Psalm 36

Submitted by admin on Tue, 2006-07-04 09:01.

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This psalm is ascribed to David, the servant of YHWH. The Hebrew expression natsách (preceded by the preposition meaning “to”) is commonly thought to signify “to the musical director” or “leader.” In the Septuagint, the rendering is “to the end.” An ancient Latin translation of the Hebrew Psalter reads pro victoria (“for victory”), probably because of linking the Hebrew expression to a root meaning “to defeat.” This suggests that considerable uncertainty exists about the significance of the Hebrew expression.

It appears that “transgression” is here personified, making its announcement to the wicked one. According to the Masoretic Text, the “announcement” or “utterance” is then linked to the words “in the midst of my heart.”

A number of translators do not use “my” in their renderings and make the reference apply to the deep inner self of the wicked one. “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in their hearts.” (NRSV) “Sin directs the heart of the wicked.” (NAB) “Sin speaks to the wicked deep in their hearts; they reject God and do not have reverence for him.” (GNT, Second Edition) “Transgression speaks to the ungodly within his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.” (NASB) “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.” (ESV)

In the Septuagint there is no mention of “my heart.” “To sin, the transgressor declares in himself, there is no fear of God before his eyes.” This rendering suggests that, because of banishing any reverential regard for God, the lawless one is able to persist in sin.

A number of translation do preserve the sense of the first person pronoun, requiring other changes to convey something meaningful. “An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes.” (NIV) “I know what Transgression says to the wicked; he has no sense of the dread of God.” (Tanakh) “The oracle utters transgression to the wicked within my heart, There is no fear of God before his eyes.” (J. P. Green) “An oracle within my heart concerning the transgression of the wicked: There is no dread of God before his eyes.” (HCSB) “The transgression of the wicked is affirming within my heart, ‘Fear of God is not before his eyes...’” (Young)

In his own eyes or in his own estimation, the wicked one flatters or deludes himself. This is either in the sense that he does not recognize just how wrong he is and come to hate the evil or that he imagines that his badness will go undetected and not incur the hatred of others. Both meanings are found in translations. “For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin.” (NIV) “They like themselves too much to hate their own sins or even to see them.” (CEV) “For they flatter themselves in their own eyes that their iniquity cannot be found out and hated.” (NRSV) “For they live with the delusion: their guilt will not be known and hated.” (NAB) “...because its speech [the speech of Transgression] is seductive to him till his iniquity be found out and he be hated.” (Tanakh)

The words coming out of the mouth of the godless one are “trouble” (“iniquity” or “lawlessness,” LXX), resulting in “trouble” or harm for others. They are also words of “deceit,” designed to lead others astray in order to escape punishment or to defraud them. For the corrupt person, lawlessness is a way of life. He has stopped acting wisely or in harmony with any aspect of moral rectitude and ceased doing anything that could be classified as good. According to the Septuagint, “he is not inclined to consider doing good.”

While lying on his bed, he schemes “trouble” (“iniquity” or “lawlessness,” LXX) or plots ways to attain his unworthy aims. He “positions” himself in a way that is “not good” or that is divinely disapproved. According to one Dead Sea Psalms scroll, “he conspires on every way that is not good.” He does not reject or despise evil. According to the Septuagint, he is not offended or irritated by evil (as upright persons would be).

Reflection on the course of the wicked one apparently prompted the psalmist to focus on the One whom the lawless one ignored. YHWH’s compassionate care, abiding loyalty, steadfast love, or “mercy” (LXX) reaches to the skies, and his “faithfulness” (“truth,” LXX) to the clouds. Being heaven high, these qualities are abundant and manifested generously. YHWH will always respond compassionately to those seeking to do his will, and his word can always be depended upon.

His “righteousness” or justice is like “mountains of God.” The expression “mountains of God” may signify mighty or lofty mountains. Like stable and immovable high mountains, God’s righteousness is firmly established, with no possibility of any deviation from the ultimate standard of justice. His “judgments” are like the “great deep” (“abyss,” LXX) or the deep sea. This could mean that the wisdom reflected in divine judgments is unfathomable.

God’s concern is not limited to humankind. He saves both “man and animal.” (Compare Jonah 4:11.) Possibly the psalmist thought about the generous provisions of food and water that enable both humans and animals to live. (Compare Psalm 104:10-28.) According to one of the Dead Sea Psalms scrolls, the thought appears to be that, in his righteousness or as an expression of his justice, YHWH delivers humans and animals.

The psalmist exclaimed, “How precious, O God, [is] your” abiding loyalty, compassionate care, steadfast love, or “mercy” (LXX)! The “sons of man” or humans, with particular reference to the upright, could take refuge in the “shadow of [God’s] wings.” YHWH’s loving protective care is thus likened to the safety fledglings find under the wings of a mother bird.

David depicted YHWH as a generous host at whose “house” all who are devoted to him could be “saturated with fatness,” enjoying a full portion as his guests. So abundant are the delights of which they could partake that experiencing these divinely provided pleasures would be as if the upright had been given drink from a torrent.

With YHWH is the “fountain” or source of life. This life is more than mere existence. It is a meaningful life, a life with purposeful direction. By God’s “light” or the enlightenment or illumination he provides, the psalmist and all other upright ones could see “light.” They were not in the dark, groping about in an effort to find the right path and not knowing where they were going. The divinely provided light clearly revealed the course to be followed, making it possible to avoid stumbling or choosing a way that would prove to be injurious.

The psalmist prayed that YHWH’s abiding loyalty, compassionate care, steadfast love, or “mercy” (LXX) would continue in the case of those knowing him or those who enjoyed an approved relationship with him as his people. They would be the “upright of heart” or godly in their inmost selves. The psalmist asked that they be recipients of God’s righteousness or his justice, apparently to be expressed in coming to their aid.

For the psalmist not to have the “foot of arrogance” come upon him evidently meant his being shielded from the oppression of the proud or those who ruthlessly trampled on others. The “hand of the wicked” denotes their power, and David pleaded not to have that power directed against him, driving him away from where he found himself and then having to wander elsewhere.

Confident of YHWH’s help and protective care, David portrayed the evildoers as already having fallen and unable to stand up. This indicated that they would not recover from having been “thrust down.”


To show that all are under sin, the apostle Paul quoted the words, “there is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:18) With the exception of “their” (not “his”), the quotation is the same as in Psalm 36:1(2) (35:2, LXX).

Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.