A psalm of David.

Some of the interpretative questions are identified by the UBCS;

  • ‘Who is involved in the dialogue concerning Yahweh’s entry in verses 7–10?
  • Why is there such interest in his militaristic qualities?
  • What does this have to do with his establishing the earth on water (an odd conception!) in verses 1–2
  • What does any of this have to do with prerequisites for worship that sound so legalistic?’

(Bulleting added)

This psalm poses two related questions: Who may enter God’s presence (vv3-5)? and To whom does God come (vv7-10)?

It is a processional, moving from the realm of God’s creational domain, to a holy approach towards God’s presence, and then to the sanctuary of his praise.

For many commentators, the antiphonal nature of the psalm reflects its liturgical origins.

Craigie & Tate, however, think that it is possible that

‘Ps 24, in its present form, is essentially a hymn, for use in the celebration of the Lord’s kingship, within which ancient liturgical materials have been utilized and united into a fine literary structure. The early use of the hymn in the annual celebration of the Lord’s kingship was later transformed to weekly usage in the worship services of temple and synagogue.’

Many commentators think that the psalm was written at the time of, or to commemorate, the bringing of the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, its final home (see 2 Sam 6; 1 Chron 15,16).  The ark symbolised God’s presence among his people.

VanGemeren, on the other hand, considers that

‘the allusions to Mount Zion and the Lord’s glorious entry are not sufficiently strong to provide the background for a return of the ark from war, the entry of the ark into Jerusalem or into the temple (as Ps 132), or a representation of a cultic ceremony—whether an autumnal festival, a divine epiphany, or a theophany. It seems more likely that the hymn celebrates God’s kingship as it relates to God’s people’

In Christian tradition, this psalm is often sung at Ascentiontide.  But according to Kidner, it is at least as suited to Advent, with ‘the Victor’s arrival to possess the citadel he has conquered.’

A hymn by Georg Weissel applies the psalm to Advent:

Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates:
Behold, the King of glory waits!
The King of Kings is drawing near,
The Savior of the world is here.
Life and salvation he doth bring,
Wherefore rejoice and gladly sing.

VanGemeren cites Roy Rosenberg as describing a litirgical tradition developed by the Jews in Babylon:

‘There various gods received special worship on the days of the week; so Jews celebrated Yahweh’s kingship on each day:
Psalm 24 Sunday
Psalm 48 Monday
Psalm 82 Tuesday
Psalm 94 Wednesday
Psalm 81 Thursday
Psalm 93 Friday
Psalm 92 Sabbath’

‘This Psalm, then, appropriated to the Lord’s-day, our Sunday, was intended to celebrate the resurrection of Messiah, and his ascension into heaven, there to sit as priest upon God’s throne, and from thence to come down bringing blessings and mercies to his people.  (R. H. Ryland, quoted by Spurgeon)

God himself is presented in three aspects: (a) the powerful Creator, (b) the holy Lord, and (c) the glorious King.

Alternatively, we could say that the three sections of the psalm present God as (a) the Lord of order; (b) the Lord of holiness; and (c) the Lord of victory.

Wiersbe says that the psalm present a threefold privilege that God has given to his people:

  1. We Are Stewards Who Enjoy His Goodness in Creation (vv. 1–2)
  2. We Are Worshipers Who Experience His Grace in Redemption (vv. 3–6)
  3. We are Victors Who Celebrate His Glory in Conquest (vv. 7–10)

Plumer suggests that the scope of the psalm is similar to that of Deut 10:14-16 –

14 To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. 15 Yet the LORD set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.

24:1 The LORD owns the earth and all it contains,
the world and all who live in it.
24:2 For he set its foundation upon the seas,
and established it upon the ocean currents.

By affirming God’s lordship over all things, this verse sets up both the importance and the difficulty of the question of access to God.

These verses echo the language of Gen 1:9f, and are echoed in 2 Pet 3:5.  They assert that the Lord made the earth ‘a safe, morally reliable place, a place of creation order in the midst of evil chaos.’ (Ash)

The Lord owns the earth – ‘How very different is this from the ignorant Jewish notion of God which prevailed in our Saviour’s day? The Jews said, “The holy land is God’s, and the seed of Abraham are his only people;” but their great Monarch had long before instructed them,—”The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.” The whole round world is claimed for Jehovah, “and they that dwell therein” are declared to be his subjects.’ (Spurgeon)

‘Man lives upon “the earth,” and parcels out its soil among his mimic kings and autocrats; but the earth is not man’s. He is but a tenant at will, a leaseholder upon the most precarious tenure, liable to instantaneous ejectment. The great Landowner and true Proprietor holds his court above the clouds, and laughs at the title-deeds of worms of the dust. The fee-simple is not with the lord of the manor nor the freeholder, but with the Creator.’ (Spurgeon)

‘Paul uses this verse twice, to show that no food is unclean, and that nothing is really the property of false gods. All things are God’s; no ban is on the face of nature, nothing is common or unclean. The world is all God’s world, and the food which is sold in the shambles is sanctified by being my Father’s, and I need not scruple to eat thereof.’ (Spurgeon)

‘The wise government of all things evinces there is a God. God is the great superintendent of the world, he holds the golden reins of government in his hand, guiding all things most regularly and harmoniously to their proper end. Who that eyes Providence but must be forced to acknowledge there is a God? Providence is the queen and governess of the world, it is the hand that turns the wheel of the whole creation; it sets the sun its race, the sea its bounds. If God did not guide the world, things would run into disorder and confusion. When one looks on a clock, and sees the motion of the wheels, the striking of the hammer, the hanging of the plummets, he would say, some artificer made it; so, when we see the excellent order and harmony in the universe, the sun, that great luminary, dispensing its light and heat to the world, without which the world were but a grave or a prison; the rivers sending forth their silver streams to refresh the bodies of men, and prevent a drought; and every creature acting within its sphere, and keeping its due bounds; we must needs acknowledge there is a God, who wisely orders and governs all these things. Who could set this great army of the creatures in their several ranks and squadrons, and keep them in their constant march, but HE, whose name is THE LORD OF HOSTS? And as God does wisely dispose all things in the whole regiment of the creatures, so, by his power, he supports them. Did God suspend and withdraw his influence ever so little, the wheels of the creation would unpin, and the axletree break asunder.’ (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity)

John Boys interprets this is referring to Christ, who is ‘the Lord of lords’ (Rev 19:16).  The earth is his (a) by donation of God his Father,  (Mt 28:18; Jn 16:15; Heb 1:2); and (b) by right of creation, Jn 1:3; Heb 1:3.  So then, ‘For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen’ (Rom 11:36).

