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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 36

To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD.

There are no positive indications by which to fix the date or occasion of this psalm. It has a noticeable resemblance to Psalms 12, 13, 37, and fits the condition of society in the period of the exile. If David wrote it, it was probably during his later life, as a meditation upon the sad moral declension of the times, and the long-suffering and faithfulness of God. But the last three verses seem to be historic, (see notes,) and the degeneracy complained of, with the clinging of faith to the mercy and national faithfulness of God, (vers. 5-9,) sound more like voices from the captivity than from any period of the age of David. The psalm contains three strophes of nine, thirteen, and six lines. Psalms 36:1-4, a description of the heart and conduct of the unchecked transgressor; Psalms 36:5-9, the contrasted righteousness and loving kindness of God; Psalms 36:10-12, a prayer for the special protection of the righteous, with a confident foresight of the certain downfall of the wicked.


David the servant of the Lord Only here and in Psalms 18:0, title, (which see,) does this form occur. Compare 2 Samuel 23:1. It seems designed to bespeak special attention to his words by claiming a divine authority for the speaking, like the formula, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:1

Verse 1

1. Saith within my heart Instead of the Hebrew suffix “my,” the Septuagint, Vulgate, Jerome, Syriac, and many other authorities, ancient and modern, have his, which, taking “saith,” נאם , ( neum,) in the sense of revelation, oracle, would give, “The wicked hath an oracle of transgression in his heart;” that is, his evil disposition, which he consults rather than the word of God, counsels him wickedly. Others, retaining the present Hebrew form, suppose the theme of the psalm to be here announced, and read, “An oracle concerning the transgression of the wicked is within my heart.” But usage is against this, and the former is preferable. The words “within his heart” are very emphatic, denoting with certainty both the original seat and the force of corruption. Matthew 15:18-19.

No fear of God Contrast with Psalms 16:8. See, also, Romans 3:8

Verse 2

2. He flattereth himself He has made it smooth to himself; that is, his false and hypocritical reasonings have made the way of transgression smooth by making sin a trifle. The character here portrayed is not only that of a bold, but crafty, offender.

In his own eyes He treats sin as it appears to “his own eyes,” through his deceitful lusts, not as it appears in the eyes of God and his law.

Until his iniquity be found to be hateful Literally, To discover his sin to hate it. There is nothing improper or unusual in this sense. God often suffers the plans of wicked men to succeed until their consequences develop their real badness, and they become hateful and horrible to themselves. This, if it do not lead to repentance, will become their punishment. We have given what we deem the meaning of these obscure verses.

Verses 3-4

3, 4. The words of his mouth From the silent oracle of sin in the midst of his heart, (Psalms 36:1,) and the self-flattery of Psalms 36:2, the growth of sin has now put on the form of words, which, like his thoughts, are iniquity and deceit. His conversation and his objective rule of life conform to his evil heart.

He deviseth mischief upon his bed His retired and nightly hours are given to the concoction of schemes of wickedness. See Proverbs 4:16, and contrast Psalms 63:6.

He hath left off… to do good His sin at first manifests itself negatively. As his ultimate object of living is sinful, he has “left off” duty and the practice of virtue as not subservient to his plans.

He setteth himself in a way… not good He takes a firm stand in his evil course of life. The description is climactic, rising from listening to corrupt inclinations, to self-flattery, words, evil devisings, neglect of all virtuous life, confirmed habits of evil. Comp. Psalms 1:1

Verse 5

5. From the revolting picture of depravity thus given, the psalmist turns, in this second strophe, (Psalms 36:5-9,) to elevating and comforting thoughts of God.

Thy mercy… in the heavens… faithfulness… unto the clouds “In” and “unto” are parallel here, so also “heavens” and “clouds.” The comparison is to that which, in our eyes, seems most lofty and honourable, contrasting with the low devices of wicked men.

Verse 6

6. Righteousness “Righteousness” allies with the holiness of God, and is manifested as well in punishing sin as in upholding the just. It is the guard of law.

Great mountains Hebrew, mountains of God, a Hebraism for greatness, strength, firmness.

Judgments Administrations, God’s pronounced sentences of justice and right.

Deep Same word as in Genesis 1:2. The abyss of the ocean: here meaning depths of wisdom and mystery.

Preservest man and beast God’s protective care, in connexion with his righteousness and judgments, is exhibited in his government over rational and irrational beings. There would thus seem to be an impressive moral in his treatment of the inferior orders. Cruelty to animals is a sin against God.

Verse 7

7. Shadow of thy wings A strong anthropomorphism, indicating the protection of love and tenderness. Psalms 63:7; Matthew 23:37

Verse 8

8. Fatness of thy house The Church, with her doctrines, ordinances, spiritual communions, is here compared to a house furnished with every luxury for the household. The word satisfied means to satiate the thirst, as being the strongest appetite of the body.

River of thy pleasures Denoting abundance and liberality. “The outward rites are here treated according to their spiritual significance, receiving the depth of meaning which radically belongs to them.” Delitzsch.

Verse 9

9. With thee is the fountain of life Here is the fundamental truth of all divine revelation. See Jeremiah 2:13; John 17:13. From this “fountain” flow all streams of the water “of life” to irrigate and beautify the Eden of God. Revelation 22:1; compare Genesis 2:10-14.

In thy light shall we see light The figure changes. As there is no water of life but that which proceeds from God the eternal “Fountain,” so there is no “light” of life but God’s revealed truth. John 1:4; John 1:9; Revelation 22:5. Such language, in the Old Testament or the New, is susceptible only of the highest spiritual application, as an earnest of the life eternal with God.

As a concluding prayer, David recognises, in Psalms 36:10-12, the Church as in great affliction from the doings of wicked, unprincipled oppressors. Psalms 36:10 is a prayer for the Church; Psalms 36:11, for the poet himself, herein personifying the Church. See the introductory note.

Verse 12

12. There are the workers of iniquity fallen The adverb is emphatic. “There,” where they had laid all their plans and rested their hopes of success, even “there” have they fallen. The place and moment which they had fixed upon for the triumph of their evil purposes God has chosen as the fittest for their overthrow. See note on Psalms 2:5.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 36". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.