Who Shall Dwell on Your Holy Hill? (a direct Hebrew translation)
1, O YHWH, who shall sojourn in Your tent? Who shall settle on Your holy mountain?
2, He who walks blameless and does righteousness and speaks truth in his heart,
3, who does not gossip on his tongue and does not do evil to his fellow man, and does not lift up reproach upon his friend;
4, in whose eyes a scorned person is despised, and who honors those who fear YHWH; who swears to his evil and will not change;
5, who does not give his money at interest and does not take a bribe over the innocent. He who does these things shall never stumble.
This is my translation of Psalm 15 directly from Hebrew. Whenever you read “LORD” in the Old Testament, in the Hebrew it’s actually YHWH (the “a” and “e” purposefully omitted), except the vowels are purposefully put in the wrong places because the Jews do not speak or write God’s real name out of reverence. When I translate, I keep it as close to the Hebrew as possible while it still makes sense in English. Instead of LORD, I put YHWH out of respect for any Jews/Messianic Jews who may be reading this.
David begins this psalm asking a question every Christian eventually asks him or herself: who is worthy to stand in God’s presence? As David goes on in the psalm, he lists high expectation after high expectation. By the time we get to the end of the psalm we think, “Nobody can do all this. How can anyone be worthy to stand before God?”
Precisely. This psalm is a result of David’s contemplation on who is worthy to stand before God. The person who does all these things is worthy, but no one person can do these perfectly, so what can we take from this psalm?
A lot of people have certain misunderstandings about Christianity. One is the belief Christianity is about perfect behavior. This may be our own fault for someone giving the portrayal Christianity is about always being on your best behavior and if you aren’t, you’re damned.
But that’s not what Christianity is about by any means. If it were, then no one would truly be a Christian. God’s Word certainly teaches us correct behavior versus wrong behavior, but the point of the teaching is not for justification but for right living with your neighbor.
The core doctrine of Christianity is justification by faith. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith… It will be counted to us who believe in Him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:22-25; 4:24-5:1).
Jesus lived the perfect life we cannot. He did what was required of the law, which we cannot do. “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us” (Romans 8:3-4).
Since we are justified by the works of Christ through faith, and our works cannot justify, what’s the point? To do good for our neighbor. Psalm 15 captures this doctrine in a succinct manner.
Verse 2: Honesty and Integrity
Honesty and integrity are strong virtues we value in others. Yet we do not want brute honesty. Tactful honesty is much wiser. Basically, if you want to be honest, don’t be a jerk about it. Brutal honesty tends to be unsolicited criticism; tactful honesty is usually criticism that is asked for.
For example, let’s say my mom gets her hair done and I think it looks horrible (no, this has not happened in real life; my mom has lovely hair). If I were to be brutally honest with her, I would go up to her unsolicited and tell her how horrible her hair looks. Honesty may be a virtue, but in this situation it made her feel terrible, and I was a jerk about it. On the other hand, it is tactfully honest of me if she asks for my opinion and I tell her I prefer her hair natural. It’s the truth, and she doesn’t feel terrible afterwards.
I always had a hard time defining integrity until I enlisted in the Army. There, it was defined as doing the right thing legally and morally even when no one notices. It could be something as simple as looking both ways before you cross the street even when your parents aren’t present. Trivial, I know, but it’s still integrity. Or, if someone asks you to do something for them later and you say you will, you actually do that thing; that’s moral integrity.
We can never be perfectly honest and have perfect integrity, but they are nonetheless areas in our lives we can work at to make other peoples’ lives better.
Verse 3: Gossip
Gossip is a huge pet peeve of mine, especially in Christian circles. For some reason, we love to gossip about other Christians, in spite of all the proverbs we read that strongly advise against it. I think it’s fine when we talk about something awesome someone’s done, because at least it’s true (and there’s nothing wrong with talking about good things). However, we cross the line when we begin to talk behind someone’s back about something that might be true and is most likely not. Even if it is true, what good does it accomplish?
There are exceptions, however, such as when a person hurts someone else or is unrepentant. When someone is hurt by someone else, I think it’s right to talk about what should be done about the situation. If John keeps going around insulting people, we should talk about it and discuss how best to address him. If Susan is unrepentant, “Matthew 18it” and address the situation properly.
These exceptions are not gossip examples, but I discussed them because they can be easily misconstrued as gossip. Gossip is unconstrained conversation about people involving details that cannot be verified. Such talk must be thrown out from the Christian community.
Verse 4: Honor to Christians & Owning Up to One’s Mistakes
The first part of this verse is challenging, “in whose eyes a scorned person is despised, and who honors those who fear YHWH.” The Hebrew word for “despise” is closer to the stative verb “contemptible.” One who is contemptible is a person whom no one associates with.
