Psalm 24 – The Great and Sovereign God
This psalm is simply titled A Psalm of David. Many think this psalm was written upon the occasion of the entrance of the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem during the reign of David (2 Samuel 6). Yet Charles Spurgeon correctly wrote, “The eye of the Psalmist looked, however, beyond the typical upgoing of the ark to the sublime ascension of the King of glory.”
A. The great and sovereign God.
1. (1) The declaration: The whole world belongs to the LORD God.
The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness,
The world and those who dwell therein.
a. The earth is the LORD’s: David was a noble, successful king – but of a relatively small and insignificant kingdom. One might easily think that the gods of the Egyptians or Assyrians were greater because those kingdoms were greater. Yet David rightly knew that the LORD, Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel, was God of all the earth.
b. The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness: It wasn’t enough for David to say that the entire earth belonged to the LORD; he added that all its fullness also belonged to Him. It’s difficult to think of a more sweeping statement of God’s ownership.
i. “The ‘fulness’ of the earth may mean its harvests, its wealth, its life, or its worship; in all these senses the Most High God is Possessor of all. The earth is full of God; he made it full and he keeps it full.” (Spurgeon)
ii. There is a sense in which the “world” belongs to Satan. Satan is called the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4), and when he tempted Jesus with the promise of giving Him the kingdoms of this world, Jesus did not question the devil’s ability to do so. Yet Satan can only do anything at God’s allowance, so God’s ultimate ownership is true.
iii. Paul quoted the earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness twice (1 Corinthians 10:26 and 10:28) to establish the principle that no food is in itself unclean, and that there is in fact nothing that actually belongs to the false gods the pagans made offerings unto.
c. The world and those who dwell therein: God’s ownership of the earth extends to the people who live upon it. Through the rights of creation and continuing provision, God has a claim upon every person who has ever lived.
2. (2) The reason: God is creator.
For He has founded it upon the seas,
And established it upon the waters.
a. For He has founded it upon the seas: God has the right to the earth and all who dwell upon it because He created both it and them. Specifically, David looks back to the creation account of Genesis 1 and remembers the creation of land in the midst of earth’s waters on the third day of creation.
b. And established it upon the waters: To the best of our knowledge, David had never ventured more than a few hundred miles beyond Israel, and had never seen a large sea other than the Mediterranean (perhaps also the Red Sea). David never saw a modern globe or earth projection. Yet he knew that the waters of the earth dominated the globe, so much so that it could be said that the earth is in the midst of the waters instead of the waters in the midst of the earth’s land.
i. To David, this may have seemed to be a wonderful engineering marvel – that God could establish the earth upon the waters.
ii. “Upon could be translated ‘above’, as in Psalm 8:1.” (Kidner)
B. Received by the great and sovereign God.
1. (3) The question asked – whom does God receive?
Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD?
Or who may stand in His holy place?
a. Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? In light of God’s sovereign ownership of the earth and all who live upon it, David wondered exactly who had the right to stand before God. This wasn’t about mountain climbing or hill ascending ability, but about the right to come before God.
b. Who may stand in His holy place? David here clarified his previous question. David asked, “Who has the right to stand before God at His holy temple, in the holy place?”
i. This is a question that used to concern mankind much more than it does in our present day. There was a time when men and women genuinely wondered what was required of them to make them right with God. Today, it seems the most-asked question is something like, “How can I be happy?”
ii. Personal happiness is important; but it isn’t more important than being in right relationship with our Creator and Provider. David not only asked an important question, but the most important question.
2. (4) The answer to the question: the moral character of the one whom God receives.
