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Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 24

 

 

Verse 1
PSALM 24

A PROPHECY OF THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST

The title we have chosen for this psalm is that given by Dr. George DeHoff.[1] Most of the commentators which we have consulted are very much preoccupied with discussing the Jewish usage of this psalm. The vast majority of them are agreed that it was sung by the religious singers of Jerusalem and used as a processional for the entry of King David into Jerusalem upon the occasion of his bringing the ark from Obed-Edom to the tabernacle prepared for it in Jerusalem, or Zion.

Rhodes identified the "doors" of Psalms 24:7 as the doors of the Temple and concluded that it was written long after the times of David.[2] Nevertheless, many dependable scholars are willing to accept the Davidic authorship of it.[3]

There is a unity and coherence of the three sections of the psalm which make it impossible to accept the dictum of certain critics that, "The psalm is composed of three distinct parts which originated independently."[4] Maclaren commented on that claim, stating that the original author, "Has just as good a right to be credited with the present unity of the psalm as the supposed `editor' has!"[5]

The structure of this psalm is evident in the outline provided by Leupold:[6]

I. The Lord's rulership of the world (Psalms 24:1-2)

A. Proved by his creation of it

B. And his establishing of it

II. Requirements for standing before God (Psalms 24:3-6)

A. Clean hands

B. Pure heart

C. Truthfulness

D. Lack of deceit.

III. Coming of the Lord to his holy place (Psalms 24:7-10)

We shall pay no attention to the various speculations of commentators who seek to tell us exactly how this psalm was used in the procession (if there was one) entering the city or the temple, which lines were sung by Levites, or by a soloist, which questions were sung by one group, and which answers were provided by singers from another, etc. As Leupold said, "Such information depends upon the ingenuity of the writer."[7]

We are far more concerned with the Christian usage of this beautiful psalm. "The Christian use of the psalm usually relates it to the entry into heaven of the risen and exalted Christ; and therefore the Anglican Prayer Book appoints it for Ascension Day."[8] We say "Amen" to this. After all, there are a number of impediments to the full acceptance of the notion that David composed this psalm about himself and his entry into Jerusalem with the ark of the covenant. The language of this psalm, to us, sounds far too exalted and extravagant for any complete application to anything David ever did. It may be best to view the entire psalm as a Davidic prophecy of the Ascension of Christ into Glory.

For example, the picture supposed by many to be depicted here with its thousands of Jewish singers honoring the Lord and Creator of the whole world and everything in it seems to us a little far-fetched. If the first two verses of this psalm mean anything, they mean that God is the God of the Gentiles and of the whole world as well as God of the Jews. Such would certainly not have been possible as the song for a whole multitude of Jews in the days of Christ and the apostles; for in those times, the very word "Gentile" was sufficient for setting off a riot! What made the generation in this psalm so different? As Spurgeon put it, "We are amazed that they sung this psalm."[9] (That is, of course, if they did sing it).

One final word about the date of this psalm. "Although the time of David's bringing the ark to Jerusalem is allowed by most critics"[10] as the time when the psalm was written, there are a few who would make it a post-exilic production, or bring it down to the times of Judas Maccabaeus and the cleansing of the reopened temple.[11] Of course, such allegations are supported by no evidence whatever.

Psalms 24:1-2

"The earth is Jehovah's, and the fulness thereof;

The world, and they that dwell therein.

For he hath founded it upon the seas,

And established it upon the floods."

"The earth is Jehovah's, and the fulness thereof" (Psalms 24:1). No man possesses the earth, or any portion of it, except in a very limited and accommodative sense. The title deeds which men treasure are merely the written permission of the societies in which they Five, conveying the right of use for the brief period of their earthly lives. The cattle upon a thousand hills are God's possession, not men's. All of the earth and everything in it belong to God.

"The world and they that dwell therein" (Psalms 24:1). Contrary to the pagan beliefs of that period, God is the God of the whole world. This means that God is the God of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews. There are no peoples upon the planet earth who do not belong to God and who are not accountable to Him for their deeds. God is the God of all mankind.

"He hath founded it" (Psalms 24:2). This means that the earth is God's by the right of creation. Anything that one makes of his own free will belongs to him, because he made it.

"He established it" (Psalms 24:2). This indicates that God not only created the earth and everything in it, and all who dwell in it, but that he is the sustainer of the entire creation continually. God through Christ "Upholds all things through the word of his power" (Hebrews 1:3). Why do the particles of an atom revolve around the nucleus at the speed of light for countless thousands of years without ever slowing down? Why do the stars and satellites of all the galaxies move at a speed almost incomprehensible throughout eons of time? Who supplies the power for all this? The answer is, Almighty God, of course.

