George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 1

Psalm 36

1. Title

David the servant of the Lord coincides with the title of Psalm 18. It could well be that the themes also coincide (see Par. 3). The Hebrew phrase could also read: A psalm of David, concerning the Servant of the Lord. Psalm 36 suitably follows a psalm in which verse 27 says that the Lord “hath pleasure in the prosperity (i.e. rest, safety) of his servant (s.w.)”.

2. Structure

Here is a psalm of intensely powerful contrast:

1- 4.
The evil man — godless, self-centered, self-confident, and full of self-pride
5- 9.
The surpassing power and graciousness of Yahweh; the blessings of His House
A prayer for deliverance from the evil man, and for continuing graciousness

3. Historical setting

If the wicked adversary is Saul, this psalm is appropriate to any part of David’s “outlaw” days. There is hardly a hint to make the psalm more specific than this — and on that account it is all the more valid for other servants of the Lord in their difficult times.

4. The Day of Atonement?

Verses 1, 2, 7, 8, and 9 may have suggested Psalm 36 for use at this great holy day.

5. Details

Saith within my heart. This word saith is the normal word for a divine inspiration. It comes, for example, at least 150 times in “saith the Lord” and is used of the inspired utterances of David (2 Sam. 23:1,2) and Balaam (Num. 24:3,15). Here then is a difficulty: Why should there be a special oracle (vv. 1-4) to declare what is plain and obvious — i.e. the wickedness of the wicked? Perhaps this should read, as RSV and NEB, “within his heart” (a common confusion between two very similar Hebrew letters). Read thus, the authoritative “inspiration” conceived in the heart (mind) of the wicked is: ‘There is no need to fear God; He will not call me to account’ (as 14:1/53:1). “Transgression is personified, and an oracular utterance is attributed to him” (Delitzsch). The sin-principle of the flesh speaks directly to the wicked man, as a guide and inspiration.

There is no fear of God before his eyes. This is cited by Paul in Rom. 3:18 as part of his proof that Jews (Saul) and Gentiles (Doeg?) are alike under sin.
He flattereth himself, in the spirit of 10:4,11,13; cp. Isa. 28:15.
He hath left off to be wise. Is there anyone worse than the man who has known the way of wisdom and has chosen to forsake it (2 Pet. 3:21,22; Prov. 26:11)? Contrast Rom. 16:19b.
He deviseth mischief upon his bed, constantly and without tiring, desiring it above even his own sleep (Psa. 38:12; Prov. 4:16). Contrast Psa. 1:2; 16:7; 42:8; 63:6.
How eloquently David now reaches out to the most impressive features of God’s creation for adequate similes of the mercy and goodness of God: the heavens....the clouds....the mountains....the ocean (a great deep).
Thy mercy. A frequent word for God’s promises, the true oracle for the man of faith, in sharp contrast with v. 1.
By parallelism with v. 5a, thy faithfulness is in the clouds. The clouds symbolically illustrate the promised mercy of God. “The clouds of the millennial expanse are the sparkling dew drops of Yahweh exalted by His energy to place and power” (John Thomas). Christ as the “Sun” (Mal. 4:1) draws forth moisture as dew from the earth and condensation from the seas, which form at last the “clouds” of the resurrected and glorified saints. An elaborate but beautiful allegory is worked out in some detail by J. Thomas in Eureka, vol. 1, pp. 140-142.
Thy judgments are a great deep. Compare Rom. 11:33; God’s wisdom is the “great deep” which is truly “unsearchable” by man.

O Lord, thou preservest man and beast. This detail suggests that vv. 5,6 be read as allusions to the Deluge; note the emphatic covenant language of Gen. 9:9-13.
Verses 5 and 6 notwithstanding, the surpassing greatness of God is in His Covenants of grace: lovingkindness, righteousness. The Creation figure of the previous two verses continues here as well: i.e. the shadow of thy wings (Gen. 1:2, the “brooding” Spirit); the river of thy pleasures (s.w. “Eden”!); life; and light.

But, fittingly, phrase after phrase here also alludes to the sanctuary of the Lord: the shadow of thy wings again (the cherubim in the Holy of Holies: 17:8; 57:1; 61:4; 63:7; Matt. 23:37); in thy light (of the menorah, or lampstand) shall we see (typified) (a Greater) Light (i.e. the Shekinah Glory: 1 Pet. 2:9).

One is tempted to see here the later influence of godly Hezekiah and Isaiah, for in their time not only these phrases were specially meaningful, but also the river of thy pleasures....the fountain of life suggest the conduit of Hezekiah (Psa. 46:4) which became the lifeline of Jerusalem when the Assyrian was at the gate. (Alternatively again, Ezek. 47:1-12 and Rev. 22:1,2?)
Fatness metaphorically signifies prosperity or richness or fruitfulness (63:5; 92:14; cp. Isa. 25:6-8).
Life and light are eloquently joined in John 1:4: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (cp. John 8:12). The “(New) Creation” symbolism of the entire prologue of John’s gospel draws heavily upon this Psalm 36. The life that was first with the Father then became the property of the Son (John 5:26,27), to dispense as he sees fit (cp. Rev. 21:22,23).
Does this verse supply a definition? The upright in heart = those who (truly) know thee (i.e. God).
The foot of pride = the tramping of the tyrant’s (Sennacherib’s) army, soon to be reduced to a vast field of corpses (v. 12; Isa. 37:36).
There are the workers of iniquity fallen recalls 14:5/53:5.
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