Psalm 36:1
To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD. The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes.
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(1) The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart . . .—The literal rendering of the present Hebrew text is, An utterance of sin to the wicked within my heart. The common phrase rendered in our version, “Thus saith Jehovah,” is here imitated, “Thus saith sin.” “To the wicked” cannot, as some explain, mean “concerning the wicked.” The only possible meaning of the text as it stands is therefore, “Thus saith sin to (me) the wicked man in my heart.” But there can be no question that the psalmist wrote “in his heart,” since ail the ancient versions, with the exception of the Chaldee Paraphrase, followed this reading, and some MSS. still show it. This gives us a very fine sense. Sin is personified as the evil counsellor or prompter sitting in the heart of the wicked to suggest evil thoughts: Sin in the wicked man’s heart is his oracle. Conscience is on the wrong side.

There is no fear . . .—This is not the suggestion of sin just mentioned, but an explanation of the condition into which the wicked man has sunk. Impiety and irreverence have so corrupted his nature, that sin has become his oracle.

Psalm 36:1-2. The transgression of the wicked saith, &c. — When I consider the great and manifold transgressions of ungodly men, I conclude, within myself, that they have cast off all fear and serious belief of the Divine Majesty. For he flattereth himself in his own eyes — He deceiveth himself with vain and false persuasions, that God does not notice or mind his sins, or that he will not punish them. Until his iniquity be found to be hateful — That is, until God, by some dreadful judgment, undeceive him, and find, or make him and others to find by experience, that his iniquity is abominable and hateful, and therefore cannot, and does not, escape a severe punishment. “The last day,” says Dr. Horne, “will show strange instances of this folly.”

36:1-4 From this psalm our hearts should be duly affected with hatred of sin, and seek satisfaction in God's loving-kindness. Here is the root of bitterness, from which all the wickedness of wicked men comes. It takes rise from contempt of God, and the want of due regard to him. Also from the deceit they put upon their own souls. Let us daily beg of God to preserve us from self-flattery. Sin is very hurtful to the sinner himself, and therefore ought to be hateful; but it is not so. It is no marvel, if those that deceive themselves, seek to deceive all mankind; to whom will they be true, who are false to their own souls? It is bad to do mischief, but worse to devise it, to do it with plot and management. If we willingly banish holy meditations in our solitary hours, Satan will soon occupy our minds with sinful imaginations. Hardened sinners stand to what they have done, as though they could justify it before God himself.The transgression of the wicked - There is considerable difficulty in respect to the grammatical construction of the Hebrew in this verse, though the general sense is plain. The main idea undoubtedly is, that the fair explanation of the conduct of the wicked, or the fair inference to be derived from that conduct was, that they had no fear of God before them; that they did in no proper way regard or fear God. The psalmist introduces himself as looking at the conduct or the acts of the wicked, and he says that their conduct can be explained, in his judgment, or "in his heart," in no other way than on this supposition. The word "transgression" here refers to some open and public act. What the particular act was the psalmist does not state, though probably it had reference to something which had been done to himself. What is here said, however, with particular reference to his enemies, may be regarded as a general truth in regard to the wicked, to wit, that their conduct is such that the fair interpretation of what they do is, that there is no "fear of God before their eyes," or that they have no regard for his will.

Saith - This word - נאם ne'ûm - is a participle from a verb, נאם nâ'am, meaning to mutter; to murmur; to speak in a low voice; and is employed especially with reference to the divine voice in which the oracles of God were revealed to the prophets. Compare 1 Kings 19:12. It is found most commonly in connection with the word "Lord" or "Yahweh," expressed by the phrase "Saith the Lord," as if the oracle were the voice of Yahweh. Genesis 22:16; Numbers 14:28; Isaiah 1:24; Isaiah 3:15, "et saepe." It is correctly rendered here "saith;" or, the "saying" of the transgression of the wicked is, etc. That is, this is what their conduct "says;" or, this is the fair interpretation of their conduct.

Within my heart - Hebrew: "in the midst of my heart." Evidently this means in my judgment; in my apprehension; or, as we should say, "So it seems or appears to me." My heart, or my judgment, puts this construction on their conduct, and can put no other on it.

