Morning Pages: Psalm 15
Reading the Bible is a dynamic experience. Some days it feels like sitting down to a feast. You gobble down every last morsel. Other days it feels like sitting down to your mom’s salmon patties—choking them down and figuring out how many bites you have to take before she lets you leave the table (no offense if you like salmon patties). Initially, this psalm wasn’t very appetizing. But when I continued to reflect on it and consider it in light of the whole story of Scripture, something beautiful emerged.
David begins with a rhetorical question,
Vs. 1 “Oh LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?”
This question establishes the foundation and direction for the rest of the psalm. The fundamental idea at the root of David’s question is that Yahweh is holy, which means he is set apart. The Lord is wholly set apart from all other creation. There is none like him. Everything else that exists finds its origins in him. But holy also refers to God’s righteous nature and moral perfection. Because God is holy, he cannot dwell among unholy people. So in the Old Testament, God’s presence was limited to a specific place, which only a few specific people had access to, and then only after performing a sacrifice to atone for their own sin.
David uses two phrases: “sojourn in your tent” and “dwell on your holy hill.” Both of these places are known to ancient Israelites as God’s dwelling place. “Tent” may refer to the Tabernacle, where the Ark of the Covenant was, and priests would offer sacrifices to Yahweh for the people's sins so they might be cleansed and made right with God. The term “holy hill” may be another reference to the Tabernacle, but it could also reference Mount Zion—another place known as God’s dwelling among his people.
David's rhetorical question in verse 1 is meant to get our attention. With that question hanging in the air, David goes on to illustrate in the following verses the kind of person who can come near to God,
Vs. 2-5a “He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.”
In verse 1, David draws our eyes up to reflect on the holiness of the Lord. Now in verses 2-5, he draws our eyes in toward self-reflection. So verse 1 is a window through which we can peer into the Lord’s majesty. And verses 2-5 are a mirror in which we can see and evaluate ourselves in light of God’s holiness.
The kind of person who can draw near to the Lord and dwell in his presence is one who:
— Lives/acts blamelessly. They are sound, whole, complete, unimpaired, and have integrity.
— Does what is right. They are just and righteous in their actions toward others.
—Speaks truth in their heart. What flows from their mouth comes from their heart. Their words are truthful to the innermost parts. There is no hypocrisy or duplicity in them.
—Does not slander. They don't go about speaking maliciously false statements about others but instead speak truthfully.
—Does no evil to their neighbor. Again does what is just, right, and good for fellow citizens. Treats others with respect, dignity, and kindness.
—Doesn’t take up a reproach against a friend. Does not cast scorn or treat them with contempt.
—Rightly despises those who do evil and honors those who fear the Lord.
—Swears to their own detriment and does not waver. When they make promises, they keep them even if it means they suffer for it.
—Doesn’t charge interest when loaning money to others. They are fair and generous. They don’t heap burdens on another’s back but seek to help and alleviate burdens.
—Takes no bribes against the innocent. They are truthful and just in their dealings with others.
Then in verse 5b, David says, “He who does these things shall never be moved.”
At first reading, this felt like a list of things I must do, who I must be if I want to draw near to the Lord. And that feels burdensome and discouraging because none of these describe me 100% of the time. Not even 50% of the time! On my own merit, I do not have the character necessary to be in the presence of God. And that’s the tension this psalm created for me when I first read it. So where does that leave me—except for broken, inadequate, and in need?
But this is where hope emerges. While this is a picture of what it looks like to live a holy life, only one person could live this kind of life fully—Jesus. He is the one who walked blamelessly, who did what was right and just, and in whom there was no duplicity.
Because Jesus was our immovable great high priest—offering a once-for-all sacrifice for our sins, we no longer need any other representatives before God. It is no longer my performance that grants me access to the Lord. Because Jesus was, is now, and always will be my representative in the presence of God, I can come boldly to the throne of grace—to both worship in the presence of the Lord and ask for help in times of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).
But here is what is even better than that! Yahweh’s presence used to dwell in his holy tabernacle and was limited to a select number of priests. But now, because Jesus lived faithfully—fulfilling his promise to us and to his own detriment (verse 4b)—WE are God’s holy temple, and his presence (Holy Spirit) dwells within us.
Jesus not only made it possible for us to draw near to God, but he also brought God to dwell within us. So now, rather than viewing this as an unbearable burden and list of things we must try harder to do and be, we can rest fully in Christ—knowing he has already perfectly fulfilled this in our place—securing our home with Yahweh forever.
Ultimately, this psalm is about access to God. And through Christ, God has generously granted us unlimited access to him. It’s a come-as-you-are—broken, inadequate, and in-need—invitation.
Until next week.
All my love,
Poor Bishop Hooper's song for Psalm 15.