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol,
Nor sworn deceitfully.
a. He who has clean hands and a pure heart: This speaks of a man or woman who is pure in both their actions (hands) and intentions (heart). This one can ascend the hill of the LORD and stand in His holy place.
i. David already established that God ruled the earth; now he declared that God rules the earth on a moral foundation. He is concerned with the moral behavior of mankind.
ii. Clean hands are important for good hygiene, but this speaks of much more than washing with water. Pontius Pilate washed his hands, but they were not clean.
iii. “But ‘clean hands’ would not suffice, unless they were connected with ‘a pure heart.’ True religion is heart-work.” (Spurgeon)
b. Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol: The one accepted by God also rejects idolatry, in his actions but especially in his soul.
i. “The meaning of lift up his soul is illuminated by Psalm 25:1, where it is parallel to ‘trust’.” (Kidner)
c. Nor sworn deceitfully: The words we speak are a good indication of the state of our heart, the inner man or woman (Matthew 12:34). One who makes deceptive promises finds no welcome from God.
i. David understood all this under the general principles of the Old Covenant, in which God promised to bless and receive obedient Israel, and also promised to curse and afflict a disobedient Israel (Deuteronomy 27-28).
ii. Outside the terms of the Old Covenant that God made with Israel, these answers of David may cause one to despair. It’s easy to look at this list and see that my hands are not always clean; my heart is not always pure. Idolatry can be both subtle and stubborn in my heart. I also find it too easy to make promises with at least a tinge of deceit.
iii. Fortunately, God established a better covenant, a new covenant through the person and work of Jesus. Under the new covenant, we see that Jesus is the one who has clean hands and a pure heart, perfectly so. Jesus has neverlifted up his soul to an idol, and has neversworn deceitfully. In His righteousness, given to all who believe (Romans 3:22), we can ascend His holy hill and stand in His holy place.
iv. “Our Lord Jesus Christ could ascend into the hill of the Lord because his hands were clean and his heart was pure, and if we by faith in him are conformed to his image we shall enter too.” (Spurgeon)
v. Nevertheless, David’s principle is also accurate under the New Covenant in this sense: the conduct of one’s life is a reflection of his fellowship with God. As John wrote: If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth (1 John 1:6). We might say that under the Old Covenant a righteous walk was the precondition for fellowship with God; under the New Covenant a righteous walk is the result of fellowship with God, founded on faith. Yet under both covenants, God cares very much about the moral conduct of mankind, especially those who identify themselves as His people.
3. (5) The promise of blessing to the righteous man.
He shall receive blessing from the LORD,
And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
a. He shall receive blessing from the LORD: God knows and cares about the moral behavior of men and women. He rewards those who honor Him with their lives.
i. This blessing may be understood sometimes in rewards that God grants to the obedient; other times it may be understood as the natural result of living according to God’s wise order.
ii. “It is here very observable, that the character of a right and acceptable worshipper of God is not taken from his nation and relation to Abraham, or from all those costly and laborious rites and ceremonies of the law, in which the generality of the Israelites pleased themselves, but in moral and spiritual duties, which most of them grossly neglected.” (Poole)
iii. He shall receive blessing: “Perhaps alluding to Obed-edom, at whose house the ark had been lodged, and on whom God had poured out especial blessings.” (Clarke)
b. And righteousness from the God of his salvation: David here spoke in the idiom of the Old Covenant, where right standing with God might be assumed from the life of the obedient. At the same time, David wrote of a received righteousness that came from the God of his salvation.
i. We might say that the obedient life spoken of in Psalm 24:4 is the product of the received righteousness obtained by faith, the righteousness from the God of his salvation.
ii. Even with the important distinctions between the Old and New Covenants, it is a mistake to say that salvation was by works under the Old Covenant. One might say that in some sense blessing was by works of obedience, but righteousness was always and is always from the God of his salvation.
iii. Under the Old Covenant, that faith was often expressed by the trust in the work of sacrifice, looking forward to the ultimate, perfect sacrifice promised by God and fulfilled in the work of Jesus at the cross.
4. (6) A description of the blessed and righteous ones.
This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek Him,
Who seek Your face. Selah
a. This is Jacob: This was David’s way of identifying God’s covenant people. The blessed and righteous ones have entered into covenant with God.
b. The generation of those who seek Him: The blessed and righteous ones do more than enter into covenant with God; they also pursue Him with a continual seeking. This is something each generation must do afresh.
i. “Heaven is a generation of finders, of possessors, of enjoyers, seekers of God. But here we are a generation of seekers.” (Sibbes, cited in Spurgeon)
c. Who seek Your face: The idea is intensified by repetition, by description (to seek Your face is even closer than seeking Him), and by the use of a contemplative pause (Selah).
