Psalm 36: the Greatness of God’s Love
Psalm 36 For the director of music. Of David the servant of the LORD. (1) I have a message from God in my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before their eyes. (2) In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin. (3) The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful; they fail to act wisely or do good. (4) Even on their beds they plot evil; they commit themselves to a sinful course and do not reject what is wrong. (5) Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. (6) Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, LORD, preserve both people and animals. (7) How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. (8) They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. (9) For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. (10) Continue your love to those who know you, your righteousness to the upright in heart. (11) May the foot of the proud not come against me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away. (12) See how the evildoers lie fallen- thrown down, not able to rise!
The title of Psalm 36 is simple and concise, yet so full of meaning.
For the director of music. Of David the servant of the LORD.
The director of music or the Chief Musician in other translations was the choir leader of ancient Israel. The author being “David the servant of the LORD,” signed the same way in Psalm 18. Don’t you love that David never signed any psalms Of David, King of Israel? His signature on these psalms says a lot about what was important to him.
He wanted to give God all the glory.
The first four verses of Psalm 36 are about sin and wickedness. David paints a picture of the things that have led people away from God, things he has seen, things he has experienced. David has felt the sting of the sin of others and needs to share his experience- he has a message to tell.
Sin whispers to the wicked, deep within their hearts. They have no fear of God at all. In their blind conceit, they cannot see how wicked they really are. Everything they say is crooked and deceitful. They refuse to act wisely or do good. They lie awake at night, hatching sinful plots. Their actions are never good. They make no attempt to turn from evil. Psalm 36:1-4 NLT
That’s a pretty good list. The top of the list- and the reason people chose the path of wickedness- is that they have no fear of God at all. The righteous feel the burden of sin; the unrighteous do not. If we truly fear God, then sin is a burden that weighs us down.
What does it mean to fear God?
Fearing God is two things: read fear of the power of the Creator of the universe, and awe at the relationship that He allows us. I will link an article below answering this very question by the pastor and Bible teacher, John Piper.
We should fear in the sense that we seek refuge from God away from God’s terrible wrath. God’s grace in Christ is the refuge from God’s wrath outside Christ. There is terror outside of Christ, and there is a different kind of trembling inside of Christ.Pastor John Piper
Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshipping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a devouring fire. Hebrews 12:28-29 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18
John Piper closes his (above) sermon with a powerful image of God- a warning for a child not to run from a big dog. He says this in relation to the fear of the Lord:
God is horrifically dangerous to run away from, and we should be terrified to run away from God, but if we stay with him, his growl is a growl of our protection, not destruction.Pastor John Piper, Desiring God
A lack of a fear of God is the foundation of sin. If we don’t care what He thinks of us, or don’t feel we are answerable to anyone, then sin creeps in.
Sin whispers to the wicked deep within their hearts- “you are answerable to no one, only yourself, so do whatever brings you pleasure.”
Therefore, the wicked man does not see his sin; he is filled with everything crooked and deceitful. He even lies awake at night thinking about how to do more and more evil. He is accountable to nothing.
Contrasted to the righteous who know they live within the presence of the Lord always.
If God be everywhere, and I fear him, how can I dare to break his laws in his presence? He must be a desperate traitor who will rebel in the monarch’s own halls.Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1892
Now . . . how quickly this little beauty shifts:
Your unfailing love, O LORD, is as vast as the heavens; your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the ocean depths. You care for people and animals alike, O LORD. How precious is your unfailing love, O God! All humanity finds shelter in your wings. You feed them from the abundance of your own house, letting them drink from your river of delights. For you are the fountain of life, the light by which we see. Pour out your unfailing love on those who love you; give justice to those with honest hearts. Don't let the proud trample me or the wicked push me around. Look! those who do evil have fallen! They are thrown down, never to rise again. Psalm 36:5-12 NLT
The Hebrew word hesed is used three times in this psalm, translated; your unfailing love (ESV), mercy and lovingkindness (KJV). Hesed is the covenant love of the Father for His people throughout time. Bible translators have as hard of a time translating it as we all do trying to understand it.
