Psalm 26

Dear Reader,

This week we studied Psalm 26. Why? Simply because we did 25 last week. This psalm is a little different. This is not something I discussed with the kids but it reminds me of other ancient Near Eastern (that’s what we biblical scholars call the Middle East of yore) texts like the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The texts I am thinking of are basically someone saying why the gods should judge them well in the afterlife. They are statements of all the good things the person has done and the bad things they haven’t. Standing before one’s gods in the hall of judgment was not a time for humility.

Of course, things are a little different even in an Israelite context, much more so in a post-Jesus world. But more on that at the end. For now, here is the text:

1 Judge me, LORD, for I in my integrity walked.
2 And in the LORD I trusted; I will not slip.
3 Test me, LORD, and try me; Refined [are] my kidneys and my heart.
4 For your loving-kindness [is] before my eyes and I have walked in your truth.
5 I did not sit with vain men,
6 And with dissemblers I will not enter.
7 I hated the assembly of the evil,
8 And with the wicked I will not sit.
9 I wash in innocence my hands,
10 and I process about the altar of the LORD
11 To make heard the sound of thanksgiving
12 and to recount all your wonders.
13 LORD, I loved the habitation of your house
14 and the place of the dwelling of your glory.
15 Do not gather with sinners my soul
16 or with men of blood my life
17 in whose hands [is] deceit
18 and whose right hand is full of bribery.
19 But I in my integrity will walk;
20 Redeem me and be gracious to me.
21 My foot stands in uprightness
22 And in the assemblies I will bless the LORD.

One explanation before we begin might be needed for line 3. “Refined” here is in the sense that a metal sir refined when it is tested in the fire to purify it. The heart in Hebrew is the seat of thought while the kidneys (and often liver) are the seat of the emotions. We might say “mind and heart” here.

The first observation a child made was that “God” does not appear in this psalm. And then they noticed that “LORD” appears only six times. And there are no other epithets for God, only pronouns referring to him. In contrast, look at all the references to the psalmist himself. This is very different from the other psalms we have looked at in which the emphasis is on God and his actions and the psalmist does very little. My eleven-year-old observed that the God of this psalm is a judge.

So we looked at the verbs associated with God here. He judges, tests, tried, and refines (implied). These are all in the first few lines. Later he is asked not to gather (with the wicked) but to redeem and be gracious. But these things haven’t happened yet. We are still at the moment of judgment in this psalm and the outcome is not confirmed.

In contrast, the psalmist walks, trusts, does not slip, sits, enters, washes, processes (as in a solemn procession), makes heard, recounts, loves, hates, stands, and blesses. Some of these occur more than once, particularly walk and sit. Do you notice anything about this list of verbs? Many of them have to do with one’s position or forward motion. There is sitting, standing, walking, and processing, also entering and not slipping (as in one’s foot slipping). I asked the kids if this reminded them of nay other psalm. With a little prompting they were able to connect it to Psalm 1 in which we are told that the man will be happy who does not walk, stand, or sit among the wicked. Psalm 1 was the advice and the promise. This psalm is the psalmist’s declaration that he has taken that advice, that he has walked/stood/sat where he was supposed to.  Now he calls on God to judge him as righteous for these things and not gather him with the wicked. I picture here the sheep and the goats. People are being gathered into two groups and one wants to be in the right one. 

There are a few repeated words or phrases we noticed. The second part of line 1, “I in my integrity walked,” is repeated near the end in line 19. These form a kind of bookends to the psalm. One could even say they are the core statement of the psalm, the most important point the psalmist wants you to get. We had some disagreements about which lines are parallel in this psalm. Some are clear here and some are not. But my older son observed that line 19 seems to stand out. It is not preceded or followed by a parallel. This further serves to highlight this line as the central concept of the psalm. (Do you see how the parallelism aids the meaning? Isn’t it lovely? This is why we need good translation that do not obscure the Hebrew structure.)

“Assemblies” is repeated in lines 7 and 22. In the first case it is the assembly of evil which the psalmist does not participate in. In the second he is among the assemblies (of God’s people one presumes) and blesses the LORD. This conjures up the sheep and goats for me again.

We concluded our discussion by talking about God’s judgment of us. This is not in this psalm but the psalm itself is in the larger context of the whole Bible, right? I asked the kids if this is something we could say.  Being well-trained, they knew that we cannot say we have walked in our integrity but that Christ ahs done it for us.  But isn’t it wonderful to know that we don’t have to have long speeches and lists of our good deeds to parade before our God in judgement? When we sing this psalm, we know that it is Christ who hs done this for us and has enabled us to say “redeem me and be gracious to me,” O Lord.


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