1 Cor 10:26.

The words of verse 1 – ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof’ – are inscribed on the front of the Royal Exchange in London.  It would be good if those who are engaged in commercial business today could remember that nothing which they buy or sell belongs to them: it belongs to the Lord, who has entrusted it to them as stewards.

All that it contains – ‘God has authority over and concern for all creation: inanimate and animate, vegetation, animals, and humans—all are dependent on the creator for life and existence.’ (Wilson)

‘It is not just the earth that belongs to Yahweh, but everything in it as well. That implies that God has authority over everything in the world and that his concern is not just with human beings, or with their salvation, but with the shalom/well-being of the whole cosmos—animal, vegetable, and mineral.’ (Wilson)

Wilson develops the environmental implications:

‘This concern of Yahweh for the whole world is reflected in the legal traditions concerning the welfare of animals and the soil itself. God’s law provided for humane treatment of animals. An ox forced to grind grain in a mill could not be muzzled (Deut. 25:4). Rest was required for donkey and ox as well as humans on the Sabbath (Ex. 23:12; Deut. 5:14). The land was to be given rest every seventh year. Human blood spilled on the earth was not a matter of indifference but corrupted and polluted the land so that it was no longer useful. Pollution by human violence reached such extremes before the Flood that the deluge was as much a cleansing of the earth as a punishment of the human perpetrators (Gen. 6:5–13). Such divine concern for creation should have significant influence on how we relate to the nonhuman environment in which we live.’

Wilson adds that this principle was reflected in the Jubilee laws:

‘The fact that the world is God’s creation and possession undermines all human pretensions to ownership. Israel understood this when she promulgated the Jubilee legislation. Every fiftieth year, this statute demanded, all debts were to be cancelled, and all property—in particular, land—was to revert to its original tribal allotment.’

The principle was also reflected in the requirement for agricultural lands to lie fallow every seventh year:

‘This allowed the land itself to rest from labor, indicating once again that the land was not at the control and service of Israel but under the authority of Yahweh. Those who held the land did so under God’s authority and were responsible to him for the use they made of it.’

The world and all who live in it – that’s fully comprehensive!  Whether we acknowlege him or not, we are God’s.

There is no place where God is not present.  We do not ‘come into his presence’ when we come to church, as if we had not been ‘in his presence’ in his world.  The difference is that his ‘presence’ in the world is that of Creator, and his ‘presence’ in the worshiping community is that of Redeemer.

‘The biblical perspective is opposed to the deification of nature, for, while everything is glorious, its glory is derived from the glorious Creator.’ (VanGemeren)

According to v2, the Lord’s ownership of the world is due not only to his present authority over it, but also to his original creation of it.  He has not wrested ownership from another: he has always been its owner.

Wiersbe comments:

‘“All the earth is mine” (Ex. 19:5), says the Creator, but in His goodness He has shared it with us. He is “possessor of heaven and earth” (Gen. 14:19, 22), and we are guests on His planet, stewards of all that He gives us to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17) and to employ. This stewardship is the basis for the way we treat planet earth and protect the treasures God has shared with us. Anything we give to Him, He has first given to us (50:10–12; 1 Chron. 29:14). ‘

Matthew Henry points out that we should not regard God as Lord of heaven only:

‘We are not to think that the heavens, even the heavens only, are the Lord’s, and the numerous and bright inhabitants of the upper world, and that this earth, being so small and inconsiderable a part of the creation, and at such a distance from the royal palace above, is neglected, and that he claims no interest in it.’

The same commentator states:

‘All the parts and regions of the earth are the Lord’s, all under his eye, all in his hand: so that, wherever a child of God goes, he may comfort himself with this, that he does not go off his Father’s ground.’

This confession, writes Mays,

‘has a polemical function. The declaration that the LORD is owner is an intentional denial that anyone else is…It excludes any scientism that takes the world to be merely the result of inexplicable and purposeless causes. It raises questions about every tendency of human beings to absolutize ownership. To whom do we think practically and operationally the world belongs? To a roster of nations? To the state? To corporations? To whoever has money to get title to pieces of it? The confession qualifies every conceivable answer to such questions.’
Let us arm ourselves against the evil day ‘St. Chrysostom, suffering under the Empress Eudoxia, tells his friend Cyriacus how he armed himself before hand: “I thought, will she banish me? ‘The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.’ Take away my goods? ‘Naked came I into the world, and naked must I return.’ Will she stone me? I remembered Stephen. Behead me? John Baptist came into my mind,” etc. Thus it should be with every one that intends to live and die comfortably: they must, as we say, lay up something for a rainy day; they must stock themselves with graces, store up promises, and furnish themselves with experiences of God’s lovingkindness to others and themselves too, that so when the evil day comes, they may have much good coming thereby.’ (John Spencer, quoted by Spurgeon)
God is still the owner

‘God is still the owner of the natural world (Ps 24:1), and all the beasts of the forest and the cattle on a thousand hills are his (Ps 50:10–12). Mortals are mere stewards under God. Under no condition may we abuse and run roughshod over the natural order for the sake of quick profits or for the sheer fun of doing so. Indeed, even Job was aware that the land would cry out against him if, in God’s eyes, Job abused it (Job 31:37–40).’ (HSB, p90)

