Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Here, as in Psalms 19, we come upon a poem made up of two separate pieces, united without due regard to the difference both of tone and rhythm, which strikes even an English reader. The piece from Psalm 24:1-6 inclusive falls into three stanzas, of four, five, and four lines respectively. The second piece, though evidently intended to be sung in parts, falls into triplets. Notice also that the didactic character of the first ode does not harmonise with the warlike march of the second. In the first, moreover, it is the pious Israelite who is, by virtue of the correspondence of his character to the godlike, to ascend the Holy Mountain; in the second, it is Jehovah Himself who comes to claim admission into the fortress by virtue of His prowess in battle, or, more exactly, it is the ark which represents Him, and which was understood by its presence to secure victory, which is brought in triumph to that hill where it was henceforth to have its home. The fact that in the early part of the psalm Jehovah appears in full possession of His mountain, which is already a centre for pious worshippers, seems to bring its composition down to a time posterior to the removal of the ark to Zion. Apart from the rhythmical difficulty, the unity of the poem might possibly be vindicated by the supposition that it was composed not for this first removal, but for some subsequent return of the ark.
This hymn was naturally adopted by Christians as figurative of the Resurrection and Ascension.
A Psalm of David. The earth is the LORD'S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.(1) The Lord’s.—The majesty of Jehovah as Lord of the universe is a reason to the psalmist for insisting on rectitude and sincerity in those who become His worshippers. St. Paul uses the same truth, referring to this place (1Corinthians 10:26), to show that all things are innocent and pure to the pure; so that a Christian (apart from a charitable regard for the weak) may eat whatever is sold in the shambles, without troubling himself to inquire whether it has been offered to idols or not.
For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.(2) Upon the seas.—For the idea of the earth resting on water, comp. Psalm 136:6; Proverbs 8:25-29. In Genesis the dry land emerges from the water, but is not said to be founded on it. In Job 26:7 the earth is said to be hung upon nothing. The idea of a water foundation for the earth naturally grew out of the phenomenon of springs, before it was scientifically explained.
Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place?(3, 4) For the elaboration of this answer, see Psalms 15 and Isaiah 33:15; Isaiah 33:18. “The answer is remarkable, as expressing in language so clear that a child may understand it, the great doctrine that the only service, the only character which can be thought worthy of such a habitation, is that which conforms itself to the laws of truth, honesty, humility, justice, love. Three thousand years have passed, Jerusalem has fallen, the Jewish monarchy and priesthood and ritual and religion have perished; but the words of David still remain, with hardly an exception, the rule by which all wise and good men would measure the worth and value of men, the greatness and strength of nations” (Stanley, Canterbury Sermons).
He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.(4) His soul.—The Hebrew margin is “my soul,” a reading confirmed by the Alexandrian Codex of the LXX. The Rabbis defend it by saying soul here = name (comp. Amos 6:8; Jeremiah 51:14), and to lift up to vanity = to take in vain.
Vanity.—Evidently, from the parallelism, in the sense of falsehood, as in Job 31:5.
Deceitfully.—Literally, to fraud, from a root meaning to trip up. The LXX. and Vulg. add (from Psalms 15) “to his neighbour.”
He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.(5) Righteousness.—This is the real blessing that comes from God. That virtue is her own reward, is the moral statement of the truth. The highest religious statement must be looked for in Christ’s “Beatitudes.”
This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah.(6) O Jacob.—The address to Jacob is certainly wrong, and therefore many critics, following the LXX. and Syriac, rightly insert, as in our margin, the words “O God of.”
Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.(7) Gates.—The LXX. and Vulgate miss this fine personification, by rendering “princes” instead of “heads.”
“Lift up your gates, O princes.”
The sacrifice of the poetry to antiquarianism, by introducing the idea of a “portcullis,” is little less excusable. The poet deems the ancient gateways of the conquered castle far too low for the dignity of the approaching Monarch, and calls on them to open wide and high to give room for His passage.
Everlasting doors.—Better, ancient doors, “gates of old;” an appropriate description of the gates of the grim old Jebusite fortress, “so venerable with unconquered age.” For ôlam in this sense comp. the giants “of old” (Genesis 6:4), the “everlasting hills” (Genesis 49:26, &c.), and see Note to Psalm 89:1.
The King of glory shall come in.—This name, in which the claim for admission is made, connects the psalm immediately with the ark; that glory, which had fled with the sad cry Ichabod, has returned; the symbol of the Divine presence and of victory comes to seek a lasting resting-place.
Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.(8) Who . . .—But the claim is not unchallenged. The old heathen gates will not at once recognise the new-comer’s right of admission.
The Lord strong and mighty.—But it is the right of conquest—
“Jehovah, the strong, the mighty, Jehovah, mighty in battle.”
Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah.(10) The Lord of hosts.—A second challenge from the reluctant gates serves as the inauguration of the great name by which the Divine nature was especially known under the monarchy. (For its origin and force, see Note on 1Samuel 1:3.)