Title. A Psalm of David. From the title we learn nothing but the authorship: but this is interesting and leads us to observe the wondrous operations of the Spirit upon the mind of Israel’s sweet singer, enabling him to touch the mournful string in Psalm twenty-two, to pour forth gentle notes of peace in Psalm twenty-three, and here to utter majestic and triumphant strains. We can do or sing all things when the Lord strengtheneth us.
This sacred hymn was probably written to be sung when the ark of the covenant was taken up from the house of Obed-edom, to remain within curtains upon the hill of Zion. The words are not unsuitable for the sacred dance of joy in which David led the way upon that joyful occasion. The eye of the psalmist looked, however, beyond the typical up going of the ark to the sublime ascension of the King of glory. We will call it The Song of the Ascension.
Division. The Psalm makes a pair with the Psalms 15:1-5. It consists of three parts. The first glorifies the true God, and sings of his universal dominion; the second describes the true Israel, who are able to commune with him; and the third pictures the ascent of the true Redeemer, who has opened heaven’s gates for the entrance of his elect.
The Treasury of David.
Ver. 3-6. Here we have the true Israel described. The men who shall stand as courtiers in the palace of the living God are not distinguished by race, but by character; they are not Jews only, nor Gentiles only, nor any one branch of mankind peculiarly, but a people purified and made meet to dwell in the holy hill of the Lord.
Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? It is uphill work for the creature to reach the Creator. Where is the mighty climber who can scale the towering heights? Nor is it height alone; it is glory too. Whose eye shall see the King in his beauty and dwell in his palace? In heaven he reigns most gloriously, who shall be permitted to enter into his royal presence? God has made all, but he will not save all; there is a chosen company who shall have the singular honour of dwelling with him in his high abode. These choice spirits desire to commune with God, and their wish shall be granted them. The solemn enquiry of the text is repeated in another form. Who shall be able to stand or continue there? He casteth away the wicked, who then can abide in his house? Who is he that can gaze upon the Holy One, and can abide in the blaze of his glory? Certainly none may venture to commune with God upon the footing of the law, but grace can make us meet to behold the vision of the divine presence. The question before us is one which all should ask for themselves, and none should be at ease till they have received an answer of peace. With careful self examination let us enquire, “Lord, is it I.”
Who shall ascend? Indeed, if none must ascend but he that is clean and pure, and without vanity and deceit, the question is quickly answered, None shall, for there is none so: dust is our matter, so not clean; defiled is our nature, so not pure; lighter, the heaviest of us, than vanity, and deceitful upon the balance the best of us; so no ascending so high for any of us. Yet there is One we hear of, or might have heard of today, that rose and ascended up on high, was thus qualified as the psalmist speaks of, all clean and pure, no chaff at all, no guile found in his mouth. 1 Peter 2:22. Yes, but it was but One that was so; what’s that to all the rest? Yes, somewhat it is. He was our Head, and if the Head be once risen and ascended, the members will all follow after in their time.—Mark Frank.
The hill of the Lord, can be no other than a hill of glory. His holy place is no less than the very place and seat of glory. And being such, you cannot imagine it but hard to come by, the very petty glories of the world are so. This is a hill of glory, hard to climb, difficult to ascend, craggy to pass up, steep to clamber, no plain campagnia to it, the broad easy way leads some whither else (Matthew 7:13); the way to this is narrow (Matthew 7:14); ’tis rough and troublesome. To be of the number of Christ’s true faithful servants is no slight work; it is a fight, it is a race, it is a continual warfare; fastings and watchings, and cold and nakedness, and hunger and thirst, bonds, imprisonments, dangers and distresses, ignominy and reproach, afflictions and persecutions, the world’s hatred and our friend’s neglect, all that we call hard or difficult is to be found in the way we are to go. A man cannot leave a lust, shake off bad company, quit a course of sin, enter upon a way of virtue, profess his religion, or stand to it, cannot ascend the spiritual hill, but he will meet some or other of these to contest and strive with. But not only to ascend, but to stand there, as the word signifies; to continue at so high a pitch, to be constant in truth and piety, that will be hard indeed, and bring more difficulties to contest with. Mark Frank.
Ver. 3-4. The Psalm begins with a solicitous enquiry, subjoins a satisfactory answer, and closes with a most pertinent but rapturous apostrophe. This is the enquiry, Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? This is the answer, “He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart;” “he shall” “receive the blessing” of plenary remission from the Lord, and righteousness also from the God of his salvation: even that perfect righteousness which is not acquired by man, but bestowed by Jehovah; which is not performed by the saint, but received by the sinner; which is the only solid basis to support our hopes of happiness, the only valid plea for an admission into the mansions of joy. Then follows the apostrophe: the prophet foresees the ascension of Christ and his saints into the kingdom of heaven. He sees his Lord marching at the head of the redeemed world, and conducting them into regions of honour and joy. Suitably to such a view, and in a most beautiful strain of poetry, he addresses himself to the heavenly portals. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory, with all the heirs of his grace and righteousness, shall make their triumphant entry; shall enter in, and go out no more. James Hervey.
Ver. 3-4. It is not he who sings so well or so many Psalms, nor he who fasts or watches so many days, nor he who divides his own among the poor, nor he who preaches to others, nor he who lives quietly, kindly, and friendly; nor, in fine, is it he who knows all sciences and languages, nor he who works all virtuous and all good works that ever any man spoke or read of, but it is he alone, who is pure within and without.—Martin Luther.
The all important question.
The Treasury of David.
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