Contrasting Strains (Psalm 36)

There is a vivid contrast in this psalm.

On the one hand, we read a description of the wicked in their wanton wickedness; and, on the other hand, a description of God’s wonders, both in the works of nature and of grace.

The first verse has given rise to many different explanations and even translations. One, the able linguist, Delitzsch, translates the first verse as follows: “An oracle of transgression hath the ungodly within his heart: There is no fear of God before his eyes.” But the fact remains that in the original Hebrew the expression is: my heart and not his heart.

The difficulty for Delitzsch seems to have been: How can the wickedness of the wicked speak in the heart of David?

The various translations of our Bible substantially agree. They all translate: The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, etc. I find such agreement in the Holland “Staten-vertaling,” the St. James’ version, Calvin’s French translation and Luther’s German. It is also substantially found in the Latin translation of 1624.

Delitzsch’s translation does not agree with the second clause of the verse. According to him we must look for this speech of transgression in the following verse, while the second clause of verse 1 is the judgment of the inspired poet.

I am convinced that we must explain this first speech as follows: first of all, the wickedness of the wicked has a speech; it speaks even loudly. Second, this speech of wickedness which comes to David in the various forms of behavior, in speech and acts, in walk and deportment, is brought before the bar of judgment residing in David’s regenerated heart. In that heart resides the wisdom of God, the gift from heaven whereby we know how speech, acts and behavior ought to be to the praises of God. Third, when this wicked behavior is evaluated, appraised, tasted by the enlightened heart of David, he utters such appraisal in the second clause of the verse. David comes to the conclusion: There is no fear of God before the eyes, of all those that walk in such wickedness.

The next 6 verses of the psalm give us the explanation of David’s judgment of this wicked speech. In the verses 2-4 he gives us this explanation by a description of their life. And in the verses 5-7a he deepens this explanation by a description of the overwhelming revelation of God’s great goodness in the midst of which all this wickedness is perpetrated,

The description of the wicked is striking and horrible.

Imagine: The wicked brings himself before the bar of his own judgment: he comes before his own eyes; he sees himself. Standing there in all his wickedness he begins to flatter himself. He explains all his acts to have been goodness; he judges sweetly of all his dirt and filth. When the form of his life as he lives it disappears from view he leaves himself with this appraisal: Thou art pure, without transgression!

I would ask here: Did you ever try to pin down an unrighteous man to his unrighteous deeds? He will always excuse himself; he will defend his very wickedness and call it sweet, pure, very goodness.

Moreover, he has a purpose in mind. And here I would take the literal translation as my basis of interpreting. His purpose in self-flattery is: that he may continue his unrighteousness, namely, that he may continue to hate God and man. He purposes to find his iniquitous life, namely, to hate. This last sentence is as close to a literal translation as we can approach without obscuring the sense.

Furthermore, his mouth brings forth iniquity and deceit. Elsewhere in Scripture the mouth of the wicked is likened unto a sepulcher, an open grave, full of abomination and filth. The wickedness of his words are such that he never lets you glimpse the real underlying motive of his speaking. You can never trust him. There is no goodness or wisdom in his words. That is, he has not your welfare or well-being at heart. To the contrary, his words are in the service of his determinate counsel and purpose: he wants to hate you, to destroy you. In this he is an apt pupil of the devil, for he is a murder of man from the beginning.

Here I would ask a question again: Do you find any common grace in this description of the objects of study of the Kalamazoo Synod? They watched the wicked also; they listened to his words and they scrutinized his life. And here is the result: they found that his words were goodness and wisdom. So sweet were the words of the wicked that they want the church to believe that even God approves of them.

But it is an evil dream. The Holy Ghost tasted of the words of the wicked and the text says of them: they are iniquity and deceit!

Whom will you follow? The Synod of Kalamazoo or the living God?

But still worse is to follow: The wicked grew tired, even as you and I. They went to bed. But instead of meditating upon God and all His wonderful works, they fell to planning and plotting for the morrow to come. Now, let me see: tomorrow I must close that deal; I must invest that money; I must needs meet so and so; I am called in conference on this or that matter; I have work to do for him or her; the business of the morrow passes the review. And the text says that they devise mischief upon their bed. And this mischief is described in two ways: they set themselves upon a way that is not good; and they do not abhor evil. No, but their way is evil from the heart out and they cling to evil, they love it and seek it. Presently they have decided how to act, what course to pursue for the following morning; and smiling in prospect, they sleep and slumber. Woe unto the victim or victims! Mischief is set afoot.

Now all this plowing of the wicked is done in the midst of the revelation of God’s wonders. They judge evilly of themselves, they flatter their corrupt selves, their mouths vomit iniquity and deceit, they set their lives on such a wise that they may hate God and men, devising ways and means even when the night cads for sleep and slumber, they do all this while God speaks from the heavens and the clouds, the great deep of the oceans and the heights of the mountain tops. There is a speech of power and wisdom, of lovingkindness and mercy—but they are seemingly deaf to all this beauty and excellence.

