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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 36


‘For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David the servant of YHWH.’

This Psalm might be called ‘the Ode to the Covenant Love of YHWH’. For after its initial grim beginning it expands into a threefold expression of YHWH’s covenant love as it is revealed towards His own.

In it the Psalmist contrasts ‘the oracle of the transgression of the wicked’ (Psalms 36:1-4), which reveals the whole truth about man’s sinfulness spelled out in detail, with the truth of the covenant love of YHWH, the latter being emphasised in a threefold way. Thus he stresses first His attributes of love, faithfulness, righteousness and justness (Psalms 36:5-6); then His wonderful benefits provided to men (Psalms 36:7-9); and finally his own confidence that through YHWH’s love he will be delivered from the kind of men described in the initial verses.

A number of Old Testament sections begin with ‘the oracle of so and so’. Here it is ‘the oracle of the transgression of the wicked’. Transgression ‘speaks’ the oracle and gives warning to the Psalmist’s heart. The normal use in the Hebrew forbids our taking it as meaning ‘concerning the transgression of the wicked’. Rather Transgression is seen as personified and as the proclaimer of the oracle.

Verses 1-4

The Transgression of The Wicked Speaks To The Psalmist’s Heart Alerting Him To The Sinfulness Of Man (Psalms 36:1-4 ).

Psalms 36:1-4

‘The oracle of the transgression of the wicked within my heart,

There is no fear of God before his eyes.

For he flatters himself in his own eyes,

That his iniquity will not be found out and be hated.

The words of his mouth are iniquity and deceit,

He has ceased to be wise and to do good.

He devises iniquity upon his bed,

He sets himself in a way that is not good,

He abhors not evil.’

In these first four verses ‘the Transgression (rebellion) of the wicked’ speaks like a prophet to the Psalmist’s heart concerning the wicked. It declares that there is no ‘dread fear’ of God before the eyes of the wicked (compare the citation of these words in Romans 3:18 where it sums up man’s sinfulness). In other words the wicked are not moved by YHWH’s covenant requirements, or the need to obey Him, or the fear of judgment, because they dismiss Him from their thoughts. They treat His desires lightly. Indeed the wicked man convinces himself that his iniquity will not be found out. He convinces himself that, even though God hates his iniquity, it will not receive its deserts, for he has no recognition of a living God who sees and knows all things.

The behaviour of the wicked is then spelled out in detail;

· The words of his mouth are iniquity and deceit. They speak guile. And by his words he will be condemned (Matthew 12:37). Compare Psalms 5:5-6; Psalms 10:7.

· He has ceased to be wise and to do good. He has deliberately turned from goodness. Compare Jeremiah 4:22, and contrast Isaiah 1:16-17.

· He devises iniquity on his bed. Even when resting he still plans further sinfulness. While the righteous meditate on their beds, and repent (Psalms 4:4) and bring God to their minds (Psalms 63:6), the wicked simply plot sin and thus come under God’s Woe (Micah 2:1).

· He sets himself in a way that is not good. He positively chooses the path that leads away from goodness (Isaiah 65:2). Not for him the Holy Way (Isaiah 35:8). He wants the way of self choosing and pleasure.

· He does not abhor evil. This marks him off from all others. He has no hatred of what is evil.

It is clear from this that he loves the evil and hates the good. He does not necessarily declare this openly, but it is what lies within his heart. He lives his life without God, and chases after sin.

Verses 5-6

In Contrast To What Transgression Offers YHWH Offers Compassion, F Faithfulness, Righteousness, Justice, and The Preservation of Life (Psalms 36:5-6 ).

Psalms 36:5-6

‘Your lovingkindness, O YHWH, is in the heavens,

Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

Your righteousness is like the mountains of God,

Your judgments are a great deep,

O YHWH, you preserve man and beast.’

In contrast with the five aspects of the hearts of those who follow iniquity are the five attributes of the heart of YHWH. Notice that the contrast with sinfulness is not in terms of the goodness of the righteous, but of the goodness of their God. It is He Who lifts up the righteous and makes the righteous what they are. They are like that because He has personally ‘blessed’ them (Matthew 5:3-9; Philippians 2:13). Thus to Him must be the glory.

The Five Attributes of YHWH.

· His compassion and covenant love are so vast that they are ‘in the Heavens’, stretched out in a huge expanse which goes beyond the range of human sight.

· His faithfulness is so substantial that it reaches up to the skies (and here the sky is not the limit).

· His righteousness is as huge as ‘the mountains of God’, the very highest of the mountains.

· His judgments are as deep as the ocean, a depth not yet plumbed by man.

· He is the preserver of all life, whether that of man or beast. He is the source and giver of life.

So God’s love and faithfulness (compare Psalms 57:10; Psalms 103:11), His righteousness and justice (compare Psalms 9:8; Psalms 33:5; Psalms 37:6; Psalms 72:2), and His life-giving and life-preserving qualities, are so vast that they are beyond man’s ability to fully comprehend. They are wider than the heavens, higher than the stars, greater than the mountains, deeper than the sea. We can compare here Ephesians 3:18-19, speaking of the work of the Spirit within which makes known to us the love of God and of Christ, and makes it a part of us. ‘That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith, to the end that you being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length, and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that passes knowledge, that you might be filled with all the fullness of God’.

Verses 7-9

What The Covenant Love Of God Offers To All Who Respond To Him (Psalms 36:7-9 ).

We now turn from what God is to what He offers. Note the change from YHWH to God, even though the offering is still of His covenant love. His offer is universal, for it is to all ‘the children of men’ (compare Ruth 2:12).

Psalms 36:7-9

‘How precious is your lovingkindness, O God!