According to David, God’s hesed love for His children is indescribable and incomprehensible. So instead, he paints us a picture in this psalm.
God’s hesed love-reaches the clouds or the heavens, to the skies, the highest mountains and the great deep.
It’s interesting that David tries to explain the greatness of Gods’ love through God’s own Creation. And it’s true- we can see God in this world. He’s left bits of Himself all over. Just look at the beauty all around us.
God’s love reaches the stars, and yet, He takes care of His children and His animals. Doesn’t that say a lot about God’s character? God’s an animal lover! We know He has a heart for orphans and widows, and in the life of Jesus, we see His love for children. Paints a beautiful picture of the character of God.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 36:7
Wait! God has wings?
Some Bible scholars believe this refers to the two cherubim that sit on either side of the top of the Ark of the Covenant, their wings hovering over and providing protection for the Mercy Seat.
The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them, the cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover. Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you. There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites. Exodus 25:20-22
God has always provided a place of protection for His children- in His presence.
Other Bible scholars believe this verse refers to literal protection, like a mother hen protects her chicks under her wings. Jesus used this analogy. Matthew recounts when Jesus spoke to His disciples and the people that had gathered to hear Him in Jerusalem. He warned them about the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees, sometimes referred to as the “Seven Woes:”
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'" Matthew 23:37-39
In the book of Luke, Peter testifies of the final time Jesus approached Jerusalem on their way to celebrate the Passover:
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, "If you, even, had only known on this day what would bring you peace- but now it is hidden from your eyes." Luke 19:41-42
Jesus loved the people of Jerusalem, God’s chosen people of His Covenant throughout time, so much so that He wept for them as He approached the city for the last time. God loves His people so much that He sent Jesus to tell his message of the Good News.
God desires to gather His children under His wings.
And not only can we take refuge under His wings, but we can “feast on the abundance of (or fullness of) his house” and “drink from His river of delights (or pleasure).”
They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light. Psalm 36:8-9 ESV They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your pleasures. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. Psalm 36:8-9 NKJV
Shelter under wings, rivers of pleasure, and fountains of life. How do we get all of this? It sounds so much better than anything this world offers!
David says the righteous will have all of this- in the Father’s love. In “Your love, LORD,” “Your faithfulness,” “Your justice.”
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them." John 7:37-38
When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well and asked her for ad rink of water, He said:
Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life." John 4:13-14
My friends, have you ever had someone ask you if you were a Christian, only to say they could tell? This life, of doing our best to walk with Jesus, is beautiful and wonderful and filled with light. And, to the world around us, we look different, set apart.
There is sadness sometimes. And testing, grief and suffering. After all, Jesus was a man of sorrows, and He is our example.
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him with low esteem. Isaiah 53:3
A walk with God is not necessarily easy and perfect. A life of ease is not promised. But the base of a life walking with God is joy. “In your light we see light,” as King David said nearly a thousand years before the birth of Jesus.
The True Light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. John 1:9
As we walk into this third week of Advent, heading toward the celebration of the day the Light came into the world, claim joy. In a world and a time of sadness and grief, look up to the light. Drink from the river of delights. Stay close to the shelter of His wings. If you cannot feel the joy, look to Creation- the night sky, the tallest mountain peak, the great deep. Look to the love a pet. Find His love and faithfulness throughout time within His word. Remember the season.
Be reminded of the Father’s hesed love for you today.
Father in heaven, thank you for this beautiful little psalm. Thank you for your unfailing hesed love for us. Thank you for the joy that a relationship with you brings; that to live in fear and awe of you is all that we need to find in this life. Thank you for your faithfulness and your promises. Thank you for sending Jesus. Help us to remember all that you have done for us especially during this season of Advent. Help us to not stray from the shelter of your wings. We love you. Amen