# 104 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 24 Who may stand before the Lord?

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Life is full of questions and often there isn’t always an easy answer. If you have children or grandchildren, like me, then this will certainly have been your experience. But questions and answers are an important part of the growing and learning process. And so often in life we are in situations when we are just unfamiliar with what and how to move forward. On these occasions, we need some answers.

Well, the psalmist, in Psalm 24, having acknowledged the awesomeness of God the Creator and Sustainer of the whole universe in verses 1-2, asked a very relevant question:

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?

He is basically asking, if God is as awesome, powerful and holy as we know him to be, then how on earth can we come into his presence, considering our lack of all the above characteristics. Good question!

I think it is helpful here to look at the context of this psalm again before we consider this vital question and answer.

The psalm seems to be describing a victory celebration and the people of God, those who have experienced God’s victory, are together, initially outside the place of worship and are about to enter in to worship and give thanks to “the King of Glory, the Lord Almighty.” And someone (possibly a Levite) asks the question concerning “Who” are those who are ready and able to enter and worship the Lord, i.e. what are the characteristics of the ones who can honestly and earnestly and truthfully worship God in a way that is acceptable to Him?

And the answer comes back:
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god.

Broyles suggests concerning the above answer that they are a:

“priestly instruction or ‘torah’ [which contain] two positive descriptions of character, the first related to behaviour (he who has clean hands) and the second to thoughts and motives (and a pure heart). These are matched by two negative descriptions of action (who does not lift up his soul to what is empty and does not swear to falsehood).”

He continues:

“These qualifications for entering the temple are not meant to be an exhaustive checklist, but they are a teaching that makes clear what is essential…Yahweh’s adherents are people of integrity, that is, they are loyal to truth and integrate themselves around it. They are loyal to God and have no intention of harming or misleading their neighbour.”

Jesus said something similar to the Samaritan women at the well when he said: “the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” are “the true worshipers” who “worship the Father in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23).

I guess it is a call to search one’s own heart before God before participating in public worship, which sounds like a pretty useful thing to do, lest we find ourselves being hypocrites.

As another prayer psalm puts it:

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.     (Psalm 139:23-24)

So, there has been firstly an inquiry (v.3), then the conditions (v.4) and now thirdly comes a promise (vv. 5-6).

They will receive blessing from the Lord
and vindication [or righteousness] from God their Saviour.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, God of Jacob.

It is important to note a couple of things here. Firstly, considering all the rituals and sacrifices involved in Judaism, it is significant that God does not make the fulfilling of these things the condition for entry, but rather he examines the hearts and motivations that produce right actions. And secondly, the expectation is not that only the perfect people are able to join in worship, because obviously then no one would be able to enter.

In fact, those able to enter are simply called ‘seekers’ i.e. those who seek him, who seek your face, God of Jacob.

Broyle suggests that verse 5 would be better translated, he will receive righteousness. He continues: “The psalm is clear that the person so described in verse 4 is in need of a Saviour and in need of righteousness…In other words, one must not claim moral perfection before one can consider entering. On the contrary, to receive this righteousness from God his Saviour one must enter into worship. Upon entry worshipers were granted righteousness and became one of the righteous.”   (see references # 4)

Wilcock adds:

“To meet God…required right living, right thinking, a right relationship with him, and a right relationship with one’s fellows. But these things were a righteousness (vindication) which could only be received, not achieved: things which the God who saves from sin gives to those who seek him. That ‘seeking’, that humble longing for God, was the basic requirement for those who would come to meet with him…” (see references # 5)

I was reminded of this when reading Acts 15 this week. The story is of Paul and Barnabas returning to Jerusalem after their evangelistic journeys, having seen not only Jews but also Gentiles becoming believers in Jesus. But, “some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees” were saying that “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses” (15:9), which Paul and Barnabas did not agree with and therefore brought it before the Jerusalem Council for clarification. The answer to this big question was answered by Peter and these are the words that reminded me of the words of Psalm 24.

The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”  (Acts 15:6-11)

History and our own experience proves that God desires worshipers, people who recognise that he is the One True God who created all things, including humans in his image. He also desires to transform us so that when we come to Him in worship we will be “righteous”, with clean hands and a pure heart. And as Peter says, all this is through the grace of our Lord Jesus, i.e. not our own doing!

Paul also speaks of this in Romans 1:16-17

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

So, this day Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.  (Hebrews 4:16)

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.    