That there is "no fear of God - No reverence for God; no regard for his will. The sinner acts without any restraint derived from the law or the will of God.

Before his eyes - He does not see or apprehend God; he acts as if there were no God. This is the fair interpretation to be put upon the conduct of the wicked "everywhere" - that they have no regard for God or his law.


Ps 36:1-12. On servant of the Lord, see on [583]Ps 18:1, title. The wickedness of man contrasted with the excellency of God's perfections and dispensations; and the benefit of the latter sought, and the evils of the former deprecated.

1. The general sense of this difficult verse is, "that the wicked have no fear of God." The first clause may be rendered, "Saith transgression in my heart, in respect to the wicked, there is no fear," &c., that is, such is my reflection on men's transgressions.

1 The transgressions of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes.

2 For he flattereth himself in his own eyes, until his iniquity be found to be hateful.

3 The words of his mouth are iniquity and deceit: he hath left off to be wise, and to do good.

4 He deviseth mischief upon his bed; he setteth himself in a way that is not good; he abhorreth not evil.

Psalm 36:1

"The transgression of the wicked." His daring and wanton sin; his breaking the bounds of law and justice. "Saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes." Men's sins have a voice to godly ears. They are the outer index of an inner evil. It is clear that men who dare to sin constantly and presumptuously cannot respect the great Judge of all. Despite the professions of unrighteous men, when we see their unhallowed actions our heart is driven to the conclusion that they have no religion whatever. Unholiness is clear evidence of ungodliness. Wickedness is the fruit of an atheistic root. This may be made clear to the candid head by cogent reasoning, but it is clear already and intuitively to the pious heart. If God be everywhere, and I fear him, how can I dare to break his laws in his very presence? He must be a desperate traitor who will rebel in the monarch's own halls. Whatever theoretical opinions bad men may avow, they can only be classed with atheists, since they are such practically. Those eyes which have no fear of God before them now, shall have the terrors of hell before them for ever.

Psalm 36:2

"For." Here is the argument to prove the proposition laid down in the former verse. David here runs over the process of reasoning by which he had become convinced that wicked men have no proper idea of God or respect for him. God-fearing men see their sins and bewail them, where the reverse is the case we may be sure there is no fear of God. "He flattereth himself in his own eyes." He counts himself a fine fellow, worthy of great respect. He quiets his conscience, and so deceives his own judgment as to reckon himself a pattern of excellence; if not for morality, yet for having sense enough not to be enslaved by rules which are bonds to others. He is the free-thinker, the man of strong mind, the hater of cant, the philosopher; and the servants of God are, in his esteem, mean-spirited and narrow-minded. Of all flatteries this is the most absurd and dangerous. Even the silliest bird will not set traps for itself; the most pettifogging attorney will not cheat himself. To smoothe over one's own conduct to one's conscience (which is the meaning of the Hebrew) is to smooth one's own path to hell. The descent to eternal ruin is easy enough, without making a glissade of it, as self-flatterers do. "Until his iniquity be found to be hateful." At length he is found out and detested, despite his self-conceit. Rottenness smells sooner or later too strong to be concealed. There is a time when the leprosy cannot be hidden. At last the old house can no longer be propped up, and falls about the tenant's ears: so there is a limit to a man's self-gratulation; he is found out amid general scorn, and can no longer keep up the farce which he played so well. If this happen not in this life, the hand of death will let light in upon the covered character, and expose the sinner to shame and contempt.

The self-flattering process plainly proves the atheism of sinners, since the bare reflection that God sees them would render such self-flatteries extremely difficult, if not impossible. Belief in God, like light reveals, and then our sin and evil are perceived; but wicked men are in the dark, for they cannot see what is so clearly within them and around them that it stares them in the face.

Psalm 36:3

"The words of his mouth are iniquity and deceit." This pair of hell dogs generally hunt together, and what one does not catch the other will; if iniquity cannot win by oppression, deceit will gain by chicanery. When the heart is so corrupt as to flatter itself, the tongue follows suit. The open sepulchre of the throat reveals the foulness of the inner nature. God-fearing men make a conscience of their words, and if they sin through infirmity they do not invent excuses, or go about to boast of their wickedness: but because wicked men think little of evil and artful speeches, we may be clear that God rules not in their souls. The original by declaring that the words of the wicked are falsehood and deceit is peculiarly strong; as if they were not only false in quality, but actual falseness itself. "He hath left off to be wise, and to do good." From the good way he has altogether gone aside. Men who fear God proceed from strength to strength in the right path, but godless men soon forsake what little good they once knew. How could men apostatise if they had respect unto the supreme Judge? Is it not because they grow more and more forgetful of God, that in due season they relinquish even that hypocritical reverence of him which in former days they maintained in order to flatter their souls?

