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Psalm 26

This week’s Psalm is a difficult one. The psalmist’s initial plea for justice “because I have walked with integrity” sounds all too reminiscent of countless news stories we have heard in recent days. How often does an individual claim innocence publicly only to be proven otherwise? If that is the reality of the world in which we live, then what is to say that the psalmist is any different? All of this can leave us uncertain with how to approach this Psalm.

The uncertainty of how to approach this Psalm is shared by scholars as well. Some suggest that it is a Psalm of vindication. That means it is a Psalm of one who has been falsely accused by their enemies and is going to the Temple in order to appeal to God. Meanwhile, there are others who suggest that this Psalm is not a Psalm of vindication, but rather, it is an entrance liturgy for worship in the temple.[1]

Reading this as a Psalm of vindication is something we can all relate to. After all, there are those times, “when we need the help of remembering that God knows the mind and heart, even if others don’t, and of believing that God will vindicate faithfulness even if the world does not.”[2] In a culture where the one who disagrees with me is my enemy, it is certainly helpful to be able to pray prayers of vindication. However, as I have been considering this Psalm, I continue to find myself captured with the idea that this Psalm is about proper entrance to the temple.

In his commentary on this Psalm, J. Clinton McCann, Jr. points out that it is arranged chiastically,[3] meaning that if follows an arrangement of ABCBA. The opening and closing verses (1-3 and 11-12) focus on the relationship between the psalmist and God and share the usage of “walk” and “integrity.” Verses 4-5 and 9-10 offer a contrast between the psalmist and those who do not follow the ways of the Lord. In the middle of the Psalm, verses 6-8, focus on the worship of God in the Temple.

Not only is worship located in the middle of this Psalm, but it is at the center of this Psalm as well. The kind of worship that this Psalm reveals, and the kind of worship to which we are called, is of a wholistic nature. The psalmist has “walked with integrity.” All of the psalmist’s life is oriented to God. Throughout the verses we see this demonstrated as the psalmist mentions mind, heart, hands, and feet.

The psalmist loves the temple because that is where God’s presence is experienced. And so, out of this deep love for God comes a life of worship that is lived out with all of the psalmist’s being, from head to food and the depths of the soul, all of the psalmist’s life is lived for God.

If we stopped here this could come across as a Psalm of works righteousness, but it is far from that. The psalmist’s confidence is not rooted in self-confidence. Instead, the psalmist trusts in the “faithful love” of God. “Faithful love” is a phrase that is often used to summarize God’s Covenant. It is because of God’s faithful love that the psalmist can cry out for God’s examination, for the psalmist rests in the saving grace of God.

As I consider this passage pastorally, my mind is drawn to two aspects of our holiness theology. First, I cannot help but think of a life of holiness as seen in Romans chapter 12. The worship to which we are called is that of complete surrender and complete devotion to God. As a result, our lives are transformed from the world around us so that our very being stands as a witness of Christ for the world to see.

Second, I find myself thinking of the Wesleyan doctrine of assurance. I have to be honest, I do not often think or talk about Wesley’s doctrine of assurance, but I think this Psalm offers a tremendous opportunity to do just that. For Wesley, “assurance is the confidence in God’s forgiveness and God’s faithfulness … resulting in a sense of peace about one’s acceptance by God.” One comes to this assurance through both direct and indirect witness of the Spirit. Direct witness comes from Scripture, which tells us that one who loves God is a child of God. Indirect witness is manifest in one’s life through the fruits of the Spirit.

It is important to point out that the witness of the Spirit is not dependent upon how one feels. I am not sure what your congregation is like, but I cannot tell you how many people I have pastored who need to know this. As Christians we can rest in the faithfulness of God and be assured of God’s saving grace. This assurance not only gives us confidence for the future but frees us to live lives of wholehearted worship as we walk with integrity by the grace and mercy of God.

[1] For example, see David L. Thompson, Psalms 1-72: New Beacon Bible Commentary: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2015), 147.

[2] James L. Mays, Psalms: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1994), 130.

[3] J. Clinton McCann, Jr., “The Book of Psalms,” In The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, Vol. IV (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 782.