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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Psalms 15

 

 

Introduction

This psalm is called only ‘a psalm of David’. This may signify that it is to be sung by the congregation rather than by the choir (not ‘for the choirmaster’). It is a psalm of approach. Possibly it was sung, with responses, when the people approached the tabernacle in assembly during feasts.


Verse 1

‘YHWH, who shall sojourn in your Tent?

Who shall dwell in your holy hill?’

As the people begin to consider their approach to God’s Dwellingplace they ask themselves the question, quite rightly, as to who has the right to sojourn in His Tent, that is, be there on a temporary basis. Then the question becomes a little stronger. Who has the right to take up a dwelling in His holy hill? The point is that to approach near to YHWH’s Dwellingplace is a serious thing, and only open to those qualified. The former situation may be thinking of the people, the latter of their representatives the priests. They are conscious that both situations represent a great privilege. Or the latter question may be as to who has the right to establish their camp there during the feasts. The questions by their nature acknowledge that not all are to be seen as having the right.

The mention of the Tent suggests an early date, and some have seen it as first written when the Ark was to be brought to the Tabernacle after being in the house of Obed-edom (2 Samuel 6). Possibly the death of Uzziah made David think more seriously about the holiness of God.

The reply follows in detail. It is very significant, however, that it is not the cultic requirements but the moral requirements that come to the fore. Both priests and people who would approach God must be pure and holy in their lives. That is the first requirement. It is not anti-cult. The very purpose of their approach is to offer sacrifices and to worship God in accordance with His ordinances. But it emphasises that genuine moral purity rather than ritual requirements are primary with God.


Verses 2-5

‘He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness,

And speaks truth in his heart,

He who does not slander with his tongue,

Nor does evil to his friend,

Nor takes up a reproach against his neighbour,

In whose eyes a reprobate is despised,

But who honours those who fear YHWH,

He who swears to his own hurt,

And does not change,

He who does not put out his money to interest,

Nor takes reward against the innocent.’

The man who would approach God and dwell with Him must be upright, righteous and without deceit. He must not be a slanderer, nor a doer of evil, nor a talebearer. He must regard with disapproval and reproach those who reveal their disregard of God’s commandments, and he must honour those who fear YHWH. He must keep his word once given even when it costs him to do so, and he must not take interest when he lends to the poor, or accept bribes to pervert justice and harm the innocent. This is the portrait of the true believer. He alone can dwell in God’s presence.

‘He who walks uprightly.’ This refers to a man of full integrity, who does right in all his ways. He is the complete man, blameless and devoted to God (Psalms 18:23; Psalms 119:1; Genesis 17:1; Deuteronomy 18:13). LXX translates it amomos for which see Ephesians 1:4; Colossians 1:22.

‘And works righteousness.’ He is a doer of righteous deeds so that he is loved and respected among God’s people. Compare Isaiah 56:1; Acts 10:35; 1 John 3:7.

‘And speaks truth in his heart.’ He is genuine through and through, right from the heart. His word can be trusted, and he is totally reliable. Contrast those in Psalms 12:2.

‘He who does not slander with his tongue.’ Everyone knows that such a man will not bear tales, or gossip about others. He will say only what he knows to be true, and only do so when it is necessary.

‘Nor does evil to his associate, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbour.’ Both associate and neighbour can rely on him not to let them down in any way, either in the way he behaves or by small talk. He never causes them hurt or speaks badly of them without cause.

‘In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, but who honours those who fear YHWH.’ He is a man who disapproves of those who are not true through and through, especially those who treat God and His ways lightly, but honours those who truly fear YHWH, and whose lives reveal the fact. ‘Despised’ is not to be taken in its literal application. It rather indicates disapproval, not so much of the person, as of the person’s way of life and attitude towards God.

‘He who swears to his own hurt, and does not change.’ There was a time in the last century when the word of a gentleman was his bond. Nothing would cause him to break it. That is what the godly man who approaches YHWH must be like. Even if he regrets what he has sworn or what he has promised, he must fulfil it. He has given his word.

‘He who does not put out his money to interest.’ The reference to not charging interest was because in an agricultural society men who borrowed did so because of dire poverty. No good man would therefore seek to benefit by such a person’s poverty and dire need. He would lend from the goodness of his heart. (See Leviticus 25:36-37; Exodus 22:25; Ezekiel 18:17).

It has no reference to a modern capitalist society, and in fact charging of interest was allowed with foreigners (Deuteronomy 23:19-20). The point was not that charging interest in general was forbidden, but that a man would not do it to his brother in God. The principle clearly still applies in so far as it applies to money lent to the poor, or to a fellow-believer in need, and includes not being greedy in the amount of interest taken in general.

‘Nor takes reward against the innocent.’ He would scorn to accept the possibility of accepting bribes in order to perjure himself (Isaiah 33:15; Ezekiel 22:12; Deuteronomy 27:25; Exodus 23:7-8). To aid the condemnation of an innocent person would be abhorrent to him.


Verse 5

‘He who does these things will never be moved.’

The man described above, whose behaviour is like this because of his love for YHWH, will have access to YHWH’s holy hill and Tent. None will seek to move him from where he sojourns at feasts on the holy hill, close to the Tent. None will dispute his right to approach YHWH and find atonement. And that joyous position will be true for him wherever he goes. He will always be close to YHWH. YHWH will always be with him. He will enjoy His protection and guidance under all circumstances.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 15:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/psalms-15.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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