The most likely occasion for the composition of this psalm is shortly after the death of Saul, when it looked likely that David was going to ascend the throne. This is a psalm that declares what he wanted his administration to look like—he is talking about the kind of behavior that will get a man excluded from his court, and what kind of loyal and upright behavior will result in preferment. Another possible occasion for this psalm is when David was about to become the king of a unified Israel, but the import would be the same.
Older commentators called this psalm “The Mirror for Magistrates.” A prince needs to understand the importance of character as he picks his courtiers, and as he selects his cabinet. What kind of people gather around the center of power will determine if it will be a righteous or an unrighteous power.
Bringing the stakes down a notch, another name for the psalm has been “The Householder’s Psalm,” but the principle is the same. How are employers to make their decisions? What kind of servants do you have? What kind of employees?
“A Psalm of David. I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O Lord, will I sing. I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way. O when wilt thou come unto me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me. A froward heart shall depart from me: I will not know a wicked person. Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: Him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer. Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me: He that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me. He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house: He that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight. I will early destroy all the wicked of the land; That I may cut off all wicked doers from the city of the Lord” (Psalm 101).
Summary of the Text:
The psalm begins on the right pitch exactly (v. 1). I will sing. Of what? Of mercy and judgment both together (v. 1). Mercy and judgment call for music. The psalmist vows that he will walk uprightly, and does this because he wants God to come to him. And this vow begins where it ought to—“within my house” (v. 2). He resolves not to contemplate anything worthless (v. 3), not to be entertained by what is vile, and he hates the contagions of treachery (v. 3). He refuses to be friends with the headstrong and willful (v. 4). A forward person is obstinately inclined toward disobedience; he has a mind like a corkscrew. David has nothing to do with such men. He also refuses to deal in slanders, meaning that he will not receive them (v. 5). Arrogant eyes he will not tolerate (v. 5). By contrast, he is on the lookout for faithful men, and recruits them to join in the work around him (v. 6). He has a low tolerance for liars as well (v. 7). Having begun with his own house, we see that his final goal is the cleansing of the city of God (v. 8).
How a Throne is Established:
When David came to the throne, one of his first thoughts was how he could show mercy to the household of his adversary Saul (2 Sam. 9). This is not inconsistent with righteousness—it is righteousness. “Mercy and truth are met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85:10). A new regime, new management, a new order, should start off on the right foot, and the right foot is mercy. But you can’t walk anywhere without the left foot, and the left foot is righteousness, justice, integrity.
Notice how in Scripture a throne is established by mercy, and how it is also established by righteousness.
“Mercy and truth preserve the king: And his throne is upholden by mercy” (Prov. 20:28).
“It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness: For the throne is established by righteousness” (Prov. 16:12).
It is not possible to walk in a biblical integrity without both.
And Holiness Sings:
We generally understand that holiness is good, that it is straight, that it is righteous, that it is spotless, and so on. But we also must understand that holiness is musical. Holiness sings. Holiness is happy.
Holiness that does not overflow musically is not holiness at all, but rather severity. Proud men are generally hard men, and strictness is often confused with the holy. But holiness is happy, and so it is that holiness overflows in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Notice the first verse here again. “I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O Lord, will I sing” (Ps. 101:1).
But not all that sings is holy. Music that is not holy and happy is simply a gold ring in a pig’s snout. Paul compares high theological pretensions without love to precisely this—jangling and discordant music (1 Cor. 13:1), which means that such music must be a really bad thing in God’s sight.
Holiness at Home:
There are few things worse than “holiness” abroad that will not (or cannot) maintain the façade while at home. This has been a problem in every era, but it is particularly a problem in ours, when people have started to think that God will judge us by what we decide to present to the public with our Facebook profile. “I will walk within my house with a perfect heart” (v. 2). Are you the same person here at church as you are at home? Has a snarl at the kids ever been transformed into a sweet chirrup because you had to answer the phone? “If you kids don’t get your junk put away in about fifteen seconds, I am going to find the dullest butter knife in the drawer, and I am going to skin yo . . . brrring! brrring! . . . why, hello!”
Cut Them Off:
If you are like most of us, you have probably received emails in the past from marooned Nigerian princes who are trying to unload unspecified but enormous amounts of gold bullion. And you wonder to yourself, why do they send these things out? And the answer is because some people answer them. Why are certain things for sale? Because there are buyers out there.
So Christians have a responsibility, not only to not slander, but to not listen to it. We have a responsibility not only to not tell lies, but also to not tolerate liars. If you walk with the wise, you will be wise. If you walk with the conceited, you will become conceited yourself (vv. 3-5, 7). If you listen to the snake tongues, after a point you will be the one with snake ears. Not only do you not have a responsibility to be friends with everyone, you actually have a responsibility to not be. In addition, you have a responsibility to not care what they might think about it, or what they might say about it to others.
What Walking Means:
This psalm mentions the importance of walking several times. I will walk within my house with a perfect heart (v. 2). The one who walks perfectly is the man I will employ (v. 6). As one commentator has noted, walking includes the ideas of motion, progress, and moderation. Walking moves, and is not sitting, or lying, or standing. Walking progresses, meaning that it is distinguished from jumping jacks or hopping in place. And walking is moderate—it is not all in a lather to get there. Just one foot in front of the other.
And where shall we walk? In the light provided by the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).
So where do we walk? If we are following Him, we are always behind Him, and never in the dark. And if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and we are cleansed from all our sin (1 John 1:7). This in turn gives us something to sing about, and fellowship with others, whom we may sing with. And never forget that if we follow Christ, singing, this means that He is ahead of us, singing also. He is the preeminent singer. When we sing the right songs, with the right heart, and in the right demeanor, we are imitating Him.
“The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing” (Zeph. 3:17).