Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The Curse of Alienation from God, and the Blessing of Fellowship with Him
The preceding Psalm, in the hope of speedy deliverance, put into the lips of the friends of the new kingship, who were now compelled to keep in the background, the words: "Jahve, be magnified, who hath pleasure in the well-being of His servant." David there calls himself the servant of Jahve, and in the inscription to Psa 36:1-12 he bears the very same name: To the Precentor, by the servant of Jahve, by David. The textus receptus accents למנצח with a conjunctive Illuj; Ben-Naphtali accents it less ambiguously with a disjunctive Legarme (vid., Psalter, ii. 462), since David is not himself the מנצח. Psa 12:1-8; Psa 14:1-7 (Psa 53:1-6), Psa 36:1-12, Ps 37, form a group. In These Psalms David complains of the moral corruption of his generation. They are all merely reflections of the character of the time, not of particular occurrences. In common with Psa 12:1-8, the Psalm before us has a prophetic colouring; and, in common with Ps 37, allusions to the primeval history of the Book of Genesis. The strophe schema is 4. 5. 5. 6. 6.
(Heb.: 36:1-4) At the outset the poet discovers to us the wickedness of the children of the world, which has its roots in alienation from God. Supposing it were admissible to render Psa 36:2 : "A divine word concerning the evil-doing of the ungodly is in the inward parts of my heart" (נאם with a genitive of the object, like משּׂא, which is compared by Hofmann), then the difficulty of this word, so much complained of, might find the desired relief in some much more easy way than by means of the conjecture proposed by Diestel, נעם (נעם), "Pleasant is transgression to the evil-doer," etc. But the genitive after נאם (which in Psa 110:1; Num 24:3., 15f., Sa2 23:1; Pro 30:1, just as here, stands at the head of the clause) always denotes the speaker, not the thing spoken. Even in Isa 5:1 שׁירת דודי לכרמו is not a song concerning my beloved in relation to His vineyard, but a song of my beloved (such a song as my beloved has to sing) touching His vineyard. Thus, therefore, פּשׁע must denote the speaker, and לרשׁע, as in Psa 110:1 לאדני, the person or thing addressed; transgression is personified, and an oracular utterance is attributed to it. But the predicate בּקרב לבּי, which is intelligible enough in connection with the first rendering of פשׁע as genit. obj., is difficulty and harsh with the latter rendering of פשׁע as gen. subj., whatever way it may be understood: whether, that it is intended to say that the utterance of transgression to the evil-doer is inwardly known to him (the poet), or it occupies and affects him in his inmost parts. It is very natural to read לבּו, as the lxx, Syriac, and Arabic versions, and Jerome do. In accordance therewith, while with Von Lengerke he takes נאם as part of the inscription, Thenius renders it: "Sin is to the ungodly in the midst of his heart," i.e., it is the inmost motive or impulse of all that he thinks and does. But this isolation of נאם is altogether at variance with the usage of the language and custom. The rendering given by Hupfeld, Hitzig, and at last also by Bצttcher, is better: "The suggestion of sin dwells in the ungodly in the inward part of his heart;" or rather, since the idea of בקרב is not central, but circumferential, in the realm of (within) his heart, altogether filling up and absorbing it. And in connection with this explanation, it must be observed that this combination בקרב לבו (instead of בקרבו, or בלבו, בלבבו) occurs only here, where, together with a personification of sin, an incident belonging to the province of the soul's life, which is the outgrowth of sin, is intended to be described. It is true this application of נאם does not admit of being further substantiated; but נאם (cognate נהם, המה), as an onomatopoetic designation of a dull, hollow sound, is a suitable word for secret communication (cf. Arabic nemmâm, a tale-bearer), or even - since the genius of the language does not combine with it the idea of that which is significantly secretly, and solemnly silently communicated, but spoken out - a suitable word for that which transgression says to the ungodly with all the solemn mien of the prophet or the philosopher, inasmuch as it has set itself within his heart in the place of God and of the voice of his conscience. לרשׁע does not, however, denote the person addressed, but, as in Psa 32:10, the possessor. He possesses this inspiration of iniquity as the contents of his heart, so that the fear of God has no place therein, and to him God has no existence (objectivity), that He should command his adoration.
