As with many of the Psalms, Psalm 36 is basically a Psalm of lament. The Psalmist has those who are attacking him, and he wants the Lord to rescue him. Here’s a basic outline that should help you as you read this Psalm yourself:
• Verses 1-4: Lord, my enemies are wicked.
• Verses 5-9: Lord, You’re faithful. You are the covenant God. We trust You to protect us. These verses put forth the Psalm’s underlying theme.
• Verses 10-12 are a prayer. The Psalmist describes the wicked, his enemies: since You are faithful, O God, protect me and deliver me from these enemies.
If we used this kind of language we would sound self righteous, but the Psalmist has genuine enemies. He is probably speaking here about not only himself, but also the entire congregation of Israel. These collected songs are reflective of Israel’s history, and they shaped the minds of God’s people.
That Man is You
In Psalm 36:1 we meet an unusual character: transgression, evil, has a voice. This voice speaks to the ungodly man in his heart. This wicked man has no sense that the terror of the Lord will come upon him because of his evil deeds. There is no anticipation of God’s coming judgment because this voice deludes and flatters him.
The wicked man’s words reflect his character:
The words of his mouth are wickedness and deceit;
He has ceased to be wise and do good. (Psalm 36:3)
Jesus described the same sort of thing:
For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. (Matthew 15:19)
The heart’s not just the seat of emotions; you might also think of it as the seat of the personality, the mind. Transgression speaks within the heart, and the words of the wicked man’s mouth reflect his character; they are wickedness and deceit. The wicked man has ceased to be wise.
The way of wisdom is constantly encouraged throughout Scripture. The way of wisdom is the way of the person who hears the words of God. Such a person is shaped by the story of God, the ways of God, the character of God, and the mind of God. Wisdom comes from being transformed by the presence of God, and then living life in all of its complexity.
The oracle of sin has deceived the wicked man in Psalm 36. His mind is confused. He’s flattering in his speech, and he thinks he’ll never be caught. Then, in verses 5-9, we find the underlying theme of the entire Psalm: Lord, I know You’ll take care of me and protect me.
The descriptions of the wicked are helpful and healthy for us because the patterns of the wicked are shot right through us. Even though we are beginning to walk in newness of life, we’ve not yet reached the goal of resurrection completion. We ought to hear echoes of our own words and thoughts when we read about the darkness that overwhelms the wicked in this Psalm.
The Covenant God is Faithful Even When We are Not
The Psalmist here uses words like lovingkindness, faithfulness, righteousness, and justice. These rich Biblical words all refer to the faithful things God has done to honor His word. Keep God’s covenant faithfulness in mind when you see these words in Psalm 36.
Whenever you see the word righteousness in Scripture, you need to stop and ask yourself: is this a reference to the righteousness of God or the righteousness of man? We often confuse the two. They’re related, but remember, God’s covenant with us is not a covenant between equals. When men and women keep God’s commandments, they act righteously. When they don’t keep the commandments, they act wickedly. In the New Testament the way of righteousness is to take the Father at His word and believe that His Son is the way of salvation. We trust the promise of God that He’s revealed through Jesus Christ, and thus we become righteous. That is, we become “in the covenant.”
When the Bible refers to the righteousness of God, it’s not saying that God is morally good. That is to be taken for granted; He’s the standard of all goodness and morality. Rather, the righteousness of God refers to His faithfulness. He keeps His word.
What is God Like?
Psalm 36 includes marvelous descriptions of what God is like, and what His people are supposed to be like. I’ll explain a few of these descriptions to help you better understand what the Psalmist is describing:
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God… (Psalm 36:6)
This is a superlative expression; the Psalmist is saying that God couldn’t be any more righteous than He already is.
Your judgments are like a great deep… (Psalm 36:6)
The picture here is that God is the judge of all the earth.
How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!
And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings(Psalm 36:7)
In other words, how valuable is Your covenant mercy. “The shadow of Your wings” is a reference to the Lord who followed Israel in a pillar of cloud by day and protected them from the heat. Remember also the image Moses used in Deuteronomy 32:11:
Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
That hovers over its young,
He spread His wings and caught them,
He carried them on His pinions.
In other words, You are the God in whose presence we are safe. You are the covenant God who keeps us.
They drink their fill at the abundance of your house;
And you give them to drink of the river of Your delights. (Psalm 36:8)
“Your house” could refer to all the earth, or this could be a reference to the celebratory meals eaten in the temple. “The river of your delights” is probably an allusion to the four rivers at the Garden of Eden: the Tigris, Euphrates, Gihon, and the Pishon in the land of Havila. (Gen. 2:11)
With you is the fountain of life;
In your light we see light. (Psalm 36:9)
This is probably an allusion to the great blessing of Aaron given in Numbers 6:24-26:
The Lord bless you, and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine on you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance on you,
And give you peace.
This blessing is referenced many times in the Psalms, and recited tens of thousands of times throughout Israel’s history.
To Know God is to Love God
O continue Your lovingkindness to those who know You,
And Your righteousness to the upright in heart. (Psalm 36:10)
That phrase “know You” is very rich. It’s a virtual synonym with the phrase “to love you.” In 1 Corinthians 8, for example, Paul says
If anyone supposed that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him. (1 Corinthians 8:2-3)
Or look at Romans 5:3: “And not only this, but we also rejoice in our tribulations, knowing…” It’s the knowing of trust, it’s the knowing of faith.
“Upright in heart” is an expression that typically refers to those who approach the temple, the altar of God. Recall what the Psalmist said in Psalm 24:
Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
And who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart… (Psalm 24:3-4)
Let not the foot of pride come upon me,
And let not the hand of the wicked drive me away. (Psalm 36:11)
“The foot of pride” probably means the proud one. Imagine a conquering king—he has defeated the king of his enemies, and he places his foot on the neck of the conquered warrior. In other words, do not let the hand of the wicked drive me away in battle from whatever is rightfully mine as your covenant child.
It’s a powerful Psalm. The Psalmist is praying that the God of covenant mercy will rescue him from the hand of the wicked.
- Psalm 143: The Righteousness of Whom?
- Psalm 117: What You Need to Know
- Why My Father Was a Great Man