Psalm 26 is a psalm of vindication in which the psalmist appeals to the Lord to vindicate him or to declare him innocent of the false charges and accusations that have been made against him. And it can be divided into five parts. In verses 1 to 3, the psalmist prays for vindication and affirms his innocence. In verses 4 and 5 he makes clear that he has nothing to do with the wicked. In verses 6 to 8 he once again affirms his innocence and his love for the Lord. In verses 9 and 10 he makes clear again that he has nothing to do with the wicked. And the psalm ends as it began with an affirmation of innocence and a prayer to the Lord.
Verses 1 to 3
So, let’s turn to verses 1 to 3 where the psalmist prays for vindication and affirms his innocence. The psalmist begins:
Vindicate me, O LORD.
As you know, the word LORD when it appears in capital letters is God’s covenant name and it speaks of his commitment to his people. And so, since the Lord is committed to helping his people, the psalmist turns to him and appeals for his help. In particular, he wants the Lord to vindicate him or to declare him innocent of the charges levelled against him. We don’t know what charges or accusations were made against the psalmist. And we don’t know anything about the historical background to this psalm. All we know is that the psalmist has been accused of some kind of wrongdoing; and he wants the Lord to come to his help and to make clear that he is innocent.
And so, he goes on to say that he has led a blameless life. More literally, the psalmist says that he has walked with integrity, but the NIV translation is spot on, because the idea of walking in the Bible refers to a person’s way of life and whether they are walking in the ways of the Lord or have they gone astray. Well, the psalmist declares that he has been walking in the ways of the Lord and that he has led a blameless life. And he adds at the end of verse 1 that he has trusted in the Lord without wavering. Instead of trusting in false gods, instead of trusting in himself, the psalmist has always trusted in the Lord. And, of course, since he’s always trusted in the Lord, he now trusts in the Lord to help him.
In verses 2 he asks the Lord to test him and to try him. So, he’s prepared to let the Lord examine his life and to examine not only his actions, but his innermost thoughts and desires and inclinations. That’s the significance of the words ‘heart’ and ‘mind’ in verse 2. They refer to his innermost thoughts and to the way he is deep down inside. The psalmist has nothing to hide from the Lord, because he’s sure of his innocence. In verse 3 he says that the Lord’s love is ever before him and he walks continually in God’s truth. God’s love is his covenant love for his people. It’s his steadfast love and loyalty. And the word translated ‘truth’ really refers to God’s faithfulness. So, just as a man will want to please the wife who loves and cares for him and who is faithful to him, so God’s people will want to please the God who loves and cares for us and who is always faithful to his people.
In this first part of the psalm, the psalmist declares his innocence; and he prays to the Lord his God to make clear that the charges against him are false.
Verses 4 and 5
In verses 4 and 5 he affirms his innocence by making clear that he has had nothing to do with the wicked. He has kept his distance from them. And so, he does not sit with deceitful men or consort with hypocrites. A more literal translation of ‘deceitful men’ is ‘men of falsehood’ or ‘men of vanity’. It’s referring to people who spend their time pursuing vain and worthless activities. Hypocrites are those whose ways and motives are hidden from others, so that you never really know what they’re thinking. Well, the psalmist has never associated with such people. And he hates the assembly of evildoers and he refuses to sit with them. The word ‘assembly’ can be translated ‘congregation’ and normally refers to the assembly of God’s people, who gather together to hear God’s word. But the psalmist refers to another kind of assembly, a congregation of the wicked, who gather together for evil purposes. But he wants nothing to do with them.
Verses 6 to 8
Having made clear his abhorrence for the wicked, the psalmist — in verses 6 to 8 — once again affirms his innocence and declares his love for the Lord. So, instead of joining the wicked, he washes his hands and goes about God’s altar. The expression ‘I wash my hands in innocence’ may be a way to declare once again his innocence. Think of Pilate who washed his hands to say that he couldn’t be blamed for what happened to the Lord Jesus. In that case, the psalmist is saying that he is blameless. However, since he goes on to refer to the altar, he could be referring to the kind of ritual washing which worshippers performed before coming before the Lord. In any case, he goes up to the temple to offer praise to the Lord and to declare his wonderful deeds. Since he mentions the altar where sacrifices were offered, it’s possible that he means he offered there a grain offering to the Lord. Grain offerings were given to the Lord to give thanks to him for his grace and mercy. And then, in verse 8, he says that he loves the house of the Lord. The house of the Lord, of course, was the temple in Jerusalem, the place where God dwelt among his people. The psalmist loved the Lord’s house because he loved the Lord. And because he loved the Lord, he wanted to please the Lord in all he said and did.