Since after this נאם פּשׁע we expect to hear further what and how transgression speaks to him, so before all else the most probable thing is, that transgression is the subject to החליק. We do not interpret: He flatters God in His eyes (with eye-service), for this rendering is contrary both to what precedes and to what follows; nor with Hupfeld (who follows Hofmann): "God deals smoothly (gently) with him according to his delusions," for the assumption that החליק must, on account of בּעיניו, have some other subject that the evil-doer himself, is indeed correct. It does not, however, necessarily point to God as the subject, but, after the solemn opening of Psa 36:2, to transgression, which is personified. This addresses flattering words to him (אל like על in Pro 29:5) in his eyes, i.e., such as are pleasing to him; and to what end? For the finding out, i.e., establishing (מצא עון, as in Gen 44:16; Hos 12:9), or, - since this is not exactly suited to פשׁע as the subject, and where it is a purpose that is spoken of, the meaning assequi, originally proper to the verb מצא, is still more natural - to the attainment of his culpability, i.e., in order that he may inculpate himself, to hating, i.e., that he may hate God and man instead of loving them. לשׂנא is designedly used without an object just as in Ecc 3:8, in order to imply that the flattering words of פשׁע incite him to turn into an object of hatred everything that he ought to love, and to live and move in hatred as in his own proper element. Thenius endeavours to get rid of the harshness of the expression by the following easy alteration of the text: למצא עון ולשׂנא; and interprets it: Yea, it flatters him in his own eyes (it tickles his pride) to discover faults in others and to make them suffer for them. But there is no support in the general usage of the language for the impersonal rendering of the החליק; and the בּעיניו, which in this case is not only pleonastic, but out of place, demands a distinction between the flatterer and the person who feels himself flattered. The expression in Psa 36:3, in whatever way it may be explained, is harsh; but David's language, whenever he describes the corruption of sin with deep-seated indignation, is wont to envelope itself in such clouds, which, to our difficult comprehension, look like corruptions of the text. In the second strophe the whole language is more easy. להשׂכּיל להיטיב is just such another asyndeton as למצא עונו לשׂנא. A man who has thus fallen a prey to the dominion of sin, and is alienated from God, has ceased (חדל ל, as in Sa1 23:13) to act wisely and well (things which essentially accompany one another). His words when awake, and even his thoughts in the night-time, run upon און (Isa 59:7), evil, wickedness, the absolute opposite of that which alone is truly good. Most diligently does he take up his position in the way which leads in the opposite direction to that which is good (Pro 16:29; Isa 65:2); and his conscience is deadened against evil: there is not a trace of aversion to it to be found in him, he loves it with all his soul.
(Heb.: 36:6-10) The poet now turns from this repulsive prospect to one that is more pleasing. He contemplates, and praises, the infinite, ever sure mercy of God, and the salvation, happiness, and light which spring from it. Instead of בּשּׁמים, the expression is בּהשּׁמים, the syncope of the article not taking place. בּ alternating with עד, cf. Psa 57:11, has here, as in Psa 19:5; Psa 72:16, the sense of touching or reaching to the spot that is denoted in connection with it. The poet describes the exaltation and super-eminence of divine mercy and faithfulness figuratively, after earthly standards. They reveal themselves on earth in a height that reaches to the heavens and extends to שׁחקים, i.e., the thin veil of vapour which spreads itself like a veil over the depths of the heavens; they transcend all human thought, desire, and comprehension (Psa 103:11, and cf. Eph 3:18). The צדקה (righteousness) is distinguished from the אמונה (faithfulness) thus: the latter is governed by the promises of God, the former by His holiness; and further, the latter has its being in the love of God, the former, on the other hand, manifests itself partly as justifying in mercies, and partly as avenging in wrath. Concerning the righteousness, the poet says that it is like the mountains of God, i.e., (cf. cedars of God, Psa 80:11) unchangeably firm (Psa 111:3), like the giant primeval mountains which bear witness to the greatness and glory of God; concerning God's judgments, that they are "a great deep," incomprehensible and unsearchable (ἀνεξερεύνηται, Rom 11:33) as the great, deep-surging mass of waters in the lower parts of the earth, which becomes visible in the seas and in the rivers. God's punitive righteousness, as at length becomes evident, has His compassion for its reverse side; and this, as in the case of the Flood (cf. Jon 4:11), embraces the animal world, which is most closely involved, whether for weal or for woe, with man, as well as mankind.