God is the landlord; we are the tenants

‘“To whom does the earth belong?” It is deceptively elementary. How shall we reply? The first answer is straightforward. It is given in Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it.” God is its Creator, and so by right of creation is also its owner. But this is only a partial answer. Here is Psalm 115:16: “The highest heavens belong to the LORD, but the earth he has given to man.” So then, the balanced biblical answer to our question is that the earth belongs to both God and man—to God because he made it, to us because he has given it to us. Not, of course, that he has handed it over to us so completely as to retain neither rights nor control over it, but he has given it to us to rule on his behalf. Our possession of the earth is leasehold, therefore, not freehold. We are only tenants; God himself remains (in the most literal sense) the “landlord”, the Lord of all the land.’ (Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today, 4th ed., p146)

The seas and ocean currents (or rivers) were hostile and chaotic in Canaanite thought, but brought fully under God’s control in biblical teaching.

If ‘ocean currents’ are ‘rivers’ (as UBCS suggests), then the language is yet more reminiscent of Canaanite thought, in which Baal, the storm-god ‘becomes king once he vanquishes Prince Sea (Yam)–Judge River (Nahar)…Thus, in language familiar to the ancients, Psalm 24 sings of Yahweh’s right to divine kingship.’

The seas may lift up their mighty waves, but the Lord is mightier (Psa 93).

He established it upon the ocean currents

According to Prov 8:28,

when he gave the sea his decree
that the waters should not pass over his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth.

Some other texts that speak of ʾereṣ (‘earth’) and tebel (‘world’) also emphasise the stability of the cosmos as created and sustained by the Lord (1 Sam 2:8; 1 Chron 16:30).  Others stress the Lord’s authority over his creation (Psa 33:8f; 89:11).  Still others speak of the Lord’s coming as Judge (Isa 26:9; Psa 96:13), or of the fearful effects of this holy God approaching is fallen world (Nah 1:5; 1 Chron 16:30; Psa 77:18).

Ash comments that,

‘the times when the boundaries are breached, literally by a destructive tsunami, or metaphorically by a terrorist attack, an accident, an illness, a sudden death, do not contradict this truth.  On the contrary, they bring home to us precisely that, “the earth would be swallowed up every moment were it not preserved by the secret power of God.” (Calvin).  The Genesis flood teaches exactly the same truth.’

The forces of chaos will not finally triumph (see Psa 78:69; 102:25; 104:5; 148:6).  ‘The Creator who established moral order in the world will one day re-establish that order’ (Ash).  Let the whole creation

shout with joy
before the LORD, for he comes!
For he comes to judge the earth!
He judges the world fairly,
and the nations in accordance with his justice (Psa 96:13).

For UBCS, the point is that it is to the Lord that the earth belongs, and not to chaos.  This is similar ‘to the point of the confession, “Jesus is lord.” He is lord, not death, human tyrants, principalities and powers, etc.’

A further insight from UBCS is that the Lord’s kingship is described, not in his sitting passively on his throne, but in terms of dynamic victory.  Again:

‘These verses alert us to the fact that creation order is not a given, rather Yahweh must continue to exert his heroic strength to maintain it. This is a message that we in the nuclear and environmentally critical age must take to heart.’

In Heb 1:3, it is the Son who ‘sustains all things by his powerful word.’

Plumer comments that these verses, even though they cannot convert the soul, nevertheless provide, to the converted soul, ‘much food for devout adoration in all God’s works.’

A God of order ‘We live in a world that is stable and ordered’, observes Ash (Teaching Psalms, Vol 1).  God made the world ‘in wisdom’, Psa 104:24, and ‘by understanding’ (Psa 136:5).  Therefore it is intelligible.  Laws of nature are discoverable.  Science is possible.

24:3 Who is allowed to ascend the mountain of the LORD?
Who may go up to his holy dwelling place?
24:4 The one whose deeds are blameless
and whose motives are pure,
who does not lie,
or make promises with no intention of keeping them.

Veres 3-6 appear to interrupt the victory celebrations of the surrounding verses.  Indeed, the psalm would still make good sense if this central section was missing.  UBCS notes, among other things, that a God may be known by the kind of worshipers s/he requires.  Thus, this section further characterises the Lord whose victory is celebrated in this psalm.  The Lord is victor, but for whom is this good news?

Boice agrees that the connection between v1f and vv3ff may seem to be tenuous.  But,

‘actually, the opening is not strange as long as we understand it as a warning not to think of God in exclusive or nationalistic terms. As such it is appropriate. The bulk of the psalm describes God and the people of God coming to Jerusalem—we must assume that the people are largely Jews. It would be easy for them to conclude from this description that God is a Jewish God exclusively, that is, that he is for Jews only or somehow loves Jews more than other people. We know how strong that idea later became, because even in the days of Jesus Christ the disciples seemed unable to think of a worldwide kingdom and thought instead of an exclusively Jewish one. Thus, even after the resurrection they were asking Jesus, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Their understanding of the kingdom was restricted ethnically (it was for “Israel”), politically (it was a “restoration” of the earlier kingdom of David), and geographically (it was to be centered in Jerusalem). Jesus had to teach them that his was to be a spiritual kingdom which would extend throughout the world: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (v. 8).’

Wilson notes that ‘many commentators have pictured a throng of pilgrim worshipers approaching the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, preparing to go up to participate in worship. We know that the southern approach to Herod’s temple was perforated with numerous small ritual baths in which the worshipers would cleanse themselves before approaching the holy precincts.’

Wilson considers an exilic or postexilic setting for the psalm is likely.  ‘Having come from diverse nations and having survived the many perils of the journey, [the pilgrims] were especially well situated to acknowledge—as the opening verses of the psalm do—that Yahweh is the creator Lord of the whole cosmos and all it contains.’

