Psalm 24
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The impregnable stronghold of Zion had fallen. David was master of his future capital. But it was not in his own strength, not for his own glory, that the victory had been won. The city of David was to be “the city of the Lord of Hosts.” Its true owner and King must now enter and take possession. The Ark, which was the symbol of His Presence, must be solemnly brought up and installed in the tent which David had prepared for it. For that unique occasion, the greatest day in David’s life (see Stanley’s Jewish Church, Lect. xxiii.), this Psalm appears to have been written. Jehovah comes as a victorious warrior, fresh from the conquest of the impregnable fortress (Psalm 24:7-10). The opening assertion of His universal sovereignty as the Creator of the world offers a fitting caution not to suppose that because He has chosen one city for His special dwelling-place, His Presence and activity are limited to it (Psalm 24:1-2); the inquiry what must be the character of His worshippers (Psalm 24:3-6), appropriate in any case, gains fresh point in view of the disaster which had for a while deferred the ceremony (2 Samuel 6:9). The “ancient doors” are the gates of the venerable fortress, now opening to receive their true Lord.

No other occasion, such as the Dedication of the Temple, or the return of the Ark from some victory, explains the whole Psalm equally well.

Some commentators have questioned the original unity of the poem. On the ground of difference in tone and style, and supposed want of coherence, they have maintained that Psalm 24:1-6 are taken from a poem of a didactic character, Psalm 24:7-10, from a triumphal ode. The variety of style is not however greater than might be expected from the change of subject, and a clear sequence of thought can be traced in the three stanzas of the Psalm.

i. The introductory verses declare the Majesty of Him Who comes to take possession (Psalm 24:1-2).

ii. The conditions of access to His sanctuary are determined (Psalm 24:3-6).

iii. The ancient fortress is summoned to admit its true king, and the character of His sovereignty is proclaimed (Psalm 24:7-10).

The musical performance of the Psalm probably corresponded to its dramatic character, though the precise arrangement can only be conjectured.

Psalm 24:1-6 were perhaps intended to be sung as the procession mounted the hill; Psalm 24:1-2 by the full choir, the question of Psalm 24:3 as a solo, the answer of Psalm 24:4-5 as another solo, the response of Psalm 24:6 in chorus. Psalm 24:7-10 may have been sung as the procession halted before the venerable gates of the citadel; the summons of Psalm 24:7 and Psalm 24:9 by a single voice (or possibly by the choir), the challenge of Psalm 24:8 a and Psalm 24:10 a by a voice as from the gates, the triumphant response of Psalm 24:8 b and Psalm 24:10 b by the full choir.

According to the title in the LXX, which agrees with the liturgical use of the Jewish Church as prescribed in the Talmud, this was the Psalm for the first day of the week. See Introd. p. xxvii.

It is fitly used as a Proper Psalm for Ascension Day.

Psalms 15, 68 should be compared.

A Psalm of David. The earth is the LORD'S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.
1. The earth is the Lord’s] Better, Unto Jehovah belongeth the earth. The natural order of the Heb. fixes the reader’s mind first on Him, Whose approach is the theme of the Psalm. For the same thought see Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 10:14 (R.V.); Psalm 50:12; Psalm 89:11. The words are quoted (from the LXX) in 1 Corinthians 10:26, to confirm the intrinsic lawfulness of eating whatever is sold in the market.

the world] Properly, the habitable part of the earth (Psalm 9:8); hence naturally supplemented by the mention of its inhabitants. The P.B.V., the compass of the world, was probably suggested by the Vulg., orbis terrarum.

1, 2. The unique Majesty of Him Who comes to take possession of His chosen dwelling-place. His sovereignty is not limited to a single nation or a single country. He is the Lord of all the world, for He is its Creator.

For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.
2. For he &c.] HE is emphatic. It is HE and no other who laid the foundation of the world (Psalm 104:5; Job 38:4). The land rising out of the water is supposed to rest upon it. Cp. Psalm 136:6; and the idea of the subterranean abyss of waters in Genesis 7:11; and “the water under the earth” in Exodus 20:4. It is a popular or poetic conception derived from phenomena; yet possibly the idea that the earth was firmly fixed upon such a foundation suggested the Creator’s power much in the same way as the suspension and motion of the earth in space may do to us.

Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place?
3. Who shall ascend] Often of going up to worship at the sanctuary. See 1 Samuel 1:3; 1 Samuel 1:22; Isaiah 2:3; Isaiah 37:14; Isaiah 38:22.

stand] Not merely appear or remain, but as in Psalm 1:5, stand his ground. Cp. 1 Samuel 6:20.

in his holy place] Synonymous with ‘the hill (or, mountain) of the Lord’ in the preceding line. Cp. Psalm 2:6, Psalm 3:4, Psalm 15:1, Psalm 43:3; Isaiah 2:2-3, &c.

3–6. The moral conditions required for access to the presence of so great a God. His Holiness corresponds to His Majesty. Psalm 15:1 ff. and Isaiah 33:14 ff. are parallel in substance as well as form.

