George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 4

Psalm 101

1. Structure

A joyful oath of duty toward God
Personal self-discipline in fulfillment of royal duties
Wholesome principles for ruling the kingdom

2. Historical setting

If it were not for one very unusual phrase, the obvious time of composition of this psalm would be when David first came to the throne. That phrase is:

O when wilt thou come unto me? (v. 2).

This is surely to be linked with 2 Samuel 6:9,11: the outcome of the Uzzah disaster (see notes on Psalm 30). It would seem that, carried away by success, David — even when bringing the Ark to Zion — had not really made his God the center of all his plans. Now, after three months (during which David himself had suffered), a fresh start is made. This psalm now expresses the resolve that in everything the reign of David, who has newly come to Zion and to leadership of all twelve tribes of Israel, is to be the rule of God.

Although David failed to fully implement the high resolution of this psalm (what man short of Christ would not have failed in some degree?), he still recognized the validity of such ideals. It was his recognition of, and striving after, such ideals — not his perfect attainment of them — that made him a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22).

Late in his life, David passed along similar advice to his son and heir Solomon:

“And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever” (1 Chron. 28:9).

One cannot fail to note the correspondence between these words and Psalm 101 — which doubtless formed part of David’s legacy to Solomon. Would God that the son had truly heeded his father! But, alas, the last words of the father’s warning stand still as a memorial to the failed promise of Solomon’s life:

If thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever.”

As might be expected, there are frequent allusions and references to this psalm in the Proverbs:

Compare v.
with 6:25; 23:31-35;

with 2:12-15; 3:32; 6:20; 8:13; 11:20; 17:20;

with 6:16-19; 10:18; 20:19; 21:4; 25:23; 30:10;

with 28:28; 29:2;

with 12:3; 29:12; and

with 16:12; 20:8,26.

The tone of this psalm and of the Proverbs in general are very similar.

I will sing of mercy and judgment. “Judgment” in the stroke upon Uzzah and the punishment of himself. “Mercy” in his own recovery and in God’s forgiveness, shown in the acceptance of his sacrifices. So David sang of both these divine virtues as he danced before the Lord with all his might (2 Sam. 6:14).
I will behave myself wisely (s.w. 1 Sam. 18:14,15) in a perfect way. Here is implied the confession that, in his first attempt at bringing the Ark to Zion, he had not so acted. And at the second and successful venture his godly behavior was judged by his empty-headed wife Michal to be that of a shameless reveler (2 Sam. 6:16,20). But this was vehemently denied by David (v. 21) — he had in fact behaved himself perfectly in serving his God joyously and without heed to the pointless dignity of Gentile kings.

O when wilt thou come unto me? The phrase is explained by Exodus 20:24, with a special reference to acceptable sacrifice:

“Thou... shalt sacrifice... thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen... in all places where I record my name... [and then] I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.”

And David did insure that God would “come” unto him, by taking care, on this auspicious occasion of the processional of the Ark, to offer oxen and fatlings (2 Sam. 6:13,17).

I will walk within my house with a perfect house. It was in his house where the first test of his new resolve came, with the haughty challenge of Michal, the pampered daughter of Saul (2 Samuel 6:16,20-23); and this he came through with flying colors. But it was not to be so in later days. True godliness must begin at home, and it was here where — despite the best of intentions — David was later to fail dismally. Bathsheba, Uriah, Absalom... such names impart a keen dramatic irony to these words of early promise.

Perfect (Hebrew tam), or “upright” — used three times in this psalm (v. 2 twice, and v. 6) — is a favorite word of David (Psa. 15:2; 18:23,25; 37:37). Compare also God’s words to Abraham in Gen. 17:1: “I am the Almighty God: walk before me, and be thou perfect.”
I have set no wicked thing (‘thing of Belial’: mg. — or ‘wicked person’: RV mg.) before mine eyes. The s.w. (Belial) occurs in Psa. 18:4; 41:8; Deut. 15:9. So is this a reference to a worthless political schemer — like Joab or Ahithophel or Absalom?

I hate the work of them that turn aside. This translation is guesswork. Nobody really knows the meaning of this obscure Hebrew word; other guesses are: “those who fall away” (RSV), “disloyalty” (NEB), and “faithless men” (NIV).
A froward heart shall depart from me: Psa. 18:25,26.

