A Meditation on Psalm 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 around 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,
in whose hands are evil devices,
and whose right hands are full of bribes.
But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity;
redeem me, and be gracious to me.
My foot stands on level ground;
in the great assembly I will bless the Lord.
This week, I have marked out the structure of our psalm so that it visibly shows the psalm’s clear pattern. The psalm is a chiasm, where the beginning is related to the end, the text immediately after the beginning is related to the text immediately before the end, and so on until you reach the center of the chiasm, which the whole text emphasizes.
You can see from the text that David makes three points in Psalm 26 (the three-point sermon is ancient indeed): one about his integrity, one about the wickedness of others, and one about the house of the Lord.
Like in Psalm 17, David appeals to his own integrity in Psalm 26. We live in a society steeped in Calvinism, so David’s statements might strike us as self-righteous: “Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity.” But David is not being self-righteous, because he puts his integrity in the context of his faith in a faithful God: “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.” David shows us the pattern for faithful living: we live lives of integrity built on the foundation of our faithful God. It is not “either God’s works or my works;” it is “both God’s works and mine.”
This is why David is able to repudiate those who are faithless before God. “I do not sit with men of falsehood” reminds us of Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.” The righteous man has no part with the wicked, nor have they any part with him. The difference is so great that David can boldly ask, “Do not sweep my soul away with sinners, nor my life with bloodthirsty men, in whose hands are evil devices, and whose right hands are full of bribes.”
The centerpiece of the psalm is David’s entrance into the Lord’s house. Everything important and worthwhile happens there. David washes. He approaches the altar of burnt offering. He brings a sacrifice of thanksgiving. He confesses the Lord’s faithfulness. He is at home in the presence of the Lord, as he writes, “O Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells.” Here is a concrete dividing line between David and the wicked. David walks in integrity, and thus he can enter the Lord’s presence, receive cleansing, and make acceptable offerings. The wicked take bribes and other men’s blood; their high-handed sin cuts them off from any cleansing; they have no offering that the Lord would accept.
Let us be humble, yes. Let us be like the publican rather than the Pharisee. But let us not pretend that the life of holiness in Jesus Christ is meaningless. “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?”