Lift Up Your Heads: Psalm 24
The psalter contains all of human experience. In Psalm 22 we saw faith in agony and conflict. In Psalm 23, we saw pastoral peace and trust. Here we see the majesty of triumph.
1 The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. 2For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods. 3Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? 4He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. 5He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. 6This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah. 7Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. 8Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. 9Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. 10Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah (Psalm 24: 1-10).
The psalm divides readily into three sections. The first concerns God’s relation to the world by virtue of creation (vv. 1-2). The second addresses the perennial question of whether there is any possibility of fellowship between a holy God and unholy men (vv. 3-6). The last section is the triumphal entry of Christ into heaven (vv. 7-10). In the first portion, we learn that the earth is the Lord’s and that the earth is good (vv. 1-2). But evil has entered the world, and so a question arises. Who among men may approach God in worship (v. 3)? The answer is four-fold: the one with clean hands, a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to vanity, or sworn deceitfully (v. 4). This is the one who will receive blessing and salvation (v. 5). This is the generations of seekers (v. 6). But of course, there is no one like this. This is why the psalm concludes with a hymn of triumph to the Lord of salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ (vv. 7-10). Who shall enter the gates at the top of the hill of the Lord? The Lord Jesus and all who are in Him.
THE EARTH IS THE LORD’s
In the first section, we realize that God has the authority to determine the conditions of all things. He has this right because He spoke the world into existence, and all its fullness. The world is God’s, and its fullness. The world is His, along with everyone who lives there. Why is this? Because He founded it, He created it. The world is His, and the abundance of the world is also His. The rights of the Creator over the creation are necessarily absolute.
But God is good, and His creation reflects that goodness. This is how St. Paul argues from this psalm. The Lord’s authority over his created order is absolute in the midst of paganism. . “Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: For the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof” (1 Cor. 10: 25-28). This makes wonderful sense to us—until we think about modern examples. Then we freak out.
WHO SHALL ASCEND?
This passage makes several things extraordinarily clear. No man is ever saved by his holiness (because no man has it), and no man is ever saved without holiness—because no one is saved without Christ, and Christ is holy. Notice first that those who are described here—a generation of seekers (v. 6), or one who receives a blessing and righteousness (v. 5) from the God is his salvation—are in complete need of the grace of God. They are not holy in themselves. But you cannot be saved from unholiness without being brought into holiness, any more than a man could be saved from drowning and stay on the bottom of the pool. Who may approach God? Who will stand in the holy place? Who will ascend the hill of the Lord? Without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). There are four characteristics here—one who has 1. clean hands 2. pure heart 3. a soul not lifted up to vanity, and 4. who has avoided deceitful swearing. Only one fulfills this completely. And because He has ascended that holy hill, so may we.
LIFT UP YOUR HEADS, YE GATES
The image is probably one of gates that have some sort of portcullis, where opening is synonomous with “raising the head.” The herald stationed at the gate twice asks who approaches (“Who is this King of glory?”), and is twice told that he is the Lord strong and mighty, mighty in battle, the Lord of hosts, the King of glory.
When the Lord Jesus was born, the celestial hosts could not contain themselves. When he was a baby, lying in a feed box, the night sky filled with exultant angels. Now imagine the scene after the triumph was won. Imagine the gates of heaven, the walls thronged with galaxies of angels, when the greater David rode up to the gates, with the head of Goliath of Gath in His hand. Is there occasion for exultation now?
SHORT CATECHISM FOR LITTLE SAINTS
When Jesus returned to heaven, the glory was overwhelming.
Who is your shepherd?
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
Who may stand before God?
Only Jesus, and all who are in Him.