Psalm 24, when it was explained to me in seminary, opened my eyes to what a Psalm might be, and what Scripture is about. Throngs of Israelites made long, arduous pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the high, holy festivals. When the time came for worship, crowds assembled outside the temple, pulsating with anticipation, the mood excited, hopeful, reverent and vital.
Psalm 24 was, clearly, a liturgy, a litany, an order of service for precisely this moment. The choir and people sing “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof” (or, as the NIV renders is, “and everything in it”). A hymn to open worship! Fascinating: the Hebrew word order puts “the Lord’s” first, emphasizing what it’s all about, why they are worshipping in the first place. What is “the Lord’s”? Everything, all that is good. What all “fills” the earth? How much time do you have? Annie Dillard’s is a marvelous book opening up to us what’s out there, how amazing it all is, and why God is to be even more glorified than we’d imagined.
If you read Psalm 24, you overhear a Q&A at the gates of the temple. “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?” The people inquire, but they know the reply to come from the priest peering from inside through the gates: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” I recall Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s worry that we rank our goodness above doing God’s will, which isn’t keeping out hand clean, but maybe getting them dirty for God’s cause.
But it’s an attempt to say I care about God, I wish to be holy. Those can worship! The Psalm phrases it, “He who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.” We bow down to false gods constantly, but at the door of the worship service, we shed all that and focus on the one true God, whom our hearts genuinely trust. It’s not about admission at the door. It’s about who seeks the blessing of the place. It’s granting God admission into your heart.
“Lift up your head, O you gates, and be lifted up, you ancient doors.” The crowd literally cries to the big iron gates of the temple to Open up! – so the King of glory may enter. What? In those days, they carried the ark of the covenant into the temple for worship. God is everywhere, but is especially present in that ark. Imagine the excitement!
The Q&A litany proceeds. “Who is this King of glory?” The people reply enthusiastically, “The Lord, strong and mighty, He is the King of glory!” Israelite worship is instructive. It wasn’t entertainment. How was the sermon? Ooohhh, the choir was good! The praise is all for the Lord. It’s not random or freeform, but ordered – yet enthusiastic, inspired, with volume and energy. The Psalms teach us to worship. It’s not evaluating what we’re watching, like a show on stage. We’re the ones on stage, praising, confessing, singing – and God is the audience, lapping it all up, grateful, admiring what we’re offering.← See All