Psalm 24

Dear Reader,

I decided to go for a fairly short simple psalm in our psalm-study this week. Here is Psalm 24:

1 Belonging to the LORD [are] the earth and its fullness,
2 The world and the inhabitants of it.
3 For He upon the seas founded it
4 And upon the rivers established it.
5 Who will go up on the mountain of the LORD?
6 And who will stand in His holy place?
7 The innocent of hands and the pure of heart
8 Who does not lift to falsehood his soul
9 And does not swear deceitfully.
10 He will lift a blessing from the LORD
11 And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
12 This [is] the generation of those who search for him
13 Those who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
14 Lift, gates, your heads!
15 Be lifted up, ancient doors,
16 That the king of glory may enter.
17 Who is this king of glory?
18 The LORD, strong and mighty,
19 The LORD, a mighty man of war.
20 Lift, gates, your heads,
21 And lift, ancient doors,
22 That the king of glory may enter.
23 Who is he, this king of glory?
24 The LORD of armies
25 He [is] the king of glory.

A few notes before we begin:

— As always, the line numbers are for easy reference. They are not verse numbers. And the line divisions are open to question. This is how I saw it to try and highlight the parallelism.

— “LORD” means the proper name of God (YHWH) is used. Words in brackets are not in Hebrew.

— I try to use the same word if Hebrew uses the same word and to vary my word choice if they do. In lines 12 and 13, Hebrew uses two different words for “seek” so I did too (in comparison to the ESV which just uses “seek” both times).  Giving away a little bit of the answers here but I used forms of the word “lift” six times in this psalm because the Hebrew does. This may make line 10 in particular sound odd (“He will lift a blessing from the LORD” make sit sound like he is stealing it doesn’t it?), but I am hoping you can tell what is meant. And again, it is important to me to use the same words when the Hebrew does. Repeated words are a poetic device in Hebrew and if we obscure those in our translation we can miss something. This may not be the translation we want to sing or even have in our Bible, but it is what I want for psalm-study.

— Sometimes my word order may seem awkward too. I try as much as possible to preserve the Hebrew word order so that we can see the parallelism. Switching it around to make the English smoother can change what kind of parallelism we have. English of course tends to have “subject-verb-object” and varies fairly  little (as opposed to some languages like Greek which because they have so many cases can vary things a lot). Hebrew’s basic word order in prose is “verb-subject-object,” but it is more tolerant of switching things up than English is.

— Line 13 in Hebrew would read “Those who seek your face Jacob.” Other ancient versions have this reading and I think we have to prefer them. The Hebrew doesn’t make much sense. (For more on dealing with the fact that we have different texts see this post.)

So before we go any further, get out your colored pencils and print out the psalm. Look first for pairs of lines next to each other that say basically the same thing. Those are the parallel lines we have been talking about. Come back when you are done and we will continue.

Are you back? Ready? What did you find? What I found is that this psalm is all pairs of parallel lines. So line 1 goes with 2 and 3 with 4 and so on. My only exception is line 7 which really is parallel with itself. And I could have divided that up and made it two very short lines: “The innocent of hands” and “And the pure of heart.” Then we go back to pairs, line 8 and 9 and so on till the end, lines 24 and 25.

You probably noticed other things as you went through the psalm. Any repeated words, maybe? This psalm has more repeated words or even whole lines than most. Which did you find? Lines 14, 15 and 16 are almost identical to 20, 21 and 22. So too 17 and 23 are almost identical. Note though that they are not exactly the same.

I always tell my kids that you can tell what someone cares about by what they say a lot. If I use the word “fair” a lot, I probably feel I have been gypped somehow in my life and fairness has become a big thing with me. Last week in Psalm 99, the word was holy. What strikes you this time? It may not be one word but a group of related words (look back at the psalm now and think about it).

My six-year-old observed that the phrase “king of glory” appears a lot. This leads to another question I like to ask which is what aspect of God’s character does this psalm focus on? Psalm 99 focused on holiness. Psalms 3 and 4 appealed to God’s covenant love. My eight-year-old said this psalm focuses on God being almighty. This actually led to a dispute, because the word almighty is not in the psalm. But we did find the word might. This is definitely a God who is in charge. He is strong, but He is also active. It is He who built the whole world and all of us in it (lines 1-4).

What about that word “lifted” which I mentioned? It is repeated a lot, but what does it mean here? Let’s look at who is lifting what in the psalm. In lines 8 and 10 the person who does not “lift” falsehood will “lift” a blessing from God. In lines 14, 15, 21, and 22 it is the doors and gates that lift themselves (presumably lifting to open so that God can enter). But with all these poetic techniques we have to ask, so what? What is the meaning that they convey? What do they add to the psalm? To me (and here we are back in the this is how is strikes me personally realm), all this lifting highlights God’s exaltedness. Everything has to be raised up for Him. And what about us? If we want to enter with God, we must also be lifted. And to be worthy of that we need to not have lifted ourselves to something antithetical to God, falsehood or deceit. Of course, that is probably more than I would expect a child to think when they went through this.

One question that arises though is what is everyone entering here? We begin asking who can enter God’s holy place. And then in the second half we ask who is the king who is entering through the gates and doors? I picture a crowd of bystanders at a parade saying “who? who? who is coming?” They are straining their necks to see the procession approaching. The reference to the mountain and holy place could lead us to think of the temple. But the “ancient doors” which could also be read “eternal doors” makes me think something even bigger is in view. This is a warrior king, but he is not fighting. He is triumphantly processing back into his kingdom. To me this conjures up an end of time picture. That is when all God’s enemies will be vanquished and He (presumably God the Son) will reign triumphantly over what He has created (see lines 1 and 2) and victoriously redeemed. It is mostly a psalm exalting God as this hero. But there is also that call to us to choose blessing over falsehood and so to be worthy to enter with Him.

What do you think? Do you see other things?


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