It is possible to be in the presence of a person, and yet be completely alienated from that individual.  In a similar way, whereas the first two verses indicate that we are always in God’s presence, the present section asserts that there are certain conditions that must be met in order for us to enjoy any intimacy or ‘connection’ with him.  The One who made all places has one particular place where he meets with his people in a special way. (Wilcock)

Who is allowed to ascend the mountain of the LORD? – See the similar question posed in Psa 15:1.

‘All people belong to the Creator-King, but may all people approach him?’ (Futato)

‘Before the victory procession can begin, would-be celebrators ask who may join.’ (UBCS)

‘Who shall go to heaven hereafter, and, as an earnest of that, shall have communion with God in holy ordinances now?’ (MHC)

According to Wilson, ‘the liturgy is not so much a self-righteous declaration of innocence as it is a solemn admission of dependence on the merciful grace of the God, whom the worshiper approaches.’

‘The sanctuary was not an open, public space. The Levites were charged with protecting it from violation, and indeed one group of Levites was specifically designated as gatekeepers (1 Chr. 26:1–19).’ (Longman)

The mountain of the Lord…his holy dwelling place – A reference, apparently, to the temple on Mount Zion.  But this was not constructed until after David’s death.  So we may have to conclude that the ascription of the psalm to David does not necessarily imply Davidic authorship, but rather that it is associated with him in some other way.

What is clear, however, is that ‘David did bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6; 1 Chr. 15) and placed it in a tent, perhaps on Zion, although this is not certain. We also know, according to 1 Chronicles, that David expended considerable energy preparing for the building and organization of temple worship.’ (Longman)

Futato identifies the qualifications for approaching God: purity (inward and outward), loyalty (worshiping him, and him alone) and integrity (matching words and deeds).

The qualifications for access to God are expressed in moral, rather than ritual, terms.

Blameless deeds (clean or innocent hands) and pure motives (pure heart) define the outward and inward purity required of the Lord’s worshipers.

On the first of these, Spurgeon comments:

‘It is to be feared that many professors have perverted the doctrine of justification by faith in such a way as to treat good works with contempt; if so, they will receive everlasting contempt at the last great day. It is vain to prate of inward experience unless the daily life is free from impurity, dishonesty, violence, and oppression.’

And the second, Spurgeon notes:

‘There must be a work of grace in the core of the heart as well as in the palm of the hand, or our religion is a delusion.’

Plumer remarks that ‘one of the masterpieces of Satanic craft has been to effect a divorce between morality and religion, whilc God’s plan is to join them inseparably together.  Nor does our great enemy seem to hae any marked preference for religion without morality over morality without religion.’

Concerning purity of heart, Matthew Henry writes:

‘We make nothing of our religion if we do not make heart-work of it. It is not enough that our hands be clean before men, but we must also wash our hearts from wickedness, and not allow ourselves in any secret heart-impurities, which are open before the eye of God.’

Wilson comments on the importance of living a life before God which has integrity:

‘Much as in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7), right relationship with God is determined not by obedience to an external law alone but by integrity, in which the outward acts of an individual are consistent with and flow out of an inner attitude of dependence on God.’

One is reminded of the verse in Hebrews: ‘…holiness, without which no-one will see God.’

Luther wrote:

‘It is not he who sings so well or so many Psalms, nor he who fasts or watches so many days, nor he who divides his own among the poor, nor he who preaches to others, nor he who lives quietly, kindly, and friendly; nor, in fine, is it he who knows all sciences and languages, nor he who works all virtuous and all good works that ever any man spoke or read of, but it is he alone, who is pure within and without.’ (Quoted by Spurgeon)

Does not lie is one possible translation of a difficult phrase.  Other translations include;

‘…who does not trust in an idol’ (NIV)

‘…who does not lift up his soul to what is false’ (ESV)

Wilson thinks that ‘the “emptiness” to which the integrated worshiper avoids offering himself or herself is most likely (as the NIV indicates) a foreign deity or idol.’

VanGemeren remarks: ‘God expects, in addition to loyalty to the Lord in heart and life, a singleness of devotion. The godly do not dishonor the Lord’s name by idolatry or by falsehood.’

Donald Williams adopts the ‘idolatry interpretation, applying it thus:

The worship of any so-called god disqualifies us from worshiping the living God. The first commandment is clear, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3). The temptation to worship idols is our temptation today. True, we do not personify our lust as Baal or our violence as Mars. We do not claim city-state goddesses like Athena as our guardians. Yet, we have our idols. They are abstract idols like “power,” or concrete idols like “money.” “Patriotism” guards our national destiny. “Self” receives our personal devotion. Indeed, Paul warned us of these times: “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, un holy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:1–5). Thus David warns us that we must not lift up our “soul” to any of these “no-gods.”’

Swear by what is false – ‘A false declaration, a fraudulent statement, a cooked account, a slander, a lie—all these may suit the assembly of the ungodly, but are detested among true saints: how could they have fellowship with the God of truth, if they did not hate every false way?’ (Spurgeon)

Plumer comments on the sacredness of truthfulness, and the destructiveness of falsehood:

‘The Scriptures throw a sacredness around promises, contracts, covenants, vows and oaths.  To scoeity this is a great mercy.  When truth is fallen in the streets, iniquity riots.  Perhaps not one thing adds so mcu to the personal happiness of men as truth-telling, and nothing adds ore to the sum of human miser than lying.  It is a misery to him who speaks it, to him who hears it, and to him of whom it is spoken.’

John Trapp notes that perjury is instanced for the rest of the sins of the tongue, as one of the most heinous.

Wiersbe summarises:

‘“Clean hands” speak of righteous conduct (Isa. 1:15–16, 18), and a “pure heart” of godly character and motives (Matt. 5:8). “Vanity” refers to the worship of idols (“worthless things”) and “swearing deceitfully” to all kinds of deception, especially false witness in court.’

