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Psalm 15: Settling down in His presence

Psalm series

Psalm 15: Settling down in His presence
Posted on May 3, 2020  - By Dr. David Brooks

Many people have their own ideas about how to relate well to God. Many people believe they are “all right” with God but are not. 

The Bible, however, was not written by people who gave their own personal opinions about God and His will. Rather, the Spirit of God directed them on what to say (2 Peter 1:20-21), and He knows what God is like and how to live in a good relationship with Him (1 Corinthians 2:11). Psalm 15 is not the only place in the Bible where God tells us how to relate to Him, but what the psalm teaches agrees with the rest of Scripture.

Psalm 15 is short, with three sections. The first one is a question, the second is the answer, and the last is a brief statement of the success of complying with God’s instructions.

The Bible was not written by people who gave their own opinions about God and His will. Rather, the Spirit of God directed them on what to say

Seeking His presence

Verse 1 asks, “O LORD, who shall sojourn in Your tent? Who shall dwell on Your holy hill?” God is the appropriate person to ask for this information. The first half of the question concerns “sojourning” in God’s tent. The tent was the worship centre and symbolised the presence of God with His people (Exodus 29:42; 30:36). 

The Hebrew word for “sojourn” (gur) means to live or reside somewhere as a resident alien. That is, the person is not a native to the region where he is residing. The implication here is that the writer knew he was a foreigner to God’s presence. He did not always belong there; he was not a native. 

The question’s second line goes beyond the first. The verb for “dwell” (shakan in Hebrew) means to settle down. Just as God told the Israelites to welcome the resident aliens and treat them with justice and compassion (Deuteronomy 10:18,19; 14:29; 16:11,14), so the psalmist believed God would welcome an outsider and make it possible for him to settle and be “at home” with Him. How does one qualify for this relationship?

Verses 2-5a answer the question: 

He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
    and speaks truth in his heart;
who does not slander with his tongue
    and does no evil to his neighbor,
    nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
    but who honors those who fear the Lord;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
who does not put out his money at interest
    and does not take a bribe against the innocent.

A way of life

Verse 2 gives three qualifications for living in a good relationship with God. Each one uses a participle that points out this is what the person does continually: this is his character. First, he lives (“walks”) with integrity (Hebrew: tamim). His thoughts, words and actions do not conflict with each other. He does not treat others in ways that he does not want to be treated himself. 

Second, he does, or works, righteousness; that is, he lives up to a standard that is set for him. A husband has standards by which he is to live. Likewise, a wife, a father, an adult child, or an employer has requirements that God has set and to which he or she must adhere. 

The third qualification in v. 2 is always speaking the truth in one’s heart. The spiritual person evaluates everything (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:15). We are to be thoughtful about our path of life (cf. Proverbs 4:26-27), and evaluate ourselves in context of truth. If we lie to ourselves, we will not respond to God or others in the right way, and we will not do what is right.

The spiritual person evaluates everything. We are to be thoughtful about our path of life and evaluate ourselves in context of truth

Watch your tongue

Verse 3 adds three more items, but these are actions he does not take. The aspect of the verbs along with the negative (“not”) shows that these are actions he simply does not do. He does not “slander”. The verb literally means he does not “foot”, or walk, with his tongue. The figure of speech indicates that he does not go from one person to another to talk about someone. 

We usually call such a person a “gossip”, someone who talks about someone else’s problems, private matters, or faults to others (Proverbs 11:13; 20:29). Such people seek to justify spreading the reports, but this is only an excuse to share personal or private information. For many people it seems to be a way to show they are important, knowledgeable, to gain acceptance, or to hurt someone’s reputation — though each person may have a different motive. 

The third deed he does not do is take up a reproach against a person. This seems similar to the previous activity but clearly involves negative information about someone, not merely private or personal information. If we love someone, we do not rejoice in reporting or focusing on what that one has done wrong (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:6). Nor do we twist the truth to make someone appear to have done wrong. 

If we love someone, we do not rejoice in reporting or focusing on what that one has done wrong

Sometimes, it is necessary to speak of another’s faults or failures, but only to those who need to know. That is, a crime should be reported, and people must be warned of dangerous persons. Someone who contacts you about a recommendation for someone who applied for a job needs to know if the applicant has major flaws that will hurt his company. 

Wise people have advised, if people are not part of the problem or solution, they do not need to be told negative things about someone else. And if we are not part of the problem or solution, we should not listen. This is good counsel.

Fear the Lord

Verse 4 adds two more attitudes and actions, viewed positively and negatively; that is, “two sides of the same coin”. The first is that he does not treat vile and sinful people as if they were respectable, worthy of honour or special recognition. On the contrary, the person who has a relationship with God respects and treats as important those who revere, obey, worship, trust, and love God (that is, those who “fear the Lord”). 

The one who is vile and sinful might be famous, powerful, or wealthy. The one who fears the Lord may be poor, vulnerable, old, very young, sick, unimportant to others, or from a despised people group. The person whom God accepts distinguishes between them and honours the right one, despite popular opinion.

The second double-sided characteristic is that when he makes a promise, he keeps it. The negative side is that he keeps it even if it becomes difficult to do so. Maybe an unexpected problem arises, making fulfilment a hardship. 

A Biblical example of this is when Israel under Joshua’s leadership took an oath not to kill the Gibeonites, even though they later learned that they were one of the forbidden groups. When Israel discovered the error, the people wanted to break the covenant, but Joshua pointed out that they had made an oath and could not violate it (Joshua 9). Many years later, King Saul and Israel violated the treaty, and God punished them for it (2 Samuel 21:1-2). 

The person whom God accepts honours the one who fears the Lord, despite popular opinion

If a person makes a promise he should not have made, if the other person will release him from the obligation, he is allowed to not keep it (cf. Proverbs 6:1-5). Or, if someone made an oath but God provides a way to fulfill it some other way, he may do so (cf. Leviticus 27:1-23; cf. Jephthah’s failure to follow the principle, Judges 11:30-40). Otherwise, the requirement is to keep our word as promised. 

Verse 5a describes two more requirements. First, he does not lend money and expect interest in return. This addressed a loan to the needy, not a business loan (Leviticus 25:35-38). God is generous, so His people must be too. 

Last, he does not take a bribe to pervert justice against the innocent. He promotes justice and opposes injustice. He does not take advantage of the vulnerable even though he might be able to succeed in doing so.

Unshaken by life

The last phrase summarises a blessing for living by God’s values and in His presence: “He who does these things shall never be moved.” Allen Ross points out in A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 1 that this person will not be “shaken” spiritually by life’s experiences, even when they are troublesome (such as the end of v.4). He will remain stable in difficulties and not be moved out of God’s presence (cf. Psalm 15:1).

The requirements for living in a good relationship with God are unattainable. But people can have such a relationship, as Psalm 14:4, 7 showed. The relationship is entered by faith (cf. Genesis 15:6; John 1:12). And having entered the relationship, God’s people must live by God’s principles (e.g. John 14:21, 23).

Dr. David Brooks

About Dr. David Brooks

David Brooks is a senior professor of Hebrew & Old Testament at Criswell College, Dallas, where he lives with his wife and four children. Having been raised with an emphasis on international missions, he often accepts international teaching assignments while also teaching adjunctively at Dallas Theological Seminary.



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