Psalm 15 takes on the task of summarizing the righteous, who are allowed to dwell with God, as opposed to the fool, covered in Psalm 14. The general message of the psalm is one of love, which should be of no surprise to those who follow the words of Jesus. Although it should be noted that the Old Testament is often unfairly ridiculed for its violence, while portions like this are easily forgotten by those who do not study fervently. If the path of the righteous can be summarized in love, why is this passage referred to as a wisdom psalm? Perhaps, loving one another is not as easy at it may seem.
Who May Dwell On Your Holy Mountain?
The psalm opens by asking a very important question; Who my dwell with God? First, the psalmist refers to God’s tent, and then to His mountain. Are these two word choices meant to draw a line between two distinct ways in which one can dwell with God?
Who may abide in Your tent?
In this line, abide is written as guwr in Hebrew, which is translated as sojourn in some English interpretations. Upon examining the meaning of guwr, I am inclined to believe that it is intended here to represent the temporary dwelling of a person within God’s tent. In this same line, tent is written as ohel in Hebrew, which is translated as tabernacle in some interpretations, and if we are taking guwr to mean sojourn, or to dwell temporarily, then this would imply that the text is asking who can temporarily dwell in the same place as God.
As Christians, we understand that God is omnipresent, in all places at once, but there was a time when God chose to make His presence particularly noticeable within the tabernacle, in Jerusalem. The book of Ezekiel makes it clear that this was something that God did intentionally, and that He is not restricted to a single place, or residence, as humanity is. Given this, as Christians, we should understand this line in the following way.
Who, in this life, may dwell in Your presence?
This captures the temporary nature of the Hebrew language used in the original text, while also acknowledging that God is everywhere, and that it is the presence of the Holy Spirit that we desire within us.
Who may dwell on Your holy mountain?
The word choices in this second line are distinctly chosen to create a similar sound, but a very different meaning. In this line, dwell is written as shakan in Hebrew, meaning to reside or permanently stay, as opposed to temporarily staying. Combined with the reference to God’s high mountain, or His dwelling place above us, we can assume that this verse is referring to the Kingdom of Heaven. I agree with Charles Ellicott that the best way to summarize this verse is as a question asking: “What constitutes a true and genuine citizen of the kingdom of God?”
The Attributes Of The Citizen
Now that we have properly framed the questions being asked in the first verse, let’s take a closer look at some of the answers provided in this psalm. The remaining verses walk through a short, but explicit list of attributes that true citizens of the kingdom of God should strive for.
- Practices Righteousness
The remaining verses in the psalm can be summarized by these attributes. These are the character traits that are required of all Christians, and most importantly, these are character traits that I believe everyone would like to see more often in society at large.
Integrity means to have solid principals or morals. So strong, in fact, that even when you are alone you will not compromise them. This is an excellent attribute to have, and serves as the foundation for the remaining attributes. If you are willing to compromise on your values, then you have no values, and thus, no integrity. Integrity is an attribute that cannot be had on its own, it requires at least one of the other attributes. In this psalm, integrity is paired with righteousness, showing that the psalmist understood the symbiotic relationship that integrity has with values and wanted to call out a particular attribute which would be most effective for a relationship with God.
Righteousness is defined as being morally true or justifiable. In the Christian sense, righteousness means to be morally justifiable in the eyes of God. This is accomplished through the study of God’s word, learning and meditating on God’s law, and practicing or applying the law within your own life. We say that we practice righteousness because we are not perfect beings and we fall short far too often, but when we recognize that we are falling short, if we are practicing righteousness, with the help of God we will fix ourselves.
Being open and true to what is in your heart, being true yourself and to others, is honesty. This is probably the most difficult attribute to wrestle with. We often convince ourselves that our own story is the truth, we project motives and emotions onto other people and then use those perceived motives to justify our response, which is usually not a good one. Honesty is a trait that starts within us, and requires us to be honest with ourselves in order for us to be completely honest with others, and most importantly, with God.
Have you ever seen someone on television or on the news, heard them talking, and just thought you yourself that they must be lying? Particularly when you have no real evidence that they are lying? This is something that I am guilty of, and witness others doing as well, but there is no reason for it. By doing this, we end up telling ourselves a lie, and then allow ourselves to believe it, and finally, we end up judging a person based on the false idea that we hold about them. In our hearts, we are slandering the person on television, someone that Christ teaches is our neighbor. This is why honesty starts within ourselves.
Do no harm to your neighbors, be peaceful with them. It is important to point out that this is not exclusively talking about violence. Doing harm can be as simple as stealing from them, or even something as seemingly harmless as flirting with their spouse. These things damage relationships, they damage the bond of trust that we should have with one another, and in a lot of scenarios, these things can lead to violence. Our actions are capable of causing a great deal of harm without ever having to throw a punch.
When we think of humility, we typically think of someone that isn’t overly bragging or solely taking credit for things, but humility goes so much farther than that. Casting scorn upon our neighbors, think less of them because of the way that they live, or behave, is actually being prideful. If you think lowly of your neighbor, then you must certainly think highly of yourself.
Pride is a difficult thing to resist. It creeps in from unexpected places. We convince ourselves that we don’t think highly of ourselves, we simply think lesser of those who are evil or vile. We justify that thought for many reasons, but one example may be that we feel as though we are not, or never were, as evil or vile as them. But let me ask you, were you less evil do to your own will? Wasn’t it God that saved you, helped you to become better? If your neighbor truly is more evil than you were, is it because they have less will power than you, or is it because they are being tested by the Lord in a different way than you were? This is an important concept to keep in mind as we focus on the next verse.
Who despises the vile but honors those who fear the LORD.
This verse is translated many ways, but the commentary is typically the same. Despise the vile behavior, but not the person. Just as we spoke about above, despising the person is a sin of pride. It makes it seem as though the sinner is not also a being created by God, or at least broken in some way, when that is not the case. We all struggle with something, and for some of us, the thing we struggle with is much more public in nature. If you fortunate enough to struggle with something that is more private, remember that you are fortunate by God’s grace, not better.
Being generous takes many forms, we can be generous with our time, our money, or even our knowledge. When we are generous with our money, or our time, we should not expect anything in return, or else it is not generosity, it is business. Being in the business of giving loans is different from lending money to someone because they need help. Providing a loan to someone that desires to start a business or make an unnecessary purchase is a business transaction, but lending money to your neighbor in a time of need should be done out of generosity. Of course, it helps to have a clear definition of what is needed rather than desired when contemplating these sorts of things.
In the same way, when we make a promise to someone to lend them our time, or our knowledge, we should not go back on our word. This gives a dishonest impression and can cause undue harm to others, who may have made their own commitments based on yours. For example, a farmer with a broken down truck may promise a delivery on Thursday, based on the fact that you have promised to help them fix their truck on Wednesday. When you cancel that commitment, they are unable to keep their word as well, and the impression of dishonesty spreads. It is important that when we are generous with our assets, that we also keep our word.
Known By Your Fruits
These attributes will not earn your salvation, but they are evidence of it. If you can look at your life, knowing your relationship with God, and the seeing the fruit of your works through Him, then you will not be shaken, or question your salvation. Your works will bear witness to your path, and will not be moved from it. In fact, most likely, others will join you on it, and the journey will be less lonesome.