Most of the psalms up to now — though not all of them — have been psalms of lament where the psalmist cries out to the Lord for help because he’s in trouble. Some Bible commentators consider Psalm 15 to be a wisdom psalm. Wisdom psalms are about how we ought to live; what’s the best way to live, the wisest way to live. And so, because the psalmist begins Psalm 15 by asking what kind of person you need to be in order to come before the Lord, some think it’s a wisdom psalm. However, others suggest it’s a liturgical psalm. The word ‘liturgy’ refers to how we conduct public worship; and in the psalm, we’re to imagine the people drawing near to the tabernacle in Jerusalem in order to worship the Lord. And on the way, they’re asking themselves what kind of person they need to be in order to appear before the Lord.
You might recall from the time we studied the book of Numbers that the Levites were told to arrange their tents between the tabernacle and the rest of the Israelites, because they were to act as a buffer between the Lord and his people; and they were appointed to guard the tabernacle and to prevent anything unclean from coming into God’s holy presence. In the same way, Levites were appointed by Nehemiah to guard the entrance to the city of Jerusalem to prevent anything unclean from entering God’s holy city.
And so, in this psalm, we’re to imagine the worshippers, on their way to Jerusalem, wondering and asking one another what kind of person they needed to be in order to appear before the Lord. Since the Levites were appointed to guard the tabernacle, what did you need to be in order to get past them.
And the psalm answers that question. A similar question is asked in Psalm 24:
Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The answer is Psalm 24 is different from the answer in Psalm 15. However, what is said in Psalm 24 does not contradict what is said here in Psalm 15.
Psalm 15 can be divided into three parts. Firstly, there’s the opening question in verse 1. Then secondly, there’s the reply in verses 2 to the first part of verse 5. And thirdly, there’s a promise at the end of verse 5.
So, the psalm opens with the question:
Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary?
Who may live on your holy hill?
As I’ve already indicated, the question is not so much a question of identity, but a question of what kind of person may come before the Lord. The sanctuary is, of course, the tabernacle, which was later replaced by the temple. It was located in Jerusalem on Mount Zion which was God’s holy hill. Each year God’s people would go up to Jerusalem for the three great pilgrimage festivals which were the Passover, the Feast of Firstfruits and the Feast of Booths. The psalm asks who may dwell and live there. The worshipper understands that he’s only a guest who needs to be invited in to God’s presence; and it’s up to the Lord to determine who may and who may not come and be a guest in his home.
Verses 2 to 5a
The reply comes in verses 2 and following. And the psalmist mentions ten characteristics of the person who may come before the Lord. As one of the commentators says, there are many other characteristics which could have been mentioned, but these ten are enough to show that in order to come before the Lord and be a guest in his house you need to be perfect.
Let me go through each of the ten characteristics. Firstly, you need to walk blamelessly. The verb ‘walk’ is used to refer to the manner of our life, the way we live. And so, we must live a blameless life. Blameless here means innocent, flawless, perfect even.
Secondly, you need to do what is righteous. The Lord Almighty is the one who determines what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil. And doing what is righteous therefore means doing what is right in God’s sight and walking in his ways according to his laws.
Thirdly, we must speak the truth from our heart. In other words, we must always be sincere in what we say and truthful and honest. A dishonest person’s words will not match what is in his heart and you’re always wondering what really lies behind his words. But our words must be sincere and honest.
Fourthly, we must have no slander on our tongue. The person who slanders is the person who damages another person’s reputation by the things he says. What he says may be true, or it may be false. But either way, the intent is to do harm. But those who want to come into God’s presence must not slander other people.
Fifthly, we must do our neighbour no wrong. Our neighbour, of course, is anyone we encounter. And so, we’re not to harm anyone.
Sixthly, we must cast no slur on our fellow-man. We mustn’t reproach or attack other people.
So, we must be careful in what we say: only speaking the truth and being careful not to hurt others by what we say, whether we say it to them or about them. My minister used to say that we should ask three questions before speaking about other people: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? If it’s not true, we shouldn’t say it. But even it’s it’s true, there’s often no need to say what we were going to saying and especially if it’s unkind.
