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Who Can Dwell With God? Musings on Psalm 15

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Oh how we all love the Psalms! Their comforting words have taken us all through lonely nights and fearful experiences. They are where we often turn when in trouble, alone, or despondent. The Psalms have provided deep comfort and encouragement in our most trying times.

But there is one Psalm about which I have had ambivalent feeling. For at first read, it describes attributes up to which I grossly fail. Not the comforting words of Psalm 23, which clearly describe the shepherding hand of the Lord. But on closer inspection I see that the Psalm is not really about me at all. Let’s take a look at it.

Psalm 15 begins with a poignant question:

O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?”

David, the Psalmist, surely knew that to dwell in God’s presence required the attainment of perfection. He understood the various references in the law that spoke of God’s holiness and His expectations of holiness from those who would abide with Him. To be in His presence was nothing with which to trifle. Unquestionably he knew of the various passages in Exodus that spoke of God presence in the cloud and fire that led His chosen people out of Egypt, a presence on the mountain that evoked fear in His people, a presence in which He commanded that they build a tabernacle for Him to dwell. From these allusions, David surely knew that to dwell in God’s presence was a serious matter. He knew that Nadab and Abihu made a fatal error in underestimating God’s holiness when offering strange fire at the altar, and he knew of Korah’s rebellion that caused him an early death in the belly of the earth. Indeed, David was ostensibly keen about God’s holiness and man’s inability to stand before him without perfection.

Psalm 15 presents a conundrum. David tells of the man who can dwell in the holiness presence of the Lord. But what man passes the test? He must be a man of absolute integrity, filled with righteousness and truth, with no evil intent toward his neighbor, nor any reproach against his friend. He does not despise the reprobate, but rather honors those who fear the Lord, always keeping his word even if it is to his own hurt. He is one who never takes advantage of those in need. The reality is that there are none of us who pass this test. What, then, was David intent in writing this Psalm?

It seems that David is unwittingly (by the inspiration of the Spirit) writing the gospel. By the description of character qualities mentioned, we are found in want. Though the name of Christ is not mentioned, our knowledge of Jesus makes us see that David reveals Him as the only one who qualifies. Only Jesus Christ lives up to the description. Only He meets the holy standards required to dwell in God’s presence.

But what about us? How does the Psalm apply to us? Isaiah 57:15 gives us a clue:       

                “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: 'I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.'”

The humble and contrite are those who can abide with God—vicariously! “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). As it is only Jesus who meets the qualifications described in Psalm 15, so it is that He alone can merit a right standing before the Lord. God has graciously imputed that merit to those people who by the humility and contrition He gives abide with Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). The result is that these character descriptions are ever increasing in those who look to Christ in the gospel for them. The throne of God’s holiness is now His throne of grace, a place of plenteous mercy and help to those who by confident faith approach Him (Hebrews 4:16). God will “revive the spirit of the lowly . . . and the heart of the contrite.”

While God’s presence is one of overwhelming holiness and glory, it is a place of fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11)! God’s greatest gift is Himself, where fitted to dwell with Him, we enjoy Him forever. In the now, we reflect upon that grace and are being conformed to the image of the One who qualifies us to abide with Him—an image described in Psalm 15. Psalm 15 at once becomes a comfort, an encouragement. Though I cannot perfectly live up to its standards, my Savior has. And because He has, I can, through him, both live joyfully in God’s presence, and there find help to live rightly before Him.



Posted on June 13, 2011