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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical

Psalms 15

Verses 1-5

Psalms 15:0.

A Psalm of David.

1          Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle?

Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?

2     He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness,

And speaketh the truth in his heart.

3     He that backbiteth not with his tongue,

Nor doeth evil to his neighbor,
Nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor.

4     In whose eyes a vile person is contemned;

But he honoreth them that fear the Lord.

He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.

5     He that putteth not out his money to usury,

Nor taketh reward against the innocent.

He that doeth these things shall never be moved.


Its Character. We have first a question directed to Jehovah, in a clause of two members, respecting the character of the man who may obtain the privilege of a guest with Him, and become a member of His family; then follows the answer, at first in a clause likewise of two members, whose contents are then carried out is three strophes of three members each, whilst the participles pass over into finite verbs, and the closing words refer back to the thought contained in the question, with an expression which points to a more enlarged horizon. In the answer God speaks, not as a dramatic person, nor to the Psalmist by an oracle, but by the Psalmist to the congregation. God has enlightened the Psalmist who earnestly inquires of Him, that this man may know his will essentially from the revealed laws of Jehovah, and indeed he speaks in forms of expression used in the law; but in the answer as in the question, he passes over beyond the limits of the Old Testament, and describes in evangelical and prophetic spirit the family of God in characteristic and individual traits.

[Delitzsch: “The former Psalm distinguishes from the mass of universal corruption a righteous generation, and concludes with the longing for salvation out of Zion. Psalms 15:0. answers the question who belongs to this righteous generation, and who is to receive this salvation in the future.”—C. A. B.] This does not appear to be a polemic against the priests (Paul.), or those of privileged rank (Mich., Dathe, et al.); nor a rejection of offerings and the like, yet it does not demand the observance of rites and ceremonies. The entire description is in the sphere of morals, and not in that of the law; it is an exercise of duties, in which the uprightness, vivacity, and power of piety asserts itself in life, held forth as it were in a mirror. Corresponding fully with this character of the Psalm is the circumstance that whilst it resounds with the words of the law, it is re-echoed and carried further out in the prophecy, Isaiah 33:13 to Isaiah 16:13 Nothing can reasonably be adduced against David as the author. In favor of him is the fact that since the ark was carried up to Jerusalem the “holy mountain [hill, A. V.] of Jehovah” is there, and at the same time the “tabernacle” appears in this Psalm to be still existing. It is admissible with Hitzig [Wordsworth, Alexander, et al.] to think of the very time of that removal, although the particular references which this scholar finds between this Psalm and the description of the dedication of the new tabernacle given in 2 Samuel 6:12 sq. cannot be proved with any certainty. Still less is there any confirmation of the reference made by Delitzsch to the time of the rebellion of Absalom, when the Sanctuary was in the hands of the rebels, whilst David himself was far distant from it.

Str. 1.Psalms 15:1. May be a guest.—The false references and erroneous use of this expression by the ancient interpreters who have found in it only a temporary abode of strangers who were merely suffered for awhile, in contrast with the regular citizens and inhabitants of the kingdom of God (Calv.), should not mislead us to efface the original and proper meaning of the Hebrew word, which essentially leads to the idea of friendship and protection, comp. Psalms 5:5, and the passages there adduced. Thus only does the closing clause gain a full meaning, and what Hupfeld does not sufficiently estimate, it turns back to the opening strophe and its theme, with its meaning fully developed, and with an evangelical and prophetical glance at the secure position of the guest in the house of God, reaching forth out of time into eternity, and is tranquilized by the entire Psalm. The exegetical right of this interpretation, which is important dogmatically, lies in the point of the question to the mind of the Israelite, to whom God’s tabernacle and holy mount might gain the meaning of a human dwelling, comp. Psalms 27:4 sq.; Psalms 61:5; Isaiah 33:14, Modern interpreters have been the first to weaken this technical expression, taken from concrete relations of life, into a merely figurative designation of communion with God in general.14

Str. II. Psa 15:2. [This strophe describes the conduct of the friend of God in general terms as walking perfectly (A. V., uprightly), one who does righteousness and speaks the truth. In his heart, or with his heart, not merely with the tongue. Hupfeld בְ is used with the heart not as giving the source of speech (which would be מִלֵב) but as cooperating with the speech, and thus giving it its truthfulness.”—C. A. B.]