Psalm 36:4

"He deviseth mischief upon his bed." His place of rest becomes the place for plotting. His bed is a hot-bed for poisonous weeds. God-fearing men meditate upon God and his service; but when men turn all their thoughts and inventive faculties towards evil, their godlessness is proved to a demonstration. He hath the devil for his bed-fellow who lies abed and schemes how to sin. God is far from him. "He setteth himself in a way that is not good." When he gets up he resolutely and persistently pursues the mischief which he planned. The worst of ways he prefers for his walking, for he has taught his heart to love filthiness, having accustomed himself to revel in it in imagination. "He abhorreth not evil." So far from having a contempt and abhorrence for evil, he even rejoices in it, and patronises it. He never hates a wrong thing because it is wrong, but he meditates on it, defends it, and practises it.

What a portrait of a graceless man these few verses afford us! His jauntiness of conscience, his licentiousness of speech, his intentness upon wrong-doing, his deliberate and continued preference of iniquity, and withal his atheistical heart, are all photographed to the life. Lord, save us from being such. THE ARGUMENT

This Psalm seems to have been composed by David when he was persecuted by Saul and his courtiers; upon which occasion he enlargeth his thoughts further, and contemplates the sad state and condition of the world and of the church at that time, in which wickedness of all sorts greatly abounded, and seemed to prosper; and withal, he declares the great felicity and safety of God’s people, and gives an account of their supports and comforts, under the sense of these public disorders and mischiefs.

i.e. One wholly and resolvedly devoted to the service of God, both in my public and private capacity. This title is, as I remember, but twice used in this book, Psalm 18:1, (of which see there,) and in this Psalm, where it seems to be prefixed as a public protestation of his resolution to cleave unto the Lord in this time of general corruption, of which he is now going to speak.

David showeth the grievous state of the wicked, Psalm 36:1-4; the excellency of God’s mercy, Psalm 36:5-9; and prayeth for favour to the children of God, Psalm 36:10-12.

When I consider the great and manifold transgressions of ungodly men, I conclude within myself that they have cast off all fear, and sense, and serious belief of the Divine Majesty.

The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart,.... Which is represented as a person speaking within him; not that the transgression of the wicked was really in him; sin was in him, and sin of the same kind and nature with the wicked man's; but he taking notice of and considering the wicked man's sinful course of life, and his daring impieties, conceived in his own mind, and concluded from hence,

that there is no fear of God before his eyes; no reverential affection for him, but enmity to him; no godly filial fear, but at most only a slavish fear, a fear of punishment; no holy and humble fear of him, but pride and wickedness; no fiducial and obediential fear, but all the reverse; true worship of him, either internally or externally: there can be no fear of God in any unregenerate man's, heart, because it is not of nature, but of grace, and is, what is implanted at first conversion; there is in some an appearance of it, where it is not really, whose fear is taught by the precept of men; and in others there may be some awe of the divine Being, and trembling at the thought of a future judgment, arising from the dictates of nature, the light of revelation, and the enjoyment of a religious education; but in some there is no fear of God at all, and they are bold and daring enough to assert it themselves, as the unjust judge did, Luke 18:4. Such as the atheist, the common swearer, the debauchee and epicure, who give up themselves to all manner of wickedness, contemn revelation, despise the word of God, and regard no day nor manner of worship; and this notwithstanding the majesty of God, at whose presence they tremble not, and notwithstanding the goodness of God, which should induce them to fear him, and notwithstanding the judgment of God on others, and even on themselves; see Jeremiah 3:8; and notwithstanding the future awful judgment, which they put far away or disbelieve. The Targum is, "transgression saith to the wicked within my heart"; and Jarchi's note upon the text is this,

"this text is to be transposed thus, it is in my heart, that transgression, which is the evil imagination, says to the wicked man, that there should be no fear of God before his eyes; and the phrase, "in the midst of my heart", is as if a man should say, so it seems to me.''

