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Psalm 24

THIS psalm consists of two distinct and, it may seem at first sight, unconnected parts. The first praises God as the universal sovereign by right of creation, ver. 1, 2, and describes the moral requisites to intimate communion with him, ver. 3–6. The second represents him, in a striking figurative form, as entering some place provided for his residence, ver. 7–10. The idea common to both parts is the supremacy of God, both in holiness and majesty. There is no historical occasion to which such a composition would seem more appropriate than the removal of the ark to mount Zion by David, as described in 2 Sam. 6 and 1 Chron. 15. And as the first part of this psalm carries out the idea of dwelling in God’s house, expressed at the close of Ps. 23, it is not an improbable conjecture, though by no means a necessary supposition, that the two psalms were designed to form a pair, and to be sung upon the same occasion; the first, it may be, as the ark left its former resting-place, the second as it drew near to its new one. The resemblance of ver. 3–6 to Ps. 15 make it not improbable that that psalm also was composed for use on a similar if not the same occasion. The supposition of alternate choirs in the case before us appears to be a useless and gratuitous refinement. The sanctuary of the old economy, both in its permanent and temporary forms, was intended to symbolize the doctrine of God’s special presence and residence among his people; and as this was realized in the advent of Christ, the psalm before us has a permanent interest and use, and in a certain sense may be described as Messianic.

1. To David, i.e. belonging to him as its author. See above, on Ps. 3:1, 4:1, 5:1. A Psalm. To Jehovah (belongs) the earth and its fulness, the world and (those) dwelling in it. Its fulness, that which fills it, its contents. The word translated world is a poetical equivalent to earth, denoting specially, according to its etymology, the productive portion of the earth, and thus corresponding indirectly to the Greek οὶκουμίνη, or inhabited earth. This assertion of Jehovah’s sovereign propriety is intended to shew that he was not the God of Israel only, but of the whole world, and thereby entitled to be served with reverence and purity, an idea more distinctly brought out afterwards.

2. For He above the seas has settled it, and above the streams has fixed it. The pronoun is emphatic; He and no one else. See below, Ps. 100:3. He has made the earth what it is, and is therefore the sovereign, both of it and its inhabitants. The idea is not that of subterraneous waters bearing up the land, but simply that of the habitable earth, raised above the surface of the waters which surround it. The use of the Hebrew preposition (עַל) is the same as in Ps. 1:3. There is obvious allusion to the rescue of the dry land from the universal prevalence of water, as described in the Mosaic cosmogony, Gen. 1:9, 10. The sense of the two verses, taken in connection, is that since Jehovah is the God who collected the waters, and caused the dry land to appear, he is the rightful sovereign of the habitable earth, and of those whom it sustains.

3. Who shall go up into the mountain of Jehovah, and who shall stand in his holy place? Since he is thus, by right of creation, the universal sovereign, which of his creatures shall enjoy the happiness and honour of appearing in his presence! The hill of the Lord, or mountain of Jehovah, is mount Zion, henceforth to be hallowed as his earthly dwelling-place. The verb in the last clause does not simply mean to stand, but to stand fast, to maintain one’s ground. See above, on Ps. 1:5. It may, therefore, be implied, that some who gain a bodily access to the consecrated place shall not be suffered to remain there. It is indeed implied in the whole interrogation that mere bodily presence on mount Zion might be wholly unconnected with spiritual access to the holy place..

4. The clean of hands and pure of heart, who has not lifted up his soul to vanity, and has not sworn to fraud (or falsehood). This is the answer to the foregoing question, given by the Psalmist himself. There is no more need of supposing two speakers than in the rhetorical interrogations which are so abundant in Demosthenes and other animated writers. All moral purity is here referred to the hands, the tongue, and the heart, as the organs of external action, speech, and feeling. The same distribution may be made in the commandments of the decalogue. The second clause is very obscure. The form of expression is directly borrowed from the third commandment (Exod. 20:7), where the common version (take in vain) is neither intelligible in itself nor an exact copy of the original. The precise construction) (נָשָׂא לַשָּׁוְא) is found in these two places only; but a cognate one (נָשָׂא אֶל) occurs repeatedly in the sense of setting the heart or the desires on something (See Deut. 24:15, Prov. 19:18, Ps. 25:1, 86:4, 143:8). The only two plausible interpretations of the former phrase are that which makes לַשִּׁוְא a mere poetical variation אַל הַשָּׁוְא and that which gives נָשָׂא לַשָּׁוְא, in both places, the sense of carrying to vanity, i.e. bringing the name of God or the soul of man into connection with a falsehood, whether this be taken in its strict sense, or as meaning an unlawful or unsatisfying object of affection. It seems more natural, however, to explain the case before us, not by the single one in which the combination נָשָׂא לְ occurs, but by the many in which the same verb is connected with the same noun although by a different preposition. The meaning of the clause will then be, who has not set his heart on falsehood, or on any false and sinful object. That false swearing is particularly mentioned in the last clause cannot prove that it is exclusively intended here, as parallel clauses very seldom say precisely the same thing.—Sworn to falsehood, i.e. made a false oath, or sworn for deceit, i.e. with a fraudulent design.

