Psalm 15: The Holy Hill
January 15, 2022
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
The question of Psalm 15 relates to the experience of being in the presence of the holy God. “Who shall dwell on your holy hill?” (15:1). In other words, who, as a sinner, can possibly relate to the holy God in intimate fellowship?
We know from the rest of the Bible that we are saved by grace, but here David focuses on a parallel truth. What is it that a covenant member must be, say, and do in order to enjoy God’s presence and to experience God’s blessing? The New Testament knows this teaching too. For instance, 1 Peter 3:10-12 quotes from Psalm 34 to emphasize a similar point:
“Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit…For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:10-12; Psalm 34:12-16).
One Christian leader put it like this: God hears the prayer of our whole life, and not merely the prayer of our lips. If we wish to have intimacy of access to God, favor and blessing from God in our lives, then holiness is required. That does not mean that all suffering is a result of sin; but it does mean that in this fallen world, the route to peace and joy is through faithful discipleship of Christ.
Certainly, God can and does use unholy people for his purposes. The Persian king Cyrus is God’s “hammer” (Jeremiah 51:20), even his “anointed” (Isaiah 45:1) to fulfill God’s purpose of bringing his people back from exile. And, famously, God spoke through Balaam’s donkey (Numbers 22:28). But we do not measure someone’s relationship with God by their gifting, but by their fruitfulness; not by their utility, but by their character. The fruit of the Spirit is the sign of God’s Spirit dwelling within. If effectiveness and holiness are not always intertwined, happiness is inextricably intertwined with holiness as the sure-fire dual necessity of any joyful Christian.
In this psalm, then, David gives several particularities that are requisite of the one who dwells on God’s holy hill. In summary, they are concerned with what we do, what we say, and how we use our money. In terms of what we do, our “walk” is to be “blameless” (15:2). No one can claim to be sinless, but we can be above reproach. We can “do what is right.” This standard does not take many words to explain, but it takes a lifetime of discipline to maintain, and a mere momentary slip to tarnish. A reputation for godliness is won with a life of commitment and is lost in a second of foolishness.
In terms of what we say, our speech is to be the truth from the “heart.” We say what we mean, and we mean what we say. In particular, we do not “slander” or even “take up a reproach” against a friend (15:3). It is all too easy to use our words to suggest that someone is less than their reputation might be by distorting the facts against them. This is slander. It is all too easy to do a milder version of the same thing against even a friend or neighbor. I am afraid that while we love our friends, we can be happy to see our friends do less well than we do. But if we are to dwell with joy in the holy hill, our words—as our deeds—are to be above all this spitefulness. We despise the vile and honor those who fear the Lord. We do not praise the evil and sneer at the pious; instead, we honor the simple family member of the church of Christ, and look askance at the sophisticated but lying bigot, be he a celebrity or not.
Similarly, we “swear to our own hurt and do not change” (15:4). That is, we let our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no” (Matthew 5:37, as a more famous teacher than David put it). If we promise we will do something, we do it, even if it now is less than ideal for us to follow through with our promises. The circumstances may change, but the promise remains, and therefore we stick to what we promised. We are to be the kind of people for whom our word is our bond. Certainly, a solemn vow like the marriage vow is unbreakable for us even if we find that it is truly “in sickness and in health.”
In terms of our money, we are told that the one who dwells on God’s holy hill “does not put out his money at interest” (15:5). In the Old Testament, there was strict prohibition against “usury” (Deuteronomy 23:19). Certain European countries in the Middle Ages took this to mean that God prohibited what we think of as common banking practices of charging interest rates in all circumstances. But it is important to remember that the New Testament people of God are the church. So in our context, this is a prohibition against manipulating fellow Christians in the local church community by use of binding them to us through the technique of lending money at exorbitant interest rates. More straightforwardly, the one who dwells on God’s holy hill, also with relation to money, does not “take a bribe against the innocent.” It is all too easy to turn the eyes of justice against the rightful victim in favor of the powerful elite by means of a well-placed kickback here or there.
If we want the happiness, holiness, and safety, as well as the blessing, of dwelling on God’s holy hill, we will turn aside from receiving (as well as giving) bribes. Do we want to dwell on God’s holy hill? Let us watch what we do, what we say, and how we use our money.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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