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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Psalm 15

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The Character of the One God Receives

This Psalm is simply titled, A Psalm of David. In it, David meditates over the character of the man received into the presence of God. We have no precise occasion for this Psalm, but it may well have been on the bringing of the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6). This was a time when David was very much concerned with the questions asked and answered in this Psalm.

A. The question presented: Who can come before God?

1. (1a) Who can come to the tabernacle of God?

LORD, who may abide in Your tabernacle?

a. LORD, who may abide in Your tabernacle? In one sense, David's question here is figurative. Though he, like the sons of Korah, may have wished to live in the house God (Psalm 84:2-4; 84:10), it was at the same time impossible for him because David was not a priest.

i. The word translated abide can be better thought of as sojourn; it describes a visit, receiving the hospitality of a tent-dwelling host. This opening is understood in light of the customs of hospitality in the ancient near east.

ii. "In the gracious hospitality of the antique world, a guest was sheltered from all harm; his person was inviolable, his wants all met. So the guest of Jehovah is safe, can claim asylum from every foe and share in all the bountiful provision of His abode." (Maclaren)

b. Abide in Your tabernacle: The tabernacle of God was the great tent of meeting that God told Moses and Israel to build for Him during the Exodus (Exodus 25-31). This tabernacle survived through several centuries, and at David's time seems to have been at Gibeon (1 Chronicles 16:39-40).

i. Since the tabernacle was the place where man met with God through the administration of the priests and sacrifice, David's longing to abide in Your tabernacle is actually a desire to abide in the presence of God.

ii. David has in mind the life that lives in the presence of God; who walks in close fellowship with God because the heart, the mind, and the life are all in step with the heart, mind, and life of God.

2. (1b) Who can come to the hill of God's temple?

Who may dwell in Your holy hill?

a. Who may dwell in Your holy hill? In one sense, David here simply uses the Hebrew technique of repetition to ask the same question as in the first part of the verse.

i. The word dwell here has a more permanent sense than the word abide in the previous line. It is as if David wrote, "Who may be received as a guest into God's tent, enjoying all the protections of His hospitality? Who may live as a citizen in His holy hill?"

b. Your holy hill: Yet in another sense, David asks a second, more intense question. At this time, the tabernacle of God was at Gibeon (1 Kings 3:4). Depending upon when David wrote this Psalm, it may very well be that the ark of the covenant was in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:17) and even at the holy hill of Moriah, where God had told David to build the temple (2 Samuel 24:18-21; 1 Chronicles 21:28-22:5).

i. Since the tabernacle was not at God's holy hill in David's time (though the ark of the covenant was), David has two different - yet similar in meaning - places in mind.

B. The character of the one who can come before God.

1. (Psa 15:2-3) His character among his friends and neighbors.

He who walks uprightly,
And works righteousness,
And speaks the truth in his heart;
He who does not backbite with his tongue,
Nor does evil to his neighbor,
Nor does he take up a reproach against his friend;

a. He who walks uprightly: In describing the character of the man who can live in God's presence David begins with two general descriptions (walks uprightly, and works righteousness).

i. In one sense David speaks from an Old Covenant perspective. Though the Old Covenant gave an important place to sacrifice and atonement through blood, it also based blessing and cursing on obedience (Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 28). The disobedient could not expect blessing, including the blessing of God's presence.

ii. The New Covenant gives us a different ground for blessing and relationship with God: the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Under the New Covenant, faith and not performance is basis for blessing.

iii. Nevertheless, David's principle is also accurate under the New Covenant in this sense: the conduct of one's life is a reflection of their fellowship with God. As John wrote: If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth (1 John 1:6). We might say that under the Old Covenant a righteous walk was the precondition for fellowship with God; under the New Covenant a righteous walk is the result of fellowship with God, founded on faith.

iv. "The Christian answer to the psalmist's question goes deeper than his, but is fatally incomplete unless it include his and lay the same stress on duties to men." (Maclaren)

v. "David responds to the question of verse 1 with representative answers. This means that the items listed in verse 2-5 are not all-inclusive." (Boice) We also see this from similar passages such as Psalm 24:3-4 and Isaiah 33:14-17, which are not identical in the items listed.

