Psalm 101: I Will Sing Of Mercy And Justice

As believers who seek to develop godly character in all aspects of our lives, one of the mysteries or puzzles that is presented to us is the aspect of David being a man after God’s own heart [1]. If we believe that we are to develop the heart of God in our dealings with other people as part of the way that we are to love Him and love others, then it would stand to reason that the example of David would be a worthy one to understand, at least insofar as his heart was concerned. The fact that we have so many psalms written by David would appear to indicate that reflecting on these psalms would be a good way to relate to David’s heart, and understand why it was like the heart of God, so that we may seek to have the same heart within us. As it happens, Psalm 101 is a short psalm that not only helps us to see David’s heart in a way that also demonstrates God’s heart, but also provides us with a useful contrast to the behavior many leaders on this earth.

Let us first begin by quoting Psalm 101 in full (as it only has eight verses) and then providing some commentary on what the psalm has to say about David as a godly leader: “I will sing of mercy and justice; to You, O Lord, I will sing praises. I will behave wisely in a perfect way. Oh, when will You come to me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. I will set nothing wicked before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will not know wickedness. Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy; the one who has a haughty look and a proud heart, him I will not endure. My eyes shall be on the faithful of the land,
That they may dwell with me; he who walks in a perfect way, he shall serve me. He who works deceit shall not dwell within my house; he who tells lies shall not continue in my presence. Early I will destroy all the wicked of the land, that I may cut off all the evildoers from the city of the Lord.”

In many ways, this is a song about how one keeps a godly heart, consisting both of positive prescriptions and negative prohibitions. On the positive side, David songs of mercy and justice, two of the key elements of God’s character that we are to emulate. Justice sets the standard for our dealings with others, and mercy is extended to others as a result of our appreciation of the undeserved mercy that God gives us. In addition, David focuses his attention on the faithful of the land, surrounding himself with godly servants of integrity and decent lives. As a result of seeking to build godly character and cultivate godly company, David avoids the company of the ungodly, particularly those who are dishonest and slander others, and gets up early to execute justice against those who commit wickedness against God’s ways. The way for the city of the Lord, or any civilization to endure is for good to be encouraged and for evil to be punished. Suffice it to say that if David ruled over us, he would have a lot of justice to execute, and would probably have to wake up at about the time I go to bed to get a running start on it.

There is an aspect of this psalm that illustrates the Bible’s view of knowledge. When David says that he will not know wickedness, he is not speaking of intellectual knowledge but of experience. One of the ways that good people are corrupted and change their views when it comes to evil is a result of experience. Once we have tasted and tried what is evil for ourselves, we are corrupted by that experience, and our knowledge of our corruption, and our desire to avoid judgment for that corruption, leads us to be lax towards the corruption of others or face the sting of being labeled as a hypocrite of the worst kind when that corruption is exposed. The only way to preserve one’s moral standing is to live, as best as possible, a godly life so that we do not know wickedness, and so that we do not develop a perverse heart as a result of being surrounded by wickedness and being tormented by it and attracted to it.

It so happens we have a good example of this in Lot, who the Bible considers a godly man, but who was clearly deeply unwise in his dealings, which cost him heavily. Without going into the more sordid details of Lot’s life, it is worthwhile to examine his example as a magistrate in Sodom, and in what Jesus Christ and the Apostle Peter had to say about Lot in evaluating his life, as a contrast to David’s godly example as described here in Psalm 101. Genesis 19:9-11 tells the response of the men of Sodom to Lot’s ineffectual attempts at saving his angelic guests from aggressive homosexual rape: “And they said, “Stand back!” Then they said, “This one came in to stay here, and he keeps acting as a judge; now we will deal worse with you than with them.” So they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near to break down the door. But the men reached out their hands and pulled Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. And they struck the men who were at the doorway of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they became weary trying to find the door.” If it had not have been angels traveling, the outcome might have been very different, but the attraction of the men of Sodom for new partners led them to slander Lot as some kind of Johnny-come-lately who was unworthy of respect as a city magistrate because he attempted to withhold them from sexual pleasure. When people are unable and unwilling to restrain their desires, disaster has come upon a city, and clearly Lot’s attempts at appeasing this crowd were entirely unsuccessful. Of course, their judgment was soon to come anyway, but even so, it was due to God’s action through his servants the angels, and not due to Lot’s poor attempts at coping with the situation.

The early Church of God used Lot as an example of judgment and of suffering. In Luke 17:28-30, Jesus Christ used the example of Lot as a sign of the suddenness of the judgment that would come at the end of the age: “Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.” This is a sobering warning, reflecting that the wickedness of mankind will reach a level that judgment will come in a single day. Peter’s comments are no more comforting, in 2 Peter 2:6-9 and how God judged the wicked in Lot’s day by “turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)—then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment.”

The contrast is clear. David avoided the wicked, while Lot dwelt among them as their neighbor, a sojourner who became acculturated to their ways, yet never fully respected by those who were not in the least respectable. David surrounded himself with godly examples and chose to focus his attention on those who were faithful and just, but Lot sought wealth and influence among the unjust. David awoke early to execute judgment on evildoers, while Lot lingered late and had to be dragged out of a city so that it could be destroyed by God executing judgment on evildoers. To be sure, Lot remained righteous even in the face of the evil around him, but it cost him everything, leaving him a broken man whose evil surroundings corrupted everyone else in his family to a great degree. Which example will we choose in our own lives as we deal with our own evil times?

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, Church of God, History, Musings, Psalms and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Psalm 101: I Will Sing Of Mercy And Justice

  1. Pingback: An Introduction To The Psalms Commentary Project | Edge Induced Cohesion

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  3. Pingback: Just Desserts | Edge Induced Cohesion

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