- Before we can begin this psalm, we need to know something about Hebrew poetry. Hebrew poetry is very different from English poetry. When we read a poem, we expect to find a particular meter to the poem and perhaps a rhyme or some other sort of literary device. But this is not how poetry was written thousands of years ago.
- The chief characteristic that one finds in Hebrew poetry is the use of parallel lines, typically found as couplets. There are many different forms that were used concerning these poetic couplets. Sometimes a second line would involve a restatement of the first line. For example, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). Both lines of the couplet speak to the same matter. Sometimes the second line of the couplet would be an amplification, or expansion of the idea found in the first line. For example, “The highway of the upright avoids evil; he who guards his way guards his life” (Proverbs 16:17). Here we see that the second line is not merely a restatement of the first line of the couplet, but amplifies the first line showing why it is important to be on the highway of the upright. Other times, the second line of a couplet will be in contrast to the first line of the couplet. For example, “The Lord detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases Him” (Proverbs 15:8). In this couplet we see that the second line states a contrast to the first line.
- This is the nature of Hebrew poetry. I believe we will see this type of Hebrew parallelism used in the fifteenth psalm.
I. The Question
A. Who may dwell in your sanctuary?
- David begins this psalm by asking a question: “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary?” Literally, the question asks who may dwell in the Lord’s tent or His tabernacle. The sanctuary or the tabernacle was considered to be the dwelling place of the Lord. Of course, the Lord did not literally dwell in the structure, for “the Most High does not live in houses made by men” (Acts 7:48).
- The tabernacle was a symbol of the presence of God. God’s presence was in the Holy of Holies where no one was allowed to enter except the high priest once a year. The presence of God was covered by a large, thick veil. The altar of incense stood before the veil and would fill the Holy of Holies with its smoke, as this would resemble the glory and the presence of God. David is asking who can come into the presence of the Lord. Of course, according to the old law, no one could come into the presence of the Lord. So it is clear that David is not referring to the literal tent or tabernacle of God that was in the wilderness or at Shiloh. The question is more of a spiritual matter. Who is the person found acceptable by God? Who is the person that the Lord approves that can be found in God’s presence in His heavenly sanctuary? We are speaking about being a guest in God’s royal house.
B. Who may live on your holy hill?
- The second question is part of the Hebrew parallelism that we have mentioned. The second line uses different words to restate the idea found in the first line. David asks, “Who may live on your holy hill?” David tells us in Psalm 2:6, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” So when we read about a “holy hill” we need to think of Zion.
- Zion has a very deep and rich meaning in the scriptures, which I do not have time in this lesson to address. But at the very least we can understand Zion as God’s holy mountain, a place where God dwells and is ever present. We see the beginning of such references back in the song of Moses, “You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance—the place, O Lord, you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, your hands established. The Lord will reign forever and ever” (Exodus 15:17-18). Who will the Lord find worthy to be with Him on His holy hill? The rest of the psalm answers this question.
II. The Person the Lord Approves
A. Holy character
- The first couplet of verse 2 identifies the type of character the Lord requires to be found acceptable. David first says, “he whose walk is blameless.” This description is the same word used throughout the old law to describe the animal that was to be prepared for sacrifices to God. Most of the time it is translated, “without blemish.” The animal to be offered had to be whole and complete. The animal could not be broken, maimed, or sickly in any fashion. This is the type of character that God is looking for in His people.
- From an objective sense of this term, none of us are without blemish. All of us have been broken by the power of sin, and our spirits have been corrupted by our own decisions to violate the will of God. As 1 John 1:7 tells us, only when we have confessed our sins to God can the blood of Jesus Christ forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. But there is a subjective sense to which David is most likely referring when he speaks of one’s character being blameless. From this subjective sense, we would consider the person to be morally well-rounded and sound in the teaching of God. The person is not strong in one area and weak in all others, but exhibits strength in all areas of his or her life. This person does not vacillate in his or her commitment to God. The person is the same on Monday through Saturday as he or she is on Sunday morning.
- Not only is the character well-rounded and whole toward God, but the person is also active in righteousness. The second line of the couplet reads, “and who does what is righteous.” If we are to be found acceptable in the sight of God and dwell with Him, we cannot merely have a passive character of godliness and morality. God also seeks a character that is active in righteousness.