Lost in this depth, which is so worthy of adoration, the Psalmist exclaims: How precious (cf. Psa 139:17) is Thy mercy, Elohim! i.e., how valuable beyond all treasures, and how precious to him who knows how to prize it! The Waw of וּבני is the explicative Waw = et hoc ipsum quod. The energetic form of the future, יחסיוּן, has the pre-tonic Kametz, here in pause, as in Psa 36:8; Psa 39:7; Psa 78:44. The shadow of God's wings is the protection of His love, which hides against temptation and persecution. To be thus hidden in God is the most unspeakable blessedness, Psa 36:9 : they satiate themselves, they drink full draughts of "the fatness of Thy house." The house of God is His sanctuary, and in general the domain of His mercy and grace. דּשׁן (cf. טוּב, Psa 65:5) is the expression for the abundant, pleasant, and powerful gifts and goods and recreations with which God entertains those who are His; and רוה (whence ירוין, as in Deu 8:13; Isa 40:18) is the spiritual joy of the soul that experiences God's mercy to overflowing. The abundant fare of the priests from Jahve's table (vid., Jer 31:14), and the festive joy of the guests at the shelamim-offering, i.e., the communion-offering, - these outward rites are here treated according to their spiritual significance, receive the depth of meaning which radically belongs to them, and are ideally generalized. It is a stream of pleasures (עדנים) with which He irrigates and fertilizes them, a paradisaic river of delights. This, as the four arms of the river of Paradise had one common source (Gen 2:10), has its spring in God, yea, God is the fountain itself. He is "the fountain of life" (Jer 2:13); all life flows forth from Him, who is the absolutely existing and happy One. The more inwardly, therefore, one is joined to Him, the fuller are the draughts of life which he drinks from this first fountain of all life. And as God is the fountain of life, so also is He the fountain of light: "In Thy light do we see light;" out of God, seeing we see only darkness, whereas immersed in God's sea of light we are illumined by divine knowledge, and lighted up with spiritual joy. The poet, after having taken a few glimpses into the chaos of evil, here moves in the blessed depths of holy mysticism [Mystik, i.e., mysticism in the good sense - true religion, vital godliness], and in proportion as in the former case his language is obscure. So here it is clear as crystal.
(Heb.: 36:11-13) Now for the first time, in the concluding hexastich, after complaint and commendation comes the language of prayer. The poet prays that God would lengthen out, i.e., henceforth preserve (משׁך, as in Psa 109:12), such mercy to His saints; that the foot of arrogance, which is conceived of as a tyrant, may not come suddenly upon him (בּוא, as in Psa 35:8), and that the hand of the wicked may not drive him from his home into exile (cf. Psa 10:18). With חסד alternates צדקה, which, on its merciful side, is turned towards them that now God, and bestows upon them the promised gracious reward. Whilst the Psalmist is thus praying, the future all at once becomes unveiled to him. Certain in his own mind that his prayer will be heard, he sees the adversaries of God and of His saints for ever overthrown. שׁם, as in Psa 14:5, points to the place where the judgment is executed. The preterites are prophetic, as in Psa 14:5; Psa 64:8-10. The poet, like Isaiah (Isa 26:14), beholds the whole tribe of the oppressors of Jahve's Church changed into a field of corpses, without hope of any rising again.