What a dark title! Hope it did not put you off reading any further!
Psalm 36 is very much a psalm of two halves. The first four verses remind us of the wickedness of humanity, and the latter eight verses contrast the wonderous righteousness of our God. Today we focus on the first few verses, and consider the sinfulness of rebellious man – but hold on to hope for the goodness of God which follows another day.
For the Chief Musician. By David, the servant of Yahweh.
A revelation is within my heart about the disobedience of the wicked:
“There is no fear of God before his eyes.”
2 For he flatters himself in his own eyes,
too much to detect and hate his sin.
3 The words of his mouth are iniquity and deceit.
He has ceased to be wise and to do good.
4 He plots iniquity on his bed.
He sets himself in a way that is not good.
He doesn’t abhor evil.Psalm 36:1-4 WEB
King David, the author of this psalm and many others, launches straight in with the core purpose of this section – namely, that he has had a revelation of the wickedness of mankind. He will elaborate in the coming verses, but this opening shows us that in his meditations on the Scripture and in his time with God, he has come to receive an understanding of the sinfulness of humanity.
This may not be the kind of revelation any of us want! Yet, I think it is rather crucial to grasping the Christian faith. I recall a time when I was sharing the Gospel with someone, and they simply could not accept what I was saying. On reflection, I realised that we were on totally different wavelengths. I had understood that humanity was wicked at heart, and without hope. They were starting from a point where people were basically good at heart, despite a few bad apples and common mistakes. This latter view is not the Christian perspective.
The heart is deceitful above all things
and it is exceedingly corrupt.
Who can know it?Jeremiah 17:9 WEB
23 for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God;Romans 3:23 WEB
Having stated that he has received this revelation, David then goes on to summarise what this really means. “There is no fear of God before his eyes.” This is at the heart of the matter for me; a lack of reverential fear of God. While God does not want us to be afraid of him, in a scared sort of way, He does want us to revere and respect Him. I do not fear electricity, but have a deep respect for it and know not to play around with it or misuse it. Likewise, we are not afraid of God, but we respect and understand that He is in charge and to be obeyed.
Verse two points out that wicked men flatter themselves so much so that they cannot see their own sin. We ought not to flatter ourselves, but instead be humble and look on ourselves with sober judgement.
Paul says in his letter to the Romans:
3 For I say through the grace that was given me, to every man who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think reasonably, as God has apportioned to each person a measure of faith.Romans 12:3 WEB
The NIV translation renders this verse at to look at yourself with “sober judgement.” This is not to beat ourselves up, nor to think we are the greatest thing since sliced bread. Rather, it is to be honest about our shortcomings and the true inclination of our heart without Christ.
When we do not do this, we deceive ourselves, and become blind to our own sin. We are broken creatures (without Christ) and we have a flesh (sinful nature) which craves to please itself and not the things of God. We cannot be complacent, nor can we compare ourselves to others. Our only comparison is to Jesus Himself, and we fall woefully short. Let us have open eyes when it comes to our true hearts, and be not ignorant of our sinfulness. The more we understand the depths of our sin, the more we realise our need for a Saviour – Jesus Christ.
The more we understand the depths of our #sin, the more we realise our need for a Saviour – #Jesus #Christ. #BibleTweet
Verse three turns to our words. I like the directness of this translation; it doesn’t say the words are full of iniquity or deceit, but are iniquity and deceit! As Jesus taught us, a good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and also that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Sinful words come from sinful hearts. Words of deceit flow forth from a heart that is deceived. If we think we are without sin, then we do indeed deceive ourselves as the Apostle John teaches us from his first letter.
Words are indeed powerful, both for good and for ill. My post entitled – Words Can Be Atom Bombs – is relevant here. Words can start wars, words can tear down, and words can inflict deep harm. The wicked care little for the effect of their words, and to them, talk is cheap. We know that God created all things in the power of His words, and so we must use our words for creation and not destruction.
The latter half of verse three and verse four also sets out what this “wicked man” will do. Let each of us examine these sayings in turn, and be sure they do not apply to us who believe.
The wicked and rebellious have ceased to be wise, and therefore stop doing good. It is indeed foolish to abandon good ways and seek to fulfil the lust of our flesh. To do so is to shun God and His ways, and such a path leads only to death. That is truly unwise!
The rebellious plot sin on their beds. As they lay there, staring up at the ceiling, they think of things they might do and say. We Christians are not so immune to this as we may think. For instance, have you ever rehearsed an argument you were going to have with someone while laying awake at night? “If they start, I’m going to tell them what for! And if they say this, then I’m going to say that… And if they then say this, I’m really going to say that!” Sounds daft, yet perhaps a little familiar if we are honest. Let us not plot to do evil, nor rehearse it in our minds.
The wicked set themselves in a way that is not good. What does this mean? Perhaps another translation will help us here.
They lie awake at night, hatching sinful plots.
Their actions are never good.
They make no attempt to turn from evil.Psalm 36:4 NLT
Put very straightforwardly here, their actions are never good. I think this means they put themselves in a posture to do wrong, i.e. they play with fire and are frequently burned. To set yourself up to do something, good or bad, you must get yourself into a position where you can do it. For example, recovering alcoholics do not venture into bars because they know that the temptation is too great. They have set themselves against drinking by staying away. Those who set themselves to do evil may go looking for a fight, or deliberately stay late at the office to be alone with their assistant. You cannot do anything with your body unless your mind has gone there first.
Finally, verse four says that the wicked do not abhor evil. The NLT is rather weaker in its words, saying they merely do not turn from evil. However, to abhor evil is rather stronger. Plotting evil on your bed is often rather direct, whereas not hating evil is somehow more passive. Yet, it is something the wicked do. If someone were to attack my wife or children, and I just stood there shaking my head and muttering, “How awful!” You would think me a terrible coward! You may also question my love for my family, and no doubt (and rightly so) brand me a wicked man. It is not enough for us to stand idly by and passively watch the sin of the world. We must abhor it. We do not hate the sinner, of course, but sin and wickedness is not something we should tolerate as believers.
All in all, I know this is something of a bleak post – focussing entirely on the wicked and rebellious! Yet, I hope there are lessons for all of us here. It can be all too easy to think of ourselves – followers of Christ – as being far removed from sin and iniquity. However, I think the difference between us and the world is not always as stark as it should be. If, like me, you read some of David’s descriptions above and some of them ring vaguely true in your life, may I humbly suggest it is time for a heart inspection.
We must not be wicked, but instead fear God for His justice and recognising Who He is. We cannot flatter ourselves, and end up being blind to our own failings. Our words should be pure, building others up and singing the praises of our God. Let us be wise, and do good. Let us not plot to do wrong, nor set ourselves towards sin. We must hate and abhor what is evil, and cling to what is good.
May you join me in meditating on these verses, and bear them in mind as we approach the rest of this psalm, and the stunning contrast between evil man and awesome God.