Psalm 24 – Who Shall Ascend the Hill of the Lord?
SummaryThe psalm provides a liturgy for those entering the temple sanctuary for worship.
The question and answer form of Psalm 24 seems to reflect its responsive use in worship. Along with Psalm 15, it contains a liturgical dialogue, perhaps sung at the sanctuary gate, to announce the requirements of entry (see 15:1-5).
The liturgy begins with a brief hymn of praise (vv. 1-2) that proclaims the sovereign rule of God. All the earth belongs to God, because God made it and maintains it.
A representative of the people asks the question about qualifications for entrance: "Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?" (v. 3). On the one hand, the temple is meant as a "house of prayer for all peoples" (Isaiah 56:7); on the other hand, those who enter are expected to come with dedication and faith, not haphazardly.
Someone, probably a priest, describes the qualifications: "Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully" (v. 4). Clean hands and pure hearts encompass both life and faith, behavior and intention. This is shown by obedience to the commandments, which are summarized by reference to not taking the Lord's name in vain (the grammar is similar to that in v. 4b) and not bearing false witness (v. 4c). Psalm 15 responds similarly, ticking off other examples of God's commands (15:2-5). The point is hardly to limit the interest to these particular commands, but to indicate obedience to all God's law.
But then can anyone enter? Are any blameless (15:2) or clean and pure (24:4)? The psalmists know that "no one living is righteous" (143:2), so this is not a claim that some are or can be sinless. Still, it is a call for a commitment to God and the commandments, a kind of pledge of allegiance to God's covenant with Israel. People come not accidentally but with the hope and intention to "seek the face of the God of Jacob" (v. 6).
The procession enters with responsive song (vv. 7-10). Worshipers call for the gates to open as God enters with the people. God is not confined to the temple, but has been with the people along the way. God's entry would have been symbolized by carrying in the ark of the covenant. Here comes God, the Lord of hosts, the King of glory! Readers can imagine the grand pageantry of this ceremony.