Psalm 24 3-5 Meaning: So, with the awesome power of the Lord in our mind, the Psalmist now turns our attention to the character of the kind of person who is allowed into God’s Presence in verses 3 through 6.
3 Who [shall/may] ascend [into the hill/the mountain] of the LORD?
or who [shall/may] [stand in/go up to] his holy [place/dwelling place]?
|Who shall ascend||into the hill of the Lord?|
|or who shall stand||in his holy place?|
“Who may go up the mountain of the Lord? And who may stand in the holy place (not the same as the area of the Tabernacle which was just qodesh) of him?”
Going Up to Jerusalem
So, here David is picturing his ascending with all Israel up to Jerusalem where he would put the Ark of the Covenant into the holy place that he had built to house the representation of God’s presence.
Be Holy for God is Holy
And now his thoughts turn to what kind of person might be allowed into God’s presence. We know this God is powerful from verses 1 and 2. And here in verse 3 it’s hinted at that this God is also holy. The place in which his presence will reside is holy and therefore the people who enjoy his presence must themselves be holy.
Psalm 24 3-5 Meaning
And so, in verse 4 David answers his own question and says that those who enjoy God’s presence must be holy like he is holy.
4 [He that hath clean hands/The one whose deeds are blameless],
and [a pure heart/whose motives are pure];
|He that hath||clean hands|
|and||a pure heart|
“Clean hands and pure heart who does not lift up to emptiness his soul and he does not swear according to deceit.”
Hands and Heart
Hands and heart are the topic under discussion here.
Hands represent actions. You do things with your hands.
The heart represents the inner man and the thoughts and feelings associated with it. You feel and think things with your heart.
So, who is allowed into God’s presence? What is this kind of person like? The things he does and the way he thinks are clean. Not defiled. Not filthy. They don’t leave him feeling dirty. The characteristic actions and thoughts of one who will enjoy God’s presence are clean and pure.
What else is such a person like?
who hath not lifted up his soul [unto vanity/to falsehood] [i.e., doesn’t lie (but, idols?)…],
nor sworn deceitfully [i.e., makes promised but doesn’t intend to keep them…].
|who||hath not lifted up his soul||unto vanity|
So, the person who enjoys God’s presence is also one who speaks the truth. Not only are his actions and thoughts right, but his speech is as well.
He doesn’t speak empty words. When he promises something, he does it. He imitates his God in these ways.
Psalm 24 3-5 Meaning
And this kind of person is rewarded by the Lord according to verse 5.
5 [He shall receive the blessing from/Such godly people are rewarded by] the LORD,
and [righteousness from/vindicated by] the God [of his salvation/who delivers them].
|He shall receive||the blessing||from the Lord|
|and||righteousness||from the God of his salvation|
“He will lift a blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”
Perhaps here David is thinking of Obed-Edom. Remember him? He’s the man who had the Ark of the Covenant in his home after the Philistines returned it to Israel. David before this psalm tried to bring the Ark to his place in Jerusalem but you remember that the Lord – it says – broke out against Uzzah because he touched the cart. So, for that whole time God’s presence was blessing the house of Obed-Edom. It’s that kind of blessing that is probably in David’s mind as he writes these words.
Righteousness by Works?
But in what sense is David saying God gives righteousness to people who enjoy his presence? He’s not saying that a person is counted righteous by God by having clean hands and a pure heart and honest speech. That happens by faith alone and always has.
Instead, the word righteousness is best understood as blameless behavior or honesty. That’s a way that word tsedeqah is translated in the Old Testament. And I think that’s really interesting. A person who enjoys God’s presence will be characterized by purity in deed, thought, and speech. And do you know who grants this person these qualities of a blameless character? Well, it’s the one in whose presence this person dwells – the God of his salvation is the one who bestows the blessing of a blameless character upon the one who enjoys God’s presence.
And you can think of Paul’s statements in 2 Corinthians 3:18 regarding the fact that Christians are changed into Christ’s image by beholding him. We are having developed in us blameless character – the character of Christ – by enjoying his presence – by looking into his glory. And that’s very similar to what David is saying here in Psalm 24.