C. Receiving the great King.
1. (7-8) A call to welcome the God who reigns over all the earth.
Lift up your heads, O you gates!
And be lifted up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
The LORD mighty in battle.
a. Lift up your heads, O you gates: The first section of this psalm declared the greatness of God. The second section spoke of how man can come into relationship with this great God. Now the third section welcomes God unto His people by the opening of the gates.
i. “When the King of England wishes to enter the city of London, through the Temple Bar, the gate being closed against him, the herald demands entrance. ‘Open the gate.’ From within a voice is heard, ‘Who is there?’ The herald answers, ‘The King of England!’ The gate is at once opened, and the king passes, amidst the joyful acclamations of his people.” (Evans, cited in Spurgeon)
b. And the King of glory shall come in: If we assume that King David wrote this psalm either for the arrival of the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem or in commemoration of it, we can also see that “the singer saw in that ceremony the symbol of greater things.” (Morgan)
i. “Ancient rabbinical sources tell us that, in the Jewish liturgy, Psalm 24 was always used in worship on the first day of the week. The first day of the week is our Sunday. So, putting these facts together, we may assume that these were the words being recited by the temple priests at the very time the Lord Jesus Christ mounted a donkey and ascended the rocky approach to Jerusalem.” (Boice)
ii. Therefore we can make several connections to this idea that the King of glory shall come in.
· This was fulfilled when the ark of the covenant came to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:11-18).
· This was fulfilled when the ascended Jesus entered into heaven (Acts 1:9-10; Ephesians 1:20).
· This is fulfilled when an individual heart opens to Jesus as King.
c. And the King of glory shall come in: The idea is plain; it is assumed that when God is welcomed with open gates and doors, He is pleased to come in. The King of glory will meet with His people when approached correctly and the doors are opened unto Him.
i. The idea that the doors or gates might be opened unto God, but He would not come unto man, isn’t even considered. When we draw near to Him, He draws near to us (James 4:8).
ii. “For the Church is Christ’s temple; and every faithful soul is a gate thereof to let him in, as in Revelation 3:20.” (Trapp)
iii. In Revelation 3:20 this idea is presented as a plea from Jesus unto His people: Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. Jesus promised: open the door, and I will come in.
iv. “Surely, if there were doors and gates that needed to be lifted up before Christ could enter into heaven, much more are there doors and gates that must be opened to receive him into our hearts.” (Spurgeon)
v. “We must have the King of Glory within. To have Him without, even though He be on the Throne, will not avail.” (Meyer)
c. Who is the King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty: Perhaps with a touch of amazement, David notes that the same God who responds to man’s welcome is still the King of glory; He is mighty in battle. His openness to man doesn’t diminish His glory or might.
i. “The expression mighty in battle is but a stronger form of God’s title of ‘warrior’ first heard in the song of victory at the Red Sea (Exodus 15:3).” (Kidner)
2. (9-10) Repetition for the sake of emphasis.
Lift up your heads, O you gates!
Lift up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
He is the King of glory. Selah
a. Lift up your heads, O you gates: As is common in Hebrew poetry, repetition communicates emphasis. The ideas of Psalm 24:7-8 were important and glorious enough to repeat.
i. When Jesus entered Jerusalem at the Triumphal Entry, Matthew tells us that the city asked, “Who is this?” (Matthew 21:10). If they had known who He was, the response should have been, “The LORD of hosts, He is the King of glory!”
ii. LORD of hosts: “Under whose command are all the hosts of heaven and earth, angels and men, and all other creatures.” (Poole)
iii. LORD of hosts: “In fact, the conception underlying the name is that of the universe as an ordered whole, a disciplined army, a cosmos obedient to His voice.” (Maclaren)
b. He is the King of glory. Selah: This psalm rightly ends on a reflective pause. It is no small thing that this King of glory stoops down to receive men and even to be received by men.
i. G. Campbell Morgan connected these three psalms of David (22, 23, and 24) in an interesting way. “By our calendars, yesterday He passed through Psalm 22. Today He is exercising the office of Psalm 23. Tomorrow, He will exercise finally the authority of Psalm 24.” (Morgan)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org