- We must always remember that what we do toward one another is also what we are doing toward Jesus Christ. If we are acting cruelly, immorally, or with malice toward others, we are also doing such toward Jesus. By the same token, when we are active in works of righteousness, we are also doing these things toward God. Jesus taught us that principle in Matthew 25:34-40. If we want the approval of God, then we must change our character so that we show ourselves blameless in that we are being made complete in Jesus. Our character is being molded into the image of God. When that transformation is taking place, we will dwell with the Lord in Zion.
B. Holy speech
- The next couplet of David addresses the need for holy speech if we are to dwell with the Lord. In this couplet we find a contrast described showing the character of one who is found acceptable to God. The first line tells us what the acceptable one does and the second line tells us what he or she does not do.
- First, David says, “who speaks the truth from his heart.” Truth is of the utmost importance to God. God is truth and His word is truth and therefore He abhors all things that are false. We cannot tell people what we think they want to hear. Instead, our lips must always be truthful. Now, for some reason we associate the truth with harshness. We think to be truthful means that we need to hurt others feelings. But God tells us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:25,29). Honesty and gentleness can go hand in hand if we want them to and if we will be thoughtful enough with our words.
- Speaking the truth is not only important because it is the character of God, but also because this is the only way that we are found trustworthy with one another. There can be no trust among us if we are not speaking truthfully to each other. Without a foundation of truth, we cannot build up together. Notice that this speaking of truth comes from the heart. The truth is not contrived. Speaking the truth is not a once in a while event. This is the nature of the person’s heart. The person approved by God has a heart that desires to be truthful in all situations and speaks the truth no matter the consequences.
- Second, a person who is approved by God “has no slander on his tongue.” The positive side is addressed that one must speak the truth. Now we see what is also missing from his mouth–that is, slander. This also goes against backbiting and gossip. All forms of language that we use to potentially harm another is condemned. I believe that this is one of the greatest sins that exists in churches today, most frequently committed, more notably allowed and excused, and the most destructive among us. I found it interesting to notice that this word for “slander” is used throughout the Old Testament to refer to people who were sent into a land to “spy it out.” That is the idea conveyed in this word. We are enemies when we slander one another. We are acting like spies, finding out information, and then telling others what we have learned. Brethren, we must rein in our tongues if we are to live with the Lord.
C. Holy conduct
- If the last couplet was about what we should say and should not say to our neighbor, then this couplet addresses what we should do and should not do toward our neighbor. To be approved by God, David says a person “does his neighbor no wrong.” When we come to a statement like this, I believe it is easy for us to have the same question in our mind that the expert of the law had to Jesus when he asked, “who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). When we speak of doing good to our neighbor, we want to limit exactly who our neighbor is. We want our neighbor to be only our friends. We want our neighbor to be those who are kind to us. We want our neighbor to be only those who are disciples of Jesus.
- But Jesus threw that idea out when He taught the parable of the good Samaritan. In that parable Jesus taught that every person was our neighbor, even those who we would consider despicable, awful, and terrible people. Everyone is our neighbor. So let us reexamine the text with this lens before us. Are we people who do our neighbor no wrong? That is exactly what God is looking for in us if we are to be found acceptable to Him so that we can dwell with Him.
- The second part of the couplet says that the one who is approved by God does not take up a reproach upon his fellow man. This is something that can involve words and deeds. To take up a reproach against another can refer to scorning the person and speaking evil of a person. We have no right to speak in such a way about other people. We see this point taught in Jude 9, “But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” Now, I think we would all agree that the devil is certainly deserving of any slanderous accusation and any reproach that could be thought of, yet not even Michael the archangel would dare bring such an accusation against him. What does this tell us about how we ought to use our words about other people if even the devil ought not be slandered! Too often we bring a reproach and scorn upon others. Such an action is not acceptable to God.
- Further, we can bring a reproach upon others by the way we treat them. We may not offer the slanderous words, but we treat them as the plague. Do we treat every person with respect and dignity, or do we think that we are important people who ought to be served by others? We can treat people with scorn and think we are doing well because we did not say anything bad. Well, how did we treat them, though? Many times we are not treating people the way they ought to be treated. Again, the good Samaritan showed us what it means to be a neighbor by going the extra mile for another person, though they may not deserve such help. It could be very well argued that the Samaritan was foolish for walking down that path for it was a dangerous road to travel. By passing by, the Samaritan would have shown the same scorn and contempt that the priest and the Levite showed. God is looking for people who will show compassion upon their fellow man and treat them honorably and respectably.