David will tell us of all this preciousness.

The heavens and the clouds tell of God’s mercy and faithfulness.

Yes, the clouds draw our wandering eyes upward and for thousands of years the Lord has spoken of His great covenant faithfulness. You read of this faithfulness and mercy in a twofold way. First, there is the blue firmament. And this ocean of immeasurable blue tells us that God will never forget you. The blue firmament whispers of remembrance, remembrance of the objects of His love forever. He cannot forget you for you are His own. From all eternity He has seen you in the palms of His hands. Second, there is the rainbow in the clouds. On the background of the clouds there is a many-colored speech of grace and kindness, of mercy and pity toward His suffering Zion. It is the breaking of the beauteous light of His countenance. They are the hues of love in His dear Son. The rainbow is the Covenant of God interpreted through the agony of Golgotha. The cross is the prism, the light is God’s love, the many-colored beauties are the many and varied graces in the Lord Jesus Christ, the everlasting arms to draw you onward and upward to the glorified heavens and earth.

But the wicked pursue the unrighteous Mammon; they think much more of a dollar than Divine pity; they will work wickedness in the midst of a revelation of God’s love in Christ.

Cast your eyes on the mountain tops and you will see the righteousness of God. That righteousness can never be moved, is stable and unmovable. The mountains tell us that there is a will to goodness in God which cannot be abridged. God will never know of the compromise, the slippery by-pass or crooked ravine. It towers like the mountain, this righteousness, so that all may see. God wills goodness forever even though it may burn His dear Son in utmost agony of hellish torment. Even then, with His eyes on the mountains lie will say with trembling lips: It behooves us to fulfill all righteousness! When you think of God’s righteousness, look to the mountains: from them cometh your help. They, these mountains, will tell you that God has redeemed Zion with righteousness: He clothed the meek!

But the wicked will, in the very shadow of these mountains, perform their crooked deeds. Their ways are the tortuous ways of death.

Go with me to the oceans; look well to this great abyss of waters. They will tell you of the great depth of His judgments. They are a great deep. No man can fathom: but you may well wonder and marvel and adore. No, you cannot see the bottom: His judgments are unsearchable and His ways past finding out; but you may worship! His judgments are His outgoing justice and equity, they are His innate, inherent uprightness and honesty in dealing with men, devils, angels.

Yes, look well to the great abyss! It is beauty and loveliness; it is altogether comely. Would you hear its general theme? He preserveth man and beast. He preserveth them for His own peculiar treasure; He has envisioned their eternal perfection: they all shall be to the praises of His wonderful virtues.

An abyss, for the way is strange. It is a way of the sigh and the groaning and the bitter tear. I hear of all ‘His billows and all His waves. But when all the weary night is past we will see that His preservation was also exaltation. Yes, He preserveth man and beast so that they shall glitter as the costly and precious diadem in a land that is fairer than day!

And the wicked? They have seen the great depths of the ocean, but their dealings, the outgoings of their sense of justice is to tear them apart, to destroy, to kill, to murder. Their judgments are the muddy waters of Isaiah; they cast up filth and mire.

David will combine the wonderful speech of the revelation of God. He does so in the next verse: How precious (literal translation) is Thy lovingkindness! 0 God! Oh, that is the life that counts! Why then would you say, O Jacob, and why would you speak, O Israel; My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Nay, turn you to the clouds and the firmament, the great mountains and the depths of the ocean: they will tell thee of love and mercy, of justice and righteousness, of judgment and kindness. Turn you to the cross of Golgotha and you will begin to sing, warble, shout. For great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee.

Yes, when the Christians see all this they will make merry before His face until the storms are passed over. Through Divine Wisdom they will approach and encompass His alters; they will repose their trust under the shadow of His wings.

There rest me the fatness of God’s house and the rivers of His pleasures. God has a House and He has pleasures in that house. They are the contents of His Covenant life of love and friendship. God is blessed forevermore. And of His own blessedness He would give you and me. You shall eat, you do eat even now and you experience the satisfaction of such repast which makes the angels sing.

Would you hear of the source? With God is the fountain, with Him is the light. This fountain gushes forth the waters of life; this light is lifted up.

Drink then, ye righteous, drink of the rivers of God, Stand in that light, ye blessed ones, and you will marvel at the revelation of what that light brings you.

I could say it all in a few words: You will see God!

Could you imagine a blessedness greater than this?

You will see God, when the night is over past and the storm is stilled. A little while and I saw the wicked no more; and their place could not be found. But we see Jesus, crowned with glory and honor.

Then, then I shall be satisfied. . . .