It shall not cleave to me. That is, ‘I will shake it off like a poisonous serpent’; compare the comments on Psa. 41:8 in Psalms Studies, Psa. 41, Par. 4.
Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look (haughty eyes: NIV) and a proud heart will not I suffer. Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me: he that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me. He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house: he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight. Compare Psalm 24:4, a psalm which belongs to the same occasion; also, note the similarities in Psalm 15. This was the kind of individual that Saul had ill-advisedly had at his side.
Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land. These were men like Nathan, Obed-edom the Gittite, and Heman the Ezrahite, in contrast to the wicked of the land (v. 8). Yet David never completely ridded himself of Joab, and he perhaps tolerated men like Shimei and Ahithophel long past the point when they should have been dismissed.

He that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me. This word “serve” means: ‘serve as priest’. The incident that led to the stroke upon Uzzah was evidently the culmination of other unworthy service by the priesthood. Did Abiathar begin to demonstrate a lack of dependability at this time? It was about now that Zadok became co-high priest (1 Chron. 15:11,12), eventually to take over full office (2 Sam. 15:24,25; 1 Kings 2:26,35).
He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house. After the use of “priestly” language, one would expect here: “Thy house”. But at the time the psalm was written, even the Tabernacle had not been fully re-inaugurated.

He that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight. That is, he shall not stand as a courtier in the royal presence.
I will early destroy all the wicked of the land. “Early” is, literally, “morning by morning”. The phrase suggests painstaking and continuing attention to judgment and rulership (cp. Exod. 18:13-26; Jer. 21:12). It was by similar arduous and patient (though far less worthy!) effort, morning by morning, that Absalom sought to steal away the hearts of the men of Israel from David while he was laid up with a serious illness (2 Sam. 15:1-6).

That I may cut off all wicked doers from the city of the Lord (Psa. 46:4; 48:1,8; Isa. 1:26). Now that the Ark has come to Zion, David refuses to call it the city of David, as he had done shortly before (2 Sam. 5:9). How effectively this psalm begins and ends with the name of Jehovah! It is precisely because Jerusalem is the city of Yahweh that all evildoers should be cut off from it!

3. Slander

“Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off” (v. 5).

Slander, the foulest whelp of Sin. The man
In whom this spirit entered was undone;
His tongue was set on fire of hell; his heart
Was black as death; his legs were faint with haste
To propagate the lie his soul had framed.
His pillow was the peace of families
Destroyed, the sigh of innocence reproached,
Broken friendships, and the strife of brotherhoods.
Yet did he spare his sleep, and hear the guard
Number the midnight watches, on his bed
Devising mischief more; and early rose,
And made most hellish meals of good men’s names.
From door to door you might have seen him speed,
Or placed amidst a group of gaping fools,
And whispering in their ears with his foul lips.
Peace fled the neighborhood in which he made
His haunts; and, like a moral pestilence,
Before his breath the healthy shoots and blooms
Of social joy and happiness decayed.
Fools only in his company were seen,
And those forsaken of God, and to themselves
Given up. The prudent shunned him and his house
As one who had a deadly moral plague.

S. Pollock

4. Messianic reference

Reading the psalm from this point of view, it is not easy to differentiate between reference to Jesus in his ministry (as in v. 2) and to Jesus the King (as in v. 8). But, one way or another, every phrase is relevant to him. Though we can all excuse the shortcomings of David when judged against the uncompromising background of Psalm 101 (for who among us does not also come short?), nevertheless the last word is with great David’s greater Son. With him , at least, there is no shadow of failure (cp. Isa. 11:1-5).

O when wilt thou come unto me? This implies an eagerness for divine fellowship of an even greater scope than that which he knew during the days of his flesh (John 5:20; 8:28,29,38; 10:15; 12:49,50; 14:23; 15:15; 16:32).
I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me. A froward heart shall depart from me: I will not know a wicked person. Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer. All during his ministry, Jesus scrupulously avoided any and all alliances and entanglements and accommodations with the men of power, for whom duty to God took a backseat to political intrigue. In his messages to the seven churches, he likewise expressed a hatred of the deeds of the Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:6) — another batch of pseudo-religious political schemers? And when he reigns as King, how very pronounced this will be in his judgment!
Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me: he that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me. Here is the King making his choice of those in whose fellowship and service he will rejoice during the age to come.
He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house. This was exemplified perfectly in the case of Judas Iscariot, who because of the deceitful work he had to do, left early from the house of the Last Supper (John 13:25-30).
I will cut off all wicked doers from the city of the Lord:

“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory... Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire... ” (Matt. 25:31,41).

All peoples are exhorted to enter through the gates of Zion into the courts of the Lord (Psa. 100:4), but they are not to forget that there are, ultimately, exalted standards for admittance. In the judgment day, many will seek to enter only to be turned aside (Matt. 7:21-23; 25:11,12), for there may not enter into the city of the Lord

“any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but [only] they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27).
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