 David wants to meditate on God’s character. Not the debauched character of the wicked man anymore – but on God’s holy, loving character.
5 Thy mercy, O LORD, is in the heavens;
and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds.
And so, David is not just meditating on what God is like. He’s actually speaking directly to God about what he’s like. You see the pronoun thy twice in this verse. And David in this section refers to God directly no less than a dozen times. He’s praying to God – communicating back to God. He was thinking about the wicked man. Now, he takes a step back and wants to communicate directly with God about what God is like.
And so, David starts with two attributes of God that are key to understanding the Lord.
The first is his mercy. That’s the Hebrew word chesed. That’s God’s loyal covenant love. It’s the devotion he extended to the nation of Israel that he didn’t show to others who weren’t in covenant with him.
And that mercy is in the heavens. And of course, that’s not saying that God’s loyal covenant love is inaccessible and distant. I think it’s describing the both the unchangeableness and the abundance of that love. It’s in heaven – the wicked man can’t get his hands on it to ruin it. It’s in heaven – it looks down from there – as it were – and is able to reach anyone on earth.
And then God’s faithfulness is in view in the next line. He doesn’t lie. He doesn’t go back on promises – and in the context of covenant/promised love – he doesn’t withdraw his covenant love from those whom he’s set it upon.
And this faithfulness reaches unto the clouds. Again, you get this picture of this attribute of God towering high into the sky. It’s immense. It fills the earth!
And David continues to consider the enormity of God’s wonderful attributes in verse 6.
6 Thy righteousness is like the great mountains;
thy judgments are a great deep:
O LORD, thou preservest man and beast.
So, we have immense height and depth in this verse.
On the high end is God’s righteousness. That is, he keeps all of his promises and fulfills all his requirements. And in the context of covenant love – I think especially in view here is his keeping his covenant promises with his people.
Then on the very low end are God’s judgments. Oftentimes that word is used to describe legal decisions. But there are instances where the word simply means justice. I think that’s more likely the case here.
He is righteous – he is just – he does right constantly and consistently. And the extent to which he is these things is practically immeasurable. It’s higher than anything else. And at the same time, it’s lower than any in this world.
And then David reflects back to God the fact that the Lord preserves or saves man and beast. Interestingly enough, this is the only place in the Hebrew Old Testament in which the word save is applied to the word beast or this word for man – (adam). When the psalms speak of adam they are looking at humanity very broadly – not just faithful Israelites – all of humanity.
And so, again you can sense the broadness in this verse. God’s righteousness is so high. His justice is so deep. He physically delivers from danger on the one hand all humanity and on the other hand all sorts of animals.
And this makes me wonder if perhaps the event that prompted David to write this psalm could have been some sort of deliverance from a famine. Perhaps, David perceived that God was showing his commitment to his covenant by stopping the famine. But not only that – when God stops a famine, it’s not as though only his covenant people enjoy the benefits of that. No – everyone in that area and every animal in that region experience the blessings of that.
And as long as we’re looking for the context of this psalm – then we might imagine that David’s oracle of the wicked at the start of this psalm is a recognition that God was withholding rain and food because of wicked people.
But whatever the context of the psalm, David returns to the idea of God’s loyal covenant love in verse 7.
7 How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God!
therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.
The word excellent is the same word used in Scripture to refer to the precious stone that was in the crown placed on David’s head in 2 Samuel 12:30. God’s loyal covenant love is like a precious, rare, unique jewel. To find it, is to find something far better than any perishable stone in this life.
And because that’s the case – the children of men – the sons of adam – those ones whom the Lord saved in verse 6 – when they see the Lord protect them and provide for them – their response should be to take shelter under the wings of the Lord – like a young bird would do under the wings of his mother.
And again, if the context of this psalm is God’s reversing a famine, then verse 8 shows how much goodness is available with the Lord.
8 They [the sons of adam…] shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house;
and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures.
I mean, to a group of individuals who just came out of a famine – these images would have been appropriate. To go from having nothing for whatever period of time to having something once more would be fatness. To go from nothing to drink to having something to drink would be like drinking from a river!
And these sons of men (they) are still in view – the ones that God preserves through drought and famine – and therefore, come to take their refuge under the shadow of God’s wings.
The word satisfied is also translated as watered, made drunk, fill, satiate, and bathe. Pretty descriptive picture of what these individuals feel as God discontinues the famine and allows food to be abundantly available once more.
And these people drink from the river of God’s pleasures – God’s Eden – that’s the word. And this isn’t a river like the Jordan River which constantly had water flowing through it. This is a wadi. Often it would run dry. But when it was rainy season it would be filled with water.
God’s blessings could have been viewed like that by these folks. It was absent – probably because of the sin of the wicked that the psalm speaks of earlier. But when God’s blessings are unleashed – watch out! It’s like a torrent of water streaming through a dry river bed.
And David continues the water motif into verse 9.
9 For with thee is the fountain of life:
in thy light shall we see light.
Where’s all of that water coming from that we heard about in verse 8. Here’s the fountain – with thee. The Lord provides this fountain.
And it’s a fountain – that produces not merely literal physical water – but God’s fountain sends out life. Of course, without water for a while, life starts to dwindle on this earth. So the two ideas are related. No life without water. And God has sent to David and the people of his day both water and therefore an ability to keep living.
But what about seeing light in God’s light? What does that mean? Well, several times in the Old Testament, “seeing light” is a metaphor for living. Which makes sense here in the context of verse 9.
So, God provides a fountain of life. He provides light for us to see. In other words, he gives abundant life to those whom he showers with his grace.
And with these kinds of benefits afforded to those who have experienced the Lord’s loyal love – we just don’t want God to stop doing this for us! And that’s David’s heart cry in verse 10.
10 O continue [draw out/prolong…] thy lovingkindness unto them that know thee;
and thy righteousness to the upright in heart.
So – to those sons of men who have come to know the Lord, David asks that God would draw out his loyal covenant love to them – and the meeting of his righteous obligations which such a covenant entails… To these men that are now characterized as upright – or straight or right – in their heart – in their thoughts and affections.
Psalm 36 Commentary | God’s Protection from the Wicked | 11-12
Then David ends this psalm with one verse of direct request to the Lord and then a reflection on God’s defeating his enemies.
11 Let not the foot of pride come against me,
and let not the hand of the wicked remove me.
So, David’s mind is brought back from God’s awesome attributes – the best of which is his loyal covenant love – and he remembers the wicked from earlier in the psalm. And so, he asks God to extend his loyal covenant love to him in this tangible way – by protecting him – not just from drought and famine as we saw earlier – but that he would protect David from these wicked men.
God protected him and his people from the natural elements that are dangerous. And that leads David to pray for protection from his dangerous enemies – these wicked men.
He asks protection from their foot and hand. He doesn’t want them to remove him in the sense of making him a vagabond with nowhere to go.
And then David expresses his confidence that God will deal with his enemies in the last verse.
12 There are the workers of iniquity fallen:
they are cast down, and shall not be able to rise.
It’s as if David can see God’s triumph over his enemies – “There! Over there! I can see it!”
And may the Lord help us to see more of his loyal covenant love in our lives.