The Septuagint version, and those that follow it, render the words thus, "the transgressor said, that he might sin in himself, there is no fear of God before his eyes". Gussetius (b) interprets "before his eyes", before the eyes of God himself, who is so good a Being, that the sinner fears no punishment from him, but will pardon all his sins.

(b) Ebr. Comment. p. 488.

<A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD.>> The transgression of the wicked saith {a} within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes.

(a) I see evidently by his deeds, that sin pushes forward the reprobate from wickedness to wickedness, even though he goes about to cover his impiety.

1. As the Psalmist reflects on the conduct of the wicked man, it becomes clear to him that practical atheism is the guiding principle of his life. So the reading of the Massoretic Text, followed in the A.V., may be explained. But it is unnatural to regard transgression as uttering its oracle in the Psalmist’s heart; and the reading of the LXX, Vulg., Syr., and Jerome, within his heart, is certainly preferable. The verse may then be rendered either (1), Saith Transgression to the wicked within his heart, (that) there is &c.; the second line giving the words of Transgression’s oracle: or (2) Transgression uttereth its oracle to the wicked within his heart; There is &c.; the second line being the statement of the Psalmist, and hinting at the substance of the oracle.

The word rendered saith, or, uttereth its oracle, is regularly used of solemn divine utterances in the phrase saith the Lord (Genesis 22:16; and frequently in the prophets). Occasionally though rarely, it has a human speaker for its subject (Numbers 24:3 ff.; 2 Samuel 23:1; Proverbs 30:1). Transgression—more precisely, rebellion or apostasy,—is here personified (cp. Genesis 4:7, R.V.; Zechariah 5:8; Romans 6:12-13, R.V.). The wicked man has made it his God, and it has become a lying spirit within him (1 Kings 22:21 ff.; 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

no fear of God] Rather, no terror of God. The word pachad denotes terror inspired by God, not reverence for God (Isaiah 2:10; Isaiah 2:19; Isaiah 2:21, R.V.). Transgression persuades the wicked man that there is no need for him to dread God’s judgements. Cp. Psalm 10:4-6; Psalm 10:11, Psalms 13 : Psalm 14:1; and contrast Psalm 18:22; Psalm 119:120 : Job 13:11; Job 31:23. With these words St Paul sums up his description of the character and condition of fallen man in Romans 3:18.

1, 2. The ground of the godless man’s security in his sin.

Verse 1. - The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart. This is a difficult passage. In the first place, the text is uncertain, since some manuscripts have לבו, "his heart," in the place of לבי, "my heart." And further, whichever reading we prefer, the meaning is far from clear. Dr. Kay translates, "Transgression's oracle to the wicked is, 'In the interior of my own heart;'" and understands the meaning to be that the sinfulness of the wicked man deludes him into the belief that his wickedness is known to no one but himself - it is all safely locked up in the recesses of his own heart. Professor Alexander suggests as possible, "Thus saith depravity to the wicked man, 'In the midst of my heart, there is no fear of God before his (i.e. God's) eyes.'" Others, preferring לבו to לבי, render, "Transgression speaks to the wicked within his heart; There is no fear of God," etc.; regarding the two clauses as perfectly independent the one of the ether. This is, perhaps, the best explanation. There is no fear of God before his eyes. Either he belongs to the class of "fools, who say in their heart, There is no God" (Psalm 14:1), or he agrees with those who cry, "Tush, God hath forgotten: he hideth away his face; he will never see it" (Psalm 10:11). Psalm 36:1(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 Psalm 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 Psalm 110:1; Numbers 24:3., 15f., 2 Samuel 23:1; Proverbs 30:1, just as here, stands at the head of the clause) always denotes the speaker, not the thing spoken. Even in Isaiah 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 Psalm 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 Psalm 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 Psalm 36:2, to transgression, which is personified. This addresses flattering words to him (אל like על in Proverbs 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 Genesis 44:16; Hosea 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 Ecclesiastes 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 Psalm 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 1 Samuel 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 (Isaiah 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 (Proverbs 16:29; Isaiah 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.

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