Who may live on your holy mountain?
The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others;
who despises a vile person
but honors those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things
will never be shaken.
Psalm 15 doesn't fit into any of the common psalm categories: hymn of praise, lament, or thanksgiving. Though it's not listed as a "wisdom" psalm as such in the books I have for reference, for me it makes me think of Proverbs more than Psalms. It is instruction in answer to two big questions. I don't know if these questions are being asked in the same way now. I think we ask them in this form: "Am I enough?" We want to know that we are okay.
I'm not sure that this psalm offers much comfort. Or does it?
First, some history: In David's time, God dwelled in the holy of holies in the tabernacle that he gave explicit instructions to build. Later, when David took the throne, he would centralize both the government and religious life of Israel in Jerusalem by bringing the ark of the covenant there to be settled. His son would construct the more permanent temple. The holy of holies was open only once a year for the high priest to enter and offer sacrifices for the people for atonement (Leviticus 16). The high priest had to be cleansed and purified according to the word of the Lord before presenting sacrifice on behalf of the people. It was serious business to come into the presence of the Lord. David knew this.
In answer to his own questions, then, David goes on to describe the type of person who can live in God's sacred tent and holy mountain: a righteous one. If you read Psalm 14, this is intriguing, because he blatantly says in Psalm 14, "there is no one who does good." (Paul picks this idea up in Romans 3, as well.) Nevertheless, David, knowing the law, is able to pen these words about how the Lord has laid out instructions for the righteous life he desires.
I would summarize the verses by saying the one whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous is driven by a purity of heart and motive that come from submission to the greatest commandment and the second that is like it (Matthew 22:36-40). They have an integration of faith and life that sets them on a solid foundation. The specifics include controlled speech, relating to others kindly, opposition to evil, being a person of their word and integrity, just, generous, and honest.
An honest reflection will highlight that no human lives up to this ideal. Like David said in Psalm 14, no one does good. Well, all of us do some good, but none of us is one hundred percent consistent in our righteousness enough to be confident to "dwell in [God's] sacred tent."
Is there any comfort in this psalm, then?
Yes! We can be encouraged in two ways: our reconciliation to God in Christ and God's promise to carry to completion what he starts.
Jesus lived the kind of life described here. He came to do so, in fact, that he could be the sacrifice to open up the holy of holies to all people. He was unshakable in his love for God and neighbor. But more than being an example or a martyr, he is the way, truth, and life. This week in a separate Bible study for our Sunday School class, I was floored by the truth that I have been reconciled to God through Christ. We were once alienated or enemies of God, but through faith in Jesus we are restored to God as sons and daughters. Thus, we can love God and love our neighbor as he intended all along.
That hits on the second idea that God carries to completion what he begins. In Christ, as new creations, we can set out on the paths of righteousness God has laid out for us, not in pride or fear, but in peace, contentment, and joy. Secure as God's own children, knowing he has promised to transform us into Jesus' likeness, we can forsake our former idols and habits and boldly walk in faith as people of justice, righteousness, and integrity. In that space, we are on solid ground. ("Shaken" there at the end of the psalm can be translated "stand firm forever" or "moved.")
God's story is all about recreating the way to be with his people. From the fall in Genesis 3, the reconciliation story unfolds according to God's timing and plan. He knows none of us is righteous, yet he made a way that we can be, so we can be with him again in his presence as he was with Adam and Eve in the garden. Nailing the righteous life is not the end goal, being with our God is. In this present time, we can enjoy growing in righteousness through relationship with our Creator-King - planting our feet on the solid ground of his love and his word. Thus we will become ministers of reconciliation in a world that desperately needs just that.
So back to our modern version of David's opening question: "Am I enough?" I think the Bible tells us we're asking the wrong question. God simply invites us to believe that he is enough and to trust his way for us is best. We have immense value and worth as God's image-bearers in creation. By sending his son, Jesus, God showed us just how much he loves us and how much he wants to rescue us from the fear that we're not enough. Further, he has given us his Spirit; the God who once dwelt only in the holy of holies takes up residence in our hearts. Wow, doesn't that make you want to praise him?
May his blessings flow to you as you worship and rest this weekend.