Let’s turn to Psalm 15.
Psalm 15 Commentary: Genre & Theme
Psalm 15 is a reflective or meditative psalm. David has this one thought in mind that he’s going to mull over and ponder throughout the 5 verses of Psalm 15. And that thought is this: The blameless character of one who knows God.
So much of the psalms consist of David lamenting the evil all around him. But in THIS psalm, David has all but forgotten his enemies. He wants to focus on the truly different character of one who knows God.
Psalm 15 Commentary: Applications
And this should give us some instruction of how to direct OUR thoughts. Because OUR world – like David’s – is evil. If you’re living right, you’ll experience opposition. David did. And as you stand for the Lord and his word you WILL experience greater measures of this kind of opposition. And so a temptation for you and me can be to totally focus on the EVILS around us. And a good bit of that is appropriate.
But don’t forget to focus on GOOD things, too. Don’t forget to take the admonition in the book of Philippians to “think on these things” – things that are pure and lovely and have a good report. David found the need to focus on something good, even in the midst of constantly fighting off evil.
So, let’s read Psalm 15 and we’ll focus on and rejoice along with David about The Blameless Character of One Who Knows God. And at the same time – ask yourself – “Is this representative of me?” Do these things characterize me? I’m claiming to know God. Do I have this blameless character? So, let’s read Psalm 15.
Psalm 15 Commentary: Question
So, David begins his meditation in verse 1:
LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle?
who shall dwell in thy holy hill?
What we have here is a picture of close fellowship of man with God. He’s talking about abiding in a tabernacle and dwelling in a hill. Of being close with the Lord.
The Lord’s tabernacle physically was a literal tent. It housed the ark of the covenant, an altar, a table, a candlestick, and a number of other things. But it was a place where the Lord would meet with his people. It was a place of COMMUNION of man with God. And of course, since this psalm is written by David, we’re not talking about the TEMPLE. THAT hadn’t been built yet. The TABERNACLE was the place to go if you wanted to experience God’s presence. And eventually that tent and then later the temple would be built on God’s HOLY HILL – Mount Zion.
And so David is thinking of people who are not strangers to those places – to God’s tent and to his holy hill. He says that these people he’s meditating on – they ABIDE in God’s tent. The word “abide” usually emphasizes temporary residence. Sojourning. And that makes sense – because a tent is a temporary abode.
And yet, David goes on to think of those who DWELL in God’s holy hill. That word “dwell” has more permanence about it. It’s also translated as SETTLE or INHABIT other places.
So, we’re focusing on those who are pictured as LIVING with the Lord, basically. Those who SOJOURN with him in this life in his tent. Those who SETTLE DOWN and TAKE UP RESIDENCE with him on his holy hill. In other words, those who KNOW the Lord on a personal basis – who feel AT HOME with him, so to speak.
And – just to give us some background on the realities that could have been influencing David’s writing of this psalm – remember that David actually brougt the Ark of the Covenant along with the tabernacle of God to Jerusalem at some point during his reign. Remember that? He did it with great joy and celebrations. And we can imagine that that event may have been fresh in his mind as he writes about this. Because now for the first time, God’s TABERNACLE was situated on his HOLY HILL. Before that, it had been in different parts of Israel. But now it’s all in one place. The tabernacle AND the holy hill.
So, David asks this question as to who will dwell with the Lord – or who KNOWS the Lord. And he asks the question to the Lord himself. And for the rest of Psalm 15 we have the response to this one question. And the response indicates that David wasn’t asking for names of INDIVIDUALS. He was looking for WHAT KIND of people know the Lord. What are they like? What do they do? What do they think?
And so, David asks the Lord what these people are LIKE. What characterizes a person who knows God? And then either he answers his own question OR the Lord himself responds for the rest of the psalm. I think it’s more likely that David is answering his own question – kind of in question/answer type format – like a catechism.
Psalm 15 Commentary: Organization
So, David’s response comes – I think – in 6 groups of 2 lines each – or 6 couplets. He makes 2 statements that are related somehow and then makes another two statements and he does that 6 times in this psalm. And the verse divisions don’t indicate that. But I do think that’s what’s happening here.
So, let me show you what I’m talking about.
Verse 2 – this man walks uprightly and works rightouesness. That’s the first couplet. And those two thoughts are related. And we’ll explore how they’re related in a few minutes.
