Psalm 24 - The King Comes Home - Page #2 (series: Lessons on Psalms)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Answering soloist
4 He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.

From within the sanctuary, a voice chants the answer and states the requirements of the true worshipper. We note that the requirements are not: (a) “Have you kept the Law?”, or (b) “Have you performed the required sacrifices?” The qualifications have to do with a persons will. He must not desire to possess anything which God hates or calls evil. When he takes an oath he must swear in sincerity with no deceit in his heart—he must have clean hands and a pure heart—The hands are stained by such sins as murder, theft, taking a bribe, greed for personal gain; the heart is made impure by evil thoughts (Matt. 15:19{13]). If the only ones who are going to ascend into the hill of the Lord are those who have “clean hands and a pure heart, and those who have not “lifted up” their souls “unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully,” I guess I won’t be there. That leaves me out. But I AM going to be there, because I am going to be there in Christ. He has undertaken to present me before the throne of grace in His present priestly office because I have trusted Him as my Savior. I read of an ancient inscription on the walls of a tomb from the Old Kingdom of Egypt: “He who enters here must be pure, and he must purify himself as one purifies himself for the temple of the great God.”

The Levites carrying the ark had to be ceremonially clean, and God’s people must be clean if they wish to worship the King and please Him. “Clean hands” speak of righteous conduct (Isa. 1:15-16, 18{9]), and a “pure heart” of godly character and motives (Matt. 5:8{10]). “Vanity” refers to the worship of idols (worthless things”) and “swearing deceitfully” to all kinds of deception, especially false witness in court.

It might seem that these people qualify for the kingdom due to their good character but this is not the case. Their character is the result of their new birth from above, for unless a man is born again, he can neither see nor enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3, 5{14]). These people, then, are the noble saints who have come through the Great Tribulation and have made their robes white in the blood of the Lamb.

Chorus and Solo Voices
5 He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.

Of course, the qualifications announced in verse 4 are not the description of a believer. All they point to is that the intending worshipper should want to come in, even though he undoubtedly remained a sinner. But back a thousand years earlier, that is all this God of Jacob ever asked of Jacob, not perfection of life, but just sincerity of purpose. That is sufficient for God to grant a person his blessing. The blessing is the gift of salvation, the righteousness of God (Ge. 15:6{11]). However, nobody on God’s earth is able to meet these standards (v. 4). “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Good works and religious character cannot save us. The only way we can enter into God’s presence is through the merits of Jesus Christ, which means that we must repent of our sins and put our faith in Him.

6 This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah.

The procession has accepted the priestly challenge (v. 4), and verses 5 and 6 describe the blessing given those who meet the requirements—they enter, and as they move into the inner court, the priests pronounce a blessing upon the entering worshippers, who have come to the sanctuary where the Lord, Jacob’s (Israel’s) God, dwells.

To “seek God’s face” means to have an audience with the King (Ge. 44:23{12]), and this is now possible through the work of Christ on the cross (Heb. 10:1-25). God’s righteousness is a gift, not a reward for good works (Rom. 3:23-4:9).

“Them that seek Him” is a designation that may also be applied to the citizens of the Millennium—people who have received grace from the God who loves the unworthy.

Now picture this procession as it enters the sanctuary singing:

7 Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.

Then comes the most exalted and colorful part of the psalm, which glorifies the Lord as “King of glory” and “is a strain from primitive times in Israel.” It represents vividly a greatly beloved ritual that had its distinctive place in ceremonies connected with the annual enthronement of the Lord at the Hebrew New year. The ark was taken from the holiest place to the foot of Mount Zion, where the procession formed. It was the most sacred symbol of the presence of the Lord, the throne of the invisible King. The ark was the glory of Israel (1 Sam. 4:21-22{2]). The King of glory was the Lord, Israel’s spiritual Monarch, enthroned above the cherubim (Ps. 80:1{3]).The ceremony which was about to be enacted was one such as was performed as an integral part of many festivals in ancient Babylon, the ceremony of the opening of the gate by which entrance into the Temple was granted to the people. We may be confident that the same was true for Israel (Ps. 100:4{4]). The prototype of this procession with the ark may be seen in 2 Samuel 6:12-17{18], and especially in 1 Kings 8:1-7 (Also see Josh. 3:14).

The ark was carried by the priests, and the worshipping throngs follow in a joyful mood and festive spirit, for in such a ceremony, as was the case in ancient Babylon, the populace participates with tremendous enthusiasm. The procession reaches the ancient Temple gates, on which are present the marks of the centuries since the days of Solomon. The throngs of worshippers who are seeking entrance call out their appeal to the gates. The gates, as in Isaiah 14:31{15] are addressed. They must lift their heads high because “the high and lofty One . . . whose name is holy” (Isa. 51:15), and whose “glorious throne was set on high from the beginning” (Jer. 17:12), is about to enter! These are bold personifications indicating that the city gates needed to stretch themselves to make way for the awesome entrance of the great King. By doing so, they too participate in worshipping Him. Yet the Great King is represented only by that little six-foot box which was known as the Ark of the Covenant. Yet that little Ark was sufficient for God’s purposes. For the whole gracious plan of the King of glory was represented in what that box stood for, just as, in later years, that same gracious plan was made known in full to the whole world in the person or the Son of God.

The administration of an ancient city was transacted at the city gates, so the gates were to those people what the city hall is to citizens in the western world today. David was commanding the whole city to welcome the Lord and give honor to Him.

There is a pause; then from within the temple booms the sound of the priestly choir:

8a Who is this King of glory?

And the throng without, with exultant enthusiasm, thunder forth the answer:

8b The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.

Then again there is a pause, and in a moment the appeal is renewed by the seeking pilgrims:

9 Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.

“Lift up your heads, O ye gates” may refer to the lintels (archways) above the gates which is too low to receive the “high and exalted One” who is about to pass through them, or that the gates built by the hands of men are not adequate to admit the mighty God. “Everlasting doors” implies that the Temple and its gates have stood unharmed for a long period of time.

The challenge comes once again from the priestly choir within:

10a Who is this King of glory?

When the response comes, the ancient name of God, already current in Judah at least as early as the eighth-century b.c. (Isa. 6:3{16]), is thundered out by the entrance-seeking throng. It is a strain out of Israel’s ancient militant faith:

10b The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah.

And at the first mention of this distinctive name of Israel’s God the Temple gates swing open, and the worshippers enter, led by the sacred symbol of His presence.

I think this passage illustrates two events. First of all, this is a picture of when the Lord returned to heaven. It is also a picture of Him coming to earth again. “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in” (v. 9). Who is He? The world does not know, but this psalm gives us the answer. The King of glory is “The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle” (v. 8b). Then the gates are told to open up so that the King of glory might enter in. Well, He is not “in” today. The world has rejected Him. “Who is this King of glory? (v. 10a). He is the Lord of hosts, He is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is King of kings and Lord of lords. And He is the King of glory, and the “hosts” are the armies both of Israel and of the heavenly beings. The psalmist writes “Selah” at the conclusion—that is, think on this for a little while. This will bless your heart, my friend.

As children of God, we belong to three worlds: the world of creation around us, the world of new creation within us (2 Co. 5:17{16]), and “the world to come” of the wonderful final creation that will be our home for eternity (Rev. 21-22). It would be a good experience in our understanding of the grace of God if we were to portray these ancient words outside the closed doors of our own local church. In doing so, moreover, we would be reminding ourselves that this psalm also points forward to the time when the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem, to use the picture language of the Book of Revelation, will be thrown open in eternity and the whole world of men, women and children alike will be invited to enter in.

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