He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.
4. He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart] He who is innocent of violence and wrong-doing (Psalm 18:20; Psalm 18:24); nay, innocent even in thought and purpose as well as in deed. Cp. Psalm 73:1; Matthew 5:8.

Who hath not lift up his soul unto vanity] i.e. who is true and faithful to Jehovah. ‘To lift up the soul’ means to direct the mind towards (Psalm 25:1), to set the heart upon (Deuteronomy 24:15), to desire (Hosea 4:8). ‘Vanity’ denotes what is transitory (Job 15:31), false and unreal (Psalm 12:2), or sinful (Isaiah 5:18), and may even designate false gods (Psalm 31:6). It includes all that is unlike or opposed to the nature of God. The traditional reading (Qrç) however is, my soul (so too Cod. Alex. of the LXX.). This reading must be rendered, Who hath not taken me in vain. God speaks; and the words are an echo of Exodus 20:7, with my soul (= my being) substituted for my name. But this explanation is forced, and cannot be defended even by Amos 6:8, and Jeremiah 51:14, where God is said to swear ‘by His soul’ = by Himself.

nor sworn deceitfully] R.V., and hath not sworn deceitfully. The paraphrase of P.B.V., ‘nor sworn to deceive his neighbour,’ which follows the LXX and Vulg., gives the sense rightly. He has been true to his neighbour, as well as to God. Cp. Psalm 15:4.

He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
5. the blessing] R.V. rightly, a blessing.

righteousness] ‘Righteousness’ is blessing in another aspect. Jehovah manifests Himself to the godly man, as ‘the God of his salvation’ (Psalm 25:5; Psalm 27:9); and this ‘salvation’ is the witness to and reward for his upright conduct. See 1 Samuel 26:23; Psalm 18:20; Psalm 18:24; Psalm 58:11. In the light of N.T. revelation the words receive a deeper meaning. See Matthew 5:6.

This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah.
6. generation] i.e. class, as in Psalm 12:7; Psalm 14:5; Psalm 73:15.

that seek him] R.V., that seek after him. Two words for seek are used in this verse. Both may be used of the outward act of visiting the sanctuary; but both come to express the inward purpose of the heart as well. So far as the two words can be distinguished the first denotes the attitude of loving devotion, the second that of inquiry or supplication.

O Jacob] The A.V. marg. and R.V. rightly follow the LXX, Vulg., and Syr. in reading O God of Jacob. If the Massoretic text is retained, it must be rendered with R.V. marg., That seek thy face, even Jacob. These are the ideal Jacob, the true people of God. But the construction is harsh; a vocative is needed after thy face; and Jacob does not by itself convey this sense.

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.
7. Lift up your heads] As though they were too low and mean for the entrance of “the high and lofty one” who comes, and in token that all resistance is at an end.

ye everlasting doors] Or, ye ancient doors, venerable with unknown antiquity.

and the King &c.] Or, that the King of glory may come in. The Ark, “which is called by the Name, even the name of the Lord of hosts that sitteth upon the cherubim” (2 Samuel 6:2) was the symbol of Jehovah’s majesty and the pledge of His Presence among His people (Numbers 10:35-36). When the ark was lost, “the glory departed from Israel” (1 Samuel 4:21). Cp. Psalm 19:1, note.

7–10. The procession has reached the ancient gates of Zion. They are summoned to open high and wide to admit their true King.

Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.
8. Who is the King of glory? may be merely a rhetorical question; but it is far more poetical to suppose that the gates, or the warders, are represented as challenging the comer’s right to enter. The choir’s response recalls the opening words of the Song of Moses (Exodus 15:2-3), “Jah is my strength and song … Jehovah is a man of war:” while the title King reflects its closing words (Exodus 15:18); “Jehovah shall be King for ever and ever.” He is now proclaimed as the Victor, who comes as He had purposed, to take His kingdom.

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.
9. even lift &c.] Yea, lift them up … that the King of glory may come in.

9, 10. Challenge and response are repeated, with some slight variations, and one important change.

Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah.
10. The Lord of hosts] The climax is reached. He claims to enter, not merely as a victorious warrior, but as the Sovereign of the Universe. The great title Jehovah Tsebâôth or Lord of hosts, which was characteristic of the regal and prophetic period, meets us here for the first time in the Psalter. Originally perhaps it designated Jehovah as “the God of the armies of Israel” (1 Samuel 17:45), who went forth with His people’s hosts to battle (Psalm 44:9; Psalm 40:10), and whose Presence was the source of victory (Psalm 46:7; Psalm 46:11). But as the phrase “host of heaven” was used for the celestial bodies (Genesis 2:1), and celestial beings (1 Kings 22:19), the meaning of the title was enlarged to designate Jehovah as the ruler of the heavenly powers, the supreme Sovereign of the universe. Hence one of the renderings in the LXX is κύριος παντοκράτωρ, Lord Almighty, or rather, All-sovereign. See Additional Note on 1 Samuel in this series, p. 235.

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