24 The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.
2 For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.
3 Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?
4 He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.
5 He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
6 This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah.
7 Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.
8 Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.
10 Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah.
Two questions dominate Psalm 24: “Who is the King of Glory?” and “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?” Revealing the identity and function of YHWH, the God of Jacob (Israel) becomes the primary task of the Psalmist. The secondary task is to answer the question as to who is eligible to approach His holiness.
Psalm 24 has a complex structure in three parts: I. (vv. 1–2) introductory affirmation of YHWH as creator of all; II. (vv. 3–6) a liturgy revealing who may approach the holy place and holy One; III. (vv. 7–10) a liturgy of procession by a king approaching a city/temple that must let him in.
David claimed the earth and its entirety belong to YHWH (v. 1). Hardly a polemic against evolutionary theory, the battle ground is, “Whose god created the earth?” Ugaritic and Canaanite myths claimed the throne of god belonged to King Baal, who had subdued Yam (sea) and Nahar (river). Mesopotamian religion declared it was the chaotic waters who were gods. Younger gods pressed for stability and a divine struggle introduced land. Marduk was the leader of the victorious party. Apsu and Tiamat, the losers, were set in place to create boundaries: the waters beneath the earth and above the earth. Psalm 24 is set against these creation myths.
Creation warrants ownership. The earth and all its fullness belongs to YHWH. The parallelism utilizes “earth” (eretz) and “world” (tebel), which are commonly used in the Hebrew Scriptures. The combination of words is most often associated with YHWH revealed as creator, sustainer, and judge. The earth is observed in a trembling state in most cases. The inhabitants of the world are distinguished from all of the earth’s contents. They are the general population from which some will ascend to worship their Creator. The mass rebellion of humanity stands in contrast with the ordering of creation from chaos. The basic premise on which the whole Christian worldview is established: God created; sin entered; demons and men remained in rebellion; and creation groaned waiting for God’s intervention.
David reasoned YHWH’s ownership because it is His creation and it is sustained by Him (v. 2). The Genesis account of creation lends itself to the warrant that land emerged from the chaos of water. The sea in biblical imagery is portrayed as dangerous uncertainty. Rivers, of dangerous water, feed the chaos of the sea. Therefore, YHWH has constrained the waters so man can dwell securely on dry ground. Still, the waters must obey Him (ie. Jesus walks on water, calms the sea, etc.) Satan is the author of confusion. The beast coming out of the sea (Rev. 13) in the end times will speak arrogant words, blasphemies, and war with the saints until everything is subdued under his authority. Everyone will be forced to worship him. This teaches us that the polemic in Psalm 24 has not ended and will not end until Christ returns to defeat His enemies.
The first two verses will serve as the foundation for understanding the rest of the Psalm. The divisions in the structure are sharp, but we will connect them in our summary/conclusion.
David posed two questions about entry qualifications for those who approach the holy hill/place (v. 3). The same question appears in Psalm 15 with a much more extensive series of answers. The antiphonal use of question and answers gives us a liturgy in this section (vv. 3–6). The first question queries who, from the mass of those who dwell in the world, may ascend into the hill of the Lord? On the southern steps of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, recent archaeological digs have uncovered numerous mikvehs (ritual baths). Pilgrims ceremonially cleansed themselves at the base of the Temple where Levites would be singing the inquiry of “who” may approach. The hill of the Lord is Mt. Moriah/Mt. Zion/Jerusalem. The question itself delineates a group who approaches Zion from one that does not. Christianity is not geographical (Jn 4:23–24). Today, Christians worship in spirit and in truth wherever they find themselves.
The second question specifies on top of YHWH’s hill is His holy place. In David’s day, the Temple had not yet been built. The site on which Solomon would build Israel’s first Temple to YHWH was determined in David’s day as the threshing floor of Arunah the Jebusite. It was purchased for a price. The tabernacle, housing the ark of the covenant, was brought into Jerusalem by David (2 Samuel 6). This event is the most probable setting for David writing Psalm 24. The ark symbolized God’s presence, and it caused trouble for David and for the Philistines. However, on this occasion in 1003 B.C., God permitted the celebratory procession from Kiriath-Jearim in Western Benjamin to His chosen holy place on His holy hill in His holy city. Who may join this happy throng in procession toward the holy city?
David answered the questions with two positive character qualifications and two negative ethical prohibitions (v. 4). The answer is immediate and clear. He who has clean hands and a pure heart is welcome. The combination of outward behavior is only valid with inward integrity. Cleansing imagery joins with the water imagery to show these themes were prevalent throughout Israel’s history (ie. flood, red sea Exodus, mikvehs, John’s baptism, etc.). Israel, among the peoples of the world, knew they were polluted by sin. They needed to be clean.
