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October 4, 2009
Psalm 26

This psalm seems as though it could have been written for the character Job. In it we hear of one who proclaims his/her innocence, who asks the Lord to test them in heart and mind, who seeks not to be destroyed with the wicked and who walks in their integrity. Both God and Job’s wife make the comment that Job persists in his integrity. The psalm also pictures its speaker as one who lives by Psalm 1 with Ps 26:4-5 echoing v. 1 of Psalm 1.

When read in the context of the book of Psalms, the psalmist in Psalm 26 sounds as though they might be meditating on Psalms 23 and 24, as is also the case in Psalm 25 Several words from the preceding psalms are repeated in Ps. 26:1-3 (‘integrity’, ‘walk’, ‘trust’, ‘love’, and ‘faithfulness’). The phrase ‘walk in integrity’, so familiar from Job, forms an inclusio in this psalm occurring again in v. 11. It envelops the psalm suggesting that all that is contained within the psalm is measured by this statement. While Ps. 26:4-5 picks up themes from Psalm 1 as noted, the reference to washing ‘hands in innocence’ in Ps. 26:6 directly draws on the description of those who can ascend the mountain of the Lord in Ps. 24:4. Psalm 26 is surely the prayer of one whose love for the house of the Lord is great (cf. Ps. 23:6), who is confident in their prayer for redemption, and who is a model for the great congregation (v. 12). It is the prayer of a Job like character.

However, we should note some matters raised by reading Psalm 26 in the context of the book of Job as the lectionary invites us to do this week. First, the brevity of the psalm and the assurance of the palmist could be misleading. By reflecting on the book of Job we learn through the length of the argument there, by the opposition to Job’s statements put forward by pious individuals, Job’s so-called ‘friends’, and by the vivid description of Job’s suffering and ostracism, that ‘standing in one’s integrity’ before the Lord is far from an easy, simple or brief exercise. It can be hard and long and painful seeking and receiving the vindication from God that the psalmist asks for in v. 1.

Secondly, the psalm throws light on Job in some ways. The description of Job could lead one to picture him as cut off from all attestation of faithfulness apart from his own statements and the ‘integrity’ in which he persists; a lonely figure standing over against all including God. However, the psalmist reveals another level of support. The psalmist ‘goes around God’s altar, sings ‘a song of thanksgiving, tells of the Lord’s deeds to others and above all loves ‘the house in which (God) dwells and the place where (God’s) glory abides’ (vv. 6-8). The psalmist has support in both the presence of the temple, symbolic of God’s support and presence, and the strength of the community to whom the psalmist witnesses in faith and with whom the psalmist joins in worship. Liturgy and temple uphold the psalmist in their integrity. We cannot forget the witnesses to God’s vindication that are given to us in both the place of worship and the community of worship. But not all who seek God’s vindication will have such support. There are Jobs within the world who seem to have very little upon which to hold and against whom even the believing community seems to be aligned (as with Job’s friends). Our prayers of intercession are one way of upholding such isolated individuals in the worshipping community and in the place symbolising God’s presence. We are also called to be aware of those within our own communities who struggle with the integrity of faith in the light of strong opinions about right and wrong, suffering and justice.

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship:

Verse 8 of the psalm could function as a call to worship:

O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell,
and the place where your glory abides.

Verses 1-3 and verse 11 can be adapted as a suitable conclusion to the prayer of confession:

1 Vindicate us, O LORD, for we have walked in our integrity,
and have trusted in you without wavering.
2 Prove us, O LORD, and try us;
test our heart and mind.
3 For your steadfast love is before our eyes,
and we walk in faithfulness to you.
11 … redeem us, and be gracious to us.

Finally, verse 12 could be adapted as part of the declaration of forgiveness following confession:

12 Our feet stand on level ground;
in the great congregation the LORD blesses us.
In the name of Jesus Christ, I declare,
‘Your sins are forgiven.’
Thanks be to God.
Old Testament reading: Job 1:1; 2:1-10

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