“O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?”
~Psalm 15:1 (NRSV).
This is a psalm with high conditionality about it. Its initial verse asks who may enter and enjoy the Presence of a holy God. All of the rest of the psalm, barring the final line, then focuses on what qualifies the one entering and enjoying.
Very importantly, as a first step, however, we must recognise that this psalm is liturgy and not law—it commends us to the character of those most at home with God’s Presence; it doesn’t preclude people in a judged way from approaching and being present before the throne of God.
The component parts to the Psalm, purporting righteous character qualities, are:
Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right...
This, and the following two lines of verse 2, is essentially about the integrity of righteousness; that quality of walking through life as if God was always looking—which is truth. This is the case.
These do what is right without second thought, or even if there is second thought—perhaps by indecision, they still obey God’s heart for the activity of life. Actions may speak louder than words, but speech too is to be congruent.
... and speak the truth from their heart;
The truth has penetrated the heart of these; they speak truthfully even without thought. This manner of speaking aright has become an intrinsic part of them.
... who do not slander with their tongue...
They cannot slander people and speak wrongfully about them. That is not to say they can’t assess, in truth. Neither are they given to slander, nor flattery. Added is courage.
... and do no evil to their friends...
Loyalty is a byword for the person of integrity. Friendship is a bond between two as important and central to life as the relationship with God is, for it is a symbol of our love for God. Indeed, it’s God that commands love for friends and neighbours alike.
... nor take up a reproach against their neighbours;
The righteous do not take excuse to barrage a neighbour for wrongs committed against them. They will turn the other cheek without thought of the losses that are now considered self-imposed.
... in whose eyes the wicked are despised...
The person at God’s heart is taking no pleasure at the sight of evil. They quietly despise it, shunning what is an abomination, but never in offensive ways, but indignation is a fine line.
... but who honour those who fear the Lord;
On the lookout are these for those doing God’s faithful bidding. These are water to parched souls.
... who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
Oaths will hurt much of the time, for we knew we’d be good for them, but now we must deliver. Integrity is a guide that takes no joy in the easy path. It must fulfil its promises.
... who do not lend money at interest...
Friends are careful not to impose upon others burdens unwelcome. Interest is only worthy when the encumbrance is severe enough, a principle lost in many cases in today’s world.
... and do not take a bribe against the innocent.
The righteous take no joy in seeing the oppressed and needy go without justice. They cannot bear to see them transgressed, not least of which at another’s vapid or greedy personal gain.
Those who do these things shall never be moved... from their place with God. The Lord is making his Presence known to them.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.