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.