Notes on Psalm 26 (Daniel Hoàng)

Notes on Psalm 26 

Daniel Hoang

Vindicate me, O Yahweh
For in my integrity I have walked;
And in Yahweh I trusted so that I will not waver.

Examine me, O Yahweh, and test me.

Test my mind and my heart.

For your goodness is before my eyes,

And I have walked in your truth.

I do not sit with worthless men,

And with hypocrites, I do not go.

I hate the assembly of evildoers,

And I do not sit with the wicked.

I will wash my hands in innocence,

So that I may go about your altar, O Yahweh,

To proclaim with the voice of thanksgiving,

And to recount all your wonders.

O Yahweh, I love the abode of your dwelling

And the place of the dwelling of your glory.

Do not remove my soul along with sinners

Nor my life with men of bloodshed,

In whose hands is a wicked plan,

And in whose right hand is full of bribes.

But I walk in my integrity.

Redeem me, and be gracious to me.

My foot stands on a level place;

In the congregations, I shall bless Yahweh.



Psalm 26 contains some lineation difficulties that can affect the decisions in the surface structure divisions.  The lineation of v. 1 is problematic; consider the Masoretic and BHS lineation of v. 1:


שָׁפְטֵ֤נִי יְהוָ֗ה כִּֽי־אֲ֭נִי בְּתֻמִּ֣י הָלַ֑כְתִּי

וּבַיהוָ֥ה בָּ֝טַ֗חְתִּי לֹ֣א אֶמְעָֽד׃


שָׁפְטֵ֤נִי יְהוָ֗ה     כִּֽי־אֲ֭נִי בְּתֻמִּ֣י הָלַ֑כְתִּי

וּבַיהוָ֥ה בָּ֝טַ֗חְתִּי    לֹ֣א אֶמְעָֽד׃

Assessing the MT a/b division of the above verse, one observes that v. 1a has three clause predicators (שָׁפְטֵ֤נִי, יְהוָה, הָלַ֑כְתִּי), three constituents, and five units.  This lineation does not fit within the constraints of Syntactic Description; it also does not agree numerically with the remaining lines of the poems because of the length.  The second line, v. 1b, has two clause predicators (בָּ֝טַ֗חְתִּי, אֶמְעָֽד), two constituents, and three words.  The MT lineation of v. 1b fits within the constraints of Syntactic Description.

With respect to BHS lineation, one does not know what has prompted the editors of BHS to split v. 1 into four lines (though the splitting of v. 1a is in agreement with Syntactic Description).  The editors may have split the lines because of the disjunctive rebia‘ gadol or because the lengths of the lines are too long, i.e., metri causa (BHS divisions in the Psalter seldom allow a line to contain more than three words/units).  While BHS’s lineation of v. 1a fits within the constraints of Syntactic Description, the splitting of v. 1b (my lineation = 1c) is unsatisfactory.  The editors of the BHS propose that a stich is missing in v. 1b, therefore, corrupting the meter; I find no textual support for such an argument. 

In cases where the MT’s lineations are dubious such as these, the lacking of the definition of a line is problematic.  A quick and easy solution is to amend the text so that it might fit a certain prescribed metrical pattern, however unnecessary such a decision might be.  Some have suggested that by eliminating וּבַיהוָ֥ה בָּ֝טַ֗חְתִּי or שָׁפְטֵ֤נִי יְהוָ֗ה כִּֽי the remaining lines would fit into 2+2+2 meter, but such colometric reconstruction is metri causa motivated; it has no textual support.[6] 

Others, Craigie and Kraus for example, are either indecisive or give no support for their proposed lineation for this verse.  Craigie is indecisive; he scans v. 1 as having two lines in accord with the MT while saying “it is possible to that v. 1 should be interpreted as four short lines rather than two long lines.  But the parallelism links the middle two clauses, contributing to the uncertainty of the analysis.”[7]  Kraus, on the other hand, gives no reason why he read the text in three lines. 

