The Messianic Psalms - Psalm 24
R. Catchpole, London
The 24th Psalm can be considered in at least three ways.
Viewed thus, it is generally accepted that it can be connected to the joyful occasion when David brought the ark of the covenant from the house of Obed-edom to Mount Zion, 2 Sam. 6; 1 Chr. 15.
Some interpret the Psalm in reference to the ascension of the risen Lord Jesus and in Handel’s oratorio, Messiah, it is applied in that way. But in looking at the Psalm we should note that it is an earthly scene and not a heavenly one that is being presented to us, and in verse 3 the references to ‘the hill of the Lord’, i.e., Mount Zion, and ‘the holy place’, the temple at Jerusalem, are to be interpreted literally. The Psalm is anticipating the day of the Lord’s coronation following His return and manifestation in glory and power. Five times we find the title ‘King of glory’, a title unique to this Psalm. The reference in verse 1 to, ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein’, clearly looks on to the time when Psalm 2 verse 8 will have its fulfilment, ‘Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession’.
While it is clear that the primary focus in the Psalm is upon the King of glory, it nevertheless also refers in verse 6 to, ‘the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob’, companions of the King – individuals who take moral character from Him, having, ‘clean hands and a pure heart’, v. 4.
The Lord the great creator, vv. 1-6
The Psalm begins, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof’. The title ‘Lord’ is in a position of emphasis; the psalmist stressing the fact that it belongs to Him, and Him alone. A comparison with verse 2 indicates that, by ‘the earth’, the psalmist has in view the land in contrast to the sea, and ‘the fullness thereof’ is a reference to its materials and resources, its fertility and fruitfulness. Why does the Psalm specifically mention these things? Surely it is in anticipation of the abundant fruitfulness of the millennial day, when ‘there shall be an handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon’, Ps. 72. 16. Interestingly, this is the only part of the Psalm directly quoted in the New Testament, the basic principle that all belongs to the Lord being equally applicable today, 1 Cor. 10. 26. Paul quotes from the Psalm in asserting the believer’s liberty to eat all food sold in the market, asking no questions for conscience sake as to whether it had been first offered to idols. Believers are to acknowledge that what they eat comes from the Lord, and for which they should give God thanks, v. 30.
Not only is the earth the Lord’s, but also, ‘the world, and they that dwell therein’. The word for ‘world’, refers to the habitable parts of the earth, and, ‘they that dwell therein’, to the world’s population. Again it anticipates the millennial period when the Lord Jesus will be ‘the governor among the nations’, Ps. 22. 28. In principle, that is equally applicable today, whether men recognize it or not; for the Father ‘hath committed all judgment unto the Son’, so that ultimately, all men are accountable and answerable to Him, John 5. 22.
But on what basis do the earth and its inhabitants belong to the Lord? Verse 2 gives the answer, ‘For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods’; His right is creatorial, He founded and established it all. The expression ‘founded it’ refers to the emergence of the dry land, the habitable world, from the waters as recorded in Genesis chapter 1 verses 9 and 10. Further, the psalmist says, ‘And established [erected] it upon the floods’, the verse moving from the appearance of the dry land to the means for the maintenance and sustenance of its life. The word ‘floods’ could equally be rendered ‘rivers’ or ‘streams’. The verse reminds us of Paul’s words concerning the Lord Jesus, ‘by him were all things created . . . by him all things consist [are held together]’, Col. 1. 16, 17.
In view of the Lord’s majesty and sovereignty, who is fit to join in His triumphant procession? ‘Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?’ v. 3. Note the combination of royalty and priesthood. ‘The hill of the Lord’ – Zion – the centre of government; ‘his holy place’, the centre of priestly activity. The kingdom has been established, the temple has been built, and the day of coronation has come. While the two offices of king and priest were separated in Israel under the Aaronic order, they will be united in the millennium according to the Melchizedek order of priesthood, ‘he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne’, Zech. 6. 13. Now come the questions, ‘Who shall ascend?’ i.e., be present to accompany Him in the procession, and ‘Who shall stand?’ literally ‘stand fast’, is fit to have a place and standing before Him. Verse 4 makes it clear that there is in view the moral and spiritual fitness to do those two things. In answer, four things are mentioned, ‘He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully’. But there is a somewhat unusual feature in verses 4 to 6. In verses 4 and 5 a singular pronoun is used, ‘He’, as though one man is being sought who meets the criteria, yet in verse 6 we read of a ‘generation’ who come into this category. There is no contradiction. The one man who uniquely meets the requirements is, of course, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and in that sense the verse establishes His moral right to the kingdom. At the same time, ‘the generation’ fit to accompany Him, are those who take character from Him.