End of verse 2 and beginning of verse 3 – he speaks truth and he doesn’t slander with his tongue. That’s the second couplet.
The rest of verse 3 – he doesn’t DO evil to his neighbor and he doesn’t SPEAK evil about his neighbor. That’s the third couplet.
Verse 4 – he thinks LITTLE of ungodly men and he highly esteems those who love the Lord. That’s the fourth couplet.
End of verse 4 – he makes promises that could eventuate in his harm. And he doesn’t change his promise, even under those circumstances. That’s the fifth couplet.
And finally verse 5 – he doesn’t charge interest when he lends to his own people – especially to the poor among them. And he won’t be bribed to pervert the justice that’s due the innocent.
So, do you see that? 6 double-statements or couplets that describe a man who knows God. So, let’s delve into each of these couplets and figure out what they’re saying.
Psalm 15 Commentary: General Character
The first couplet again is in verse 2 and it focuses on the GENERAL CHARACTER of those who know the Lord.
2 He that walketh uprightly,
and worketh righteousness,
So, we’re poetically told how this man WALKS and what he WORKS.
He WALKS uprightly. This uprightness is what Noah possessed in his time. In Genesis 6:9 we’re told that Noah was a righteous man. He was blameless – no FAULT could be found in him. And we’re told that he WALKED with God.
And the fact that the man who knows God in THIS psalm walks in this manner, indicates that this is a repeated habitual kind of thing. He is habitually upright. His PRACTICE is to be sincere, honest, blameless. Not perfect! But BLAMELESS, like Noah.
So, that’s how a man who knows God WALKS. But what does he WORK? He works RIGHTEOUSNESS. He practices what is right. Just like someone goes to work day after day, the man who knows God does what’s right day after day.
And you might think that this concept of working righteousness is somewhat vague. What does that look like? Well, I think you get a pretty good feel for what David has in mind in the next five couplets of statements that describe the blameless character of one who knows God.
Psalm 15 Commentary: Speech
The next two statements – or the second couplet – involve this person’s SPEECH. Look at the last statement of verse 2 and the first statement of verse 3.
and speaketh the truth in his heart.
3 He that backbiteth not with his tongue,
And so we see here the positive and negative of the speech of a person who truly knows God. POSITIVELY, he speaks truth. Is that YOUR inclination? The man who truly knows God will speak truth as a practice. And this isn’t MERELY a matter of what comes out of our mouths. It certainly eventuates in what comes out of our mouth. But it’s deeper than that. Look at that phrase again. He “speaketh the truth” – where? In his heart.
Now, this doesn’t mean that he just mutters truth to himself so that no one else can hear him. It also doesn’t mean that he’s truthful merely in his heart or in his inner man – but then he can speak falsehood with his lips. No, but THIS is what it means. Yes, the man speaks truth. But that truth was already in his heart before he spoke it with his tongue. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. And this man who knows the Lord will have truth in his heart. And because of that, truth will be the thing that comes out of his mouth.
And those of us who truly know the Lord – before you were saved, this may not have been your practice. You likely did NOT speek truth in your heart – because you didn’t have any truth IN your heart to speak. And this is why David can marvel at the blameless character of one who knows God. All of a sudden you have truth in your heart when you come to truly know God. And then that’s just what you speak – truth! Amazing! This is worthy of our meditation and admiration. Praise God for truth-filled hearts and lips.
So, negatively though, the man who knows the Lord doesn’t – first statement of verse 3 – BACKBITE with his tongue. We’re still talking about his speech here. He doesn’t SLANDER people. He doesn’t speak falsehood about others. I mean – how can he? He’s got truth in his heart and that’s what comes out of his mouth.
And those of us who truly know the Lord can attest to this reality in our lives. Isn’t it amazing that God will help you just cringe at the thought of slandering another person? We understand our own wrestchedness and God’s mercy to us and patience with us. And in light of those realities – I mean, nobody’s worse than I am and nobody has received more patience and mercy from God than I have. Why am I going to speak evil of someone else who’s probably not even as bad as I am? I need to show them the mercy which God has shown to me.
Isn’t that amazing? Slander is so common in our world. And yet those who truly know God – it’s like there’s just soemthing DIFFERENT about them. They don’t slander with their tongue. No, they speak TRUTH with it!
