What else could you ask for? Looks like the liberals were wrong after all!
Vs. 3-4 Who may ascend to the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.
In this verse we have moved from the universal rule of Yahweh over the entire world and its inhabitants to His local presence in Jerusalem. We move from the depths of the sea to the hill of the Lord, from a place of chaos and brokenness, to a place of holiness and life.
Who among the inhabitants of the earth is able to stand in the holy place of Yahweh? The requirements are four fold:
- The one who has clean hands
- The one who has a pure heart
- The one who does not lift his soul to an idol
- The one who does not swear by what is false
Clean Hands and Pure Hearts:
John Calvin said, “Clean hands and pure hearts comprehend all religion and denote a well ordered life.” The two ideas are largely about holy actions and holy intentions.
Interestingly, the lectionary associates this passage with the bringing of the ark into Jerusalem. The counterpart passage is the narrative where the Ox cart stumbles and Uzzah reaches out to stabilize the ark with his hand and when he touches it Yahweh strikes him dead.
You see, the action of Uzzah was not morally neutral or even good. No one is to touch the ark – that’s why the priests carry it on poles. Presbyterian theologian RC Sproul’s got it right when he comments that Uzzah’s assumption in touching the ark was that his hands were clean. His assumption was that his hands were clean while the dirt was not. But since clean is a moral category, this is a major problem for him – the earth has never morally rebelled against Yahweh. The earth has never disobeyed. The earth has never dwelt in sin. But Uzzah has done all of these – his hands are not clean.
Or consider the idea of a pure heart – the idea Jesus plays on in the sermon on the mount when he says those one with a pure heart will “see God.” The idea here is that one must have a heart which has unmixed devotions or allegiances. It is a heart that lives under the reality of Yahweh as Creator and Redeemer and therefore does not bow to any other king.
This then make sense of the next two criterion for approaching Yahweh – one who does not lift up (that is, take a posture of worship) his soul or being to an idol, nor swear by what is false – that is, something which is contrary to the reality which God has set in place.
Vs. 5 He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his savior.
The Christian tradition has always held that there is only one who has ever qualified to mount the holy hill and stand in the presence of Yahweh. There is only one who has ever been blessed and has been vindicated – that is, pronounced as righteous, before Yahweh.
As we try move to the final section of this psalm, we note that the Christian church has always used this text in its Ascension liturgy. Christ, the only one to live with clean hands and a pure heart, the only one to orient the entirety of his being to Yahweh’s moral standards ordered in the very creation, the only one able to ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in his holy place, he and he only is the one who has ever been worthy to be called the King of Glory.
The Christian connection, then, is that the psalm not only indicates that the perfect Son of God is worthy, but that He is the same King who is entering the Temple gates.
For thousands of years those ancient gates stood still. Lifeless. Unmoving. No one was able to enter. No one worthy to mount the hill of Yahweh. No one worthy to stand in the Holy place – or see God.
The ancient gates grew rusty in their stillness – a continual reminder of human brokenness and a world gone awry.
But when the worthy one comes – fully devoted, fully clean, fully pure, without competing allegiances – even the allegiance of saving his own life – the heavens cry out to those ancient doors – Lift up your heads in hope and anticipation of redemption, of expectation of creation (Eden) restored! Be lifted up you ancient doors that the King of Glory may come it.
AS the proclamation went out for the first time in history, those old, telling doors slowly creaked open. Never has a human ever entered them. Never has flesh and blood ever been worthy. But now things will never be the same. There is hope.
This Christ, the chosen one of God who took on flesh, who through the power of the Spirit refused to bow down and worship the devil or give his allegiances to Rome, enters the gates as a representative of all humanity and all creation – THE EARTH IS THE LORD’S AND EVERYTHING IN IT! For the Son, through death, has mightily battled the devil, the principalities and powers, and has won! His victorious resurrection was God’s vindication of him – his pronouncement that this single man, of all people, is the one who is worthy. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord, mighty in battle, having already defeated the devil and works in us rights to become children of God – princes and princesses, priests and kings.
Vs. 2 For he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.
This kind of language makes no sense to modern people – that is, substantiating Yahweh’s claim to ownership by appealing to His founding of the earth upon the waters. But to ancient Jews it would have made complete sense. Not only did their concept of creation involve the notion of the earth resting upon huge deposits of water, but that notion had interesting theological significance.
You see, ancient Jews associated water with chaos – even demons.
Consider all your Sunday School stories that involved major bodies of water and you will see that the water is hardly ever a good character:
1. Noah’s ark where the waters of chaos systematically undo the creation account of Genesis 1.
2. Think of the Nile River turned to blood. The Nile, and Egyptian deity, conquered, killed, slaughtered like an animal by Yahweh.
