Psalm 26:1-7, “Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind. For Your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in Your faithfulness. I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites. I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked. I wash my hands in innocence and go around Your altar, O LORD, proclaiming thanksgiving aloud, and telling all Your wondrous deeds.”
David makes an odd request—he asks God to “prove” him, “try” him, and “test” him because of the following evidence: God’s חֶסֶד (chesed, “steadfast love”) is “before his eyes,” that is, constantly on his heart and mind; and he walks in God’s faithfulness (v. 3). He also eschews liars and hypocrites (v. 4), he hates evildoers and sits not with the wicked (v. 5; cf. Psalm 1:1), and he claims innocence as he worships the Lord with loud thanksgiving and tells others of God’s wondrous deeds (vv. 6-7). By these evidence, David calls on the Lord to vindicate him by proving, trying, and testing him.
At first, these words of David might make us uneasy, for it seems as if David is boasting in himself and we know of Paul’s quoting from Jeremiah 9:23-24, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD'” (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:30-31). So, how can we have Psalm 26 included in the Old Testament canon? If anything, David’s prayer here and throughout sounds Pharisaic (cf. Luke 18:11).
As Rev. Dr. Timothy Saleska notes, this is not a prayer that says, “Hey God, look at how good I am. Look at what I’ve done for You. Therefore, vindicate me!” Rather, “The life of integrity he claims is the evidence, the public display, the inward trust—a life lived in dependence on Yhwh” (Saleska, 450). After all, how does he begin this prayer? “I have trusted in the LORD” (v. 1). Thus, his reasoning is not works based but entirely faith bound. He also bases his evidence not on his faithfulness but God’s faithfulness, “For Your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in Your faithfulness” (v. 3). Then comes his evidence, which are based not on his faithfulness but the Lord’s, as well as his trust (faith) in who God is. He credits God for all his deeds, even if he is boasting in things he’s done. Nevertheless, the vindication he calls for his proving, testing, and trying is based on the Lord’s faithfulness and not his own. The more we read the psalm, the more we see David’s desire to worship Yahweh rather than himself.
What about our boasting? Whether in musical talent, or some other skill, or Christian piety and faithfulness to God, to whom do we credit our boasting? Ourselves or the God who is unwaveringly faithful? What is the end—or goal—of our boasting? Self-praise or God’s praise? Proper boasting looks like this, “Look at what Jesus has done for me [not ‘in’ me]!” This is a theologian of the cross—proper credit given to Christ. Improper boasting looks like this, “Look at what I’ve done for Jesus!” This is a theologian of glory—one who seeks to glorify oneself rather than Christ.
Saleska, Timothy E. Psalms 1-50. Concordia Commentary. (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2020).