Psalm 101 – A King’s Determination to Rule Righteously
This psalm is titled A Psalm of David. Alexander Maclaren described a likely background for this psalm: “He had but recently ascended the throne. The abuses and confusions of Saul’s last troubled years had to be reformed. The new king felt that he was God’s viceroy; and here declares what he will strive to make his monarchy – a copy of God’s.”
David was anointed king three times. Samuel anointed David in his youth, really as a prophecy of his calling and destiny (1 Samuel 16:13). After Saul’s death he was anointed king over the tribe of Judah at Hebron (2 Samuel 2:4). Seven years later he was anointed king over all the tribes of Israel (2 Samuel 5:3). Before he took the throne over all Israel, he had a lot of time to think about what kind of king he should be.
“In Europe the psalm came to be known as the ‘prince’s psalm,’ owing to the concern for the proper conduct of a Christian magistrate, prince, or king.” (Willem VanGemeren)
“I was startled to find that Martin Luther had done an exposition of the psalm that ran to eighty pages. The reason, I discovered, is that he was deeply concerned about civil government and wanted to expound the psalm as a listing of qualities toward which every Christian prince or magistrate should strive.” (James Montgomery Boice)
“Eyring, in his ‘Life of Ernest the Pious’ (Duke of Saxe-Gotha), relates that he sent an unfaithful minister a copy of the 101st Psalm, and that it became a proverb in the country when an official had done anything wrong, he would certainly soon receive the prince’s Psalm to read.” (Franz Delitzsch, cited in Charles Spurgeon)
A. Determined in his personal conduct.
1. (1) The song to sing.
I will sing of mercy and justice;
To You, O LORD, I will sing praises.
a. I will sing of mercy and justice: David sang this song exalting the mercy and justice of God. The two go together; mercy can only be properly understood in light of justice. When justice pronounces its righteous penalty, mercy may grant relief.
i. As king, David was concerned with mercy and justice. He knew these principles were not rooted in man, but in God. Before he could exercise mercy and justice in His kingdom, he had to understand and extol the mercy and justice of God.
ii. “Mercy and judgment would temper the administration of David, because he had adoringly perceived them in the dispensations of his God.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “His mercy encourageth the greatest of sinners to hope; his judgments forbid the best of men to presume.” (Horne)
b. To You, O LORD, I will sing praises: David could only sing of mercy and justice in reference to songs of praise to Yahweh. David knew that the LORD was the source of all mercy and justice.
2. (2) A righteous life and the presence of God.
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.
a. I will behave wisely in a perfect way: David’s longing for the LORD was connected to his desire to live a wise and holy life (perfect way). He determined that his reign would be marked by integrity and godliness.
i. As David came into a position of greater power, it was all the more important that he focus on personal godliness and behave wisely in a perfect way. Power often exposes the flaws of character, if it does not actually help create them.
ii. “He begins with himself. He will bring his own character and conduct into conformity with the way and will of Jehovah to Whom he offers his praise. Then he will govern according to the same standards.” (Morgan)
iii. When David came to royal power, he didn’t say:
· “Now I can live the good life.” He said, I will behave wisely.
· “I’ll have the biggest party ever.” He said, I will behave wisely.
· “I’ll show them all how important I am.” He said, I will behave wisely.
· “I’ll punish my enemies and show my power.” He said, I will behave wisely.
b. When will You come to me? David understood that under the Old Covenant blessing, including the experience of God’s presence, was connected to obedience (Deuteronomy 28).
i. “He feels the need not merely of divine help, but also of the divine presence, that so he may be instructed, and sanctified, and made fit for the discharge of his high vocation. David longed for a more special and effectual visitation from the Lord before he began his reign.” (Spurgeon)
ii. David understood the principle later stated in 1 John 1:6-7 in connection with the New Covenant: If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
c. I will walk within my house with a perfect heart: David’s righteous life had to be real in his conduct within his own house before it could be lived in the courts of his kingdom This was a standard that David only imperfectly lived, much to his own hurt.
i. Within my house: “I will begin the intended reformation at myself, and then set things to rights in my family.” (Trapp)
ii. “No man is able to make the city in which he dwells anything like the city of God who does not know how to behave himself in his own house…. The first thing for every public man to do who would serve his city for God, is to see to it that his private life is ordered aright before Him.” (Morgan)
iii. “Reader, how fares it with your family? Do you sing in the choir and sin in the chamber? Are you a saint abroad and a devil at home? For shame! What we are at home, that we are indeed.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “This is the hardest place to walk in perfectly. It seems easier to walk perfectly among strangers than in one’s own house. But you may rest assured that a man is really no better than he is to his own. You must not gauge your worth by what the outside world thinks and says.” (Meyer)
v. “It is easier for most men to walk with a perfect heart in the Church, or even in the world, than in their own families. How many are as meek as lambs among others, when at home they are wasps or tigers!” (Clarke)
vi. “Understand that in the home-life God is educating and training you for the greatest victories. There you are learning the deepest lessons in sanctification. You need not run to conventions, sermons, and holiness meetings; if you would resolve to walk in your house with a perfect heart, you would discover how far from perfect you are, and how you are the least of His saints.” (Meyer)
3. (3-4) Describing the righteous life.
