This psalm is ascribed to David. The absence of any mention of sin suggests that this composition comes from an earlier period in his life, possibly during the time King Saul and his men relentlessly pursued him.
David prayed to YHWH to be judged, evidently in the sense of receiving a favorable judgment or being vindicated. Based on his having “walked” in his “integrity” or conducted himself uprightly, he made this plea. He had trusted in YHWH, looking to his God for aid and protection.
The concluding Hebrew word of verse 1, a form of ma‘ád, means “stagger,” “wobble,” “slip,” or “waver,” and is preceded by “not.” Numerous modern translations have opted to represent the psalmist as trusting without wavering. The other meaning would be that, because David trusted in YHWH, he would not stagger or experience a calamitous fall. This significance has the support of Septuagint manuscripts, which conclude with ou mé asthenéso. This expression (a verb preceded by a double negative) may be translated “I will by no means weaken” or “I will by no means stumble.” Instead of asthenéso, fourth-century Codex Vaticanus reads saleuthó. Preceded by the double negative, this could be rendered “I will by no means be shaken.”
Having conducted himself uprightly in harmony with God’s law, David did not fear having his course of life scrutinized. He asked YHWH to examine or probe him and to submit him to test. His request was to have his kidneys (his deepest emotions and sentiments or the hidden aspects of his life) and his heart (his inmost self, including his thoughts) tested as by a refiner’s fire. This testing would probe to his very core, revealing everything about his innermost being.
Before his “eyes” or in front of him, David kept God’s loyalty, compassionate care, abiding love, or “mercy” (LXX). Evidently this focus served to protect David from deviating from the divinely approved course of conduct. He continued to walk in God’s “truth.” Divinely revealed truth, contained in the law, served as David’s guide.
He refused to seat himself with, or place himself in the company of, worthless or deceitful men, and did not enter the company of dissemblers, persons who concealed their real motives, sentiments, and objectives. According to the Septuagint, they were those acting lawlessly.
David loathed the congregation or company of those acting wickedly or defiantly disregarding God’s law. He determined not to sit with the wicked or never to be found in association with them.
Evidently because of wanting his hands to be undefiled by lawless acts, David spoke of washing them in “innocence.” As an appreciative worshiper with a clean standing, he would go around YHWH’s altar of sacrifice, taking his place with others who would be bringing their offerings.
Among other worshipers of YHWH, he would raise his voice in thanksgiving and relate God’s wondrous deeds. These deeds would include YHWH’s saving acts. According to the Septuagint, the psalmist heard the “voice of praise.”
David found delight in participating in worship at the sanctuary. He loved God’s representative dwelling place or sacred tent (“beautiful house,” LXX), the place where the divine glory resided. In particular, the ark of the covenant represented the divine presence, which, however, was no longer in the tabernacle during David’s life. After its capture by the Philistines and its later return, the ark remained at different locations, finally being transferred to a tent that David had erected on Mount Zion.
The psalmist prayed that he would not share the fate of the wicked, having his “soul” or life taken away with sinners, the “impious” (LXX), or persons habitually living contrary to God’s law. Also, he did not want to be destroyed with men guilty of bloodshed (literally, “men of bloods,” the plural being suggestive of abundant shedding of blood).
David describes these corrupt men as having evil devices, shameful acts, or “iniquities” (LXX) in their hands. Their “right hand,” which should have been used to uphold justice, was filled with “gifts” in the form of bribes. Apparently through bribery they corrupted judges. With their bribes, they would have succeeded in escaping punishment and in gaining their base objectives by having innocent persons condemned.
Unlike ungodly men, David chose to walk in integrity, maintaining divinely approved conduct. Likely because such impious men sought to kill him, David prayed for YHWH to redeem or rescue him and to show him favor or be gracious to him.
Apparently because of his confidence that God would come to his aid, David spoke of his foot standing on “level ground,” a secure place where there was no real danger of falling. According to the Septuagint, his “foot stood in uprightness,” suggesting that he had a right standing as one whom God approved or that he enjoyed a secure footing on account of his uprightness. Appreciatively, he would bless YHWH or praise him among the assembled people, evidently at the sanctuary.
Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.
In 26:3, the Septuagint represents the psalmist as being pleased with God’s truth rather than walking in God’s truth.
In the concluding verse, the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint read “congregations.” A number of translators have chosen to render the term as “great congregation,” suggestive of many worshipers.