In this majestic psalm we move as if in procession with the King of Glory from the provinces of his realm to ‘the central height’ and the city at the summit. If a ceremonial occasion gave rise to the psalm, some would locate it in the supposed enthronement festival. Yet we need hardly look further than the escorting of the ark by David ‘with song and lyres and harps …’ from Kirjath-jearim to mount Zion (1 Chr. 13:8), which is certainly commemorated in Psalm 132, and for which Psalm 68 may also have been written.
Traditionally this is sung on Ascension Day, and has inspired some of the great hymns for that occasion. Delitzsch however has pointed out that the theme is better seen as that of Advent, the Victor’s arrival to possess the citadel he has conquered, just as David and the ark transformed the Jebusite stronghold into the hill and city of the Lord. The psalms cited in 1 Chronicles 16 as sung on that occasion (96 and parts of 105 and 106) have God’s final coming as their climax.
24:1, 2. The All-Creating
Characteristically, the first and emphatic Hebrew word is the Lord’s, in verse 1, and he in verse 2. To him as Creator and Sustainer (2), pictured as a city’s founder and establisher, belongs the earth in all its aspects: fruitful earth (1a), peopled earth (1b), solid earth (2). Fullness (translated in 98:7 as ‘all that fills it’) conjures up its wealth and fertility, seen here not as man’s, for exploitation, but, prior to that, as God’s, for his satisfaction and glory (cf. the same Heb. expression in Isa. 6:3). This view of it is not impoverishing but an enrichment: cf. 1 Corinthians 3:21b, 23, and (quoting our verse) 10:25f., 31.
1. The Psalms claim the peopled earth (1b) for God as Creator (2), King and Judge (e.g. Ps. 9:7f). The New Testament goes further still (John 3:16f.).
2. Upon could be translated ‘above’, as in 8:1 (Heb. 2), but the poetic image is of the solid earth rising out of the waters, and the allusion is to Genesis 1:9f.; cf. 2 Peter 3:5. RSV rightly has rivers rather than the older versions’ ‘floods’ or NEB ‘waters beneath’. To the Old Testament, ‘the foam of perilous seas’ tends to dominate such a scene, making the deep a reminder of formlessness (Gen. 1:2), menace (Ps. 46:5) and restlessness (Isa. 57:20). But (against heathen belief) ‘the sea is his’, as surely as ‘the dry land’. See also on 46:2–4; 74:13; 96:11.
24:3–6. The All-Holy
With this stanza compare Psalm 15, and the comments there. To ascend and stand presents a fine picture of worship, balancing the other main expression, to ‘bow down’. It is to make a deliberate quest (cf. Mark 9:2), to mount to a vantage-point (cf. Gen. 13:14ff.; 19:27f.), to converge on it with other seekers (Isa. 2:2f.), and finally to stand before the throne (Rev. 7:9).
4. On clean hands see Isaiah 1:15; 33:15; 1 Timothy 2:8. On a pure heart see on 17:15. The meaning of lift up his soul is illuminated by 25:1, where it is a parallel to ‘trust’. This false (i.e. empty) object of trust may be an inadequate helper (e.g. an idol, or ‘the help of man’, 60:11) or an unworthy stratagem such as the lies of 12:2 (Heb. 3), for which this word is also used. On swear deceitfully, see on 15:4c.
5. Vindication is lit. ‘righteousness’, and is here akin to justification, the judge’s pronouncement in favour of one’s claim or plea. Whatever is functioning as it should is ‘righteous’: in court, the man in the right; in character, the honest man; in the run of affairs, success. Probably all three are present in this context. This man has the smile of God upon him: he is accepted, he is helped to live an upright life, his affairs under God’s blessing will run as they should. See also on 23:3b; 65:5.
6. For the meaning of generation see on 12:7; and on seeking God’s face see on 11:7 and 17:15. Jacob, in the Hebrew text, stands alone (cf. AV), and makes little sense without the prefix, God of. Either this Hebrew word has dropped out in the copying, or possibly we should read ‘seek thy face like Jacob’ (assuming haplography of the consonant k), alluding to the blessing and the face-to-face encounter at Peniel (Gen. 32:29f.).
24:7–10. The All-Victorious
This stirring challenge and response (which may have been ritually enacted at the arrival of David’s procession at the gates) brings before us in the fewest of words the towering stature of the unseen King, the age-old fortress he is entering to make his own (see the opening comments on the psalm), and the link between this climax and the earlier history of redemption—for the expression mighty in battle is but a stronger form of God’s title of ‘warrior’ first heard in the song of victory at the Red Sea (Exod. 15:3). The ascent completes a march begun in Egypt; indeed the psalms that are quoted in 1 Chronicles 16 as sung on this occasion look back as far as Abraham and on to the coming of the Lord as Judge. If the earth is his (1, 2) and he is holy (3–6), the challenge to the ‘ancient doors’ is not an exercise in pageantry, but (as in 2 Cor. 10:3–5) a battle-cry for the church.