Seventhly, we must despise the vile man and honour the one who fears the Lord. Very often in the world, those who are vile and worthless are idolised, whereas the godly are scorned. But those who come before the Lord must cherish the godly and keep away from the godless.
Eighthly, we must keep our oath even when it hurts. So, we must be faithful to our promises and we must always keep our word. How often do we try to renege on our promises when keeping them becomes difficult? But just because it’s difficult is no reason to break our word.
Ninthly, we’re to lend our money without usury. Usury is excessive or unreasonable interest. Someone in need comes to us from help. The need to borrow some money to pay their debts. Well, if we can lend the money they need, our intention should be to help them, not to benefit personally from their trouble by charging them excessive interest. The Hebrew word used here actually means ‘to bite’. When we charge excessive interest, we’re taking a bite out of our needy neighbour. And that’s not right.
And tenthly, we must not accept a bribe against the innocent. A wicked person might be willing for money to make a false allegation against an innocent man. But those who hope to come before the Lord must not do that.
There you have ten characteristics of the person who may come before the Lord and be a guest in his holy house. And at the end of the psalm, the psalmist declares that those who do those things will never be shaken. Not only can they become before the Lord, but they will be secure, for even though everything around them is falling, the Lord will uphold and help them.
As I said at the beginning, one of the commentators says that there are many other characteristics which could have been mentioned, but these ten are enough to show that in order to come before the Lord and be a guest in his house, you need to be perfect.
But none of us is perfect, are we? And so, the psalm is bad news, because it’s saying to us that we cannot — by ourselves — ever hope to come before the Lord. You cannot ever hope to come before the Lord — unless, of course, your sin and guilt is covered. Unless your sin and guilt is covered, and you’ve been pardoned, you cannot ever hope to come before the Lord.
In Old Testament days, the worshippers would bring an offering with them to present before the Lord, a sacrifice to pay for their sins and to cleanse them from their guilt. They could not appear before the Lord without an offering. But by means of an offering, which God graciously accepted on their behalf, they were allowed to come before the Lord.
And, as you know, those Old Testament offerings were for the time being only. They were to make do until the time came when the Lord Jesus offered himself on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for sins. He laid down his life to pay for our sins and by his blood we’re cleansed. And so, in his name, we’re able to come before the Lord to worship him. And because of Christ — who has gone before us and who even now is preparing a place for his people — we can look forward to coming into the presence of God in the new heavens and earth where we will dwell on God’s holy hill forever.
You see, this psalm is like the law. The law was designed to show us our sin and our guilt and our shortcomings in order to drive us to Christ the Saviour. None of us has kept the law. And none of us has walked blamelessly and none of us has done what is right all of the time. None of us has lived like this — apart from the Lord Jesus. This ten-part description of the righteous person who may come into God’s presence is a description of the Lord Jesus. He alone has walked blamelessly, because he never once disobeyed his Father in heaven. He was obedient to his Father in all things. And he obeyed his Father for us, doing for us what we could not do ourselves. And then he died for us, to pay for our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. And through faith in him you’re justified, so that God pardons all your sins and he accepts you as righteous in his sight for the sake of the perfect righteousness of Christ which is credited to you and which you receive by faith. And because your sins have been pardoned through faith in Christ, and because God now regards you as if you’ve done everything right, you may come before God to worship him; and you can look forward to coming before his throne in the new world to come.
Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous. Only the Lord Jesus has walked blamelessly. Only the Lord Jesus has done what is right. But by faith you are declared right with God so that you can come before him in worship both now and forevermore. And the Lord Jesus, who alone walked blamelessly and who alone did what is righteous, gives you his Spirit to enable you more and more to live like this and to do these things. He’s able to help you to become more like Christ.
And so, we should trust in the Lord Jesus for justification by which our sins are pardoned and we’re accepted as righteous in God’s sight for the sake of the perfect righteousness of Christ. And we should trust in the Lord Jesus for sanctification, by which we’re transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ our Saviour.