b. Speaks the truth in his heart; he who does not backbite with his tongue: David here understood that an upright and righteous life is known by the way someone speaks. As Jesus said in Matthew 12:34: Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

i. "I think more damage has been done to the church and its work by gossip, criticism, and slander than by any other single sin. So I say, don't do it. Bite your tongue before you criticize another Christian." (Boice)

ii. Clarke wrote this about the word backbite: "He is a knave, who would rob you of your good name; he is a coward, that would speak of you in your absence what he dared not to do in your presence; and only an ill-conditioned dog would fly at and bite your back when your face was turned. All these three ideas are included in the term; and they all meet in the detractor and calumniator. His tongue is the tongue of a knave, a coward, and a dog."

c. Nor does evil to his neighbor, nor does he take up a reproach against his friend: David also knew that righteousness is expressed in the way we treat one another. We might have thought David would give greater priority to religious obligations such as sacrifice or purification ceremonies - which certainly have their place, but are useless without the practical godliness of being good and honest and honorable to neighbors and friends.

i. In these words of David we also see the deeper work of Jesus Christ, who commanded us to not only love our neighbor and friend, but also to love our enemies and those who spitefully use us (Matthew 5:44).

2. (4-5a) His character among difficult people.

In whose eyes a vile person is despised,
But he honors those who fear the LORD;
He who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
He who does not put out his money at usury,
Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

a. In whose eyes a vile person is despised: David knew that we cannot love good unless we also oppose evil. As it says in Psalm 97:10: The fear of the LORD is to hate evil. Yet this righteous man also honors those who fear the LORD; he makes his judgments about men on a godly basis, not from favoritism, flattery, or corruption.

i. "Who rejected the wicked, however rich and honourable; and chose the well inclined, however poor and contemptible in the world." (Horne)

ii. "He doth not admire his person, nor envy his condition, nor court him with flatteries, nor value his company and conversation, nor approve of or comply with his courses; but he thinks meanly of him; he judgeth him a most miserable man, and a great object of pity he abhors his wicked practices, and labours to make such ways contemptible and hateful to all men as far as it lies in his power." (Poole)

iii. Honors those who fear the LORD: "We must be as honest in paying respect as in paying our bills. Honour to whom honour is due. To all good men we owe a debt of honour, and we have no right to hand over what is their due to vile persons who happen to be in high places." (Spurgeon)

b. He who swears to his own hurt and does not change: The idea behind this is the man keeps his promises even when it is no longer in his advantage to do so.

i. "Joshua and the elders kept their oath to the Gibeonites, though to their inconvenience." (Trapp)

ii. "The law prohibited the substitution of another animal sacrifice for that which had been vowed (Leviticus 27:10); and the psalm uses the same word for 'changeth,' with evident allusion to the prohibition, which must therefore have been known to the psalmist." (Maclaren)

c. He who does not put out his money at usury, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent: David described the man who is concerned to live a righteous life when it comes to money. Many people who would be considered godly in other areas of their life still have not decided to use their money in a way that honors God and shows love and care to others.

i. Usury "is condemned in the Bible, not in general (cf. Deuteronomy 23:20; Matthew 25:27) but in the context of trading on a brother's misfortunes, as a comparison between Deuteronomy 23:19 and Leviticus 25:35-38 makes clear." (Kidner)

ii. "I am convinced that the concern of this verse is not with receiving interest for money loaned, though it seems to say that, but rather with whom the interest is taken from. In other words, the verse concerns greed eclipsing justice. . . .  The best Old Testament illustration of the abuse verse 5 is talking about is in Nehemiah 5, where all the wealthy were taking advantage of the poor among the exiles when all should have been helping one another." (Boice)

iii. It is easy - and proper - to look at this list and see where we fall short. Yet seeing our sin in this Psalm should drive us to Jesus. We see this whole Psalm through the grid of the New Covenant; we see Jesus as having perfectly fulfilled the requirements of the law and the standards of this Psalm. We see that by faith His obedience is accounted as ours, and that we are being transformed into His image so that the fulfillment of this Psalm should more and more mark our life.

3. (5b) The blessing that comes from this character.

He who does these things shall never be moved.

a. He who does these things: David has in mind the basic performance-based system of the Old Covenant. The one who has pleased God with this kind performance can expect blessing from God.

i. "To continue in sin is to frustrate the very purpose of God in grace. To do that is to be excluded from His tent, to be shut out from the holy mountain." (Morgan)

b. Shall never be moved: In the Old Covenant system, this stability of life is a blessing from God given to the obedient. Under the New Covenant the promise of stability and security is given to those who abide in faith, such faith being evident through a life lived in general obedience.

i. The idea behind shall never be moved is that this righteous one will be a guest in the tent of God forever (as in Psalm 61:4). In New Testament words we could express it like this: And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:17)

© 2008 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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