And yet, I’ve worked in Christian ministries for years now, amazingly. I’ve been a Christian for over a decade. And it grieves me to hear gossip and slander in a Christian context. But – brethren – these things ought not to be so! Let us be so careful to speak only the truth – in general. And specifically, let’s really love our neighbor by not speaking falsely of him. And – for that matter – love your ENEMY by speaking of him or her or them only what’s absolutely true. You and I score no points with the Lord for lying about our enemies. Represent even THEM fairly and accurately.
Psalm 15 Commentary: Neighbor
So, this is how a man who knows God will speak. And the mention of SLANDER – I think – brings David to the next couplet of statements. NOW, David is meditating on how a person who knows God treats his NEIGHBOR. Next two statements of verse 3.
nor doeth evil to his neighbour,
nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.
The first statement deals with ACTIONS and the second statement is about SPEECH again.
So, first, a man who knows God won’t do evil things to his neighbor.
As a boy in grade school, I once had a friend whose next door neighbor would video tape us playing in my friend’s yard. And it’s hard to remember details, but I think the neighbor was worried that one of our balls would land in his yard. And he was waiting for that to happen so that he could turn us in to the condominium association. Now, we surely should have been more careful – but this guy was spending a lot of his time tracking little kids just to make sure that one of our toys didn’t fall into his yard. And if it did, he would do us EVIL.
My grandmother had a neighbor off her back yard who was a drunk. And he would yell at and try to pick fights with me and my cousins when we were children visiting our grandparents’ house. It just so happened that I actually got to go back and witness to that man’s wife after I got saved. But that guy wanted to do evil to us.
I’m sure YOU have stories of your own regarding un-neighborly neighbors. But here’s the point – I would have no reason to think that the guys in my examples truly knew the Lord. Because people who know the Lord have a blameless character. Not perfect, but blameless. And that includes not doing evil to one’s neighbor.
And not only are the ACTIONS of one who knows the Lord to his neighbor blameless, but so are his WORDS. A person who truly knows God will not take up a reproach against his neighbor. He won’t “lift up an insult to one who is near to him”. Sticks and stones break bones, and WORDS hurt too. And insulting words have no place on the lips of one who knows God. Whether those words be directly TO the person OR behind his back.
Psalm 15 Commentary: Esteeming Others
Now, the thought of how to deal with one’s neighbor leads David to consider how the man who knows God ESTEEMS other people. First two statements of verse 4.
4 In whose eyes a vile person is contemned;
but he honoureth them that fear the LORD.
So, negatively, a person know knows God CONTEMNS – or despises – a certain type of person.
First, let me point out that to “despise” someone or something is not akin to hatred. I think some people use the word DESPISE as if it’s a synonym to LOATHE. It’s not. Actually, the old English word there “contemn” can help us. Think of CONTEMPT. That sounds like “contemn”. And when you’re charged with contempt of court – and hopefully none of us ever will be – but when you’re charged with contempt of court, it simply means that you’re DESPISING the authority of that court. You aren’t giving it the respect it deserves. You’re looking down on it. You are thinking lightly of it. That’s what a man who knows God does. But he doesn’t do this to a COURT. He does this to a certain type of INDIVIDUAL. Who’s that?
A vile person. Literally, ONE WHO IS REJECTED. Does it startle you to know that God considers some people to be rejected? In Isaiah and Jeremiah, God is said to reject his nation for their evils deeds. Is it too far of a stretch to say that God can reject individuals for their evil deeds? I think not. That’s what we see here.
And what’s interesting is that in the WORLD’S eyes, this group of people who are rejected by God is often HIGHLY esteemed. They get the glory. They’re the in-crowd.
But God doesn’t see them that way. And neither does the person who truly knows God. That man will not highly esteem that kind of person. Love him? Yes. Refrain from slandering and insulting him? Yes. Thinking really highly of him? … No.
No, the man who knows God, reserves his highest esteem for THIS kind of person – for “them that fear the Lord.” Other God-fearers – that’s whom those who know God honor. That’s the group that he gives weight to in his estimation. The group that respects God’s sovereignty and obeys his commandments, according to one definition of that word “fear”. That’s the characteristic of the people that the person who knows God highly esteems.
So, the man who knows God puts these two groups on a scale – as it were. The ones who are rejected by God he gives very little weight to. While the people who fear the Lord just tip the scale.
