George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 1

Psalm 15

1. Title

Instead of A Psalm of David, it could just as well read: “A Psalm of a man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14; 16:7).

2. Historical setting

Verse 1 suggests the occasion when David, at last king over all the twelve tribes, brought the ark to Zion: 2 Samuel 6. Verses 2-5a strongly suggest his firm resolution and vow not to be a king after the pattern of Saul. Every detail in these verses (except perhaps v. 5a) points to a contrast with the worst features of Saul’s character and reign.

He that walketh uprightly. Hebrew tamim really means “perfect”, i.e. whole and complete. Fully dedicated in his religious life (as Abraham: Gen. 17:1; Job 1:1). By contrast, Saul was a man with but little religious sense.

And speaketh the truth in his heart. The last phrase is especially incisive, for it implies completely honest thinking, a thing very few can achieve. In all his dealings with David, Saul was a model of self-deception.

Truth has strong association with the promises of God. David would never have won out through his bitter trials if the promise of God implied in his early anointing (1 Sam. 16) had not been the treasure of his soul.
He that backbiteth not with his tongue. Contrast Saul: 1 Sam. 18:22-29; 19:1; 20:30,31.

His neighbour: s.w. 1 Sam. 28:17: The neighbor whom Saul abused was David, the same neighbor to whom his kingdom would be given!
In whose eyes a vile person (reprobate) is contemned (reprobated). Instead, Saul had reprobated the finest man in the nation. But this phrase could read, very differently: Despised is he in his own eyes, worthless. With this compare 2 Sam. 6:22, and also Luke 18:13.

He honoureth them that fear the law: 16:3. What a contrast with Saul’s cold-blooded murder of those who feared God’s law (1 Sam. 22:18)!

He that sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not. Yet Saul repeatedly swore no hurt to David, and just as quickly forgot his oaths: 1 Sam. 19:5,6; 20:2,3; 26:21.
He that putteth not out his money unto usury. In the whole volume of Scripture there are few actual examples of men putting out their money to usury. (Remarkably, one such reference to usury is Matt. 25:27, in a situation where such action would seem commendable!) The word for ‘usurer’ also means ‘serpent’, and usury is the bite of a serpent. Then, are these words a figurative allusion to Saul who feigned to be David’s friend (as every real usurer pretends to be), but yet sought to steal what was rightfully his? A remote echo of Gen. 3:15 also?

Nor taketh reward against the innocent. A sidelong glance, surely, at Saul’s henchman Doeg: note 1 Sam. 22:7,18.

He that doeth these things shall never be moved. Saul, unstable in character, never felt secure even on his throne. David, who had to flee for his life from Jerusalem, was actually as secure as the temple mount — even in his most severe trials.

3. Echoes of Psalm 15

All the nine psalms which follow Psalm 15 seem to echo it; but especially 24:3-6, which, like this psalm, is about the bringing of the ark to Zion.

Another eloquent detailed allusion is to be found in Isaiah 33:14,15, because Hezekiah’s reign, like the early days of David, saw a contest between unprincipled men of the world and God’s man of faith, who was unable to assert himself.

The ancient rabbi Samlai stated that Moses gave 613 commandments, and that David reduced these to eleven commandments (i.e. Psa. 15). Further, he stated that Isaiah reduced the eleven to six (33:15). What he could not mention, of course, was that Jesus was to summarize all the law in only two commandments (Matt. 22:40).

4. The Messiah

If Psalm 15 describes David, then it also describes more exactly the Son of David who shall never be moved. And it goes without saying that here are described certain facets of the character of Messiah’s men. The picture of the perfect man becomes the pattern for his followers.

It is possible to make the case that Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7) is his extended commentary upon this Psalm 15:

Psalm 15

Matthew 5-7
Who shall dwell?
Principles of blessedness
Walketh uprightly
Walks in the light
Worketh righteousness
Righteousness exceeding that of the Pharisees.
Speaketh truth in heart
An extended contrast between outward forms and religion practiced in the heart
Backbiteth not
Teaching of mote and beam
Nor doeth evil
Love your enemies
Who condemns the vile person
By their fruits ye shall know them
Sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not
Let your communication be‘Yea, yea; Nay, nay’
Putteth not money to usury
Gives without expecting a reward
He that doeth these things shall never be removed
7:24-27. on a rock....fall not
Some of these allusions are not quite perfect (the expositor’s problem?), but others seem dead on! “As though white light passes through a prism to be split up into the many colours of the spectrum, so [Psalm 15] passed through the inspired mind of Jesus to come out in all this colourful teaching” (C. Tennant).

The phrase (v. 5) “taketh not reward against the innocent” is an obvious prophecy (negatively put) of Judas’ 30 pieces of silver (Matt. 26:15; Mark 14:11; Luke 22:5; Zech. 11:12), and maybe a bribe for Pilate also. Compare 1 Timothy 6:10. Contrast Exodus 23:8.

5. Other details

Who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Psa. 24:3; 27:4,5; 65:4. But only priests could abide in God’s Tabernacle. Then was the primary reference of this psalm to the new high priest Zadok, appointed when the ark was brought to Zion (see on Psa. 133)? In this context, notice all the different body parts mentioned (or implied) in Psa. 15, and compare with the priests’ ritual dedication of hands, feet, and ears (Lev. 8:22-24). In a more general sense, compare the beautiful Psa. 87.

Who shall dwell in thy holy hill? There is a progression here in the two questions: “Who shall abide (i.e. sojourn, temporarily) in thy tabernacle (ohel = tent)? And who shall dwell (a settled lifestyle) in thy holy hill (permanent)?” It is one thing to stop as a stranger and rest for a moment in God’s “tent”; it is quite another (and conditional on fulfilling all the spirit of this psalm) to be allowed to settle permanently in God’s holy hill.
William Kay comments of vv. 2-5a: “These are what guarantee the genuineness of one’s aspirations after God.”

In his heart. In contrast to 12:2; 14:1; Isa. 29:13.
Nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour. In all generations, this and Exod. 23:1a go largely ignored. But to take up a reproach against oneself — how this is to be encouraged! (In general, see also Prov. 17:9; 24:28; Gal. 5:15; 1 Tim. 5:13.)
In whose eyes a vile person is contemned. Like Mordecai, he can offer no respect to the vile and haughty “Haman”: Est. 3:2-6.

He that sweareth to his own hurt, as in Lev. 27:32,33; Deut. 23:21-23. Classic examples of right and wrong reactions: Jephthah in Judg. 11:35; Zedekiah in Ezek. 17:13-19.
He that putteth not out his money to usury: Exod. 22:25; Lev. 25:35-37; Deut. 23:19; Prov. 28:8; Ezek. 18:8.

He that doeth these things shall never be moved: Psa. 16:8. 2 Pet. 1:10 quotes this verse. The one who abides in mount Zion will become like mount Zion, never to be shaken or removed: Psa. 125:1,2; 132:13,14; cp. Heb. 12:22; 1 John 2:17; Rev. 14:1-3.
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