And the children of men take refuge under the shadow of your wings.

They will be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of your house,

And you will make them drink of the river of your pleasures.

For with you is the fountain of life,

In your light shall we see light.’

Here is the alternative life of the people who respond to God instead of to ‘transgression’. As a result of His precious covenant love revealed towards them they:

· Take shelter under the shadow of His wings (comparePsalms 17:8; Psalms 17:8; Psalms 57:1; Psalms 61:4; Psalms 91:4; Ruth 2:12). This is the privileged position to which Jesus calls His own. It was because they refused this that Jerusalem was destroyed (see Matthew 23:37-38; Luke 13:34).

· Are abundantly satisfied with the luxurious provision of His house (Psalms 23:5-6; Psalms 27:4; Psalms 65:4). They eat and drink at His table. Originally in mind is the sacrificial meal of which all YHWH’s guests partake before Him (Leviticus 7:15-16; Deuteronomy 12:7; Jeremiah 31:14. And compare also Isaiah 55:1-2). Jesus expanded the idea to reflect the possibility of partaking of Him and enjoying the benefits that He offers (compareJohn 6:35; John 6:35; John 7:38; Luke 22:18; Luke 22:30; Matthew 22:2-4).

· Drink of the river of His pleasures (comparePsalms 16:11; Psalms 16:11; Amos 5:24; Revelation 21:6; Revelation 22:17). ‘Whoever will may drink of the water of life freely’.

· Enjoy partaking of the fountain or spring of life. ‘He who drinks of the water that I will give him, will never thirst, but the water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water, welling forth to eternal life’ (John 4:10-14; John 7:37-38; Isaiah 41:18; Isaiah 44:3-4; Isaiah 49:10; Jeremiah 2:13; Ezekiel 47:1-12; Zechariah 13:1).

· Find light in His light. Compare ‘YHWH is my light’ (Psalms 27:1). In mind here is probably the light of the glory of God which filled the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34), and which was considered to be behind the veil which hid the Most Holy Place from the eyes of the priests. The Psalmist may also have had in mind the seven-branched lampstand in the Tabernacle/Temple which continually burned (see Psalms 36:4), and which pictured the glory hidden behind the veil. This last was a perpetual reminder of the glory of God as it had been revealed in the pillar of fire which had led His people out of Egypt, and of the further glory of YHWH which had been revealed on Mount Sinai. Compare here Psalms 78:14, ‘In the daytime also he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire.’ Thus His light gave them the light of the assurance of His presence. This also ties in with Isaiah 60:1, ‘arise, shine, for your light is come, and the glory of YHWH is risen upon you.’

Furthermore it was from His light that His people obtained guidance, assurance and truth. ‘The entrance of Your words gives light, it gives understanding to the simple’ (Psalms 119:130). ‘Your word is a lamp to my way, and a light to my path’ (Psalms 119:105). ‘He lightens the lampstand of His people and lightens their darkness’ (Psalms 18:28). ‘They look to Him and are lightened, and their faces are thus not ashamed’ (Psalms 34:5). ‘Oh send out your light and your truth, let them lead me’ (Psalms 43:3). In His light they see light.

YHWH is also elsewhere compared by David with the glorious light of the noonday sun. ‘He will be as the light of the morning, when the sun rises, a morning without clouds’ (2 Samuel 23:4). But to the Psalmist YHWH outshines the sun, and His light shines on His people, revealing truth and making them righteous too. ‘He will make your righteousness go forth as the light, and your just dealings as the noonday’ (Psalms 37:6). That is why Jesus could say, ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father Who is in Heaven’ (Matthew 5:16).

And we need not doubt that it includes the thought of the light of YHWH’s favour. The Psalmists regularly speak of ‘the light of His countenance’ as shining on His people (Psalms 4:6; Psalms 44:3; Psalms 89:15; Psalms 90:8; compare Proverbs 16:15) as they enjoyed the favour of God.

For us the light shines even more clearly. Not for us the dim light of the Tabernacle lampstand, but the glorious light of Him Who is ‘the light of the world’, Who gives the light of life to His own (John 8:12; John 12:35-36; John 12:46; John 1:4; John 1:9). ‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14), so that we see ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4:6). As He said, ‘I am come a light into the world, so that whoever believes in me may not continue on in darkness’ (John 12:46), ‘but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12).

Verses 10-12

The Psalmist Prays That Nothing Might Be Allowed To Drive Him Away From YHWH’s Covenant Love (Psalms 36:10-12 ).

Having emphasised the wonderful attributes of YHWH (5-7), and having considered the munificent benefits that He abundantly gives to His own (8-9), the Psalmist now prays that nothing might drive him away from the covenant love of YHWH.

Psalms 36:10-12

‘Oh continue your lovingkindness to those who know you,

And your righteousness to the upright in heart.

Let not the foot of pride come against me,

And let not the hand of the wicked drive me away.

There are the workers of iniquity fallen,

They are thrust down, and will not be able to rise.’

Finally he prays that YHWH will reveal His covenant love and righteous deliverance towards himself and all who are truly upright. Note that it is assumed that those who truly know Him will be so. It is not possible to truly experience His compassion and righteous deliverance without it being so.

And he wants to be protected from the proud. He does not want their foot to come against him. Nor does he want the hand of the wicked to drive him away from YHWH’s presence, or from his livelihood (see Micah 2:9; Job 15:21). Or it may be a prayer that he might not become a beggar, and thus be kicked contemptuously and be thrust from the presence of the wicked (compare Amos 2:6; Amos 8:6). For he has confidence that these men who work iniquity will shortly fall. They will be thrust down and not be able to rise

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 36". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.