Psalm 26:5-7

5. I hate the assembly of transgressors, and I will not sit with the wicked. 6. I will wash my hands in purity,1 and will encompass thine altar, O Jehovah! 7. That I may make men to hear the voice of thy praise, and tell them of all thy wonderful works.


5. I hate the assembly. The Psalmist protests again how greatly he abhorred the ungodly. Formerly he denied that he had any fellowship with them; now he still more explicitly declares that he fled from their company with loathing, for that is the meaning of the phrase, I hate. It is indeed true, that the wicked are everywhere hated; but how few withdraw themselves from them, that they may not imitate their vices! David asserts both; he tells us that he hated their society, and that he had no communion with them, from which it appears that he warred not so much with their persons as with their evil doings. He mentions also as another qualification, that he shunned the wicked in such a manner as not on that account to forsake the congregation of God, or withdraw himself from the company of those with whom he was commanded by divine appointment to associate. Many err in this way grievously; imagining when they see the evil mingled with the good, that they will be infected with pollution, unless they immediately withdraw themselves from the whole congregation. This preciseness drove the Donatists of old, and prior to them the Cathari and the Novatians, into mischievous schisms. In our own times, too, the Anabaptists, from a similar conceit, have separated themselves from the sacred assemblies, because they reckoned them not so free from all defilement as could have been wished. Moreover, the Donatists made themselves a laughing-stock in a certain process, by tenaciously clinging to mere words. When an assembly was held to settle dissensions, and they were invited by the president of the meeting, with a view to do honor to them, to take a seat, they replied, they would stand, because it was not lawful to "sit with the wicked." Why then, wittily replied Augustine, did your conscience permit you to come in amongst us? for the one is written as well as the other, I will not go in to the wicked, neither will I sit with the ungodly. David, therefore, prudently moderates his zeal, and while separating himself from the ungodly, ceases not to frequent the temple, as the divine commandment and the order prescribed in the law required. When he denominates them the assembly of the ungodly, we may unquestionably conclude, that their number was not few; nay, it is probable that they flaunted about at that time, as if they alone were exalted above the people of God, and were lords over them:yet this did not prevent David from coming as usual to the sacrifices. Public care, indeed, is to be used that the Church be not defiled by such wickedness, and every man ought privately to endeavor, in his own place, that his remissness and forbearance do not cherish the disorders which these vices occasion. Although, however, this strictness should not be exercised with that care which is necessary, there is nothing in this to hinder any of the faithful from piously and holily remaining in the fellowship of the Church. It is to be observed, in the meantime, that what retained David, was his communion with God and with sacred things.

6. I will wash my hands in purity. Referring, in these words, to the ordinary use of the sacrifices, he makes a distinction between himself and those who professed to offer the same divine worship, and thrust themselves forward in the services of the sanctuary, as if they alone had the sole right to perform them. As David, therefore, and these hypocrites were one in this respect, that they entered the sanctuary, and surrounded the sacred altar together, he proceeds to show that he was a true worshipper, declaring, that he not only diligently attended to the external rites, but came to worship God with unfeigned devotion. It is obvious that he alludes to the solemn rite of washing which was practiced under the law.2 He, accordingly, reproves the gross superstition of hypocrites, who in seeking only the purification of water, neglected true purification; whereas it was God's design, in the appointment of the outward sign, to put men in mind of their inward pollution, and thus to encourage them to repentance. The outward washing alone, instead of profiting hypocrites, kept them at a greater distance from God. When the Psalmist, therefore, says, I will wash my hands in innocence, he intimates that they only gather more pollution and filth by their washings. The Hebrew word Nwyqn, nikkayon, signifies the cleanness of any thing, and is figuratively used for innocence. We thus see, that as hypocrites derive no moral purity whatever from their washings, David mocks at the labor with which they vainly toil and torment themselves in such rites. However high, therefore, the wicked may be exalted in the Church, and though crowds of them should fill our sanctuaries, let us, after the example of David, celebrate the outward profession of our faith in such a manner as not deceitfully to substitute its external rites in the room of true devotion. Thus shall we be pure and free from all stain of wickedness. Moreover, as the people were not permitted to touch the altar, David uses the word encompass.3

7. That I may make men to hear, etc. In these words, he shows that he referred the sacrifices to their proper use and design, which hypocrites were far from doing. They neither know, nor do they consider, for what purpose God appointed the services of worship, but think it sufficient to thrust themselves into the divine presence with the pomp and form of their dissimulation. David, therefore, wishing to distinguish spiritual worship from that which is fictitious and counterfeit, affirms that he came into the sanctuary to set forth the praise of God's name. There is, however, a synecdoche in his words, as only one kind of worship is mentioned, although, in offering the sacrifices, the exercise of repentance and faith was required, as well as the giving of thanks. But as the ultimate design of the sacrifices, or at least their principal object was to celebrate the goodness of God in thus acknowledging his blessings, there was no impropriety in comprehending the other parts of worship under this. Thus, in Psalm 50:14, the sacrifice of praise is preferred to all external ceremonies, as if the whole of devotion consisted in it alone. Likewise in Psalm 116:12, it is said, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord." Moreover, that he may the better commend the acknowledged power of God, and more impressively extol his benefits, David employs the phrase wondrous; as if he had said, that it was in no ordinary way that God had helped him.

1 "Innocence." -- Fr. marg

2 The washing of the hands in solemn protestation of innocence, on particular occasions, was enjoined by the Mosaic ritual, and was common among the Jews, Deuteronomy 21:6, 7. It was in common use among them before prayer; and the priests, in particular, were not to perform any sacred office in the sanctuary until they had poured water from the laver, which was set in the temple for that purpose, and washed their hands, Exodus 40:30-33.

3 Mudge conjectures that the expression, encompass, is probably taken from the custom of forming a ring round the altar at the time of worship. And Goodwyn informs us, that at the feast of tabernacles the people, on the seventh day, encompassed the altar seven times, carrying branches of palm trees in their hands in remembrance of the overthrow of Jericho, and singing hosannas. -- Moses and Aaron, p. 132. David, however, may refer to the practice of the priests, who, when they offered sacrifices, went round about the altar; and his meaning may simply be, that as the priests first washed their hands, and then performed their sacred office at the altar; so he deeply felt the necessity of personal purity, in order to his engaging in the service of God.