The two negative prohibitions, lifting his soul to falsehood and swearing deceitfully in allegiance, supported the polemic against foreign gods. Israel was commanded to have no other gods beside YHWH. Idols were physical representatives for demons posing as national gods. Prayers, pledges, and vows sworn to these imposters would deny the worshiper access to YHWH. Pantheism pervaded Israel’s history and instigated countless judgments against them from God. Even after building the first Temple in Jerusalem, Solomon’s heart was divided by his pagan wives. He built high places to idol gods on Jerusalem’s surrounding hills, and Israel was divided upon his death in 930 B.C. Christians are called to the same single-heart devotion, loving God with their whole heart, soul, mind and strength.
The tabernacle, beginning at the Exodus, represented the house of God in the presence of His people. Next, the Temple in Jerusalem was honored with His presence. Jesus’ body was the Temple of God among men. Today, the church is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, who has taken up personal residence in the hearts of those who approach God in Christ to worship the Father.
David iterated the benefits of those who approach the holy place (v. 5). The accepted worshiper would receive a blessing from the Lord. Righteousness from the God of his salvation exposed the need for a Savior. The righteousness given by God would accommodate the entry qualifications (v. 4).
David identified the group who would approach YHWH’s presence (v. 6). They are the generation who seek Him. Morality, attempted for access to God, is the endeavor of world religions. Many in Christianity generate a similar moral legalism in order to ascend to God, but true worshipers approach with awareness of their need for mercy (Rom 9). The generation that seeks Him are those who seek Thy Face — even Jacob. The world does not call on the name of YHWH to be saved (Joel 2:32), but it is true Israel which seeks to worship Him in spirit and truth. They are cleansed by the washing of the water by the Word. They are sanctified by God’s truth, and God’s Word is truth. The music is paused, “Selah.” Our focus moves from the people of Israel to the procession of the king himself approaching the city.
David presented the herald’s request for the city/tabernacle gates to be opened for the king (v. 7). The lead processional herald is the first to arrive at the gates, “Lift up your heads, O gates.” The request captures the attention of the gatekeeper. To lift one’s head is to live with a view to a future hope. The reason is immediately offered by the processional herald, “That the King of glory may come in!” YHWH was seen as Creator/Sustainer (vv. 1–2) and Savior (v. 5), but now He is revealed as majestic King (repeated 5x).
David restated the doorman’s inquiry into the identity of the king, and he answered him (v. 8). The gatekeeper’s question is key and representative of every confronted man’s heart. The holy place on the holy hill is the residence of only one holy King. The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle reveals YHWH, the divine warrior king. The polemic rages. Who is God? Who is King? Who is strong? Who is mighty? Who is the warrior? It is YHWH, the Creator, who subdued the earth into order. Blessed is He who comes in the name of YHWH! Hosanna, in the highest! Matthew 21 provides the alluring scene of King Jesus approaching the Temple, within the city gates of Jerusalem, from the Mount of Olives. The anointed one (olive oil imagery), the Messiah, comes just as the prophets told Israel. The King of glory was approaching His Holy Temple.
David reiterated the words of the herald to open the city/temple gates (v. 9). Repetition here comes with great emphasis. As the ark of the covenant approached, as Jesus approached, the shout of victory resounded. The kingdom of God was at hand. Both the ark and Christ would be neglected in the days that followed. The anointed one was rejected by the people He was sent to and for whom He came to meet. The accompanying angelic approach of the King of glory to His throne in the heavenly Jerusalem did not neglect Him (Rev 4, 7). He is the King in glory. The church, therefore, has historically used Psalm 24 on the Day of Ascension (40 days after Passover) to mark the King’s arrival into glorious heaven, victorious from His battle at the Cross and grave.
David closed the Psalm with a question and the two definitive titles for the king (v. 10). The processional throng now seems to enter the conversation with a chorus of loud voices, “Who is this King of glory?” The question echoes the processional herald and the gatekeeper. The rhetoric is heightened to a collective proclamation, “The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory!” His military prowess is complemented by His exalted positional title.
In sum, we have seen three movements revealing YHWH, the God of Jacob. The first revealed Him as Creator. Second, His holiness was considered in relationship to the world and especially His people who approach Him. Third, He was seen as the divine warrior king approaching His throne following victorious battle. His identity and His acumen are the boast of those who have joined the procession toward His glorious throne, through the lifted gates in the welcoming city of our God.
In conclusion, it is the Christian’s imperative, during the church age, to herald the coming King Jesus (Rev 19). Each Christian stands as the processional herald beckoning the people in his life to open the gates of their hearts to receive King Jesus. He is the King of glory, victorious warrior, creator and sustainer of the universe. He welcomes those who come to worship Him, as He gives them clean hands and pure hearts in preparation for the approach to the new Jerusalem coming with new heavens and the new earth. When the world asks, “Who is the king of glory?” You know your reply, “The Lord Jesus Christ! He is the king of glory!”
Spokane Valley, Washington
June 13, 2021