For Boice, these qualifications are about (a) purity of outward behaviour; (b) purity of inward heart; (c) right relationship with God; (d) right relaitonship with others.

See Psa 15 for a more extended version of the same sorts of qualifications.

UBCS notes that this list of ethical requirements is by no means exhaustive but is sufficient to establish that,

‘Yahweh’s adherents are people of integrity, that is, they are loyal to truth and integrate themselves around it. They are loyal to God and have no intention of harming or misleading their neighbor.’

Ebenezer Porter (quoted by Spurgeon) describes this ‘morality of the heart’:

‘Shall I tell you, then, who is a moral man in the sight of God? It is he that bows to the divine law as the supreme rule of right; he that is influenced by a governing regard to God in all his actions; he that obeys other commands spontaneously, because he has obeyed the first and great command, “Give me thy heart.” His conduct is not conformed to custom or expediency, but to one consistent, immutable standard of duty. Take this man into a court of justice, and call on him to testify, and he will not bear false witness. Give him the charge of untold treasures, he will not steal. Trust him with the dearest interests of yourself or family, you are safe, because he has a living principle of truth and integrity in his bosom. He is as worthy of confidence in the dark as at noonday; for he is a moral man, not because reputation or interest demands it, not because the eye of public observation is fixed upon him, but because the love and fear of God have predominant ascendency in his heart.’

How are we, as New Testament believers, to understand these qualifications for coming into God’s presence?  Boice draws out attention to the parable of Pharisee and the tax collector (Lk 18:9-14).  Whereas the former pleaded his own personal merit, the latter stood at a distance. Conscious of his sin, he would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus said that it was this man, rather than the Pharisee, who “went home justified before God”.

On our need of an alien righteousness:

‘Indeed, if none must ascend but he that is clean and pure, and without vanity and deceit, the question is quickly answered, None shall, for there is none so: dust is our matter, so not clean; defiled is our nature, so not pure; lighter, the heaviest of us, than vanity, and deceitful upon the balance the best of us; so no ascending so high for any of us. Yet there is One we hear of, or might have heard of to-day, that rose and ascended up on high, was thus qualified as the psalmist speaks of, all clean and pure, no chaff at all, no guile found in his mouth. 1 Peter 2:22. Yes, but it was but One that was so; what’s that to all the rest? Yes, somewhat ’tis. He was our Head, and if the Head be once risen and ascended, the members will all follow after in their time.’ (Mark Frank, quoted by Spurgeon)
We sinners can stand, in Christ, the King of glory

‘Who may stand in his holy place?’ asks Psalm 24. The answer is: ‘The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god’ (Ps. 24:3-4). But where can we find such a person? Those criteria rule out you and me. But the psalm goes on: ‘Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle’ (24:7-8). The Psalmist calls on the gates of Mount Zion to swing open because someone is coming who can ascend the hill of the LORD – the King of glory. This is the king of God’s people, the human son of David. But it is also God Himself, the LORD Almighty. This is Jesus, the God-man, the King of glory and the LORD Almighty. He may ascend the hill of the LORD. He may stand before God in the holy place. For He has clean hands and a pure heart. And if you have faith in Christ then you are in Him. His purities, His achievements, His privileges are yours. In Christ you have clean hands and a pure heart and so in Christ you may ascend the hill of the LORD.’

(Chester, The Ascension)

Concerning the place of holiness in the light of the believer, David Dickson writes:

‘The holy life of the true believer is not the cause of his justification before God, … but he shall receive justification and eternal life, as a free gift from God, by virtue of the covenant of grace: therefore it is said here that he shall receive righteousness from the God of his salvation.’
24:5 Such godly people are rewarded by the LORD,
and vindicated by the God who delivers them.
24:6 Such purity characterizes the people who seek his favor,
Jacob’s descendants, who pray to him.
(Selah)

Such godly people are rewarded by the Lord – ‘They shall be made truly and for ever happy.’ (MHC)

‘The blessing of the Lord is not just His benefits, it is His presence: “The LORD bless you and keep you; / The LORD make His face shine upon you, / And be gracious to you; / The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, / And give you peace” (Num. 6:24–26).’ (Donald Williams)

‘The blessed man is he whom the Lord blesses, and no others.’ (Plumer)

Vindicated by the God who delivers them – There are just two ways of attaining righteousness: (a) to be in faultless compliance with the law; or (b) to be declared righteous by the law-giver.  Here, permission to come into God’s presence ‘comes from “God his Savior” emphasiz[ing] that “righteousness” is granted by God, not earned by faultless compliance with external law.’

Knight (DSB) prefers that the word tsedaqah be translated ‘righteousness’ (not ‘vindication’).

This righteousness, then, is received, not achieved.  Lancelot Andrewes (quoted by Spurgeon), writes:

‘As for our own righteousness which we have without him, Esay telleth us, “it is a defiled cloth;” and St. Paul, that it is but “dung.” Two very homely comparisons, but they be the Holy Ghost’s own; yet nothing so homely as in the original, where they be so odious, as what manner of defiled cloth, or what kind of dung, we have not dared to translate. Our own then being no better, we are driven to seek for it elsewhere. “He shall receive his righteousness,” saith the prophet; and “the gift of righteousness,” saith the apostle. Philippians 3:8, 9; Romans 5:17. It is then another, to be given us, and to be received by us, which we must seek for. And whither shall we go for it? Job alone dispatcheth this point (chapter 15:15; 4:18; 25:5.) Not to the heavens or stars, they are unclean in his sight. Not to the saints, for in them he found folly. Not to the angels, for neither in them found he steadfastness. Now, if none of these will serve, we see a necessary reason why Jehovah must be a part of this name, “the LORD our righteousness.” Jeremiah 23:6.’

