Howard Wallace's home page


YEAR B: PENTECOST 7
July 15, 2012
Psalm 24

Psalm 24 has three clear sections: vv. 1-2, a hymn of praise to the creator; vv. 3-6 which answers questions about who may ascend the mountain of the Lord; and vv. 7-10 which seems to be an entrance liturgy for the Lord. The sharp differences between these sections give the impression that the psalm has been stitched together from separate compositions. However, there are links which reveal a unity beyond matters of genre or style.

A suggested liturgical structure, especially in vv. 7-10, hints at a possible cultic context for the psalm – possibly some festival, or a dedication ceremony or even a reenactment of the entry of the Lord into his temple. The connection of the psalm with David in the superscription naturally suggests a connection with the entry of the ark of God into Jerusalem, recorded in 2 Sam 6:16-19, today’s Old Testament reading. However, this connection is not firm as there is no direct reference to the ark in Psalm 24.

The psalm begins proclaiming the Lord?as creator and sovereign of the world and all its peoples (vv. 1-2). The reference to the seas and rivers (v. 2) could come from an old creation myth featuring the Lord?battling against the sea monster (cf. Job 26.10-13; Pss. 74.12-17).

In vv. 3-6 the psalm turns in another direction. It asks the question who can ascend the mountain of the Lord? There follows a response (vv. 4-5) and an affirmation (v. 6). Compare also Psalm 15 and Isa 33:14b-16. This is not just as a concern for individual morals and righteous behaviour. In the ancient world of Israel, order in moral and religious matters was a reflection of creation’s order, of a victory over chaos in all forms. Only four things are required of the one who would ascend – clean hands, a pure heart, not committing their life to what is false, and not swearing deceitfully. The first two deal with activity and thought/intention while the second two raise the general question of commitment and allegiance. Swearing deceitfully could imply making a false statement but it is likely combined with false proclamations of allegiance (cf. Jer 5:2). Ps 24:4b recalls Ps. 1.1. The whole of life is covered in this brief statement in Psalm 24. Instead of this person ‘lifting up’ their life (‘soul’) to what is false, they will ‘lift up’ a blessing and righteousness from the Lord (v. 5). The qualities they exhibit are also those of the Lord. Who fits this description is left unstated. But in Ps 24:6 the application is widened to all those who seek the Lord.

Although vv. 3-6 seem quite unrelated to vv. 1-2, an awareness of the mythic background to the psalm helps show how they fit together. In the myth of Baal and the sea god Yam, Baal defeats Yam in battle, then processes to his mountain abode to take his throne. In Psalm 24 victory over the Sea/Rivers in vv. 1-2 leads not to the divine warrior’s procession to the temple but to the question of who can ascend with him. The natural ‘mythic’ answer to the question would be the Lord himself but that is not how vv. 4-6 unfold. The question is answered in terms of who is the loyal worshiper who can accompany the divine king in the approach to his temple. This implies that the qualities of the divine king and creator need to be echoed in the worshiper. Adherence to the law as a way of life is how this person echoes the life of their lord and is a means of praise of the creator. The one who celebrates the kingship of the Lord is also the one in whose life the Lord’s kingship is manifest.

The psalm takes another turn in vv. 7-10. Theses verses suggest a liturgy of procession into the temple or city. They fall into two parts. After identical commands to the personified gates and doors to ‘lift their heads’ that the ‘king of glory’ may enter, a question comes back: ‘who is this king of glory?’ The response follows. The same pattern is present in each part. The Hebrew of the questions indicates that a challenge is implied. Who dares call himself the ‘king of glory’ and demand entry? The language emphasizes that identity must be established. The title ‘king of glory’ is appropriate as it is a generic title meaning a king worthy of glory and occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament.

The twofold response to the questions reveals first the Lord as warrior, which spells out the creation aspect, and then as ‘the Lord of Hosts’, possibly a throne name of the Lord (cf. Isa  6:5 etc.) with the ‘Hosts’ being the heavenly beings surrounding the Lord. This could be another link with the ark of the covenant with its symbolic cherubim (Exod 25:18-20), and hence with 2 Sam 6:12-19. The personified gates and doors of the temple/city are thus called to lift up their heads and stand proud and confident as the Lord of Hosts enters his domain, even as in vv. 3-6 the faithful ‘lift up’ the blessing that flows from innocent hands and pure heart in echo of the King of Glory.

Psalm 24 stresses unambiguously who possesses the earth: the Lord. It calls for that to be recognized liturgically. It also calls for that to be recognized and celebrated in the life of all in the company who seek the Lord?and would ascend the mountain of the Lord. Psalm 24 gives the theological foundation for the trust expressed in Psalm 23 calling the faithful to respond in obedience. Together these psalms speak of a mutual relationship of care and concern between the worshiper and the Lord.

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship:

The psalm naturally lends itself to some form of procession. Verses 9-10 could be used as a call to worship at the start of the service as the Bible and leaders process or, if there is to be Communion or the Eucharist as the last part of the service, before the processing of the communion elements.

Let us worship God.
    Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
    The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory.
Old Testament reading: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

Return to OT Lectionary Reading