Psalm 15
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Who is worthy to be a citizen of Zion, to dwell in the immediate presence of Jehovah, to enjoy His protection and blessing (Psalm 15:1)? The question is first answered in general terms (Psalm 15:2). None but the man of integrity, justice, and truthfulness. Then, in Psalm 15:3-5, special instances are given, illustrating the way in which his conduct has been governed by these principles. The Psalm concludes with a promise of blessing.

The fulfilment of man’s duty to his neighbour is a primary condition of fellowship with God. It is in this that his ‘integrity’ (see on Psalm 15:2) is tested and finds expression. Cp. Matthew 19:16 ff.; Romans 13:8-10; 1 John 4:20-21; and the Epistle of St James generally.

The Psalm is closely related to Psalms 24, which is generally thought to have been written for the translation of the Ark to the tent which David had prepared for it in Zion (2 Samuel 6:17), and it may belong to the same period. The title holy mountain is no objection to this view. It does not necessarily imply that the Ark had already long been there. Zion would at once be consecrated by Jehovah’s Presence. And such a solemn occasion would be a most fitting opportunity for inquiring what kind of conduct was required of those into whose midst a Holy God had come or was about to come (Leviticus 11:44-45).

Compare generally Psalm 24:3-5; Psalm 5:4-7; Psalms 101; Isaiah 33:13-16.

This Psalm is fitly appointed as one of the Proper Psalms for Ascension Day. Christ entered into the Presence of God, after fulfilling all its requirements in a perfect human life.

A Psalm of David. LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?
1. More exactly:

Jehovah, who shall sojourn in thy tent?

Who shall dwell in thy holy mountain?

Who is worthy to be received as Jehovah’s guest, to enjoy His protection and hospitality, to dwell in the place which He has consecrated by His Presence? Cp. Psalm 5:4. It is not as a mere form of speech that the Psalmist addresses Jehovah. By this appeal he at once places himself and his readers in immediate relation to Jehovah. The question is asked of Him, and the answer is given as in His Presence.

In thy tent might be wholly metaphorical and mean no more than in thy abode, but here where it stands in parallelism to thy holy mountain, it is natural to see a reference to ‘the tent’ which David pitched for the Ark on Mount Zion. Cp. Psalm 27:5-6. ‘Sojourn’ commonly denotes a temporary stay, but not necessarily so (Psalm 61:4); the special point here lies in the protection which the guest in Oriental countries claims from his host. “The Arabs give the title of jâr allâh to one who resides in Mecca beside the Caaba.” Robertson Smith’s Religion of the Semites, p. 77.

Not merely ministers at the sanctuary or even worshippers are meant, but all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who were often too prone to assume that God’s presence among them was a guarantee of security, instead of recognising that it demanded holiness on their part (Micah 3:11). Spiritually, the question concerns all who would draw near to God.

He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.
2. The conditions of access stated positively. The man must be ‘integer vitae scelerisque purus.’

He that walketh uprightly] Or, perfectly. Integrity is the rule of his life in relation to God as well as man. The word tâmîm means (1) complete, (2) without blemish, of sacrificial victims, (3) in a moral sense, perfect, sincere, blameless. It includes whole-hearted devotion to God, and complete integrity in dealing with men. Cp. Genesis 17:1; Deuteronomy 18:13; Psalm 18:23; Psalm 101:2; Psalm 101:6; Psalm 119:1; Psalm 7:8; Psalm 26:1; Psalm 26:11; Matthew 5:48. The Sept rendering is ἄμωμος, for which comp. Ephesians 1:4; Colossians 1:22, &c.

and worketh righteousness] Cp. Acts 10:35; 1 John 3:7.

and speaketh the truth in his heart] Truth is the substance of his thoughts. But it is preferable to render speaketh truth with his heart. He speaks truth, and his whole heart goes along with it, unlike the double-hearted flatterers of Psalm 12:2.

He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.
3. In the preceding verse the present participle is used; but here the perfect tense, describing how his actual behaviour has been governed by the principles of truth and justice.

He that hath had no slander on his tongue,

Nor done evil to his fellow,

Nor taken up reproach against his neighbour.

Neighbour in A.V. represents two different words. Friend (R.V.) however is somewhat too strong for the first, which denotes anyone with whom he is associated in the intercourse of life. The general sense of the last line is clear. He has not made his neighbour’s faults or misfortunes the object of his ridicule or sarcasm (Psalm 69:20). The precise meaning is however not quite certain. Either (1) uttered reproach, or (2) taken up, and given currency to, what might otherwise have lain unheeded; or (3), as is most probable, loaded his neighbour with reproach, adding to the burden of his trouble (Psalm 69:7).

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.
4. Render with R.V.,

In whose eyes a reprobate is despised.

The truthfulness of his character is shewn in his estimate of men. The world’s false estimates are one of the evils which will disappear in the Messianic age (Isaiah 32:5 ff.). A reprobate, one who is not good metal but worthless dross (Jeremiah 6:30), he treats with well-merited contempt, while ‘he honoureth those that fear Jehovah.’

By the Targum and some commentators, ancient and modern, the clause is rendered, despised is he in his own eyes, rejected, which is well paraphrased in P.B.V. “He that setteth not by himself, but is lowly in his own eyes;” cp. 2 Samuel 6:22. But (1) the words ‘despicable reprobate’ are such as David could hardly use to express humility and self-abasement; and (2) the contrast required by the parallelism is not ‘he despises himself and honours others,’ but ‘he abhors the base and honours the godly,’ i.e. shews right discernment in his regard for men. Cp. Psalm 16:3; 1 Samuel 2:30.

He that sweareth &c] Though he hath sworn to his own hurt, he changeth not. He performs his oaths and vows without modification or rebatement, even though they may have been rashly made and prove to be to his own disadvantage. Comp. the phrase in the Law for the expiation of rash oaths (Leviticus 5:4), “if any one swear rashly with his lips to do evil or to do good.” Any ‘changing’ of animals devoted by vows (which were of the nature of oaths) was expressly forbidden (Leviticus 27:10). Here the reference is quite general.

The LXX, Vulg., and Syr. render, by a slight change of vocalisation, to his fellow (cp. Psalm 15:3): and P.B.V. (as in Psalm 84:7) combines both renderings in its paraphrase, ‘He that sweareth unto his neighbour and disappointeth him not, though it were to his own hindrance.’

He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.
5. He that hath not put out his money for usury,

Nor taken bribes against the Innocent.

Two of the most common and flagrant offences against justice. Cp. Isaiah 33:15; Ezekiel 22:12. Taking interest was forbidden by the Law in dealing with a fellow-countryman as an unbrotherly act (Leviticus 25:36-37; cp. Exodus 22:25; Ezekiel 18:17), but allowed in dealing with foreigners (Deuteronomy 23:19-20). Cp. Psalm 37:26, Psalm 112:5. For a survey of opinion on the subject in the Christian Church see Dict, of Christian Antiquities, Art. Usury, or Cunningham’s Christian Opinion on Usury. The positive rule of the O.T. has become obsolete under the circumstances of modern society, but the principle which underlies it is still of obligation.

Bribery has always been the curse of Oriental countries. For the laws against it see Deuteronomy 27:25; Exodus 23:7-8; Deuteronomy 16:19; and comp. numerous passages in the prophets.

shall never be moved] The Psalmist’s conclusion goes a step further than his opening question. Such a man as he has described will not only be admitted to fellowship with Jehovah, but under His protection will enjoy unshaken prosperity. Cp. Psalm 16:8.

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