A variety of settings for Psalm 26 have been suggested, such as a prayer for public exoneration offered by someone seriously or falsely accused of wrongdoing; or perhaps part of an entrance liturgy by which pilgrims came into the sanctuary. There is scant evidence for any of these, though the latter is helpful because it links the theme with that of Psalms 15 and 24. That is, the psalm mirrors for those who attend worship what the ideal covenant participant should actually look like. Some have taken the claims of innocence here as a kind of self-righteous boasting, but this is a mistake. First the mention of God’s steadfast love and faithful in Psalm 26:3 are a clear echo of Ex. 34:6, and show that divine grace is the foundation for holy living; similarly, the references to worship in God’s house (Ps. 26:6-8) indicate that the covenantal means of grace, with their focus on atonement and forgiveness, are in view, and third, singing this psalm serves to enable worshipers more and more to like and embrace the ideal of faithful covenant membership- but it does not make achieving that ideal a precondition for true worship.
Explanation of Psalm 26
For God to vindicate the worshiper is for God to distinguish between the faithful and the impious. The faithful are those who take the covenant to heart, and who are as a general pattern of life have walked in their integrity and have trusted in the Lord without wavering. They also keep God’s steadfast love before their eyes and walk in God’s faithfulness- meaning they live by the grace revealed in Ex. 34:6.
The Psalm in Psalm 26:4-8 describes some of the features of the faithful covenant participant: he refuses to join with the unfaithful (hypocrites, evildoers, wicked) in their crooked schemes, because he renounces their values and he aims to take in part in public worship with moral innocence and with delight. Psalm 26:9-10 amplify the prayer for vindication in v.1, namely, the desire to be treated differently from the unfaithful. The person who owns the ideal described in Psalm 26:11-12 who determines to walk in his integrity, may be sure of God’s continuing care.
Living a Blameless Life
The psalmist claims to have led a “blameless” life in Psalm 26:1, 11. This does not mean a perfectly sinless life but a life grounded in the fear of the Lord- an acknowledgement of one’s absolute dependence on the gracious mercy of God. The psalmist unpacks to an extent what it means to live life blamelessly. We need to understand what this means in order for us as believers to live faithful lives before God.
First we need to trust in Yahweh without wavering. The first element of blameless living is an attitude of unwavering trust in God. This foundational attitude undergirds all we think, say and do. Unwavering trust enables us to do things we might not ordinarily attempt. Sometimes this may mean we remain still and wait for God rather than relying on our own strength (Psalm 27:14). Other times it might encourage us to leap out in faith.
Second, living a blameless life means walking continually in the Word of God. The second element the psalmist describes is related to the first. An unwavering trust in God leads one to shape one’s life continually by recourse to God’s truth. What makes for a balance life is to commit oneself to a continual relationship with God. The psalmist claims to walk around continually immersed in the character of God. This kind of relationship rubs off on others so they too become reliable, loyal individuals.
The third aspect of living a blameless life is avoiding evil associations. In contrast to continual associations with a reliable God, the psalmist avoids enduring linkages with those whose lives repudiate the faithful displayed by God. We are not talking about actual or even redemptive association here. Jesus purposefully associated with sinners as a way of revealing god’s love for them while calling them to repentance and salvation. The verbs employed in these verses of Psalm 26 ysh (sit, dwell) bw’ (enter in, have dwellings with) describe more extended, intimate relationships. If one is walking continuously in the presence of God’s reliable love, then the lifestyle of the deceitful, hypocrites, evildoers, and the wicked is no longer attractive.
The fourth aspect of living a blameless life is loving Christ’s Church. The one who is blameless is one who loves the dwelling place of god. Immersing oneself in the things of God and avoiding those things that counter or undermine his purposes make entering his presence more appealing.
Where we live and where we spend our time has a lot to say about who we are and what we value. Do we love the house where God dwells?? Or are we content to rub shoulders with the rich and famous, who seek pleasure, power and wealth as the defining values of their lives? This psalm calls us to reflect on our own lives. If we were to open our lives up to the honest examination of heart and mind described in Psalm 26:2, would we find the same indicators of a blameless life that the psalmists claims? What changes would you have to make to be able to say, “I walk continually in relationship with your enduring reliability?
The final aspect of living a blameless life is living a confident life. The psalmist is so confident that we may wonder how we could ever gain such confidence in our own acceptability to God. Whenever we are forced to take a close look at the interior of our lives, we may not see much enduring value there. Thankfully we are not talking about earning God’s acceptance through perfectly righteous behavior here. We know enough if we are honest to dismiss that possibility from the start. Our only hope is the same kind of “unwavering trust” our psalmist speaks of in Psalm 26:1.
Our trust should be in what Paul calls “the righteousness from God” (Rom. 3:5, 21-24)- the righteousness god confers on those who accept the salvation offered through Jesus Christ. Such righteousness (diakaiosyne) is a legal term similar to that used in the Old Testament (seqaqah). Humans receive “righteousness” from God in that they are declared not guilty by God and thus legally justified. As Romans 5:1-5 makes clear, this righteousness gives us confidence to stand in the presence of a holy god without fear and to anticipate with great joy the hope of the glory of God.
Dave Jenkins is happily married to Sarah Jenkins. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon. Dave is a lover of Christ, His people, the Church, and sound theology. He serves as the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, the Host and Producer of Equipping You in Grace Podcast, and is a contributor to and producer of Contending for the Word. He is the author of The Word Explored: The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy and What To Do About It (House to House, 2021) and The Word Matters: Defending Biblical Authority Against the Spirit of the Age (G3 Press, 2022). You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, or read his newsletter. Dave loves to spend time with his wife, going to movies, eating at a nice restaurant, or going out for a round of golf with a good friend. He is also a voracious reader, in particular of Reformed theology, and the Puritans. You will often find him when he’s not busy with ministry reading a pile of the latest books from a wide variety of Christian publishers. Dave received his M.A.R. and M.Div through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.