Longman remarks that,

‘although the psalmist expresses stringent ethical theological qualifications for entry into the sanctuary, “the liturgy is not so much a self-righteous declaration of innocence as it is a solemn admission of dependence on the merciful grace of God’ (Wilson 2002: 450).”‘

UBCS notes that we Christians may feel uncomfortable with any pre-requisites for coming into the presence of God.  But Jesus himself was clear that ‘true worshipers’ are those who ‘worship the Father in spirit and in truth’ (Jn 4:23).  The promise of v5 is not (according to UBCS) about receiving ‘vindication’ from God, but receiving ‘righteousness’ from him.  This righteousness is imputed before it is imparted.

Such purity characterises the people who seek his favour – For Craigie and Tate, this is a relative, rather than an absolute, purity.  It is purity desired, rather than purity achieved.

‘To desire communion with God is a purifying thing. Oh to hunger and thirst more and more after a clear vision of the face of God; this will lead us to purge ourselves from all filthiness, and to walk with heavenly circumspection. He who longs to see his friend when he passes takes care to clear the mist from the window, lest by any means his friend should go by unobserved.’ (Spurgeon)

This psalm does not spell out, in so many words, the sinfulness of the human heart and the need for redemption.  But no portion of Scripture can be expected to say everything.  We need look only at the next psal (Psa 25, also a psalm ‘of David’) to realise how acutely aware David was of his need for grace, mercy and forgiveness:

4 Show me your ways, LORD,
teach me your paths.
5 Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
6 Remember, LORD, your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you, LORD, are good.
(Psa 25:4-7, NIV)

Something very similar is observed in the relationship between Psalms 14 and 15 (again, both of which are ‘of David’).  The latter presents very similar sentiments to the middle verses of the present psalm, whereas Psa 14 acknowledges the universality of human sinfulness and the need for divine grace:

2 The LORD looks down from heaven
on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
3 All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.

Michael Morgan observes that,

‘The directives outlined are few, and echo more sentiment from the Beatitudes than the Commandments—clean hands, a pure heart, a humble spirit, integrity and honesty. These are infinitely more difficult to keep than the mandates against theft and adultery and the taking of another life. They are more subtle, easier to mask and deny, and can compromise us when we don’t even realize it.’ (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol 4)

To ‘seek God’s favour’ is ‘to seek his face’ (NIV).  ‘The bottom line an entrant must profess is, “I am a seeker of Yahweh.” This is a claim of willingness, not perfection’ (UBCS).

‘Personal encounter is essential to worship (cf. Amos 5:4–6). It is striking that the OT insists on continuing to use this phrase in light of other assertions that no one can “see” God’s face and live (Exod. 33:20) and especially in light of its possible ambiguity regarding worshiping with an image of the deity. Its survival can probably be traced to its powerful presentation of this notion of personal encounter with God.’ (UBCS)

Sibbes notes that to ‘seek’ God implies the acknowledge of some need on our part:

‘The presence of God meant here is, that presence that he shows in the time of need, and in his ordinances. He shows a presence in need and necessity, that is, a gracious presence to his children, a gracious face. As in want of direction, he shows his presence of light to direct them; in weakness he shows his strength; in trouble and perplexity he will show his gracious and comfortable presence to comfort them. In perplexity he shows his presence to set the heart at large, answerable to the necessity. So in need God is present with his children, to direct them, to comfort them, to strengthen them.’

Futato asks,

‘But who can say, “I meet the requirements of the holy God?” We have already seen how this question was answered for Psalm 15 by the preceding Psalm 14. Here the answer will be given for Psalm 24 by the following Psalm 25, where David, fully aware of his failures to meet the requirements (see Psa 25:7, 18), nevertheless confesses that he is one who lifts his soul to the Lord (Psa 25:1), not to idols (Psa 24:4), and who trusts in the Lord (Psa 25:2–3) for “compassion and unfailing love” (Psa 25:6). Anyone who comes by grace through faith may approach the Creator-King.’

Wilcock asks: Where today is the hill of the Lord?  The answer is that Jesus is our ‘King of Glory’, and that we join with him in victory, and have ‘come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem’ (Heb 12:22).


24:7 Look up, you gates!
Rise up, you eternal doors!
Then the majestic king will enter!
24:8 Who is this majestic king?
The LORD who is strong and mighty!
The LORD who is mighty in battle!
24:9 Look up, you gates!
Rise up, you eternal doors!
Then the majestic king will enter!
24:10 Who is this majestic king?
The LORD who commands armies!
He is the majestic king!
(Selah)

We come to mount Zion by grace; God himself is there by ‘right of conquest’ (Wilcock).

Wilson observes that ‘having gained admission to the temple precincts, the gathered pilgrim worshipers anticipate the arrival of Yahweh himself.’

We might have expected the Lord to already be enthroned in his temple.  But in the rich imagery of this psalm the Lord is welcomed to his holy place as mighty victor.  Christian thought is thereby anticipated, for Christ, at his ascension, entered his Father’s dwelling place, having achieved his victory over evil.

But we think, too, of God’s entrance into his world, when ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’  He did not receive a universal welcome.  Indeed, he came to his own, and his own received him not (Jn 1).

According to UBCS, these verses ‘make sense only in light of a procession.’  The idea of gates opening requires (according to the same source) the presence of some physical symbol of God’s presence.  The Ark of the Covenant is thought the most probable.

Look up, you gates! Rise up, you eternal doors! – The language is figurative: ancient doors opened outwards, and not upwards (Longman).

‘The psalmist may be literally addressing the gates of the temple to open up. Or since the temple itself was not yet erected in David’s time, the psalmist may be referring to the “ancient doors” of Jerusalem.’ (VanGemeren)

‘The “ever lasting doors” would point beyond any literal earthly reference. Here is a prophetic directive to the New Testament. “For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Heb 9:24). The “everlasting doors” are the gates of heaven which Zion only represents (see Rev 21:25).’ (Donald Williams)

‘Lifting up the head’ is ‘a sign of joyous anticipation and hope’ (Wilson).