Psalm 15 Commentary: Promise Keeping
So, we’ve seen the general character, speech, treatment of neighbors, and estimation of certain groups of people that characterizes one who knows God. Now, at the end of verse 4 we see another part of this man’s character. One who knows God will make PROMISES and keep them.
He that sweareth to his own hurt,
and changeth not.
So, a man who knows God will first of all sometimes swear. Now, obviously we’re not talking about foul language. That’s the way we sometimes use that word “swear”. But really, it’s something like a PROMISE that’s considered binding. We also need to note that in the New Testament we’re strongly encouraged to NOT swear or make oaths. But if we do, we really do need to keep that promise or oath. Our word is no small matter. If we promise to do something we must do it.
Even if it results in our own “hurt” like this verse states. Even if you promise to do something and it eventuates in your harm or injury or damage in whatever way, the man who knows God will carry out his promise. It might be inconvenient. It might be a burden to you. But you will keep that promise. And you as a person who knows the Lord will not change. You won’t change your mind or break your promise.
And when you live amongst a general population that loves to lie and can’t stop it – this is truly a marvel. That there’s a man or group of people who make promises and keep them.
Psalm 15 Commentary: Treatment of the Disadvantaged
And the last part of the blameless character that a man who knows the Lord possesses is the way he treats those who are the DISADVANTAGED. First two statements of verse 5.
5 He that putteth not out his money to usury,
nor taketh reward against the innocent.
Under the Mosaic Covenant, Israelites were not allowed to charge interest to their fellow-Israelites. That’s what USURY is – it’s interest. And Israelites were especially admonished not to charge interest to their fellow Israelites who were IMPOVERISHED. They were supposed to lend money to that type of person and expect only the principle in return – no interest. And a man who knows God would do that under the Old Testament Law.
For our day though – what does this look like? Is a Christian banker being unrighteous when he charges you interest on your mortgage or on your car loan? Now, the ridiculous level of interest on credit cards – I’d say – BORDERS on unrighteous. But I don’t have Bible that tells me as a New Testament Christian – that I can’t charge interest when loaning money to someone else – even to another Christian.
So, I think what this would look like in US then – is GENEROSITY. A willingness to help those in need. To donate time, energy – yes, even MONEY – to help others. And to help those who are in the most need.
And verse 5 mentions another group who is needy. The INNOCENT. And we’re told that a man who knows God will not take a bribe again this group of people.
Justice is such a fragile thing – especially when it’s sinful men who are trying to uphold it. All it takes is for a witness or two to be influenced against the innocent party in a lawsuit and things can get ugly.
We see this happening in the story of Ahab and Naboth. Ahab wanted Naboth’s vineyard. Naboth wouldn’t give it away because God wanted the land to stay with the family to which it had been granted all the way back in the days of Joshua. Ahab cried to his wife Jezebel. Jezebel got a few people to tell a lie about Naboth. There we have it – a bribe against the innocent. The result? Naboth was stoned to death and Ahab moved in to take his new vineyard. How easy it is to pervert justice! How quickly it can happen – especially with men who don’t know God.
But the man who DOES know God – you can’t pay him enough to pervert justice. To him, a right verdict is more important than lining his pockets with money.
How wonderful this kind of character truly is! In general conduct, speech, neighborliness, promise-keeping, esteeming of groups of people, kindness to the disadvantaged. I love that kind of blameless character. And so does God.
And we need to remember that this character isn’t what gains people access to God’s tent and holy hill. Being good and doing good doesn’t earn us a place with the Lord. Only turning from your sins and trusting in Christ to forgiven your sins will do that. But you can be assured that those whose sins the Lord has forgiven will share this kind of blameless character as we’ve seen in this psalm.
Psalm 15 Commentary: Final Meditation
And so, David ends his meditation with the last statement of verse 5.
He that doeth these things shall never be moved.
You can be assured that if you’re one who dwells with the Lord – who KNOWS him and abides with him and in him – if you through that knowledge and with God’s help PRACTICE these characteristics and actions that we’ve just gone through – then you will not be moved. You won’t be caused to totter or wobble. You’ll be steadfast and unmoveable – abiding in the Lord’s tent and dwelling in his holy hill. No one and nothing will move you.
There’s a LOT of evil everywhere – there is TODAY. There was in DAVID’S day. But you and I can be unmoveable and steady if we know the Lord and work out that knowledge in our lives daily. So, praise the Lord for the blameless character of those who know God.