<Of David. A Psalm.>
1 The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;
2 for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?
4 Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.
5 They will receive blessing from the LORD, and vindication from the God of their salvation.
6 Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah
7 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
8 Who is the King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah
This Psalm, which uses the language of the approach of the Creator to the creation and the approach of the faithful to the hill of the LORD where the worshipper and the worshipped one meet taps into the creation narrative and the wonder of Psalm 8 with the questioning nature of Psalm 15 about who may dwell in the LORD’s presence. Power and promise and presence all come together in the prose of this Psalm. We a poetically brought into the presence of the triumphal approach of the Creator’s return to the earth and the joyous reception of the faithful ones.
The Psalm begins with describing the approaching LORD not as an invader or alien to this world but instead as its founder, shaper, creator and rightful owner. In language, like Genesis 1, where the deep with its chaotic waters are moved over by the Spirit of God and the speaking of God pulls life and land out of the seas and rivers. God is the one who places limits upon the seas and the waters as the book of Job can poetically echo:
Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?—
when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped’? Job 38: 8-11
Once the Psalm had used the language of praise to testify to the immense power of the Creator whose dominion extends over all the earth and all its creatures it moves to the place where the creature can meet the Creator. The first two verses are pointing to the descent of the LORD to come to the world God created, but now the pivot turns to the worshipper ascending the hill of the LORD to the tabernacle or temple to participate in the celebration of the LORD’s advent. How does one prepare to receive the ultimate honored guest? As in Psalm 15 the preparation is not cultic but ethical. There are no rituals, no prescribed sacrifice but instead what is called for is a life that is ethically right. Clean hands and pure hearts and lives oriented toward God and not towards other gods and finally words spoken truthfully. Approaching the LORD in worship in the Psalm is connected to a life lived authentically. If anything is left on the altar to be sacrificed it is one’s life, as the apostle Paul can state in his letter to the Romans:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12: 1-2
Yet, if one is offering up to the LORD a life of clean hands, pure hearts, rightly oriented soul and truthful speech what one receives in return is a blessing and vindication. The Creator sees and honors the gift of the created one and as we heard in Psalm 23 provides for and grants the shelter of a shepherd and the protection of a host even amid conflict.
The Psalm concludes with the image of a King returning to their walled city in triumph as a metaphor to describe the advent of the LORD. The city itself is called to have courage that the long-awaited return of the king will occur. They are to prepare for this coming in hope and courage based on the identity of the one who is expected to return. This is the LORD, the creator, the divine warrior, the rock, the mighty one, the LORD of armies (literal rendering of the LORD of hosts), the LORD who could speak to seas and oceans and rivers and stop their advance. The praise echoes in the certainty of the LORD’s descent not only to the earth but specifically to meet the faithful ones in the holy city. Those with clean hands, pure hearts, rightly oriented souls and truthful tongues sing out in praise at the expected coming of the King of glory.