The MT lineation of v. 1b fits within the constraints of Syntactic Description; the negated form לֹ֣א אֶמְעָֽד presents a future condition contingent on the situation expressed in וּבַיהוָ֥ה בָּ֝טַ֗חְתִּי.  One also notes that the opening lines, i.e., the Summons and General Petition, generally contains one imperative and one vocative in the opening line.  This opening line is usually followed by two lines containing two causal clauses, i.e., syntactic dependency of subordination to the core clause (cf. Pss 51:5, 54:5, 55:4b).  The first causal clause of the pair begins with a causative כי, and the second causal clause continues the motivation with a waw interclausal conjunction (one notes the same syntactic dependency arrangement in v. 3).  The MT lineation for the remaining lines of vv. 2-12 fit within the constraints of Syntactic Description. 

Line Types:

All the lines are delineated into the constraints of zero to three clause predicators, one to three constituents, and two to three units per line.  The majority of the lines contain one to two clause predicators, two to three constituents, and two to three units.

Clause predicators: zero clause predicator: 2/25 lines; one clause predicator: 16/25 lines; two clause predicators: 6/25 lines; three clause predicators: 1/25 lines

Constituents: one constituent: 1/25 lines; two constituents: 12/25 lines; three constituents: 12/25 lines

Units: two units: 5/25 lines; three units: 19/25 lines; four units: 1/25 lines

Vocatives: Yahweh (five occurrences)

Gross Structure

The linguistic correspondences unified the gross structure of this psalm.  The prefix and suffix verb forms and the imperatives used throughout the entire poem demarcate different modes of speeches in the poem.  Concerning the participants, the “I,” “You,” and “They” forms are clearly visible in this psalm.  The “I” forms dominate the entire poem; they appear twenty-nine times in various verbal forms, pronominal and nominal suffixes, and direct object suffixes.  The “You” forms (the Deity), occur nineteen times in vocatives, imperatives, pronominal suffixes, and negative prohibition.  The “They” forms (worthless men, hypocrites, evildoers, and the wicked) are mentioned eight times in construct nouns, plural suffixes, and participles. 

I divide this twenty-five-line poem into five poetic paragraphs.  Instead of using O’Connor’s terminology of Batch 1, Batch 2 and so on, I am using the standard form-critical labels to describe each paragraph because of the familiarity of terminology:[8]

  1. a) Summons and general petition 1-3 (7 lines)
  2. b) Protestation of innocence 4-5 (4 lines)
  3. c) Cultic ceremony 6-8 (6 lines)
  4. d) Petition for God to spare psalmist’s life 9-10 (4 lines)
  5. e) Statements of prayer being heard 11-12 (4 lines)

The poem exhibits this thematic movement:

The first paragraph of the poem

  1. Summons/general petition for vindication (v. 1a)
  2. Motivations for vindication are explained (v. 1b)
  3. Repeated summons/call for God to judge the psalmist’s standing of innocence (v. 2)
  4. Motivations for God to judge the psalmist’s innocence are explained (v. 3)

The second paragraph of the poem

  1. Attestations of innocence in psalmist’s way of life (vv. 4-5)

The third paragraph of the poem

  1. Confirm standing of innocence through ritual ceremony action and thanksgiving words (vv. 7-8)

The fourth paragraph

  1. Petition for God to spare psalmist’s life (vv. 9-10)

The fifth paragraph

  1. Statements of prayer being heard (vv. 11-12)
  2. a) The Summons and General Petition (vv. 1-3): I further sub-divide this seven-line section into two smaller paragraphs, v. 1, and vv. 2-3. Sub-paragraph one begins with an imperative immediately followed by a vocative, v. 1a.  In the individual prayers, this form of “command/plea + address” construction is typically followed with a pair of causal clauses, v. 1b-c (subordinated to v. 1a forming the trope of syntactic dependency).  These causal clauses seek to motivate the addressee to act. 

Subparagraph two, vv. 2-3, has a similar figure of speech arrangement.  The petition is expanded with three imperatives followed by a pair of causal clauses.  The use of singular imperative with first-person singular object suffixes, first-person singular perfect and imperfect forms, and first-person singular nominal suffixes united vv. 1-3 as one section.  The linguistic correspondence between v. 1b and v. 3b is clear, it reinforces the unity of vv. 1-3.

