Psalm 101 is a psalm of David, the beloved king of Israel. In this psalm David extols the virtue of living in a blameless way. In order to do so, David speaks of focusing on those things that contribute to a blameless life. At the same time, he speaks of removing from one’s sight anything that will hinder this quest. A particularly powerful statement of this last aspect is v. 3. There David says, “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not fasten its grip on me.”
Depending on the English version that one uses, one of several different words may appear where the NASB uses the word “worthless.” The KJV and NKJV use the word “wicked.” The NIV uses “vile.” The ASV (1901) and NRSV use “base,” and the HCSB uses “godless.” Each of these words accurately communicates the meaning that David intended in this statement, but the Hebrew word he used is even more powerful than all of these English words.
The root of the word used by David in v. 3 is belial, which refers to something of no value and is often used in the Old Testament with reference to the idols and false gods of the pagan nations that surrounded Israel. It was also used in an idiomatic phrase that denoted men of dubious character. That phrase is “sons of belial,” which appears many times in the Old Testament text. Some English translations use this phrase in the English text, but others, like the NASB, use the word “worthless” for this Hebrew idiom.
The point to be noted here, though, is that something to which the word belial is applied has no godly value. Men in the Old Testament who were so described were men typically without honor or morals, or who would do anything for pay. Such men often served as false witnesses when an evil plot was being hatched against one of God’s prophets or against some righteous man.
In David’s desire to be everything that God wanted him to be, he committed himself to not place anything of this sort before his eyes. Instead, he wanted only to see and to know those things that would make him more righteous and godly. His exclamation in v. 4 that he would know no evil is an expression of this commitment. In David’s own way he was stating the well-known modern proverb, “Garbage in, garbage out.” He knew that whatever he placed within his heart would come out in his actions. Therefore he resolved not to allow any ungodly thing in.
We know that David sometimes struggled with this commitment. A case in point was his sin with Bathsheba. This was an instance in which he allowed a “worthless” thing to come before his eyes and it led him to commit adultery and murder. Bathsheba was bathing when David saw her, but instead of turning away from her nakedness, he dwelt upon it, lusted and committed his terrible sin.
In application to our time, this principle still stands. Whatever we place within our hearts will be borne out in our lives. With our modern technology we can place before our eyes all kinds of images and information. The world around us is full of worthless things in music, the movies, television, radio, books, magazines, and the internet. God’s grace is great and we have no hope without it, but we are warned not to sin so that grace may abound (Rom. 6:1, 2). Therefore, we must constantly remember the danger of worthless things. If our goal is to live a blameless life before our God, we must set no worthless thing before our eyes.