The word for ‘hands’ denotes the ‘palm of the hands’, thus the picture is of a man holding out his hands for inspection – a man who, even in the face of examination, is found free from defilement. The Lord Jesus could say to His enemies, ‘Which of you convinceth me of sin?’ John 8. 46. Likewise Peter wrote of Him, ‘who did no sin’, 1 Pet. 2. 22. With David we should surely say, ‘I will wash mine hands in innocency: so will I compass thine altar, O Lord’, Ps. 26. 6.
The word ‘pure’ is used here in the sense of a ‘singleness’ of heart; a heart that in its devotion and affection for God is undivided. Christ could say, ‘thy law is within my heart’, 40. 8. God still desires ‘truth in the inward parts’, 51. 6.
Hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity
A mind that is not directed to what is false and worthless, but set upon that which is true and wholesome. The Lord could say, ‘I have set the Lord always before me’, 16. 8. The Colossians were exhorted, ‘seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth’, Col. 3. 1, 2.
Nor sworn deceitfully
As to conversation – honest and true. The Lord Jesus ‘did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth’, 1 Pet. 2. 22. Believers are exhorted to lay aside ‘all guile’ and to ‘speak no guile’, 2. 1; 3. 10.
Not only are these four things essential to be morally fit for the company of the Lord, they are equally essential to know the commendation of God, ‘He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation’, Ps. 24. 5. It is this man who will prosper, ‘receive the blessing’; it is this man who will be vindicated in the face of every charge and receive ‘righteousness from the God of his salvation’. So in verse 6, these moral qualities are seen to be characteristic of those who seek after God. The primary connection is that those who genuinely desire to seek His face will see to it that their lives are morally and spiritually acceptable to Him. The end of the verse is not without its difficulties, ‘that seek thy face, O Jacob’. J. N. Darby gives the translation, ‘that seek thy face in Jacob’. The key to its interpretation is found in observing that, in the verse, two different Hebrew words are translated ‘seek’. The first in ‘them that seek him’, denotes to, ‘tread or frequent a place’ and refers to those who habitually have recourse to God and are well acquainted with Him. Is this a reference to Israel in the millennium? The second word in ‘that seek thy face O Jacob’, means, ‘to seek with a desire to obtain’. Is this a reference to Gentiles in the millennium, when ten men shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew saying, ‘We will go with you’, Zech. 8. 23? But why ‘Jacob’ and not ‘Israel’? In the millennial period, instead of the proud arrogant spirit that marked them when the Lord first came, they will be conscious that once they partook of the character of ‘Jacob’, but grace has been extended to them, a nation of humble spirit. Drawing out some practical lessons – do we habitually resort to God as those who are well acquainted with Him? Are we of such a character that others are likely to want to go with us?
The Lord the great conqueror, vv. 7-10
In verses 7 to 10, the coronation procession arrives at the gates of Zion and the command goes forth to, ‘lift up the gates’. The gates embrace three parts. Two main gates that were swung open each morning and closed each night for the daily business of the city. Above this, and stretching across the whole width, there would be a ‘portcullis’ which was raised when a dignitary visited. This is the idea here – the call declaring the personal right of this One to enter, for He is the King of glory. From within the city the cry goes forth, ‘Who is this King of glory?’ v. 8. The answer focuses attention upon His triumph, ‘The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle’. The campaign of Armageddon is past and He comes as the mighty victor. Again the command goes forth, ‘Lift up your heads, O ye gates . . . and the King of glory shall come in’, followed once more by the enquiry, ‘Who is this King of glory?’ vv. 9, 10. Now the focus is not upon His triumph but upon His Person, ‘The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory’. But for whom are those gates to be lifted up? For the very same One who once ‘suffered without the gate’, Heb. 13. 12. Well might the Psalm end ‘Selah’!