Then the majestic king will enter! – ‘He who was “a worm” at his birth, a Lamb in his passion, and a Lion in his resurrection, now ascends as an Eagle to heaven, and encourages us to follow him thither. This day heaven learns to endure man’s presence, and men to walk above the stars; the heavenly Jerusalem receives its rightful King, the church its High Priest, the house of God its Heritor, the whole world its Ruler.’ (James Nouet, quotes by Spurgeon)

Plumer comments that the Lord Jesus was the Lord of Glory even from the time of his humiliation:

‘Hitherto men have known Christ chiefly in a lowly condition, but he is the King of glory, vv7-10.  He was so even in his humiliation.  At time his glory shined forth illustriously as in his miracles, Jn 2:1-11; in his transfiguration, Mt 17:1-7; in his resurrection, Acts 2:24; and in his ascension to glory, Acts 1:9-11.  He offered no more blessed petition for his chosen than that they should be with him and behold his glory, Jn 17:24.  That vision will be heaven, Rev 14:1.’

John Boys writes about the various receptions that were given to our Lord in the days of his flesh:

‘In the gospel history, we find that Christ had a fourfold entertainment among men.
    • Some received him into house, not into heart, as Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:44), who gave him no kiss nor water to his feet;
    • some into heart, but not into house, as the faithful centurion (Matthew 8:8), esteeming himself unworthy that Christ should come under his roof;
    • some neither into house nor heart, as the graceless Gergesites (Matthew 8:34);
    • some both into house and heart, as Lazarus, Mary, Martha. John 3:15; Luke 10:38.’
(Reformatted)

Jacobson (NICOT) plots some of the ways in which the entrance of the King of Glory was resisted at first:

‘According to the New Testament witness, when the King of Glory came, they tried to kill him. At his birth, King Herod took the first shot. Further on, the good townfolk of Nazareth tried to throw him off a cliff. Still later, some of his coreligionists tried to stone him. And of course in the end, a conspiracy of the ruling elite nailed him.’
We share in Christ’s victory

‘Christ is gone to heaven as a victor; leading sin, Satan, death, hell, and all his enemies, in triumph at his chariot wheels. He has not only overcome his enemies for himself, but for all his people, whom he will make conquerors, yea, “more than conquerors.” As he has overcome, so shall they also overcome; and as he has gone to heaven a victor, they shall follow in triumph. He is in heaven as a Saviour. When he came from heaven it was in the character of a Saviour; when on earth he obtained eternal salvation; in heaven he lives as a Saviour; when he comes again from heaven he will come as a Saviour; and when he will return, he will return as a Saviour. He is also gone to heaven as the rightful heir. He is not gone to heaven as a sojourner, but as “the heir of all things.” He is the heir of heavenly glory and happiness, and believers are “heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.”‘ (Henry Pendlebury, quoted by Spurgeon)

Who is this? – ‘The victorious throng accompany the ark to the gates of the temple compound and demand entrance in a ritual liturgy calculated to emphasize the glory, strength, power, and majesty of their victorious God.’ (Wilson)

As Wilson remarks, these are not real questions of identity, but rather prompts for the exalted descriptions that follow.

This truth, writes isaac Ambrose, is full of joy and comfort:

‘O my soul, how should this heighten thy joy and enlarge thy comforts, in that Christ is now received up into glory? Every sight of Christ is glorious, and in every sight thou shouldst wait on the Lord Jesus Christ for some glorious manifestations of himself. Come, live up to the rate of this great mystery; view Christ as entering into glory, and thou wilt find the same sparkle of glory on thy heart. O! this sight is a transforming sight: “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 3:18.’ (Quoted by Spurgeon)

The Lord who is mighty in battle! – Longman thinks that the most likely scenario is that

‘the army of Israel has returned from a successful battle against the enemy. When obedient Israel warred at God’s command against their enemies, they would take the ark of the covenant with them as a symbol of his presence as Warrior. Thus, as they return after the victory, the priests leading the way and carrying the ark would ask entry of a priest who was on the walls to open up the gates so they could return. God has manifested his glory in battle. He is the Lord Almighty, which is more literally translated ‘Lord of Hosts’, the hosts being his army.’ (Longman)

We should not miss, then, the note of military victory in this section of the psalm.  The Christian reader will understand this in terms of the victory of Christ over evil, Col 2:15.  In his victory parade, he returns to his ‘holy place’, bringing with him ‘those who are qualified to ascend this mountain to this holy place.’

The Lord is the majestic king.  As Wilson remarks, this would have had particular resonance in the post-monarchical period, when human kingship had proved a failure.  Both the failed kings of Israel and the many foreign monarchs under whose rulership God’s people lived are subordinate to the matchless kingship of the Lord.

Joseph Hall writes of the glory of the ascended Christ:

‘If, when he brought his only-begotten Son into the world, he said, “Let all the angels worship him;” much more now that he, “ascendeth on high, and hath led captivity captive, hath he given him a name above all names, that at the name of Jesus all knees should bow.”‘ (Quoted by Spurgeon).  See Eph 4:8/Psa 68:18; Phil 2; Rev 5:12.

John Boys comments on Christ, ‘the King of glory’:

‘If the Lord of hosts, strong and mighty in battle, be the King of glory, then Christ (having conquered all his enemies, and made them his footstool, triumphing over death, and the devil which is the founder of death, and sin which is the sting of death, and the grave which is the prison of death, and hell itself which is the proper dominion of the devil and death) is doubtless in himself, “the King of glory.” And for as much as he died for our sins, and is risen again for our justification, and is ascended on high to give gifts unto men—in this life grace, in the next glory—what is he less than a “King of glory” towards us, of whom and through whom alone we find that fight his battles are delivered from the hands of all that hate us, and so made victors (1 Corinthians 15:57), yea, “more than conquerors.” Romans 8:37. ‘ (Quoted by Spurgeon)

The LORD who commands armies – ‘the Lord of hosts’, in many translations.