# 103 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 24. The universe looks as if it knew we were coming!

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From a scene of “green pastures”, “quiet waters” and “valleys” in the previous psalm, we move now to “the mountain of the Lord” and a city with “gates” and “ancient doors” in Psalm 24. David, the shepherd boy tending his sheep in the pasturelands of Israel has become David, the King of Israel and has conquered Jerusalem where God, the “Shepherd” is now welcomed, acknowledged as Creator and referred to as “the Lord…the King of Glory…the Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle…the Lord Almighty.”

Psalm 24

Of David. A psalm.

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,     the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas     and established it on the waters.

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?     Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,     who does not trust in an idol     or swear by a false god.

They will receive blessing from the Lord     and vindication from God their Savior. Such is the generation of those who seek him,     who seek your face, God of Jacob.

Lift up your heads, you gates;     be lifted up, you ancient doors,     that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory?     The Lord strong and mighty,     the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, you gates;     lift them up, you ancient doors,     that the King of glory may come in. 10 Who is he, this King of glory?     The Lord Almighty—     he is the King of glory.

Just as Psalm 23 had its context as mentioned above, so does Psalm 24. Many commentaries suggest that this psalm could have been written for the occasion when the victorious Israelite army was returning to Jerusalem after fighting against an enemy. “Thus, the psalm praises God the Warrior who has given his people victory over their enemy.” (Longman) More specifically, some suggest that the story of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6) could have been the context for this psalm.

Whatever the context it has lots to teach us even from the very first words:

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,     the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas     and established it on the waters.

As Longman says, “The psalmist begins with a hearty affirmation that everything animate and inanimate, belongs to the Lord. He owns everything and everyone, and everything and everyone are completely dependent on him…He has authority over all.”  (see references # 30)

As Genesis 1 says:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…vegetation…trees…sea creatures…birds…wild animals…livestock…man and woman.”

Then John in his Gospel adds:

“Through him all things were made, without him nothing was made that has been made.” (1:3)

Having spent some time recently talking to a friend, who calls himself a “skeptic”, I realize that it takes quite a bit of “faith” on his part to “believe” what he says concerning the world around him and what life is (or isn’t) all about. Frankly, just believing in God as Creator, the  Giver and Sustainer of life is not as complex as some of the things my friend “believes”! And certainly, as we consider the peoples of the world around us, he is really in a small minority who reject the reality of the supernatural and of God.

In his book, “The Reason for God” by Timothy Keller, the author has a chapter titled “The Clues of God”. In this chapter he writes, among other things, concerning the “Big Bang Theory”, which he terms the “mysterious bang”, and then quotes scientist Francis Collins:

“We have this very solid conclusion that the universe had an origin, the Big Bang. Fifteen billion years ago, the universe began with an unimaginable bright flash of energy from an infinitesimally small point. That implies that before that, there was nothing. I can’t imagine how nature, in this case the universe, would have created itself. And the very fact that the universe had a beginning implies that someone was able to begin it. And it seems to me that had to be outside of nature.”

Keller then goes on to mention yet another fascinating fact about the universe which he calls the “cosmic welcome mat”. He writes concerning the “perfect calibration” of the universe, of “values that together fall into an extremely narrow range”. He concludes that “the probability of this perfect calibration happening by chance is so tiny as to be statistically negligible.” He follows this by another quote by Francis Collins:

“When you look from the perspective of a scientist at the universe, it looks as if it knew we were coming. There are 15 constants…that have precise values. If any one of these constants were off by even one part in a million, or in some cases, one part in a million million, the universe could not have actually come to the point where we see it. Matter would not have been able to coalesce [combine], there would have been no galaxy, stars, planets or people.”

And then Keller writes concerning the “regularity of nature”:

“As a proof for the existence of God, the regularity of nature is inescapable…There have been many scholars in the last decades who have argued that modern science arose in its most sustained form out of Christian civilization because of its belief in an all-powerful God who created and sustains an orderly universe.”

(Timothy Keller The Reason for God – Belief in an Age of Scepticism Hodder & Stoughton 2008)

Creator God, what an amazing universe we live in, and it all belongs to you. May we live our daily lives in the knowledge of this truth seeking to bring glory to you. Thank you that you also created us for yourself. May we make the purpose and passion of our lives all about knowing, serving and delighting in you and all that you have made. Amen.

