Treasury of David
SUBJECT, etc. This Psalm of David bears no dedicatory title at all indicative of the occasion upon which it was written; but it is exceedingly probable that, together with the twenty-fourth Psalm, to which it bears a striking resemblance, its composition was in some way connected with the removal of the ark to the holy hill of Zion. Who should attend upon the ark was a matter of no small consequence, for because unauthorized people had intruded into the office, David was unable on the first occasion to complete his purpose of bringing the ark to Zion. On the second attempt he is more careful, not only to allot the work of carrying the ark to the divinely appointed Levites (1 Chronicles 15:2), but also to leave it in charge of the man whose house the Lord had blessed, even Obed-edom, who, with his many sons, ministered in the house of the Lord. (1 Chronicles 26:8, 12.)
Spiritually we have here a description of the man who is a child at home in the Church of God on earth, and who will dwell in the house of the Lord forever above. He is primarily Jesus, the perfect man, and in him all who through grace are conformed to his image.
DIVISION. The first verse asks the question;
the rest of the verses answer it.
We will call the Psalm THE QUESTION AND ANSWER.
Verse 1. LORD, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill?
THE QUESTION. Jehovah. You high and holy One, who shall be permitted to have fellowship with you? The heavens are not pure in your sight, and you charge your angels with folly, who then of mortal mold shall dwell with you, you dread consuming fire? A sense of the glory of the Lord and of the holiness which befits his house, his service, and his attendants, excites the humble mind to ask the solemn question before us. Where angels bow with veiled faces—how shall man be able to worship at all?
The unthinking many imagine it to be a very easy matter to approach the Most High, and when professedly engaged in his worship they have no questionings of heart as to their fitness for it; but truly humbled souls often shrink under a sense of utter unworthiness, and would not dare to approach the throne of the God of holiness if it were not for him, our Lord, our Advocate, who can abide in the heavenly temple, because his righteousness endures forever.
"Who shall abide in your tabernacle?" Who shall be admitted to be one of the household of God, to sojourn under his roof and enjoy communion with himself?
"Who shall dwell in your holy hill?" Who shall be a citizen of Zion, and an inhabitant of the heavenly Jerusalem? The question is raised, because it is a question. All men have not this privilege, nay, even among professors there are aliens from the commonwealth, who have no secret fellowship with God. On the grounds of law no mere man can dwell with God, for there is not one upon earth who answers to the just requirements mentioned in the succeeding verses. The questions in the text are asked of the Lord, as if none but the Infinite Mind could answer them so as to satisfy the unquiet conscience.
We must know from the Lord of the tabernacle what are the qualifications for his service, and when we have been taught of him, we shall clearly see that only our spotless Lord Jesus, and those who are conformed unto his image, can ever stand with acceptance before the Majesty on high.
Impertinent curiosity frequently desires to know who and how many shall be saved. If those who thus ask the question, "Who shall dwell in your holy hill?" would make it a soul-searching inquiry in reference to themselves they would act much more wisely.
Members of the visible church, which is God's tabernacle of worship, and hill of eminence, should diligently see to it, that they have the preparation of heart which fits them to be inhabitants of the house of God. Without the wedding-dress of righteousness in Christ Jesus, we have no right to sit at the banquet of communion. Without uprightness of walk we are not fit for the imperfect church on earth, and certainly we must not hope to enter the perfect church above.
Verse 2. He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart.
THE ANSWER. The Lord in answer to the question informs us by his Holy Spirit of the character of the man who alone can dwell in his holy hill. In perfection this holiness is found only in the Man of Sorrows, but in a measure it is wrought in all his people by the Holy Spirit. Faith and the graces of the Spirit are not mentioned, because this is a description of outward character, and where fruits are found the root may not be seen, but it is surely there. Observe the accepted man's walk, work, and word:
"He who WALKS uprightly," he keeps himself erect as those do who traverse high ropes; if they lean on one side over they must go, or as those who carry precious but fragile ware in baskets on their heads, who lose all if they lose their perpendicular.
True believers do not cringe as flatterers, wriggle as serpents, bend double as earth-grubbers, or crook on one side as those who have sinister aims; they have the strong backbone of the vital principle of grace within, and being themselves upright, they are able to walk uprightly. Walking is of far more importance than talking. He only is right, who is upright in walk, and downright in honesty.
"And WORKS righteousness." His faith shows itself by good works, and therefore is no dead faith. God's house is a hive for workers, not a nest for drones. Those who rejoice that everything is done for them by another, even the Lord Jesus, and therefore hate legality, are the best doers in the world upon gospel principles. If we are not positively serving the Lord, and doing his holy will to the best of our power, we may seriously debate our interest in divine things, for trees which bear no fruit must be hewn down and cast into the fire.
"And SPEAKS the truth in his heart." The fool in the last psalm spoke falsely in his heart; observe both here and elsewhere in the two psalms, the striking contrast. Saints not only desire to love and speak truth with their lips, but they seek to be true within. They will not lie even in the closet of their hearts, for God is there to listen. They scorn double meanings, evasions, equivocations, white lies, flatteries, and deceptions.
