Where the Contrast Really Lies (Psalm 36)

Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, 
     your faithfulness to the clouds. 
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; 
     your judgments are like the great deep; 
     man and beast you save, O LORD.

Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you, 
     and your righteousness to the upright of heart!

—Psalm 36:5–6, 10

The 36th psalm is one of stark contrast. The psalms are constantly doing presenting such contrasts, but normally we expect to see the righteous on one side and the wicked on the other. Here the contrast is greater because opposite the wicked we find not the righteous, but the Righteous One.

Now, knowing that is the case, what of God would you expect David to set in contrast to the wickedness of the wicked? His righteousness? Justice? Holiness? Instead David’s emphatic is the covenant love of Yahweh. I would argue that it is his exclusive focus. For example, I believe it is clear that the “righteousness” of God that is like the mighty mountains (v. 6) is made parallel to the steadfast love of Yahweh in verse 10.

This, the covenant love of God, is where the fundamental contrast lies. The saints know that the distinction between the righteous and the wicked is not one that we cause to come into being. The only reason we stand apart from sinners is because of the mighty and free grace and mercy of God to us in the new covenant of Jesus’s blood whereby we are made a new creation and given a new heart. Yahweh’s word to Israel through Joshua made this clear, “Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many” (Joshua 24:2–3, emphasis mine). They served other gods. There was no contrast. And then there was. Why? Because God took their father Abraham.

Prior to these words through Joshua, Moses explained to them, “Moses reminded them, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:6–8).

God loves them because He loves them, keeping covenant. The source of God’s covenant love flows from His own depths. It is not dependent on us. This is why it is inexhaustible and infinite and free. It extends to the heavens. It reaches to the clouds. It is like the mighty mountains and the great deeps. How precious is your covenant love, O God!

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