Psalm 15
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

This is the portrait of a perfect character after the ideal of Israel. We naturally compare with it, on the one hand, the heathen types of perfection as we see them in the ethical philosophy of Greece and Rome, and, on the other, the Christian standard as we see it in the New Testament and in modern literature, and the result is to leave us in wonder and admiration before this figure of stainless honour drawn by an ancient Jewish poet. “Christian chivalry,” it has been said. “has not drawn a brighter.” In heart and tongue, in deed and word, as a member of society and as an individual, the character of Psalms 15 is without reproach.

The psalm makes no pretence to art either in form or style.

A Psalm of David. LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?
(1) Abide . . . dwell.—Properly, as in margin, sojourn like a passing guest, and dwell like a resident. But here the two terms are apparently used as synonyms. It was the natural form in which to put the question at Jerusalem, where God had His abode in the Temple, and we may paraphrase it thus: “What constitutes a true and genuine citizen of the kingdom of God?The form of Wordsworth’s poem, “Who is the happy warrior? who is he,” &c, was possibly suggested by the Psalm, and it may be read with advantage by the side of it.

He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.
(2) Uprightly.—Literally, he whose walking is perfect rectitude. In Proverbs 28:18 the same phrase occurs. Comp. Isaiah 33:15.

Speaketh the truth in his heart—i.e., both thinks and speaks the truth.

“This above all: to thine own self be true,

And it must follow as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.”


He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.
(3) He that backbiteth not.—Literally, he has not footed it on his tongue. Very expressive of those who go about from house to house carrying tittle- tattle. (Comp. 1Timothy 5:13.)

Reproach.—The Hebrew word has a striking derivation. Properly, the stripping of the trees of autumn fruit; so, stripping honour and reputation from a person. Two different words are in the Hebrew for “neighbour.” Translate, “Who does no ill to his friend, nor carries a reproach against his neighbour.” The marginal receiveth, or endureth, is quite against the context.

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) In whose eyes.—The first clause is obscure. The subject and predicate are not clearly marked; but the Authorised Version gives the right sense. It is quite out of keeping with the context to make both verbs predicates, and to translate, “He is despised and rejected in his own eyes,” i.e., thinks humbly of himself. The meaning is, “Those deserving contempt are contemned; but the good who fear Jehovah are honoured.”

To his own hurt.—Literally, to do evil, i.e., to him-self (see Leviticus 5:4). The LXX., by transposing the letters, read, “to his neighbour;” and the English Prayer Book version has apparently combined the two thoughts: “Who sweareth to his neighbour, and dis-appointeth him not, even though it were to his own hindrance.”

“His words are bonds, his oaths are oracles,

His love sincere, his thoughts immaculate;

His tears pure messengers sent from his heart,

His heart is far from fraud as heaven from earth.”

SHAKSPEARE: Two Gentlemen of Verona.

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) Usury was not forbidden in the legitimate commercial dealings with foreigners (Deuteronomy 23:20); and the laws against it seem to have had exclusive reference to dealings among Israelites themselves, and were evidently enacted more with a view to the protection of the poor than because the idea of usury in itself was considered wrong (Exodus 22:25; Lew 25:36). So here the context plainly seems to limit the sin of usury to unjust application of the principle, being connected with bribery. Against “biting” usury (the Hebrew word primarily means “bite”) all governments find it necessary to legislate, as we see in the case of the money-lenders of our own time; but with the employment of capital put out on interest for legitimate purposes of trade, neither Hebrew feeling generally, as the whole career of the race shows, nor the higher minds among them, as we see by our Lord’s parable of the talents, were averse. The best illustrations of invectives of prophets and psalmists against extortionate usurers are supplied by Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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