D. Holy values
- The next couplet seems to deal with the values that we believe in and follow. David says that one who is approved by God is one “who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the Lord.” To honor those who are godly and despise those who are evil is a matter of the value system that we have. We can see in society today that these ideals and values are rapidly deteriorating. Our heroes today are those who get paid millions of dollars a year. Our heroes today are those who commit evil and get away with it. Sports athletes are the poster children for bad role models, yet these are the very people that our children want to be like. Those who are good, moral, and honest people get zero press coverage. Only those who have “street value” are those who are honored and modeled.
- We cannot fall into such a trap. How easy it is for us to idolize some actor or actress that we think seems to be so good and wholesome, but in reality is just acting a part. How easy it is for us to glorify what the world glorifies. Yet we must realize that this is a distortion of the values that God has placed within us. Let me use a phrase that I believe shows how bad things have gotten in our society: the stay-at-home mother, or homemaker. A person who claims this role in our society today is considered to be foolish, wasting her life, and at the very least, outright lazy. This is a false value that we have adopted from society and not from God. God glorifies mothers who would stay home to take care of their children. God does not condemn such a woman as lazy or insignificant. Let us make sure we are not despising what God has honored, and are not honoring what God has despised.
E. Holy integrity
- David next addresses the integrity of a person who is approved by God. This person is one “who keeps his oath even when it hurts.” The thought is a couplet even though the writing is incomplete. God approves of those who keep their oath at all times. Here is a person who says something and means it. This goes to the integrity of a person. Jesus said that our integrity ought to be great enough that when we say “yes,” it will be yes and people will know that it is a yes. When we say “no,” people will know that it will be a “no” (Matthew 5:37). Our words ought to be important to us. Too often we are so flippant with the things that we say we will do and not do, without any regard or thought for whether we truly plan to do them or not.
- But it is not merely keeping our word when it is convenient for us. Notice the rest of the couplet states that the person is faithful “even when it hurts.” That is the kind of integrity that God is looking for. God is not impressed when we keep our word when it is easy for us to keep our word. Integrity is shown when we keep our word despite the cost or toll that comes against us. How easy it is to excuse ourselves from our commitments because we did not count the cost before we said our words. God’s words are unfailing, immovable, and a firm foundation for each of us as we journey through the perils of life. Our words need to be like God’s words. When we say something, let us mean it, or not say it at all.
F. Holy use of money
- Would you be surprised to know that God cares how we use our money? I am not sure why we are surprised at that and many take offense to the idea that God will judge us based upon how we have used our money. But I believe the logic is simple to follow. Do we not look to see how our children spend the money we give them? If they are responsible, we will continue to give them more; but if they are wasteful and irresponsible, then we may choose to withhold our help. God has applied these same principles upon His children.
- David says that God approves of the man “who lends his money without usury.” God commanded the people of Israel not to collect interest on one another when money was lent (Exodus 22:25-27). God gave rules on the use of money because He cares how we use His money. God did not want us to try to hurt others in efforts to gain more money. This is clearly seen in the rest of the couplet, “and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.” When we use money to try to hurt other people or to try to get ahead of others in our selfish pursuits, we are not acting in the image of God and God does not approve of us.
- The concept of being judged based upon how we use our money was also taught to us in the New Testament by Jesus in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25). As you may know, a talent was a denomination of money that was used in the Roman days. Each of the servants in that parable was judged based upon what each did with the money that was given to him by the master. As we may know, each servant was given a different amount of money. But judgment was based upon whether the servant used the money in the service of the master, or if it was used selfishly. God did not give us what we have so that we would hoard it, be selfish with it, or be consumed by it. We are to serve God with it, yet how often serving God is the last thing we use our money for. We get stingy when it comes to using money to serve God. We need to be very careful, for God watches even what we do with our money and we will give an account of how the things that God has given us have been used.
- David concludes the psalm by saying, “he who does these things will never be shaken.” Our ears ought to really perk up when we hear such a statement like we will never be shaken. If we want to have the security of God’s approval, and knowledge that we will dwell with Him, then we must have a holy character, holy speech, holy conduct, holy values, holy integrity, and a holy use of money.
- Peter said the same thing in 2 Peter 1:5-11. Peter tells us all the attributes we need to add to our faith. Peter concludes by saying, “if you do these things, you will never fall.” This must be our goal so that we can have such confidence before God. Who can dwell in the Lord’s sanctuary and holy hill? All of us–if we will become like God in these areas of our lives. (NIV)