Psalm 36 — Faithless Man, Faithful God
36 The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes.
2 For he flattereth himself in his own eyes, until his iniquity be found to be hateful.
3 The words of his mouth are iniquity and deceit: he hath left off to be wise, and to do good.
4 He deviseth mischief upon his bed; he setteth himself in a way that is not good; he abhorreth not evil.
5 Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds.
6 Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments are a great deep: O Lord, thou preservest man and beast.
7 How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.
8 They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures.
9 For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.
10 O continue thy lovingkindness unto them that know thee; and thy righteousness to the upright in heart.
11 Let not the foot of pride come against me, and let not the hand of the wicked remove me.
12 There are the workers of iniquity fallen: they are cast down, and shall not be able to rise.
Man is obsessed with himself. He studies himself (psychology), studies himself in groups (sociology), his ideas (philosophy), his creation of gods (religion), his ancestors (history), his ancestors’ dwellings (archeology), his pattern of buying and selling (economics), and the probability of what he will do next (statistics). One discipline that offers an alternative to man’s self-interest is theology. David, the author of Psalm 36, begins with anthropology then shifts to theology. Psalm 36 is an individual lament about sinful humanity, coupled with wisdom, a hymn to YHWH, and a prayer. It contrasts man’s developed sin nature to YHWH’s virtuous attributes.
Psalm 36 has a tri-part structure: I. (vv. 1–4) Lifestyle of the ungodly; II. (vv. 5–9) Blessings of YHWH’s attributes; III. (vv. 10–12) Prayer for provision and protection. David faced many deviants during his lifetime. His observations of their behavior encouraged the upright choir to align themselves with God and not man (Ps 118:8). The reasons were obvious, but exhortation was also required.
(Title) David scribed a lament, turned hymn of praise over to the choir director. The familiar title for Moses, servant of YHWH, is used here for David as in Psalm 18. The title is appropriate because David is pressing home the point that we must choose this day whom we will serve.
David introduced the ungodly and the basis of his heart rebellion (v. 1). All are born into Adam, inheriting sin; and all men sin in practice (Rom 3:23). The ungodly is an individual and group title for those given over to a reprobate mind and passions (Rom 1:24, 26, 28). Transgression, the cheerleader of rebel defiance, stirs the wicked heart with oracles. Sin has easy access because sinful man has his eyes focused in such a way that there is no fear of God. Paul quotes 36:1 in Romans 3:18 in making his case for the universality of sin, leaving no one righteous by merit. The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (Prv 1:7), and it is essentially commanded in order to please God (Eccl 12:13). Where it is absent, the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men prevails in waiting for the judgment of God to come.
David explained how rebellion encourages sin to continue to the point of insensitivity (v. 2). Transgression actually flatters the ungodly man. He boasts of his sexual conquests, his clever business acumen in oppressing the poor, or his superior position in judging others’ sin. Transgression crosses the line, and iniquity twists the truth. Paul exhorted the Ephesians to expose evil (Eph. 5:11). When the hardened sinner is brought to light in truth, hatred against the sin discovered leaves him unmoved. In his eyes, he is an accomplished sinner, so what?
David observed the regression of words and actions (v. 3). Out of his mouth comes the content of his heart. David revealed the wicked heart (v. 1) as seen through ungodly eyes (v. 2). Satan often excuses before he accuses. Jeremiah said, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it (Jer 17:9)?” From a twisted heart comes wicked words, producing deceit. The tongue is a small member of the body, but nothing starts a fire like it (Jas 3). The ungodly are deceived and then go on deceiving. The blind lead the blind into the pit.
In thought (heart), in word, and now in deed the ungodly forsake the wisdom and example of his parents and teachers. He has ceased to be wise, which is another way of saying he has disregarded YHWH, rejected Christ. Jesus Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24). Does not wisdom call, and understanding lift up her voice (Prv 8:1)? But the naïve one, the fool has ceased to do good. Again, in contrast, doing good is a Christian imperative (1 Pet 2:12, 14, 15, 20; 3:6, 17; 4:19).
David exposed the twisted course and strategic plans of evildoers (v. 4). Instead of meditating on God’s Word day and night, the doer of iniquity devises his evil plans upon his bed. In the comfort of his own home, he sets his course on a path of wickedness. The ungodly preach tolerance, which is really a promotion for a license to sin because he does not despise evil. If he himself cannot accomplish evil, he applauds those who are gaining ground in the fight against God and His righteousness.
David shifted his focus to the immeasurable extent of YHWH’s mercy and trustworthiness (v. 5). The word translated “lovingkindness” here can be understood as “mercy.” Uncontainable mercy pervades the universe. Coupled with faithfulness, reaching the clouds, David’s point is to contrast YHWH and those who defy Him. The fool says in his heart, “There is no God (Ps. 14:1; 53:1).” The atheist is deceived, not knowing the lovingkindness extended to vessels of mercy prepared for glory (Rom 9:23). Satan, sin, and the world advertise with lies, but God’s Word is truth (Jn 14:6). YHWH keeps His Word, and His Word is faithful and true (Rev 19:11).
David used similes to highlight God’s immoveable and unfathomable attributes (v. 6). The second couplet includes YHWH’s righteousness and judgments. Transgression crosses the line, but righteousness establishes the line. The line is immoveable like the mountains of God. Heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s Word will never pass away. The hope of justice is found only in YHWH.
