Psalm 15 — House Rules
15 Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?
2 He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.
3 He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.
4 In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.
5 He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.
The promise of God has always included the idea of His people dwelling with Him (Gen 17:7; Jer 32:38). The fool (Psalm 14) avoids a relationship with YHWH during his vaporous life (Jas 4:14), and then he is granted his ongoing desire for separation, albeit for eternity. The wicked find YHWH too constricting for their sinful lifestyles, and the spirit to change is not in them. Access into the presence of God is not only prohibited, but also avoided by the unregenerate.
Psalm 15 is not about access to God, but the standard of conduct for His people in His presence. The New Testament informs us that God’s presence is now permanent for the believer in Jesus Christ (2 Cor 1:22). Each saint is fitted together with other believers (Eph 2:11–22).
The church has become the temple of YHWH, filled with the Holy Spirit. He has tabernacled with us, making provision for His holiness through the blood of Christ. Therefore, we can say the Christian has access to God because God is abiding with him (Jn 14:17; Rom 8:9, 11).
Holiness manifests by grace, and it is important for us to remember that the standard for moral and ethical behavior has not changed. Psalm 15 is relevant to the church. YHWH wants us to be in right relationship with one another if we are to be in right relationship with Him.
David posed two questions to YHWH regarding the privilege to sojourn with God (v. 1). Israel traveled with YHWH in the wilderness wanderings. His tabernacle was with their tents, as they left Egypt and headed for the Promised Land. The Israelites always knew the approach to God came with barriers. These helped define YHWH’s holiness; and they actually protected the people from unlawful entry, which would invite the wrath of God upon them.
Sojourning is a helpful metaphor for our brief journey through life. To sojourn with God is the preference and the privilege of the child of God. As pilgrims, Christians must consider “how” they are traveling through a fallen world. They are also keenly interested in “who” they are traveling with in this life.
The second question pertains to God’s holy hill. In the days of Moses, the reference would be Mt. Sinai. For David and Solomon, the holy hill was the temple mount in Jerusalem. The disciples of Jesus surely found significance on the Mount of Transfiguration (Hermon), but the holy hill of the Christian is Calvary. The parallel inquiries ask “who” dwells with God. The question is not so much about the “where”, so our focus is drawn to who is in a personal relationship with YHWH. The ones who worship the Father in spirit and truth wherever they find themselves (Jn 4:24) possess eleven character qualities (vv. 2–5).
The divine oracle replied with three positive statements about integrity in deed and speech (v. 2). First, the righteous walk with integrity (Job 1:1). Translations with “blameless” are misleading and easily lead to wrong assumptions about legalistic perfectionism. Christ is our perfection before God, and His Spirit helps us in our walk of faith. The wicked simply lack this integrity (Ps 10:3–11).
Second, the sojourner works righteousness. Doing right is the product of right standing and obedience to God. The imputed righteousness of Christ, coupled with His Spirit working compliance to the Word of God, are the catalysts for the believer doing right.
Third, speech coming from the tongue must echo the truth spoken in one’s heart. Believers have the Word of Truth and the Spirit of Truth dwelling in their hearts. Speaking the truth in love manifests the reality of God’s presence (Eph 4:15).
The divine oracle then replied with three negative statements pertaining to speech against a neighbor (v. 3). First, “slander” is prohibited. The Hebrew word here points toward scandal, usually lit with the fiery tongue of gossip. James, instructing on a life of faith producing works, warns the church about the dangers of speech (James 3:1–12). One of the smallest members of the body, the tongue, can cause a world of hurt.
Second, evil must not be done to a neighbor (Prv 14:17–24). Jesus taught the beatitudes in Matthew 5, another standard list (see also Is. 33:14–17; Mic. 6:8; Hab. 2:6) which led to the radical statement, “love your enemies (Mt. 5:44).” This follows Jesus’ instruction to, “love your neighbor as yourself (Mt. 5:43; 22:39).” 1 Corinthians 13, surrounded by the dispute over spiritual gifts, reminds the church at Corinth that love is the motive for all actions by believers.
Third, is the prohibition of betraying a friend by joining a cause against him. Following Exodus 23:1, a malicious false witness breaks covenant law because it ruins relationships within the covenant community.
The divine oracle then replied with three more statements pertaining to right relationships (v. 4). First, the reprobate is to be avoided. Approving the workers of wickedness by consent or communion is forbidden. Bad company corrupts morals.
Second, in contrast, those who fear the Lord are to be honored by the righteous. Spurring one another on to good works edifies and builds up the church.
Third, the righteous keeps his word, even if it hurts him. If he has made his commitment to some person, cause, or course of action, he will not be persuaded to change.
The divine oracle closed with two final statements regarding financial integrity, and then closed with the promise of stability for those who practice “these things” (v. 5). First, usury toward the poor was considered a form of oppression in Israel; therefore, it was banned by the Law of Moses (Ex 22:25; Lev. 25:36). Participants in commercial contracts and international business transactions were permitted to charge interest on money borrowed.
Second, those who were in positions of judgment might be tempted to take a bribe. This corruption of position and power would facilitate a culture of injustice; therefore, it was interdicted by the law (Deut. 16:19; 27:25).
Psalm 15 closes with the promise of stability for those who do these eleven things. At first glance, we might think stability is not much reward for such a momentous task list. The Psalms reveal the uncertainty and instability of the poor and afflicted in the world. Oppression compels the needy to seek refuge, not in man, but in God. YHWH is their rock, their salvation, their strong tower, and their shelter from the storm. He is the stable reward, and the immoveable means by which Christians comply with these standards by grace.
In sum, Psalm 15 is simply structured as question and answer. The psalmist inquired of YHWH about what He requires to dwell in His presence. The list was not for gaining access, but it represented the rules for guests in the house of God.
The church, being the temple of God, observes a standard for right relationships and behavior in them. Importing the New Testament realities for these relationships puts believers in a position of being sanctified by God’s Word and abiding Holy Spirit. If God has established the standard, Jesus has met the standard, and the Spirit is now lifting believers up to the standard. Every day, by grace, Christians are maturing into the perfection of Christ in these things called, “House Rules.”
Spokane Valley, Washington
June 3, 2021