Singing God’s songs—Psalm 26

Psalms of David

Psalms in Book 1 (Psalms 1 to 41) are primarily personal songs, so I will look at how they apply to us personally. Social and communal aspects of life and work do not come in until the later books of psalms.

Psalm 26 is a song of praise and thanksgiving to God. Yes, really. Unusually it is also philosophical. Philosophy and praise are not things that would go together. So what makes this psalm so unusual?

Books in a church pew.
Photo by Brett Sayles on

The books of Psalms are roughly themed like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.

Of David.

26 Vindicate me, O Lord,
    for I have walked in my integrity,
    and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
    test my heart and my mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
    and I walk in your faithfulness.

I do not sit with men of falsehood,
    nor do I consort with hypocrites.
I hate the assembly of evildoers,
    and I will not sit with the wicked.

I wash my hands in innocence
    and go round your altar, O Lord,

proclaiming thanksgiving aloud,
    and telling all your wondrous deeds.

O Lord, I love the habitation of your house
    and the place where your glory dwells.

Do not sweep my soul away with sinners,
    nor my life with bloodthirsty men,
10 in whose hands are evil devices,
    and whose right hands are full of bribes.

11 But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity;
    redeem me, and be gracious to me.
12 My foot stands on level ground;
    in the great assembly I will bless the Lord.

Psalm 26 ESVUK with paragraphs added by me to reveal the song structure.

The opening verse, Vindicate me, O Lord, calls to mind the opening of Psalm 25, To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. Both are asking not to be put to shame. bncvvvvssssssss

This poem has structure, and like many of the psalms, Psalm 26 is a chiasm, an arrangement of concepts or words that are repeated in reverse order. Psalm 26 has the structure A, B, C, D, C’. B’. A’. D is the central concept which is vital for understanding the rest of the song. This is how it goes:

A and A’ – verses 1 to 3 and 11 to 12, – I have walked in integrity and truth.
B and B’ – verses 4 to 5 and 9 to 10, – a contrast with the lives of wicked people.
C and C’ – verses 6 and 8, – God’s altar and temple.
D – verse 7, – thanks to God.

The D section is about proclaiming thanksgiving aloud and telling of God’s works. This is central, but we have to remember that the chiastic reversal is always secondary to the wider context of any passage of the Bible which contains it. Which is why I am now looking at this psalm in order.

The focus of verses 1 to 5 is on people’s lives. first David’s and then that of the wicked. The rest of the psalm concentrates on God. Where are you looking for your vindication, are you putting yourself first and asking God to bless you, or are you putting your trust in God? Is there anything you have done recently that you would not have done if you were thinking about God at the time? Yup, me too. But God’s love is so great that those who return to him Get forgiveness and grace,

It is not meant to be literal. Psalm 26 is written in the style of Wisdom literature, which is the style used in books like Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, it is the philosophical style of ancient Israel. The painting of David as being full of integrity and faithful and his enemies as evil hypocrites is a philosophical device, not a historical accuracy. David sometimes got it spectacularly wrong. God had to send his prophet round when David messed up.

We are all like David, Within us, we contain the capacity to be both full of integrity and faithful and also to get in with the wrong crowd. This psalm is true of the inner conflict we face. Life is not like a 1950s Western, we cannot see who the bad guys are by their black hats. We fall down because we like things to be simple and we reject the complicated or difficult truth to believe a simple lie. Even if it is a proven lie. Human nature does that we can all be gullible.

God makes us clean. That is why David can praise God, and so can we. It is not down to our efforts to be clean, it is our job to rely on God who removes our uncleanness.

< Psalm 25 | Psalm 26 | Psalm 27 >
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