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Psalm 26

The road to character

A David psalm.

Render your verdict on me, Yahveh
for I’ve acted with integrity.
Having put my trust in Yahveh
I will not slip.
2 Examine me, Yahveh, try me—
test me, heart and mind.

3 I keep your steadfast love in sight
and walk in your truth.
4 I don’t run with those leading empty lives
or hang out with scam artists.
5 I can’t stand the gang of thugs
and have nothing to do with
those who give themselves to evil.
6 I wash my hands of all their wrongs
and circle your altar, Yahveh
7 thanking you out loud
for all the wonderful things you’ve done.
8 I love the house you’ve made your home
the place where your glory shines.
9 Don’t drag me away
with those who ignore what you say.
Don’t take my life
with those who hack and kill to get their way
10 who brandish a blade in one hand
and offer a bribe with the other.
11 Unlike them, I live with integrity.
Redeem me, be merciful to me.

12 My feet are planted on level ground.
When all his people come together
I will worship Yahveh.

This psalm isn’t the self-congratulatory paean it may seem to be. David emphasizes the need for integrity and in effect sets out life’s two pathways and what they lead to.[1] He sees people who cheat, bribe and bully their way through life—who devote themselves to evil. He assures God he’s not one of them and doesn’t run with them.[2] In fact, he’s on a completely different course, one bounded by Yahveh’s love and truth. He isn’t saying he obeys God perfectly. He’s just asking God to note the fact that he genuinely seeks to please him (vv. 1-8) and, instead of cursing him, to redeem and bless him (vv. 9-11). He doesn’t need to mention the covenant for his hearers to know he has its requirements and rewards in mind throughout.

David loves the sanctuary, where God’s glory may be glimpsed. On entering, he washes away all the evil he’s encountered outside, looks to Yahveh for grace and redemption and worships him. Circling the altar, David overflows with praise, surrounded by God’s people. This being his chosen path, David ends as he began, with a practical declaration of faith: living for God puts him on level ground, where he won’t slip, as those on life’s alternate pathway assuredly will.

Lord, you call me not to impress others with my seeming goodness, but to model your character from the inside out. To do that, I must resist evil’s deadly pull, make you my focus and worship you with your people. Help me to believe that this is where I truly stand secure. Amen.


[1] Some scholars think the psalmist is responding to false accusations, but he mentions no accusations. Others say he’s answering a qualifying question—like Psalm 15:1—to gain admission to the temple, but he includes no such question. Both approaches seem intent on justifying the extent of the psalmist’s spiritual claims and reconciling them with his opening request, in the psalm’s first word. But besides “vindicate” and “judge,” shaphat can mean simply “render a decision.”
.  David isn’t claiming perfection. He’s only saying he genuinely seeks to keep God’s covenant and expects God to treat him accordingly (e.g. Deut. 30:11-20). He double-frames his prayer with an emphasis on integrity and the security it brings. Integrity—the fact that he’s not just putting on a show—forms the basis of his claim. He says, literally, “I—I’ve acted with integrity” and “I—I live with integrity” (vv. 1, 11). Then, he declares (or perhaps, argues) that the genuine believer doesn’t (can’t) slip because they stand on level ground (vv. 1, 12). Thus, the psalm teaches us about life in covenant relationship to God, spelling out the believer’s values, lifestyle, focus and end, and contrasting them with those of unbelievers. So, it’s something like Psalm 1, except that it teaches through the medium of prayer.

[2] Verses 4-5 are unmistakably like Psalm 1:1.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.