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.
a. I will set nothing wicked before my eyes: David knew that one measure of his righteous life was what he chose to set before his eyes. There are many wicked things to set the eyes upon, and the lust of the eyes is a significant aspect of the lure of this world (1 John 2:16).
i. David’s words remind us of Job 31:1: I have made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I look upon a young woman? Like Job, David regarded discipline over the eyes as a primary measure of godliness.
ii. “The recesses of an Eastern palace were often foul with lust, and hid extravagances of caprice and self-indulgence; but this ruler will behave there as one who has Jehovah for a guest.” (Maclaren)
iii. We wish that David had lived this principle more consistently. Instead, David took multiple wives (2 Samuel 3:2-5 and 5:13) in a seeming inability to restrain his sexual desires, and was led astray by the lust of his eyes (2 Samuel 11:2).
iv. Yet, we shouldn’t think David was a hypocrite because he failed in completely living up to these high standards. It isn’t hypocrisy to have a standard that you can’t completely meet. Hypocrisy is when you have one standard for yourself and a higher standard for others.
b. I hate the work of those who fall away: David knew that if he wanted to live a godly life, it would be wise to keep some distance from those with a perverse heart. He knew what would be later stated in 1 Corinthians 15:33: Evil company corrupts good habits.
i. Boice explained the idea behind those who fall away: “It is the exact opposite of the ‘covenant love’ (hesed) idea introduced in verse 1.”
ii. It shall not cling to me: “Sin, like pitch, is very apt to stick.” (Spurgeon)
c. I will not know wickedness: David knew that a righteous life must have some sense of determination about it. Though he did not perfectly fulfill this determination, his life was undeniably more godly with this determination than without it.
i. A perverse heart: “The perverseness of verse 4 is more deliberate: a twisted mind and will which hate the plain truth and the straight path.” (Kidner)
ii. “It is used of an unruly horse, that champs upon the bit through his fiery impatience; and when applied to a bad man, denotes one impatient of all restraint, of unbridled passions, and that is headstrong and ungovernable in the gratification of them, trampling on all the obligations of religion and virtue.” (Chandler, cited in Spurgeon)
B. Determined in those he would appoint.
1. (5) Opposing the workers of 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.
a. Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor: It is a significant and grievous sin to lie or speak in an evil way against another. The worst of this slander is done secretly, and David was determined to oppose all who did so (Him I will destroy).
i. The one who secretly slanders his neighbor seek “to advance themselves by the ruin of others; which are the common pests of courts and kingdoms.” (Poole)
ii. Slanders his neighbor: Clarke noted a Chaldean translation of this and its meaning: “‘He who speaks with the triple tongue against his neighbour.’ That is, the tongue by which he slays three persons, viz., 1. The man whom he slanders; 2. Him to whom he communicates the slander; and, 3. Himself, the slanderer. Every slanderer has his triple tongue, and by every slander inflicts those three deadly wounds.”
b. The one who has a haughty look and a proud heart: David listed two additional related sins: the communication of arrogance by the facial expression (the haughty look) and the proud heart behind the expression. To all such who thought themselves better than their neighbors, David said “Him I will not endure.”
i. A haughty look: “Pride will sit and show itself in the eyes as soon as anywhere.” (Trapp)
2. (6-8) The men David would choose to serve with him.
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.
a. My eyes shall be on the faithful of the land: David refused to look to or at those who thought themselves better than others. Instead he looked at the faithful, deciding that they would dwell with him.
i. When David looked for leaders, he looked for the faithful of the land. “We need people who can get the job done, but we need ‘the faithful of the land’ to do it. It is a wise leader who seeks out such people and then puts authority into their hands” (Boice)
ii. “Is it not true that Jesus, like David, has his eyes alert for the faithful in the land, for those who will serve now and also dwell with him in glory at the end of time?” (Boice)
b. He shall serve me: Perhaps David spoke this as he came to the throne, vowing to find the right people to appoint to his government. He would reject one who works deceit and he who tells lies. He would look for the humble, not the proud – knowing they were much better to trust with authority and responsibility.
c. Early I will destroy all the wicked of the land: David’s determination to rule in such a way that favored the godly and opposed the wicked was so fixed that he was determined to do it early. As he ruled in the city of the LORD, the wicked would not prosper.
i. “The commitment to excellence implies a difference in administration from the manner in which kings ruled in the ancient Near East. The godly king affirms that his loyalty is to Yahweh and not to the ways of this world.” (VanGemeren)
ii. From the city of the LORD: “His ambition is to have Jehovah’s city worthy of its true King, when He shall deign to come and dwell in it.” (Maclaren)
iii. “The psalm is doubly moving: both for the ideals it discloses and for the shadow of failure which history throws across it. Happily the last word is not with David nor with his faithful historians, but with his Son. There, there is no shadow.” (Kidner)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org