Str. III. Psa 15:3. [This strophe describes negatively his conduct towards his neighbor: (1) He does not go about with slander upon his tongue. = רגל literally, to go about as a spy or tale-bearer, or slanderer. This is a wicked walk, the negative of the perfect walk, Psalms 15:2 a.; (2) he does not do evil; (3) he does not take up a reproach against his neighbor. נשא, according to Hupfeld, has here the meaning of “bring forth,” “speak out,” = proferre, efferre. Delitzsch, Hengst., Hitzig, et al., give it the meaning of bringing or loading disgrace upon any one, Calvin, et al., to lift up as from the ground. To this latter interpretation Perowne inclines: “He hath not stooped, so to speak, to pick up dirt out of the dunghill that he may cast it at his neighbor.”—C. A. B.]

Str. IV. Psalms 15:4. The reprobate. [A. V., vile person]. Hitzig and Delitzsch take up again the explanation of the ancient interpreters (Chald., Aben Ezra., Kimchi, Cleric.) according to which the reference is to the humility and self-debasement of the Psalmist, who here designates himself in the strongest expressions, which however correspond with the declaration 2 Samuel 6:22, as “despised in his own eyes, and worthy of rejection.” This view is suitable likewise to the context; the contrast is not lacking; J. H. Mich, already brings it forth with the words: sibi ipsi displicet nec suæ sed alienæ virtutis est admirator, and the humility which David confesses likewise in Psalms 131:0, appears frequently as a condition of pleasing God, Isaiah 57:15; 1 Samuel 17:17. However the accents of the text. recept. correspond with our translation, which is advocated by Hupfeld.

To his hurt.—The translations: “To his neighbors” (Sept., Syr., Luther), or, “To the wicked,” (Most interps. since Rosenm.) are incorrect. The explanation of the Rabb. “he swears = vows to do himself an injury = to hurt himself, especially by fasting and mortification, is partly contrary to usage, and partly too specifically ascetic. Hupf., Hitzig, Delitzsch, establish the expression in question more accurately than Venema, Hengst., Gesen., by reference to the law respecting sin-offerings on account of guilt owing to inconsiderate oaths and vows, Leviticus 5:4, where it is forbidden to exchange the animal vowed for an offering for another animal, or for its value in gold. Hupfeld adduces the additional reference to Leviticus 27:10; Leviticus 27:33, after Geier and J. H. Mich., where the question is of altering the vow itself. The hypothetical antecedent is in the perfect, the consequent in the imperfect. [The English prayer-book version combines the rendering of the Sept. and that of the A. V “He that sweareth unto his neighbor, and disappointeth him not, though it were to his own hindrance.”—C. A. B.]

Str. V. Psalms 15:5. This refers to Leviticus 25:37, where usury is forbidden, and to Deuteronomy 16:19; Deuteronomy 27:25, where punishment for unrighteous judgment is accompanied with the curse. [Perowne: “Such is the figure of stainless honor drawn by the pen of a Jewish poet. Christian chivalry has not dreamed of a brighter. We have need often and seriously to ponder it. For it shows us that faith in God and spotless integrity may not be sundered; that religion does not veil or excuse petty dishonesties; that love to God is only then worthy of the name when it is the life and bond of every social virtue. Each line is, as it were, a touchstone to which we should bring ourselves.”—C. A. B.]


1. The most important question in life and the daily cure of those who fear God, are, how to attain to the permanent place of a guest in the house of God. For this question refers from time to eternity and from the old covenant to the new. For it is true we may visit the house of God on earth and be a guest in it; but we do not dwell therein, but celebrate Divine service and receive thereby spiritual food and nourishment in order to a further pilgrimage. But if we would not only be servants of God but at the same time of the household of God and fellow-citizens with the saints (Ephesians 2:19 sq.), and never waver in this society, then we must partly be placed upon another soil than that of the law, and partly be led forth above all and every kind of worship on earth into communion with the angels in adoration and with the blessed saints in the heavenly sanctuary, and to the participation in the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9; comp. Matthew 22:25.)

2. In the Divine law itself there is a goad which drives us to the Gospel (Luke 10:28 sq.), and which invokes and keeps alive a longing after it. For the law demands irreproachable conduct and sincerity and purity of thoughts, words and works, which are found in no man by nature and which cannot, even be attained by the help of the law alone, or its means of propitiation and of sanctification. But the law has its abiding value in this, that it not only forms a historical stage of revelation, but is an essential part of the economy of salvation.