Though truths, like roses, have thorns about them—godly men wear them in their bosoms. Our heart must be the sanctuary and refuge of truth, should it be banished from all the world beside, and hunted from among men; at all risk we must entertain the angel of truth, for truth is God's daughter.
We must be careful that the heart is really fixed and settled in principle, for tenderness of conscience toward truthfulness, like the bloom on a peach—needs gentle handling, and once lost it were hard to regain it. Jesus was the mirror of sincerity and holiness. Oh, to be more and more fashioned after his similitude!
Verse 3. After the positive comes the negative. "He who does not backbite with his tongue." There is a sinful way of backbiting with the heart when we think too harshly of a neighbor; but it is the tongue which does the mischief. Some men bite more with their tongues, than with their teeth. The tongue is not steel, but it cuts, and it's wounds are very hard to heal. Its worst wounds are not to our face, but to our back when our head is turned. Under the law, a night hawk was an unclean bird, and its human image is abominable everywhere. All slanderers are the devil's bellows to blow up contention.
"Nor does evil to his neighbor." He who bridles his tongue will not give a licence to his hand. Loving our neighbor as ourselves will make us jealous of his good name, careful not to injure his estate, or by ill example to corrupt his character.
"Nor spread rumors about their neighbors." He is a fool if not a knave who picks up stolen goods and harbors them. In slander as well as robbery, the receiver is as bad as the thief. If there were not gratified hearers of slanders, there would be an end of the trade of spreading them. Trapp says, that "the tale-bearer carries the devil in his tongue, and the tale-hearer carries the devil in his ear!"
The original may be translated, "endures;" implying that it is a sin to endure or tolerate tale-bearers.
"Show that man out!" we would say of a drunkard—yet it is very questionable if his unmanly behavior will do us so much mischief as the tale-bearers insinuating story.
"Call for a policeman!" we say if we see a thief at his business; ought we to feel no indignation when we hear a gossip at her work?
"Mad dog! Mad dog!!" is a terrible hue and cry, but there are few curs whose bite is so dangerous as a busybody's tongue.
"Fire! fire!!" is an alarming note, but the tale-bearer's tongue is set on fire by Hell, and those who indulge it had better mend their manners, or they may find that there is fire in Hell for unbridled tongues.
Our Lord spoke evil of no man, but breathed a prayer for his foes; we must be like him, or we shall never be with him.
Verse 4. "In whose eyes a vile person is despised; but he honors those who fear the Lord." We must be as honest in paying respect, as in paying our bills. Honor to whom honor is due. To all godly men we owe a debt of honor, and we have no right to hand over what is their due to vile people who happen to be in high places.
When base men are in office, it is our duty to respect the office; but we cannot so violate our consciences as to do otherwise than despise the men. On the other hand, when true saints are in poverty and distress, we must sympathize with their afflictions and honor the men none the less. We may honor the roughest cabinet for the sake of the jewels, but we must not prize false gems because of their setting. A sinner in a gold chain and silken robes, is no more to be compared with a saint in rags; than the light in a silver candlestick can be compared with the sun behind a cloud. The proverb says, that "ugly women, finely dressed, are the uglier for it," and so base men in high estate are the more base because of it.
"He who swears to his own hurt, and changes not."
Scriptural saints under the New Testament rule "swear not at all," but their word is as good as an oath. Those men of God who think it right to swear, are careful and prayerful lest they should even seem to overshoot the mark. When engagements have been entered into which turn out to be unprofitable, "the saints are men of honor still."
Our blessed Surety swore to his own hurt, but how gloriously he stood to his suretyship! what a comfort to us that he changes not, and what an example to us to be scrupulously and precisely exact in fulfilling our covenants with others! The most far-seeing trader may enter into engagements which turn out to be serious losses—but whatever else he loses, if he keeps his honor, his losses will be bearable; if that be lost, then all is lost.
Verse 5. "He who puts not out his money to usury." Usury was and is hateful both to God and man. That a lender should share with the borrower in gains made by his money is most fitting and proper; but that the man of property should eat up the poor wretch who unfortunately obtained a loan from him is abominable. Those who grind poor tradesmen, needy widows, and such like, by charging them interest at intolerable rates, will find that their gold, and their silver are cankered. The man who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord, must shake off this sin as Paul shook the viper into the fire.
"Nor takes a bribe against the innocent." Bribery is a sin both in the giver and the receiver. It was frequently practiced in Eastern courts of justice; that form of it is now under our excellent judges almost an unheard-of thing. Yet the sin survives in various forms, which the reader needs not that we should mention; and under every shape it is loathsome to the true man of God. He remembers that Jesus instead of taking reward against the innocent, died for the guilty.
"He who does these things shall never be moved." No storm shall tear him from his foundations, drag him from his anchorage, or uproot him from his place. Like the Lord Jesus, whose dominion is everlasting, the true Christian shall never lose his crown. He shall not only be on Zion, but like Zion, be fixed and firm. He shall dwell in the tabernacle of the Most High, and neither death nor judgment shall remove him from his place of privilege and blessedness.