Jesus Christ, the righteous One, is the just Judge; and we shall all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10). It is unfathomable how the ever-present, all-knowing, and all-powerful God brings true judgment. The Christian fears God for this reason. Paul said it this way, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways (Rom 11:33)!” The child of God stands in awe, while the children of the devil stand and scoff (see Psalm 1–2 for more contrast between the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked).
God has determined to preserve man and beast. Psalm 104 informs this principle of providential care for all creation. In Him, we live and move and have our being. Jesus reproved his disciples when they lost faith in God’s provision and protection for them. He pointed to YHWH’s attention to detail for the grass, the flower, and the sparrow (Lk 12:22–33).
David expressed exuberant praise in consideration of YHWH’s mercy and protection (v. 7). Silver, gold, nor anything else can compare to the value of knowing Jesus Christ, my Lord (Phil 3:8). How precious! The second use of lovingkindness reinforces the idea of hesed encapsulating all of God’s attributes.
God is love, but our definition of love is too modern, too narrow. In His love, God chastens and demands obedience to His commandments. In short, God’s love is the cross (1 Jn 3:16–17). Often, those who actually hate God will pit their “God is love” arguments against the holiness, righteousness, and just judgments of YHWH.
David saw the austerity of YHWH as good for the children of men who take refuge in the shadow of His wings. Observing the hen guard her chicks makes the witness question her love for them. She seems to be full of correction, reproof, and rebuke. Jesus was harsh in cleansing the temple and confronting the elders at Jerusalem, but his lament says it all, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling (Mt 23:37).” The house of God and the churches of Asia (Rev 2–3) understood darkness and desolation awaited them if they persisted in rebellion. History shows they persisted.
David accounted for the abundant life found in close relationship to YHWH (v. 8). A key theme in Psalm 36 is one’s proximity to God. Satisfaction and contentment are both found in God’s house and at God’s river. David’s metaphors are rich and plentiful.
The imagery of God’s house, the tabernacle or temple, is always a place of refuge, shelter, and desirable pilgrimage. Let us go up to the house of the Lord for the feast! In like manner, rivers flow throughout the pages of Scripture from Eden to Paradise. Rivers of living water are found in Christ (Jn 4) and in His kingdom rule on earth (Ezek 47; Rom 14:17). It is a pleasure for God to provide for His children, who respond with “how precious is Thy lovingkindness, O God!”
David reasoned that light and life were benefits of being in relationship with YHWH (v. 9). Jeremiah used the image of YHWH as the fountain of life (Jer 2:13). Jesus claimed to be both, the resurrection life and the light of the world (Jn 8:12). David changed the pronoun from “they” to “we” in discussing the children of refuge. He included himself as one entrusted with the light (Mt 5:14–15). The child of God not only sees the light but he is the recipient of God’s light shining in his heart (2 Cor 4:6).
David prayed for grace to continue for God’s people (v. 10). Those who know YHWH understand their need for grace. They do not hesitate to ask, “Be gracious to me a sinner.” To be upright in heart does not mean one is sinless. It means one is given to God. His life is bent toward Christ. It is YHWH’s lovingkindness that leads us to repentance (Rom 2:4). The child of God confesses his sin, fears the judgment of God, thinks again about his action, changes his mind, and with God’s help corrects his path. He needs mercy and imputed righteousness. These are gifts of God in Christ. How precious!
David prayed for protection from the ungodly (v. 11). The foot of pride is the oppression of Satan against the saint. The enemy soldier presses his boot upon his prisoner’s neck. Sin’s domination demands allegiance. The hand of the wicked pushes the believer away from God. Proximity matters! Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Get behind me, Satan!
David predicted a future demise for the ungodly (v. 12). The future perfect tense of the verbs adds prophetic power to David’s utterance. The oracle of transgression (v. 1) has met the oracle of judgment. The third name given to the ungodly, the wicked, is “doers of iniquity.” They conspire, ambush, and sack the righteous; but protection is secured from YHWH through the disciple’s prayer, “deliver me from every evil.”
In sum, a contrast of experience is described by David, the upright in heart. He observed the ungodly and He observed YHWH, the righteous One. The attributes of both, in contrast, compelled him to pray for provision and protection from YHWH against the thoughts, words, schemes, actions, and oppressions of the doers of iniquity.
In conclusion, David presented YHWH as the logical allegiance for Israel. Is Jesus Christ your ally or your enemy? Consider your lifestyle and ask the question again, “Is Jesus Christ your ally or your enemy?”
If the world loves you, it is quite reasonable to assume that you love the world more than Christ. You have succumbed to the temptations of the angel of light to self-interest, self-motivation, and self-sufficiency. If, however, the world hates you, mistreats you, mocks you, dismisses you; then rejoice in your adjoining to the sufferings of Christ, whom the world hated before you.
Like David, you delight in keeping your eyes on Jesus. You meditate on the law of the Lord day and night. You walk by the Spirit, who moment by moment guides you on the path of righteousness. It is here you find God, faithful and man, faithless. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and let the meditations of your heart be praises to Him upon your lips!
Spokane Valley, Washington
June 25, 2021