            The petitioner opens the plea with שָׁפְטֵ֤נִי (judge me) asking Yhwh to test and exam the petitioner’s “kidney/mind and heart.”  On the idea of asking the Deity to judge oneself, Kraus observed, “We are here not dealing with the justificatio impii but with the justificatio justi.[9]  It is accurate to render שָׁפְטֵ֤נִי as “vindicate me” in the sense that the Deity is to decide the controversy between the petitioner and the wicked.  He is to condemn the wicked and therefore vindicate the petitioner.  Immediately after the plea is the motivation statements to move the Deity to respond because of the petitioner’s integrity and trust in the Deity.  The petitioner repeats the plea in vv. 2-3.

  1. b) Protestation of Uprightness of Character (vv. 4-5)

Verses 4-5:  The grammatical shift marked by the negation clause לֹא־יָ֭שׁבְתִּי (I do not sit) in v. 4a indicates a change in topic from Summons and General Petition to Protestation.  In this section, the focus here is not on the enemies but the petitioner’s plea of innocence and moral uprightness. 

  1. c) Cultic Ceremony (vv. 6-8)

The next three verses, vv. 6-8, contain the motif of the liturgical ritual of purification (cf. Deut 21:6).  The rite moves from the declaration of innocence, i.e., oath of purification (cf. 1 Kgs 8:31), to the ritual of the washing of hands, to the affirmation of cleansing indicated by the act of walking around the altar.  In the Psalter, נִקָּיוֹן occurs only here in v. 6a and Ps 73:13, where one finds the exact expression אֶרְחַ֣ץ בְּנִקָּי֣וֹן כַּפָּ֑י (I will wash my hands in innocence). 

The washing of hands in v. 6a has a two-fold purpose: 1) it looks backward to affirm what the psalmist said in vv. 4-5 is true (oath of purification, cf. 1 Kgs 8:31), and 2) it looks forward to anticipating the immediate series of response actions in the next three lines.  The first response is a wish initiated by the cohortative וַאֲסֹבְבָ֖ה (so that I may go about); the clause וַאֲסֹבְבָ֖ה expresses a wish that was pre-conditioned by the act of washing of hands in the preceding line v. 6a (syntactic dependency).  The second response is to proclaim the songs of thanksgiving in liturgical worship (cf. 1 Kgs 15:22; Jer 4:15, 5:20; Isa 52:7; Jos 6:10; Ps 66:8).  The third response is to recount God’s miracles (כָּל־נִפְלְאוֹתֶֽיךָ “all your miracles”).  The cohortative and infinitive construct clauses tightly connected these lines into a unit (syntactic dependency).

The vocative Yhwh syntactically introduces a break in the thematic progression of the poem; it introduces the petition proper, vv. 8-10.  The two lines in v. 8 continue the Temple motif; they formed a single syntactic entity (syntactic dependency, ellipsis/gapping); these two lines are the rhetorical motivation statements for vv. 9-10 to follow.

d). The Petition (vv. 9-10)

            Line 9a begins with a series of negative prohibition statements that end in v. 10b.  The four lines in vv. 9-10b are united as a single syntactic entity (syntactic dependency of ellipsis/gapping of v. 9a).  The phrase in v. 9b, וְעִם־אַנְשֵׁ֖י דָמִ֣ים חַיָּֽי (verb gapping to v. 9a) is the core clause on which the two subordinate verbless relative clauses in v. 10a-b depend.  The petitioner pleads with the Deity not to remove his soul along with sinners or his life with men of bloodshed.  The basic motivation for this petition is the petitioner’s love of the Temple where the glory of Yhwh dwells.   

The above observations of the grammatical phenomena (the use of ellipsis/gapping, i.e., two core clauses, to construct two syntactic entities in six poetic lines) attest to the unity of vv. 8-10 as a poetic paragraph.  In the preceding paragraph, the syntactic dependencies are seen with the cohortative and infinitive construct clauses.[10] 

e). Closing Statement of Confidence (vv. 11-12)                  

The concluding section contrasts the petitioner’s characters with that of the wicked ones in the preceding section.  The waw adversative + first-person pronounו֭אֲנִי  (but I) contrasts the petitioner’s character with that of the enemies’ in the preceding lines.  This shift in focus marks a structural break in the poem.  The petitioner reiterates his plea for redemption.  Line 11a repeats the opening motivation statement in v. 1b.  The poem then ends with statements of confidence that include the motif of praise.