5. He shall carry away a blessing from Jehovah, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. The first verb (יִשָּׂא) seems to have been chosen with some reference to its use in the foregoing verse, but not so as to require us to take it in precisely the same sense. A blessing from Jehovah, not merely from man, with allusion, as some think, to David’s blessing the people, 2 Sam. 6:18.—Righteousness may either mean a practical justification, an attestation of his innocence afforded by his experience of God’s favour; or the gift of righteousness itself, the highest and most precious of all gifts, and one which always follows upon justification.—The God of his salvation, i.e. God his Saviour, or his God who is a Saviour. See above, on Ps. 18:47 (46).

6. This is the generation seeking him; the seekers of thy face (are) Jacob, i.e. the true Jacob, the true Israel. This refers to the description in ver. 6.—Seeking him (in the singular) is the reading in the text; the marginal reading is those seeking him, which amounts to the same thing. To seek God and to seek his face, i.e., his countenance or presence, are common phrases for the earnest endeavour to secure his favour, Ps. 27:8, 105:4, Hos. 5:15, 2 Sam. 21:1. Our language does not furnish equivalents to the two Hebrew verbs employed to express this idea in the verse before us.—The connection of the last word with the rest of the sentence is obscure. Some make it a vocative: “who seek thy face, O Jacob!” i.e. who seek the countenance and friendship of God’s people. Or, “who seek thy face, O (God of) Jacob!” a very harsh ellipsis, which could only be justified by exegetical necessity. The best sense is yielded by the construction first proposed, or by another, which differs from it only in dispensing with a verb and throwing all into one sentence “This is the generation seeking thee, those seeking thy face (O Jehovah), (the true) Israel.” The sudden apostrophe to God himself makes the sentence more impressive without making it obscure.—The distinction here made between the nominal and real Israel was peculiarly necessary on occasions which were suited to flatter the natural pride of the chosen people, such as that of Jehovah’s solemn entrance into Zion, as the peculiar God of Israel. To correct this abuse of their extraordinary privileges, two great doctrines are here set forth; that their God was the God of the whole earth; and, secondly, that he was holy, and required holiness as a term of admission to his presence. The idea of a true and false Israel reappears in the New Testament, and is propounded with peculiar distinctness and emphasis by Paul in Rom. 9:6, 7.

7. Lift up, O gates, your heads, and be lifted up, ye doors of perpetuity! And in will come the king of glory! The procession is now commonly supposed to have arrived at the entrance of the citadel or walled town of Zion, the acropolis of Jerusalem. The gates of this acropolis are those personified in this fine apostrophe. They are called perpetual or everlasting on account of their antiquity, and not in mere anticipation of their subsequent duration, as in 1 Kings 8:13. They are called upon to raise their heads, that he who is about to enter may not debase himself by stooping to pass through them. The connection of the clauses is correctly given, but in a form much more agreeable to the English than the Hebrew idiom, by translating the future as a subjunctive tense, that the king of glory may come in. The king of glory is a phrase analogous to hill of holiness, strength of salvation, &c., and means glorious king.