3. Consider the Red Sea where the sea stands between the Israelites and their salvation, where Yahweh proves powerful enough to move an entire body of water.
4. Or think of Jonah who goes out to the sea precisely because the sea is where He thinks Yahweh is not!
5. Or Jesus, who is out on the sea multiple times when he calms storms and, indeed, walks on the water.
6. Or finally, Revelation, where the sea is calmed and brought to glassy subjugation under Yahweh’s sovereignty.
For the ancient Jew, to say that God established the earth upon the waters was not merely a geological claim. No far from it – it was a theological claim. Yahweh was sovereign over all the forces of chaos in the world that threaten to unhinge creation and put an end to his redemptive purposes.
But consider this…
If Yahweh is claiming ownership, indeed Kingship, over a creation where he has set a certain order, a certain reality, a certain way of being, then it follows logically from there that this creation is not morally neutral.
To claim allegiance to any other deity, nation, or story is to fight against the very creation itself; indeed, it is to fight against Yahweh. But when people and nations center themselves within His story, there is an order to life, a shalom (a peace which is more than merely the absence of violence, but the presence of Justice!).
The larger biblical narrative is clear that Yahweh’s defeat of the agents of chaos is not only a creative act, but a redemptive act. Particularly in the cross Jesus is said to have defeated all principalities and powers, thrones, rulers, dominions, and authorities. In the cross, according to Hebrews 2, Jesus defeats death (anti-creation) and the devil.
From first to last creation is connected to redemption and redemption involves the defeat of evil, chaos, and disorder.
So it remains clear, that if this creation is not morally neutral, then any who wish to approach King Yahweh must not assume moral neutrality is an option. But we’ll explore this a bit more in the next post.
The ANE was a place filled with deities, spirits, and mythologies all clamoring for allegiance, devotion and worship. The land was carved up by the nations, each with their own local deity and story substantiating that particular deities “rights” to that nations plot of land. These deities were often crowned King as a result of their victories over other deities.
But in the 24th Psalm we do not have one deity among many clamoring for His own piece of land. We do not see a deity beholden to a specific ethnic group. Nor do we have a God who is fighting other deities in an attempt to jockey for supremacy amongst the nations.
Rather, we have Yahweh, the Lord of the entire cosmos and all the inhabitants thereof. He refuses to share his creation with anyone. He will not allow allegiances to be paid to the neighboring gods, He refuses to acknowledge the authority of the surrounding mythologies, and He refuses to let humanity find genuine meaning in anything other than Himself.
The breakdown of this Psalm falls into three parts
1. Vs. 1-2 Where Yahweh’s sovereign ownership of the entire world is confessed and substantiated.
2. Vs. 3-6 Where the Psalmist lays forth the requirements of those who wish to approach Yahweh and the blessings given to the one is worthy.
3. And Vs. 7-9 (the climax of the psalm) where an ancient liturgical formula of Call-and-Response is employed to exalt Yahweh as a King as the ark enters Jerusalem. The entirety of the Psalm is really to be interpreted as an exaltation of Yahweh’s kingship, his narrative of creation, and his redemptive purposes that involved the defeat of all other claims to allegiance.
Vs. 1 The earth is the Lord’s and Everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.
The central proposition of this verse is that every inch of created space has a stamp on it that bears Yahweh’s name. He has written His name on every tree, every unborn child, every terrorist, politician (sigh!), and every codgery old person in your church. He has placed his name on them and said one word – MINE, MINE, MINE!
He will not share his sovereignty with competing nations (America or otherwise!). He will not share his sovereignty with competing narratives (the American Dream or otherwise!). He will not share his sovereignty with competing deities. And he will not share his sovereignty Christians who assume God is on their side, their own little marionette to be jerked around at their every political whim.
No, in fact, in this verse there is a movement from general (world) to particular (the inhabitants of the world). Though Yahweh could care nothing for our notions of private property He cares even less for our assumptions about ownership when it comes to people. It is not dictators, presidents, or even pastors who own the souls of men and women – it is Yahweh and Yahweh alone. We are not permitted to oppress, subjugate, or manipulate either the creation or the inhabitants of creation because none of it is ours and they are not ‘our’ people.
Do you see the soteriological implications? If Yahweh is the Kingly owner over all creation and its inhabitants then there is no segment of creation that is beyond redemption – be they homosexuals, democrats, terrorists, or even that old codger in the back row of every church I’ve ever been to. And despite our lack of faith, let’s forget this nonsense of “giving up” on folks because they’re our enemies or b/c they don’t like our political agenda. “Giving up” on their redemption was never God’s ordained means of bring them to redemption!
And though it may not seem like it on the surface, vs. 2 exactly about that redemption, for the Psalmist substantiates the claim of Yahweh’s sovereignty – but in an odd sort of way…but we’re going to save that for next time.