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Morning Pages: Psalm 24
Psalm 24 is called a temple entry psalm, where Yahweh himself enters the temple as a victorious king returning from battle. Through this psalm, David directs worshipers to celebrate the Lord's sovereign kingship over all the earth and reminds them what is required to come into Yahweh's presence.
Vs. 1-2 “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.”
Right away, David establishes the foundation of worship—the earth and everything in it, including all of humanity—belongs solely to the Lord. There’s no aspect of creation outside of his ownership. He alone can lay claim to it. He is the one who established it and made it stand firm. Simply put, God is the Creator, and we are his creation.
David directs their gaze and focuses their hearts and minds to worship God with humility and truth. He understands that rightly seeing and understanding the power, majesty, and holiness of our Creator will right-size all of us without diminishing an ounce of our goodness and dignity as his creation.
And yet, he recognizes the gulf between us and the Lord,
Vs. 3 “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?”
The Old Testament writers often refer to a hill or a mountain as the Lord's dwelling place, where his presence is manifest. So when David says, "Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?" he's asking who can enter the Lord's presence?
His question is rhetorical—one that every follower of Yahweh should innately know—because it is a reminder that the Lord is set apart from humanity as someone entirely other, wholly holy. Therefore, none can stand before him, at least not without specific qualifications.
So David continues, answering his own question by characterizing the type of person who can stand before the Lord,
Vs. 4 “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.”
Who can stand in God's holy presence? The one who has clean hands, one who is innocent and blameless in their actions. But there's more. They must also have a pure heart, meaning they are blameless in their innermost being. A person whose inner thoughts, desires, and motivations are unquestionable. They do not worship or trust in idols, in what is empty or powerless to save. They trust only in Yahweh, who established the world's foundations and everything in it.
Through these verses, David reminds them that it is not enough to have good intentions. It is also not enough to have good actions—both internal and external purity matter before the Lord. The person who wants to enter into the Lord's presence must have both clean hands and a pure heart, which sounds an awful lot like what Jesus said in Matthew 23:25-28 when he rebuked the religious leaders of his day for losing sight of this.
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. 27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (emphasis mine)
The religious of Jesus' day were focused on adhering to outward traditions, systems, and religious performance. And they mistakenly believed that is what secured their righteousness before God. But they cannot ascend the holy hill of God's presence on the merit of their actions alone because while their outward actions appeared holy, their inner man was far from it.
Both David and Jesus clearly define who can enter into the presence of the Lord—one whose insides and outsides match. The requirements to enter into God's presence are insurmountable on my own. Even as a believer, I relate to Paul's cry in Romans 7: What I want to do, I don't do. What I don't want to do, I do. And I do it over and over and over again.
They say insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. That could also apply to sin. No one sins for no reason. We sin—whether out of willfulness or weakness—because of what we expect it will give us. But the insidious nature of sin is that, even when I want to be holy, obedient, and pleasing to the Lord, I do the opposite. I give my heart over to functional gods whose promises aren't just empty; they're destructive. I want to love God and my neighbor, but instead, I am selfish, self-centered, and self-serving. And even when my outward actions appear holy, the inner motives of my heart are often mixed. This means that left to my own devices, it's utterly impossible for me to have clean hands and a pure heart before God and therefore have access to him. And so I echo Paul's cry, "Who will deliver me from this body of death" (Romans 7:24)?
If that were the end of the story, I would be without hope and drift into despair. But it's not the end of the story! Jesus is the one who is able to deliver us and usher us straight into the presence of God. Because ultimately, he was the only one with clean hands and a pure heart before God, who worshiped God wholly and completely. He was perfect, pure, blameless, innocent, and righteous in thought, word, and deed. Therefore, he is the only one who can ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in his holy presence.
And because he is our representative before God, his righteousness has now been transferred to us. We are not only declared not guilty; we are declared innocent! We are hidden in, literally clothed in, Christ’s righteousness. His perfect record has become our perfect record. So now we can come boldly into God's presence, as the author of Hebrews says (Hebrews 4:16).
And the one who lives this way, the one who lives by faith in Christ,
Vs. 5-6 “He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.”
The God of Jacob is the God of the promise—the God who promised Abraham and Isaac and Jacob that it would be through their lineage, through their offspring, that all the families of the earth would be blessed. And that promise was fulfilled when Christ, a direct descendant of Jacob, was born. And now, because of Jesus, all who turn to him and seek his face are declared righteous and receive the gift of salvation (v5).
And what better reason to praise the triumphal entry of the King!
Vs. 7-10 “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle! Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory!”
These verses are full of military connotations: the Lord of hosts (the Lord of heavens armies), the King of glory, strong and mighty, mighty in battle. David declares the mighty victory of Yahweh and calls all citizens of his kingdom to ring out in praise and prepare for the return of their victorious king. Can you imagine the glorious procession as he enters the city gates? The roars of thanksgiving and praise for the triumphant king as he returns to his people and his kingdom?
These verses are anthemic—stirring our hearts and minds to praise with unrestrained shouts of joy! You can feel the psalm building as it progresses, and this is the crescendo where praise should erupt from God's people because the Lord is victorious. He is strong and mighty. He cannot, he will not, be defeated. This God is the King of glory, and he is worthy of all praise.
When I think about the victorious blow God dealt sin and death through Jesus, securing my righteousness and salvation and enabling my access to him, the only proper response is this kind of rousing praise and thanksgiving. We need anthems like David's that orient our hearts and minds toward the King of glory—reminding us that our God is mighty to save. So let us lift our heads and cast our eyes toward the horizon as we eagerly await the day when our victorious King returns and all the earth will shout his praise.
Engage the Scripture
1. Name two things this psalm teaches us about God.
2. What is the significance of those two things in your everyday life? What would life be like without those aspects of God's character?
Explore Your Story
Sometimes we struggle with aspects of God's character, not because of who God says he is, but because of how those aspects of his character have been represented to us in the past.
Are there any aspects of God found within this psalm that are unsettling or hard for you? Why do you think that is?
Jesus is our victorious, redeemer King who will return for us and usher in a new kingdom no longer subject to the enemies of sin and suffering.
How might believing this promise impact you as you navigate the hard of daily life in a broken world?
Experience Hope, Healing, and Freedom
Spend a few moments reflecting on the future triumphant entry of Jesus. How will you feel? What might you be thinking?
Then write a prayer of anticipation and gratitude for the day of Jesus' return.
To read more about God's holiness, check out:
Holier Than Thou: How God's Holiness Helps Us Trust Him, by Jackie Hill Perry
Until next week.
Psalm 24 By Poor Bishop Hooper