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Psalm 15 Moral Purity

“A Psalm of David. LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbor, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor. 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. He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.” (Psalm 15, AV)

A dynamic rendering of the same text:

A psalm of David. Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord? Who may enter your presence on your holy hill? Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts. Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends. Those who despise flagrant sinners, and honor the faithful followers of the Lord, and keep their promises even when it hurts. Those who lend money without charging interest, and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent. Such people will stand firm forever.” (Psalm 15, NLT)

This psalm teaches the necessity of moral purity as a condition of the divine protection. It first propounds the question who shall be admitted to God’s household, and the privileges of its inmates, ver. 1. This is answered positively, ver. 2, and negatively, ver. 3; then positively again, ver. 4, and negatively, ver. 5. The last clause of the last verse winds up by declaring, that the character just described shall experience the protection tacitly referred to in the first verse. As the contrast exhibited in this psalm and the fourteenth may account for its position in the Psalter, so its obvious resemblance to the twenty-fourth makes it not improbable that their historical occasion was identical.

  1. A Psalm by David. Jehovah, who shall sojourn in thy tent? who shall dwell in thy hill of holiness? The holy hill is Zion, as in Ps. 2:6; the tent is the tabernacle which David pitched there for the ark, when he removed it from Gibeon (2 Sam. 6:17, 1 Chron. 15:1, 16:1, 39, 2 Chron. 1:3–5). Both together signify the earthly residence of God; see above on Ps. 3:5 (4). The idea is not that of frequenting Zion as a place of worship, but of dwelling there, as a guest or as an inmate of God’s family. The same figure for intimate communion with Jehovah, and participation of his favor, reappears in Ps. 23:6, 27:4, 5, 24:3, 61:5, 65:5 (4), 84:5 (4). So too, in Eph. 2:19, believers are described as members of God’s family (οἰχεῖοι τοῦ Θεοῦ).

  2. Walking perfect, and doing right, and speaking truth, in his heart. The Psalmist, speaking in behalf of God, here answers his own question. The only person who can be admitted to domestic intercourse with God is one walking perfect, &c. Walking is put for the habitual course of life (see above, on Ps. 1:1). Perfect, complete, as to all essential features of the character, without necessarily implying perfection in degree. The form of expression seems to be borrowed from Gen. 17:1. A remarkably analogous expression is that used by Horace: integer vitae scelerisque purus. The next phrase, doing right, practicing rectitude, may be either a synonymous parallel to the first, or a specification under it, parallel to speaking truth. The general idea of walking perfect is then resolved into the two particular ideas of doing right and speaking truth. In his heart, i.e. sincerely, as opposed to outward show or hypocritical profession. This phrase seems to qualify not merely what precedes, speaking truth, but the whole description, as of one who sincerely and internally, as well as outwardly, leads a blameless life by doing right and speaking truth.

  3. (Who) hath not slandered with his tongue, (who) hath not done his neighbor harm, and a scandal hath not taken up against his neighbor. The positive description of the foregoing verse is now followed by a negative one. (Compare Ps. 1:1, 2). The social virtues are insisted on, and their opposites excluded, because they are apt to be neglected by hypocrites, against whom this psalm is directed. The past tense of the verbs denotes a character already marked and determined by the previous course of life. The verb רגל seems strictly to denote the act of busy or officious tale-bearing. There seems to be an allusion to Lev. 19:16. With his tongue, literally on his tongue, as we say to live on, i.e. by means of anything, an idiom which occurs in Gen. 27:40. (Compare Isa. 38:16.) The next clause adds deed to word, as in the foregoing verse. Scandal, reproach, defamatory accusation. The verb נשא is by some explained as meaning to take up upon the lips (Ps. 16:4), and then to utter or pronounce. Others give it the same sense as in Gen. 31:17, where נשא על means to lift up upon, i.e. to burden. The idea then is, that he has not helped to load his neighbor with reproach. Friend and neighbor does not mean any other man, but one sustaining a peculiarly intimate relation, such as that of the members of the chosen people to each other. See above, on Ps. 12:3 (2).

  4. Despised in his eyes (is) a reprobate, and the fearers of Jehovah he will honor; he hath sworn to his own hurt, and will not change. The Chaldee Paraphrase, followed by the Prayer Book version, makes the first clause descriptive of humility. He is despised in his own eyes (and) rejected. But the parallelism with the next clause shews that a contrast was designed between his estimation of two opposite classes, and as one of these is those who fear Jehovah, the other must be represented by נמאס, rejected, i.e. by Jehovah, reprobate. The future form, as usual, suggests the idea of a present act repeated or continued in the future. He honors, and will still persist in honoring, the fearers of Jehovah. The Septuagint and Vulgate explain להרע to the neighbor, and some modern versions to the bad (man). But the sense is determined by the obvious allusion to Lev. 5:4: “if a soul swear to do evil (להרע) or to do good,” i.e. whether to his own advantage or the contrary. So here the phrase must mean “he hath sworn to injure (himself)” not designedly, but so as to produce that effect. He will not change, literally, exchange, i.e. substitute something else for what he has promised.

  5. His silver he hath not given for usury, and a bribe against a guiltless (person) hath not taken. Doing these (things), he shall not be moved forever. In Hebrew as in French, silver is put for money in general. There is obvious allusion to the frequent prohibition in the Mosaic law, not of lending money upon interest for commercial purposes, a practice then unknown, but of usurious lending to the poor, and especially to poor Israelites. See Exod. 22:24, Lev. 25:37, Deut. 23:20, and compare Prov. 28:8, Ezek. 18:8. The taking of judicial bribes is also expressly forbidden in Exod. 23:8, Deut. 16:19, 27:25. The masoretic interpunction of this sentence seems to be merely rhythmical or musical, as in Ps. 11:5. The words doing these cannot be separated from what follows without destroying the sense. This last clause is an answer to the question in ver. 1, but with a change of form, implying that admission to God’s household was itself security against all danger. Compare Ps. 55:23 (22). For the sense of אֶמּוֹט, see above, on Ps. 10:6, 13:5.[1]

[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 63–64). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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