8. Who is this, the king of glory? Jehovah strong and mighty, Jehovah mighty in battle (or a mighty warrior). The supposition of alternate or responsive choirs is as unnecessary here as in ver. 4 above. It is the case, so common in all animated speech and composition, of a speaker asking a question simply for the purpose of answering it himself. As if he had said, “Do you ask who this king of glory is? It is the Lord,” &c. The common version, Who is this king of glory? does not fully convey the force of the original, the sense of which is, “who is this (of whom you speak as) the king of glory?” The word translated mighty, although properly an adjective, is continually used as a noun substantive, and is the nearest equivalent in Hebrew to the classical term hero. But the simple majesty of David’s language would be marred in a translation by the use of this word, and still more by that of the combination, martial or military hero, in the other clause. The idea, both in this and other places, is borrowed from the Song of Moses, Exod. 15:3.

9. Lift up, O gates, your heads, and lift (them) up, ye doors of perpetuity, and in will come the king of glory. In order to conclude with an emphatic repetition of the epithets in ver. 8, it was necessary that the question in that verse should be repeated likewise; and in order to this the summons in ver. 7 is repeated here, but, as in most like cases, with a variation, which, though slight, relieves the repetition from entire sameness. The variation here consists in the exchange of the passive form, be lifted up, for the corresponding active, lift up, so your heads, the object being readily suggested by the other clause.

10. Who is this, the king of glory? Jehovah (God) of Hosts, he is the king of glory. Selah. Between the question here and in ver. 8 the only variation is one which cannot well be imitated in translation. For the simple Hebrew phrase (מִי־זֶה) Who is this? we have here the fuller form (מִי הוּאִ זֶה), in which the personal pronoun is interposed between the interrogative and demonstrative, so as to suggest the two forms, Who is he? and Who is this? though really constituting but a single question, as the personal pronoun (הוּא), in Hebrew usage, often serves as an index of the substantive when not expressed.—There is a more material variation in the answer, where, instead of the two phrases, Jehovah strong and mighty, Jehovah mighty in battle, the Psalmist substitutes the single but still more expressive title, Jehovah Zebaoth, or of Hosts. In Exodus 12:41, Israel is called the hosts of Jehovah; but a much more frequent designation is the host or hosts of heaven, sometimes applied to the heavenly bodies, especially as objects of idolatrous worship (Deut. 4:19, 17:3, 2 Kings 17:16, Isa. 34:4, Jer. 33:22, Zeph. 1:5, Dan. 8:10), and sometimes to the angels (Jos. 5:14, 15, 1 Kings 22:19, 2 Chron. 18:18, Ps. 103:21, 148:2). In both these senses God may be described as the God of Hosts, i.e. as the sovereign both of the material heavens and of their inhabitants. From the use of hosts in Gen. 2:1, some would extend it to the earth as well as the heavens, and explain the compound title as denoting Lord of the Universe, as Mohammed in the Koran speaks of Allah as the Lord of Worlds. But this explanation, even supposing it to be correct as to the single place on which it rests, derives no countenance from usage elsewhere. Still less admissible is that which makes it simply mean the God of Battles or the God of War, a name and an idea much less scriptural than heathenish. The phrase Jehovah Zebaoth does not occur in the Pentateuch, Joshua or Judges, from which some have inferred that it was afterwards introduced in opposition to the worship of the heavenly bodies, and of the spirits which were supposed to govern and inhabit them. According to the usage of the Hebrew language, Jehovah, as a proper name, cannot be construed with a genitive directly, nor is it ever so connected with any other noun. The anomaly can only be removed by making Zebaoth itself a proper name, or by supplying the word God between it and Jehovah. The first solution may appear to be favoured by the σαβαώθ of the Septuagint, retained in Rom. 9:29 and James 5:4. But the other is proved to be the true one by such passages as Hos. 12:6 (5), Amos 4:13, where we have the full form, Jehovah God of Hosts. Compare Ps. 59:6 (5), 80:5 (4), 84:9 (8).—This description of Jehovah as the God of heaven no less than of earth, while it sensibly strengthens the expressions of ver. 8, and thus removes the appearance of a mere tautological reiteration, at the same time brings us back in the conclusion to the point from which we set out in ver. 1, to wit, the universal sovereignty of God. The whole psalm is then brought to a solemn and sonorous close by making the answer echo the terms of the interrogation, He is the king of glory! These points of difference between ver. 8 and 10 impart a beautiful variety to the repeated sentence, without impairing in the least the rhetorical or musical effect of the repetition itself, which is followed only by the customary indication of a pause, both in the sense and the performance. See above, on Ps. 3:3 (2).

Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 109–113). Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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