When a person justly receives scorn, the result is no one associates with him, and rightly so. For example, when someone is disrespectful in court, the judge holds him or her in contempt and they spend x amount of time in jail where no one associates with them. Such a condition is deserved because they’re bad to be around.
There are many people whom Christians ought never to associate with. There are certain people we shouldn’t surround ourselves with. If a young teenager spends his entire adolescence hanging out with criminals in his neighborhood, what do you think the likely outcome of that situation will be?
If I surround myself with people who say all sorts of sexual activity is okay, I’ll begin to think it’s okay, too. If it’s for ministry opportunities, obviously it doesn’t apply. Making criminals a part of your lifestyle versus being part of a prison ministry are two completely different things.
David juxtaposes this with honoring those who fear God—essentially, honoring God’s people. Honor is to regard someone with great respect. This doesn’t mean we don’t respect those who aren’t Christian, but apparently we are to honor Christians more than we honor non-Christians. Why is this? Because we are literally a family (that’s why we call each other brothers and sisters of Christ, because we are all children of God).
Recall Paul’s “one body, many members” language in 1 Corinthians 12. Here, Paul describes the Church as one body with Christ as the head, whose many members perform different functions but are all reliant upon one another. As people under one body, what good would it do the Church if we don’t treat each other with honor and great respect? Non-Christians are not part of the same body we are, so of course we treat each other differently.
“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1Corinthians 12:26). When one person in the body suffers, all suffer; when one person in the body is honored, all are honored and we rejoice together. When someone’s mother in my congregation dies, we stop to mourn and suffer with her. When I graduated college, my congregation stopped to rejoice with me.
The second part of this verse describes a person who “swears to his evil and will not change.” Basically what this means is someone who owns up to her mistakes. If you do or say something wrong, admit it, and don’t change your mind. This would also go under integrity. If anything, admitting when you’re in the wrong is intellectual honesty. It takes a strong person to admit her mistakes; it is the weak who try to conceal it.
Verse 5: Honest Use of Money
All the virtues discussed up to this point seem typical of any list that comprises a “good person.” What makes a good person? Why, honesty, integrity, no gossiping, honoring people, and admitting your mistakes, of course! One could also expect to read about patience. Instead, David lists the honest use of money. Why would this be on his mind?
Part of the Mosaic Law dictated the king of Israel’s foremost duty was to frequently observe the Torah. “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them” (Deuteronomy 17:18-19). David was certainly one of very few kings who was well-versed in the Law. As such, David knew the Law forbade lending money for interest to Israelites (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:37; Deuteronomy 23:19).
Why would God omit lending money for interest? Even in biblical times, those who were poor or “middle class” would borrow money they didn’t have and the lender would lend it with interest, which inevitably makes the situation worse (think student loans). Theologian E.W. Hengstenberg writes concerning this, “Such lending ought to be a work of brotherly love; and it is a great violation of love, if any one, instead of helping his neighbour, takes advantage of his need to bring him into still greater straits” (Hengstenberg, 228). God prefers we give out of loving generosity than selfish profit. Who woulda’ thought?
Psalm 15 Prayer
Father, I know I am not worthy to stand before You, but I thank You for the sacrifice of Your Son Jesus Christ, whose blood on the cross makes me worthy for His sake alone. Forgive me for any dishonesty I fail to acknowledge or recognize. Give me honest words on my lips, but in ways that are pleasing in Your sight. Instill in me godly integrity, practicing what I preach.
Forgive me for any gossip I may have muttered. Help me to recognize and put a stop to any gossip I become a part of. Give me the strength to speak well of others, and the discipline to honor my Christian brothers and sisters even at points when we disagree. I also ask for the courage to admit my mistakes. Bless me with the discernment to recognize when I am wrong and to learn from them, that I may do better for the benefit of my neighbor.
Show me how to use my money honestly. When a brother or sister asks, may I give to them joyfully and expect nothing in return. Lord, Your desire is for us to give with a generous heart. May I give out of generosity and not obligation, that I may find joy in loving my neighbor.
In Your name I pray. Amen.
Hengstenberg, E.W. Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 1. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1869.
Garrick Sinclair "Ricky" Beckett first started his Christian writing on a blog titled "The Lutheran Column" where he hires proficient Lutheran writers to convey biblical truth. Along with the blog, he also writes poetry, string quartets in music composition, enjoys doing photography, reading, and playing video games. Ricky is a graduate from Concordia University-Ann Arbor from the Pre-Seminary program with a major in Christian Thought and a minor in Theological Languages. Currently, Ricky is a seminarian at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis as he works on his Masters of Divinity to become a pastor in the LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod).
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