 

# 102 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 23 Not really a tranquil psalm.

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When I started considering Psalm 23 I quoted Brueggemann, who says that “The grip [this psalm] has on biblical spirituality is deep and genuine.” And how true this is. In fact the more I consider this psalm, the more I discover.

I realize that we have only scratched the surface of the incredible truth that “The Lord is my shepherd”, but let us move on to the next statement which David shares with us which is, “I lack nothing.”

Most translations and paraphrases basically say the same thing as the NIV quoted above, for example, “I shall not want.” (KJV) and “I always have more than enough.” (Passion Translation).

As I consider my life, and now over two thirds has been lived as a follower of Jesus, I am so grateful to God for his provision of all of my and my family’s “needs” while living for Him. I guess some could consider that there were lots that we lacked at times, particularly while living a fairly simple lifestyle in Pakistan as missionaries. But, the reality was that we had many “riches” that we would have missed out on if we had stayed home in Australia. “Riches”, such as the privilege of living and learning and growing in another culture and making some lifelong friends amongst the people there. We can honestly say of those days that we always had more than enough, even if we also had some pretty tough times!

At this stage, it may be important to understand what we are talking about when we use the word “needs” and, I think, the Amplified Version helps clarify this in the context of this psalm. It says:

“The Lord is my Shepherd [to feed, to guide and to shield me], I shall not want.”

If we look at this psalm we see all of these 3 “needs” mentioned as follows:

FEED

You prepare a table before me     in the presence of my enemies.   (verse 5)

GUIDE

He guides me along the right paths     for his name’s sake.   (verse 3)

SHIELD (PROTECT)

Even though I walk     through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil,     for you are with me; your rod and your staff,     they comfort me.   (verse 4)

But then there is even more, not mentioned in the Amplified version, such as:

REST AND RESTORATION

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.    (verses 2-3)

ABUNDANCE OF LOVE AND GRACE NOW AND FOREVER

You anoint my head with oil;     my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me     all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord     forever.   (verses 5-6)

It all sounds very idyllic doesn’t it! But, the reality is, our lives are often not quite as simple as, in a superficial reading, this psalm appears to describe. As we look closer at this psalm, we pick up hints that God’s provision is in the midst of the rough and tumble of real life. As Broyles suggests, this psalm is “a favourite for many, largely because it unveils an intensely intimate relationship with the Lord wherein he provides protection and providence. Yet, as familiar as this psalm is, there is more than first appears. It is not a tranquil psalm, as many assume. We must observe its intent: it affirms what the Lord provides; it does not pretend to report on worshipers’ circumstances. What he provides is peaceable, but the echoes we get of what life may bring our way may be quite disturbing. We may walk through the valley of the shadow of death and we may affirm, I will fear no evil, because we are tempted to fear. We confess, I shall not be in want, because we fear we shall. The confession, he leads me beside still waters, has meaning because many dangers – including my enemies – threaten to sap us of life. He restores my soul, indicates there are times when it becomes weary. Our Shepherd provides for and protects ‘the sheep’ but he does not fabricate a world free from hardships.”   (see references # 4)

So, does the Bible affirm anywhere else that God is able and willing to meet our deepest needs in all the circumstances of our lives? Absolutely! Consider the following:

From the Psalms:

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;     his greatness no one can fathom… The Lord is gracious and compassionate,     slow to anger and rich in love.                                                                                                      The Lord is good to all;     he has compassion on all he has made… 14 The Lord upholds all who fall     and lifts up all who are bowed down. 15 The eyes of all look to you,     and you give them their food at the proper time. 16 You open your hand     and satisfy the desires of every living thing…                                                                                 19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;     he hears their cry and saves them. 20 The Lord watches over all who love him…       (Psalm 145:3, 8-9, 14-16, 19-20)

From the Gospels:

Jesus said:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry…”  (Matthew 6:25-33)

And from Paul’s letters:

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:19) So, God can be trusted, in the good times and maybe especially in the tough times, to meet all our NEEDS in Christ. As Broyles says, “Our Shepherd provides for and protects ‘the sheep’ but he does not fabricate a world free from hardships.”

Thank you, Heavenly Father, our divine Shepherd, that you understand what we need in every situation and You are able to meet us at these times of need. We confess to not always understanding what we need to see us through in life, but you understand and because you are good you provide. Amen.