"Upon the seas" (Psalms 24:2). The rendition here is faulty, according to Leupold, who wrote that, "The words here may be legitimately translated by the seas or by the side of the seas. There is no compelling necessity to translate this passage in such a way as to make it possible to find `remnants of some primitive Semitic cosmology'; and then to make the claim that, `Ethical theism has here triumphed over Semitic mythology.'"[12] It is simply not true that Genesis teaches that there were seas under the earth, aside the earth, and in the heavens above. Such notions are not in Genesis, except as they have been read into it by people who did not understand what is written there. Addis, for example, affirmed that, "There was sea below the earth, another on a level with the earth, and a third above the firmament."[13]

Leupold's words above refute the false notion of a sea under the earth; and the fact that the Hebrews had no word for "vapor" leaves it perfectly clear that the "waters above the firmament" in Genesis is a reference merely to the clouds which contain trillions of tons of water in a vapor state.

Verse 3
"Who shall ascend into the hill of Jehovah?

And who shall stand in his holy place?

He that hath clean hands and a pure heart;

Who hath not lifted up his soul unto falsehood,

And hath not sworn deceitfully."

The usually accepted explanation of this is that when the `procession' approached the gates of Jerusalem (or the temple mountain), the question of "Who shall ascend?" was intoned by some element of the singers. It is very difficult for this writer to imagine such a thing as really happening. We view the passage as a very abbreviated message to the effect that "Without holiness, no man shall see God." We cannot conceive of any Jewish congregation of any age whatever who would unanimously pass such a test. Rather this is a description of that "King of Glory" who will be introduced a moment later.

George DeHoff stated that these two verses describe, "Who is worthy to stand before God now, and to ascend into heaven itself at the end of the journey."[14] Spurgeon also discerned that, "In the fullest sense, there was but One in Whom all these things were fulfilled."[15] This undeniable truth supports our conviction that the principal meaning of this psalm is focused upon the Ascension of Christ.

Verse 5
"He shall receive a blessing from Jehovah,

And righteousness from the God of his salvation.

This is the generation of them that seek after him

That seek thy face, even Jacob. (Selah)"

"He shall receive a blessing ... and righteousness" (Psalms 24:5). Again we have a statement that requires the application of this passage to the Christ. The only righteousness that this world ever achieved was that which was wrought by Jesus Christ our Lord. Of the totality of mankind, other than Christ, it is stated, "That there is none righteous, no not one."

Furthermore, the promise of "righteousness" to be received by men here from "Jehovah" is a reference to those who become servants of Jesus Christ whose "righteousness" becomes the possession of mortals when they are baptized "into Christ," thereby becoming partakers of his "righteousness."

"This is the generation" (Psalms 24:6). "The meaning of `generation' in this passages is `breed' or `circle' of people."[16] It appears to be a reference to the `kind of people' who seek to know God.

"That seek thy face, even Jacob" (Psalms 24:6). The Septuagint (LXX) renders this place even the God of Jacob; and to this writer it appears to make better sense than our own version. Dahood supported the LXX here, and a number of other scholars also accept the change. However, Leupold supported our version, affirming that, "It is a perfectly valid and satisfactory rendition, and requires no such emendation as the insertion of the word `God' and translating it, `O God of Jacob.' It is unthinkable that the word `God' could have been carelessly dropped by a scribe out of the sacred text."[17]

We feel compelled to accept our American Standard Version as correct in this. What the psalm is saying is that the generation then seeking the face of God were doing so in the same manner that the patriarch Jacob had done when he wrestled with the Lord at Peniel.

Verse 7
"Lift up your head, O ye gates;

And be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors:

And the King of Glory will come in.

Who is the King of Glory?

Jehovah strong and mighty,

Jehovah mighty in battle."

It is inconceivable that David could have written anything like this about himself; and therefore the extravagant language of these last four verses is said to be a reference to the ark of the covenant that was being returned from Obed-Edom by King David. Of course, the ark was a symbol of God's presence; but it seems to us that even the sacred ark of the covenant is not a sufficient explanation of words such as these. In a very limited and accommodative sense, perhaps they may be applied to placing that symbol of God's presence in Jerusalem; but something far more wonderful than that event most certainly appears (to us) in the majesty and exalted extravagance of the terminology in this passage.

Any real application of these words to David's entering Jerusalem with the ark of the covenant could be only in a dimly typical sense of the far more wonderful Ascension of Christ into Heaven after his resurrection from the dead.

"This is a prophetic reference to the entry of the Lord Jesus Christ into heaven, after he had been raised from the dead.[18] He was accompanied by the angels of God. A great multitude watched as the heavenward bound company disappeared into the clouds above.

Yes, the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant with its mercy seat above was a type of the Lord Jesus Christ, as was the veil also, that separated between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies; and the words of this psalm may indeed be applied to the entry of that ark into Jerusalem in a typical sense. Jerusalem also, in the same figure, is considered typical of heaven itself, or the New Jerusalem which is the mother of us all.

Verse 9
"Lift up your heads, O ye gates;

Yea, lift them up, ye everlasting doors:

And the King of glory will come in.

Who is this King of glory

Jehovah of hosts,

He is the King of glory. (Selah)"

These verses mean essentially the same thing as Psalms 24:7,8, which we discussed above.

It must be agreed that here we have some of the most beautiful language in the entire Bible.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 24:1". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". "http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/view.cgi?book=ps&chapter=024". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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