3. “We must notice, that the Psalm merely presents the portrait of pious people, without showing whence this comes or is to be attained. Hence it is, that an unwise man may ascribe that which is said in this Psalm, to moral virtue and free will, which yet is solely and alone a work of Divine grace, working in us.” Luther.


He who would dwell with God in His house must adapt himself to the arrangements of God’s house.—We may be invited to God’s house and table and yet not gain the enjoyment of that which God offers us.—To desire communion with God and transgress the commands of God are irreconcilable with one another; for vice separates God and man from one another.—He who truly has and seeks communion with God, has and seeks communion likewise with the pious, but avoids the society of the ungodly. The law remains constantly valuable as a mirror, bar and bridle.—He who wishes to dwell forever with God, must inquire after God in time and seek intercourse with God on earth, and for this purpose use the means of grace offered by God according to the order of salvation.

Calvin: If any one is devoted to righteousness and moderation towards his neighbor, he shows by his acts that he fears God.—It is not a common virtue to honor pious and righteous men. For because they are the offscourings of the world their friends usually share their hate with them.

Starke: He who has dwelt in the tabernacle of God as a true citizen, will likewise remain forever on the holy mountain of the Lord.—A Christian as a pilgrim should hasten to the mountain of God.—The avoidance of evil belongs to the proper walk of a Christian, as well as the practice of goodness; neither can exist without the other, since repentance departs from evil to good.—The rewards of godliness are not only temporal, but they endure even unto eternity.—Selnekker: Good works please God, not on account of their own worth, but on account of the believing persons who do them. For good works are the fruit of faith and testify to faith.—Franke: Who will be happy? He who has a living faith and shows it to be living in its fruits and its power.—Frisch: We cannot be so eager for instruction in matters of our salvation, but that God is still more desirous to reveal His will to us respecting them.—Tholuck: In the estimation of all human merit there can be no other standard than the law of God.—Taube: It is not: who will come to Thy tabernacle? but: who will dwell? who will remain? That is a great thing when we think, that the Father of this lodging house is the Holy One of Israel, and the guest is a sinner by birth.

[Matth. Henry: It is the happiness of glorified saints that they dwell in that holy hill, they are at home there, they shall be forever there.—Those that desire to know their duty, with a resolution to do it, will find the Scriptures a very faithful director, and conscience a faithful monitor.—An oath is a sacred thing, which we must not think to play fast and loose with. In singing this Psalm we must teach and admonish ourselves and one another, to answer the character here given of the citizen of Zion, that we may never be moved from God’s tabernacle on earth, and may arrive at last at that holy hill, where we shall be forever out of the reach of temptation and danger.—Barnes: Kindness and an accommodating spirit in business transactions are as much demanded now by the principles of religion as they were when this Psalm was written, or as they were under the law which forbade the taking of interest from a poor and needy brother.—Wordsworth: David, in singing this Psalm, is teaching us how we may attain the blessedness of the everlasting mansions.—Spurgeon: Though truths, like roses, have thorns about them, good men wear them in their bosoms. Our heart must be the sanctuary and refuge of truth, should it be banished from all the world beside, and hunted from among men; at all risk we must entertain the angel of truth, for truth is God’s daughter. We must be careful that the heart is really fixed and settled in principle, for tenderness of conscience towards truthfulness, like the bloom on a peach, needs gentle handling, and once lost it were hard to regain it. Jesus was the mirror of sincerity and holiness. Oh, to be more and more fashioned after His similitude!—Our Lord spake evil of no man, but breathed a prayer for His foes; we must be like Him, or we shall never be with Him.—To all good men we owe a debt of honor, and we have no right to hand over what is their due to vile persons who happen to be in high places.—C. A. B.]


[13][Perowne: “Eleven particulars are enumerated in which this character is summed up. Hence in the Gemara (Makkoth f. 24 a), it is said that David comprised the 613 commands of the Law given on Sinai in eleven; Isaiah (it is added) in six (Isaiah 33:15); Micah in three (Micah 6:8) Amos (Amos 5:4), or rather Habakkuk (Habakkuk 2:4), in one.”—C. A. B.]

[14][Delitzsch: “גוּר and שָׁכֵן which are usually distinguished as the Hellenistic παροικε͂ιν and κατοικε͂ιν are here of like meaning; not only a transient, but an everlasting גוּר (Psalms 61:5) is meant; the difference of the two ideas is merely this: that the one from the idea of a wandering life means the finding of a permanent place, the other from the idea of membership in the family denotes the possession of a permanent place.”—C. A. B.]

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Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 15". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.