Verses 9 and 10
In verses 9 and 10 he once again distances himself from the wicked. And so, he refers to sinners and bloodthirsty men in whose hands are wicked schemes and whose right hands are full of bribes. There were many people in David’s day and there are still many people in our day who are always plotting wicked schemes and who are willing to offer bribes to get their own wicked way. But the psalmist has never been like that. And so, he asks the Lord not to take away his soul or his life along with the wicked. In other words, don’t condemn me with them.
Verses 11 and 12
Don’t condemn me with them, because — he says in verse 11 — I lead a blameless life. He’s determined to walk in integrity and to walk in the ways of the Lord, without going astray. And therefore he prays to the Lord to redeem him and to be merciful to him. To redeem means to set free or to deliver. So: in your mercy and kindness, deliver me from my enemies who have brought these false charges against me. And the psalm ends with a note of confidence, because he says that his feet stand on level ground. The Lord will not let him stumble or fall, but will keep him. And, unlike the wicked who assemble together to plot wicked schemes, he will stand in the great assembly of God’s people to praise the Lord.
It’s interesting to read the commentators on this psalm, because they all make the point that when the psalmist says that he has led a blameless life, he’s not claiming that he was perfect. They make the point that the expression ‘leading a blameless life’ is a description of the general tenor or the general direction of the psalmist’s life. Whereas the wicked are generally going astray, the psalmist is generally — but not always — walking in the ways of the Lord. So, the psalmist is not claiming perfection, because how could he? None of us is perfect. All have sinned and we all fall short.
However, it’s not difficult to imagine the Lord Jesus praying the words of this psalm and meaning them, because he alone is perfect and he never did anything wrong. Unlike everyone else who has ever lived, he led a perfectly blameless life. Unlike everyone else who has ever lived, he trusted his Father in heaven without wavering once. Unlike everyone else who has ever lived, the all-seeing eye of God would find him innocent even if his innermost thoughts were tested and tried and examined. Unlike everyone else who has ever lived, God’s steadfast love and faithfulness were always before him, controlling all he said and did.
And, of course, the Lord Jesus was tested and tried whenever he was in the wilderness and the Devil tempted him. But he refused to sin against his Father; and he did not turn aside from the right path even when the Devil tried to bribe him with all the kingdoms of the earth. And then, in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he was thinking about the suffering to come, he continued to trust in his Father in heaven as he submitted himself to his Father’s will. And when he hung on the cross, and was about to die, he committed himself into his Father’s hands, trusting his Father right to the very end of his life here on earth. And throughout his life, he did his Father’s will and did not go astray even once.
And, of course, the psalmist wrote about going up to the temple to praise God. And the Lord Jesus went up to the temple to praise his Father; and we’re told that zeal for his Father’s house consumed him when he saw what the people had done to the temple, turning the house of prayer into a market place.
And so, it’s not difficult to imagine the Lord Jesus praying the words of this psalm and meaning them. And, like the psalmist, the Lord Jesus was falsely accused, because throughout the time of his ministry on earth, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law came to trap him in his words. And then they brought false charges against him to the Sanhedrin. And they brought him to Pilate and claimed that he deserved the death penalty. And though Pilate found him guiltless, he was nevertheless taken away and crucified. So, like the psalmist, the Lord Jesus was falsely accused.
And, of course, his Father in heaven heard him and vindicated him, didn’t he? He vindicated him by raising him from the dead and exalting him to the highest place. In fact, in 1 Timothy 3:16, the apostle Paul says about the Lord Jesus that he was ‘vindicated by the Spirit’. Whereas his enemies accused him of being a sinner who deserved to be condemned, his Father demonstrated his righteousness and innocence when he raised him from the dead and exalted him to heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit. His resurrection from the dead was God’s declaration that the Lord Jesus was blameless.
And now that he is in heaven, he serves there as our Great High Priest. And covered by his blood, we’re able to come before the Lord God Almighty to worship him and to pray to him in and through the name of our Saviour. Even though we’re sinners, who often go astray, and who deserve to be sent away from the presence of the Lord, we can come to God with confidence, making our needs and our cares known to him. We can come with confidence, because our sins and our shortcomings and our waywardness are covered over by the perfect righteousness of Christ who led a blameless life and who has paid for our sins by his blood. And because of him, God now treats us as if we were innocent. He now treats us as if we had lived a blameless life. Even though we may have done everything wrong, God treats us as if we’ve done everything right. And he treats us like that, for the sake of Christ who alone is perfect.
And as we come to worship God now, we can look forward to the time when we will come into the great assembly in the new heavens and earth and join our voices with that great multitude of people that cannot be counted from every nation and tribe and people and language and join with them to praise the Lord our God forever and forever.