‘If the earth is his (1, 2) and he is holy (3–6), the challenge to the ‘ancient doors’ is not an exercise in pageantry, but (as in 2 Cor. 10:3–5) a battle-cry for the church.’ (Kidner)

Mays summarises the meaning and significance of this title:

‘The title “LORD of hosts” or “God of hosts” is the throne name of Israel’s God (Isa. 6:5). It is the title the LORD bears as royal resident in Zion (84:1, 3), the one whose power makes the city of God invulnerable against its enemies (Psa 46:7, 11; 48:4–8). The title refers to the hosts who surround the LORD’s heavenly throne and who praise and consult him and carry out his decisions as sovereign of the world (e.g., Psa 29:1–2; 82:1; 89:6–7). In Psalm 89:5–14 there is a long description of the LORD of hosts in which all the theological features of Psalm 24 appear. It is especially important for verses 3–6 that righteousness, justice, steadfast love, and faithfulness are said to be features of the reign of the LORD of hosts. That explains the necessity of the character of the righteous for those who go to stand in his royal presence.’

The implication is that

‘Yahweh’s coming will issue either in great rejoicing for those who acknowledge their dependence on Yahweh and seek him rightly (24:3–6) or in judgment for those who do not.’ (Wilson)

Longman reflects on the ‘warfare’ aspects of this psalm:

‘Christians too are engaged in warfare, not against flesh-and-blood enemies, but ‘against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Eph. 6:12). Psalm 24 encourages Christian readers that their God continues to fight for them in the midst of the turmoil of life. They also wait in hope for the future reappearance of their Warrior, Jesus Christ, who will bring all evil, human and spiritual, to an end (Rev. 19:11–21).’
Theological emphases

  1. Worship of the Lord does not just take place ‘in church’ (as we might say), but is intimately connected with our daily behaviour (vv3-6)
  2. The God whose glory spreads over the world (vv7-10) is also the God of the nation (v6) and of the individual (v5).  Other ancient religions had different gods for different aspects of life, but Yahweh is one God over all.
  3. This psalm calls for us to see the cosmos under the Lord’s kingship.  As God’s created order is reflected in hi people (v4), so their worship should demonstrate ecological awareness.  This is a realisation ‘that is vital in our age of disintegration, where nuclear, environmental, and social crises face us daily.’

(Based on UBCS)

Futato:

‘It does not take much imagination to envision a time when the Creator-King proceeded into Jerusalem on a donkey, surrounded by a throng of people shouting, “Praise God for the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD!” (Matt 21:9). In fact, “the entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. ‘Who is this?’ they asked. And the crowds replied, ‘It’s Jesus’ ” (Matt 21:10–11). He is the King of glory. But soon the crowd would roar, “Crucify him!” (Matt 27:23), because without his substitutionary life and death none of the peoples of the earth could ever hope to approach the holy Creator-King. Because the Creator-King himself entered the city to atone for sin, whoever trusts in his unfailing love can approach the Creator-King with confidence (Heb 4:14–16). The day is coming when the Creator-King in all his glory will proceed with all the angels to enter his earth-sanctuary (Matt 25:31) so that his dominion might be established in its eternal fullness. On that day the shout will be heard, “Open up, ancient gates! Open up, ancient doors, and let the King of glory enter.” Then will be heard the question, “Who is the King of glory?” The answer will resound throughout all space and time, “The LORD of Heaven’s Armies—he is the King of glory.”’

Boice remarks that this psalm was prescribed for reading on the first day of the week (our Sunday).  So,

‘We may assume that these were the words being recited by the temple priests at the very time the Lord Jesus Christ mounted a donkey and ascended the rocky approach to Jerusalem. The people who were outside the walls, who were approaching Jerusalem with him, exclaimed:
Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest! (Matt. 21:9).
Inside the priests were intoning:
Lift up your heads, O you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is he, this King of glory?
The LORD Almighty—
he is the King of glory. Selah (Ps. 24:9–10).’

But they did not let the King of glory in.  Instead, they crucified him.

Spurgeon wrote:

‘It is possible that you are saying, “I shall never enter into the heaven of God, for I have neither clean hands nor a pure heart.” Look then to Christ, who has already climbed the holy hill. He has entered as the forerunner of those who trust him. Follow in his footsteps, and repose upon his merit. He rides triumphantly into heaven, and you shall ride there too if you trust him. “But how can I get the character described?” say you. The Spirit of God will give you that. He will create in you a new heart and a right spirit. Faith in Jesus is the work of the Holy Spirit, and has all virtues wrapped up in it.’

Mays comments that the psalm is appropriate for use at several points in the Christian year:

‘The psalm has long association with the celebration of the ascension of Jesus. Used in this connection, it portrays Jesus as the victor over sin and death who enters the heavenly realm through the eternal doors to reign at the right hand of God as the king of glory. In contemporary lectionaries the psalm is used in the season of Advent and on the Sunday of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. On these occasions the psalm discloses the mystery of Mary’s child. The babe born in a stable is the king of glory. The man who enters the holy city only to be rejected and executed is the hidden king of glory. In him God comes to us and for us to bring blessing and righteousness.’

Matthew Henry perceives a twofold application:

(a) ‘to the ascension of Christ into heaven and the welcome given to him there’, Dan 7:13f.  The doors had been shut to us, Gen 3:24, must now open to Christ, who by the shedding of his blood has gained the right to enter in to the most holy place Heb 9:12.  And he himself enters, brining us with him.

(b) ‘to Christ’s entrance into the souls of men by his word and Spirit, that they may be his temples.’  The Lord Jesus demands entrance into our hearts, and it redounds to his glory and to our blessing when we open the door and let him in.

‘Received up into heaven.’

The ark of the covenant is the presence of God symbolised.  The Word made flesh is the presence of God realised.