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Psalm 15

Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?

The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others; who despises a vile person but honors those who fear the Lord; who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind; who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things will never be shaken.

I love to hike the mountainous areas around the lower mainland of British Columbia. As a transplant from Ontario, seeing real mountains and scrambling up steep inclines, to stand 1000m to over 1500m in elevation above the Fraser Valley is a magnificent sight. I will never forget the first time I hiked one of those routes listed “Difficult” in the guides. At the bottom of the trail was a sign that read, “This trail is NOT a walk in the Park!” The sign goes on to explain that Search and Rescue Services assist many hikers on this trail and lists it as “Extremely Demanding.”

The first time I took on such a challenge – about a 1/3rd of the way up I fought back the temptation to turn around. I didn’t believe it was possible in my, then current, physical condition. I had bitten off more than I could handle. 

The analogy will break down in due course, but Psalm 15 is like that sign at the bottom of the hike: “Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless…” This is no easy hike up a hill. David tells us, to dwell within the sacred tent of the Lord and to live with him and within his presence is possible only for those who are blameless, who are righteous, who have no deceit in them, who speak only life, who love their neighbor all the time, and who are faithful in every circumstance, those who are generous, and who live with integrity.

The longing that is stirred in vs. 1 by the questions invites the reader/hearer to consider how we are created for God’s presence and we long to live with him. I think that is an important point we might gloss over too quickly: David expresses a longing to dwell in and live on. This isn’t just a passing visit or a check-in with the divine in order to check a box and move on with the rest of life. The human heart is created to be in fellowship with our Creator. We are made to rest in him because we are made in his image and for his glory. Anything else is less than what we are created for and will, in the end, not satisfy this longing. Now, as a rebellious people we have gotten really good at quieting the voice of God in our consciences; we are quite skilled at suppressing the truth of God and exchanging it for a lie (Rom. 1:18&25) – and, now naturally, apart from God’s intervening in grace, we don’t know that we do that.

But the longing is still there. The hunger and thirst for his righteousness is there. The deep desire for something transcendent haunts our everyday reality.

As this reality is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit we come to a second understanding (the first being our longing): we simply cannot find it. We are told in the Bible that David is “a man after God’s own heart.” (1 Sam. 13:14) – but to know his story is to know he is far from perfect. In vs. 2-5 David gives a short but damning list of qualifications he doesn’t measure up to. There are 10 altogether:  The person who is able (worthy) to live with the Lord must be 1) blameless 2) righteous 3) and speak honestly; she must a be a person who 4) doesn’t slander 5) doesn’t harm 6) doesn’t insult her neighbor; 7) he must hate the enemies of God and love his chosen people; 8) he must be firm and fast to keep promises; 9) she must be generous, and 10) she must be a person of uncompromising integrity. As Smith and Akin conclude: “These ten qualifications do not serve as a checklist so that we might be confident in our worthiness of entering; rather, they remind us that without divine help, we will never enjoy his presence.”[1]

This is the point where my opening illustration breaks down. Hiking that peak, I took my time, drank some water, and pushed through the hardship. I dug deep into my will and fought my way to the summit. I made it by sheer force of will, if not by innate physical ability. What David is helping us see is that no amount of willpower can overcome what is impossible for us to do.

And I think that is exactly the point. We have a longing that only God can fill – and a requirement that only God can accomplish. David understood that it is the kings responsibility to walk with his God as representative of the people; and while he failed this task time and again, a True and Better King has come who has succeeded where David, and we, fail. Jesus is both proof of the truth of this longing in humans and the one fulfills it and makes it possible. Jesus is the only one who ever lived without sin – and because he did we can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Cf. Heb. 4:15-16)

It is not my force of will that makes me able to ascend the mountain to God’s dwelling, but that God has descended to “make himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” (Phil. 2:7) that we can now be lifted up, restored to the first longing of our heart in relationship to God. It is only because of Jesus that we “will never be shaken.” (vs. 5c) And so, “since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” (Heb. 12:28)

Lord Jesus, because of who you are I am restored to the presence of my God and Father. Help my life to show the fruit of your work in the world. Help me to live set apart for your purposes, walking humbly, full of grace and mercy. Even as the world around me shakes and crumbles, I rest secure in your grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen!

[1] Smith and Akin, Exalting Jesus in Psalms 1-50, 108.