Concerning the form-critical assessment, one notes these important points:

1) The motifs of the Temple and the ritual ceremony are intertwined with the תּוֹדָה motifs in vv. 6-8,12.  These motifs might have prompted some commentators to suggest that the psalm is a prayer of a falsely accused individual, a protestation of the innocence of a pilgrim who takes an oath and goes through the washing of hand ritual (cf. 1 Kgs 8:31-32; Deut 21:6; Ps 73:13).[11]  Many scholars also have concluded that Psalm 26 is the prayer of an unfairly accused person in the setting of the Temple.[12]  Vogt, as Broyles and Kraus, argued for a liturgical setting.  Citing similarities found in Psalms 15 and 24, these scholars claimed that Psalm 26 is a prayer of a falsely accused person entering the Temple.[13] 

The language of the psalm insinuates the setting of the Temple where the supplicant subjects himself to the purification ritual to protest his innocence and asks Yhwh to spare his life.  However, this interpretation is not without difficulty because in 1 Kings 8:31-32 the taking an oath is required if a man has sinned against his neighbor.  The person was guilty and thus required to take an oath before the altar; in Psalm 26, the petitioner claimed to be innocent.    

[1] The editor of the BHS suggests a missing stich corrupts the metrical structure of this half verse, v. 1b.  I find no textual support to amend the text.

[2] Translation follows Qere, reading צָרְפָה (Qal Imperative).

[3] Literally “kidneys.”

[4] The editor of BHS suggests the omission of יהוה to fit 3+3 meter pattern.  There is no textual support for such omission, I prefer the reading as printed due to the uncertainties of meter.

[5] The Septuagint (A and L) adds κύριε perhaps for the sake of a 3+3 meter pattern.  I retain the reading of BHS for the same reason above.

[6] Gunkel, Introduction, 108;  cf. Kraus, Psalms, 26.  The disparity is also shown in some modern translations: four lines = NIV; two lines = NASV; three lines = NRSV.

[7] Craigie, Psalms, 223.  So Hossfeld, Psalms 2, 169.  Since the issue of parallelism has been addressed in chapter one, there is no need to repeat it here. Kraus, Psalms, 325.

[8] Concerning the structure outlines for this psalm, the following commentaries have been consulted in addition to those cited elsewhere in this chapter: F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms (Edinburgh: Clark, 1880) 348-53; A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms with Introduction and Notes (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1901) 136-39; C. A. Briggs and E. G. Briggs, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Psalms (ICC; Edinburgh: Clark, 1906) 229-36; B. Duhm, Die Psalmen (Kurzer Hand-Kommentar zum Alten Testament 14; Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1922) 108-11; W. Ο. E. Oesterley, The Psalms Translated with Text-Critical and Exegetical Notes (London: SPCK, 1939), 191-94; E. J. Kissane, The Book of Psalms Translated from a Critically Revised Hebrew Text (Westminster: Newman, 1953) 114-16; M. Dahood, Psalms I: 1-50 (AB 16; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966) 160-64; J. H. Eaton, Psalms: Introduction and Commentary (Torch Bible Commentaries; London: SCM, 1967) 83-85; L. Sabourin, The Psalms: Their Origin and Meaning (Staten Island, NY: Alba House, 1969) 25-27.

[9] Kraus, Psalms 1-59, 173, 329.

[10] According to Mosca, there are various internal indications that vv.  9-10 constitute a distinct paragraph. Syntactically the two verses form a unit, and this sense of unity is reinforced by the parallelism that marks the line-ends of the two bicola. Mosca is correct in noting the two verses as a syntactic entity but his assessment of parallelism is vague. Though the two lines form a syntactic entity it does not constitute a poetic paragraph/section.  One notes that other paragraphs which he also considers as separate sections do contain more than one syntactic entity.  Paul G. Mosca “Psalm 26: Poetic Structure and the Form-Critical Task,” CBQ 47 (1985) 223, 224.

[11] E.g., Weiser, Psalms,  242, Kraus, Psalms, 325-327.

[12] Weiser, Psalms,  243, Kraus, Psalms, 324.  Hossfeld, Psalms 2, 167.

[13] E. Vogt, “Psalm 26, ein Pilgergebet,” Bib 43 (1962) 328-37;  Broyes, Psalms, 137.

Daniel Hoang

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