Monday, November 23, 2009

PSALM 24: Prelude to Worship

This Psalm deals with the Lord coming to his Tabernacle. It may have been written when David brought the ark to Jerusalem, or in later commemoration of it. It then deals with what kind of person may come into the Lord's presence and worship him and receive his blessing.

Verse 1 says the earth belongs to the LORD. He owns it. It is his. Every thing in the earth and every one who lives in it is his. They are his possession.

Why does he own it? Verse 2 tells us. It is because (or "for" in this verse) he made it. "Founded" and "established" are metaphors for beginning a city or building a building. The Bible often speaks of the foundations of the world. For example, Psalm 102:25 says "In the beginning, you laid the foundations of the earth and the heavens are the work of your hands." The writer of Hebrews quotes this verse in Hebrews 1:10. So, the "foundations" means the beginning, the time of creation.

God’s creation of the world is an important concept in Scripture. Genesis 1:1 begins the whole Bible with the statement that God made the heavens and the earth. It then proceeds to show us that God created all things on the earth and all of the things in the heavens. As we discussed before, "heavens" means the sky and space, not just "Heaven" where God dwells. The God we worship is the Creator.

So, the one who makes it owns it. Deuteronomy 10:14 says "Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth and all that is in it." In Job 41:11, God said "Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole of heaven is mine." Paul even uses this argument when he writes about election in Romans 9:20: "But, who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, "Why did you make me like this?"

The implication here is that, since God created us and therefore owns us, he is to be worshipped and he determines who may come to worship him.

Verses 3-6, then deal with the issue of who may come into God's presence and worship. David asked the question, who may ascend the hill of the Lord or who may stand in his holy place. He alludes to the tabernacle here. David brought the ark to Jerusalem and made a tent for it there on the hill. (2 Samuel 6). To go to the tabernacle, you had to ascend the hill of the Lord. To stand in the holy place, in the tabernacle, you had to be clean. He specifically addresses clean hands, a pure heart, and a soul not given to idol worship. You see a very similar approach here to Psalm 15, which asked who could dwell in the sanctuary.

"Hands", "head" and "heart" are often named in the Bible but are actually representative of other things. Here, "clean hands" does not refer to washing, but to actions that are right. If you steal something, you do not have clean hands. A "pure heart" does not mean one with no plaque in the arteries, but a person of pure motives. In Matthew 5:8, Jesus said "blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God". This means you come to truly worship, not to be respected or to look good or to socialize with your friends or to make business connections or to look for clients. Thus, the one who could come to the tabernacle was one who had not acted sinfully, one who was not coming out of improper motives. Also, one could not worship idols. God commanded that only he be worshipped.

We can see that the one who could come into God's presence in the tabernacle had to be holy. We know God is holy and cannot tolerate sin in his presence. (That is Isaiah's vision of Christ in Isaiah 6.) Verses 5-6 tell us this person will receive a blessing from God, worshipping God and being in God's presence.

Verses 7-10 are the herald's cry of the coming of the Lord's presence to the city of Jerusalem. This may have meant the bringing of the ark to Jerusalem by David. We know the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle according to Exodus 40:34. The gates to the city of Jerusalem are opened so the Lord may come in. He is referred to as the "king of glory". He is strong and mighty in battle. He has led Israel to victory over Egypt, over the Canaanites and all who oppose them. He is the Lord Almighty, the Lord of Hosts, who is sovereign over all the powers of the universe.

The covenant people, Israel here, have the great privilege of worship in the presence of the Lord Almighty. But they must be holy to come into his presence. Not every one in Israel qualified. This was acted out in the Old Testament by the sacrifices which cleansed of sin. Before the High Priest could come into the holy place, he had to be purified. The people all came offering sacrifices for sin.

Of course, by this time in our journey through the Old Testament, you know I am going to look for Christ in the passage. I did and I found him.

The New Testament tells us the world was made by Christ and for Christ. John 1:3 is well known for this: "All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made." Paul gives a great explanation of this in Colossians 1:16-17: "For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether throne or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things were created through him and for him." They were all created for him, to bring him glory. He took part in creation and it all belongs to him. All will bow before him one day for this reason. He is entitled to be worshipped.

Those who worship God receive the blessing of his presence. Where does Christ dwell today? He is with us when we gather as his body. Who gets to come into his presence? Does the sinner? No, just as in this Psalm, it is the one who is clean and the one who worships no other god. If we believe in Christ, we are clean. We are not clean because we have been perfect, but because he has cleaned us. Even more accurately, he has declared us clean and he has imputed his cleanness to us.

We believe in Jesus not only as savior, but as Lord, and as the only Lord. David said the worshipper could not lift up his soul to what is false. God commanded that there we have no other gods (Exodus 20:3). Jesus said loving God with all of our being is the greatest commandment. This principle has not changed from Old Testament to New Testament. We cannot worship the gods of self, money, success, power or pleasure. See what Paul tells Timothy about this in 2 Timothy 3:1-5.

Some believe this Psalm to apply to the ascension of Christ into heaven. For those who observe the liturgical calendar, such as Catholics and Anglicans, this Psalms often read on Ascension Day or Ascension Sunday. However, since it deals with those men and women who will come into his presence to worship him, I would apply it to his second coming. He will come as king and will be worshipped. Revelation 21 shows the holy city coming down out of heaven and says the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them and they will be his people. This is the blessing of his presence. The tabernacle and the temple are types of this presence of God with man, they foreshadow it.

This chapter goes on to say who will not be there, who is not clean. Revelation 21:8 says "But for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderer, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.

Receive Christ and place your trust in him. Then you can sing with David and welcome the return of the King.
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