Bible Commentaries
Psalms 15

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verse 1



The question and answer format of this psalm has led to some rather fanciful notions on the part of commentators regarding the possible use of it in the temple ceremonies. Kidner believed that it might have been, "Modeled on what took place in certain sanctuaries of the ancient world."[1] When a group of worshippers approached the temple, the worshippers raised the question of who should be admitted, and the priest responded with a list of requirements.

There was a variation of this ancient practice enacted upon the occasion of the burial of Frederick the Great of Germany. As the funeral cortege approached the ancient Church of the Capuchin where the deceased monarch was to be buried, a crier from the tower cried out "Who Comes here?"

The response: "His Majesty Frederick the Great, Emperor of Germany, Prince of Bavaria, Protector and Benefactor of Mankind."

The crier said, "I know him not."

Again, he asked, "Who comes here?"

This time the reply was, "His Majesty Frederick the Great."

"I know him not," was the answer from the tower.

"Who comes here,?" was the third challenge; and this time the reply was "Frederick, a sinful man." "Enter," was the response from the tower.

The notion that this psalm owes anything at all to such customs is rejected here. We believe that Leupold's comment on this is correct.

"This interpretation offers nothing that is either sound or helpful. The chief objection to such an interpretation would appear to be that, as hundreds of groups approached the temple, this psalm would have been rendered hundreds of times a day to the point of deadening monotony; and, besides that, there is nothing whatever that indicates any such liturgical use of it."[2]

It appears that Dummelow's opinion that the setting of this psalm is in the times, "Of the bringing of the ark to Jerusalem" (2 Samuel 6:16)[3] is as good a guess as any, since it is also accepted by a number of other scholars.

Maclaren labeled the requirements of the "man of God" in this passage, "As almost wholly negative";[4] but as Rawlinson pointed out, "There are five positive and five negative features given by which the righteous man may be known."[5] These are listed below.

Psalms 15:1

"Jehovah, who shall sojourn in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?"

The question here is of the utmost importance, It does not mean, "What is his name, or who shall sojourn in God's tabernacle? but "What kind of person shall be so entitled?" The broader meaning of the question was stated by Barnes. This is the most important question that can come before the human mind. It is a question of, `Who is religious?' `Who will enter heaven?' `Who will be saved?'[6]

"Tabernacle." This word means tent, and throughout the Old Testament it is the word that referred to God's dwelling place, where he had recorded his name, and where he promised to meet and to bless the people. The alternative reading tent is usually given in the margin of most versions.

Verse 2


"He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness,

And speaketh truth in his heart;

He that slandereth not with his tongue,

Nor doeth evil to his friend,

Nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor;

In whose eyes a reprobate is despised,

But who honoreth them that fear Jehovah;

He that sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not;

He that putteth not out his money to interest,

Nor taketh reward against the innocent.

He that doeth these things shall never be moved."

First we shall note the positive and negative nature of these requirements:

He walketh uprightly.

He worketh righteousness.

He speaketh truth in his heart.

He does not slander.

He does not do evil to others.

He does not take up a reproach against a neighbor.

He despises the reprobate.

He honors God's people.

He honor's solemn promises.

He does not put his money out for interest.

He will not accept a bribe to wrong the innocent.

There are eleven of these elements in the character of the righteous man, not "a decalogue"[7] except by the uniting of the first two under one heading, as evidently done by Rawlinson. Six of these are positive; five are negative.

By no means could these items be understood as the sum total of godliness. As Rhodes put it, "These requirements are typical not all-inclusive."[8]

Nevertheless, this is still an impressive list of virtues, especially as it pertained to that Near-East society, where bribery, usurious oppression of the poor, backbiting, and slander were widely prevalent. A truthful person, for example, in such a society would have carried a luster like the sun at perihelion!

Sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not. "A truly righteous man will keep his word, even when it is to his own disadvantage to do so."[9]

This quality, might also be stated thus: "A righteous man will keep his solemn word, regardless of any hurt or inconvenience, or loss to himself." As it was stated in pioneer America, "His word is his bond."

In whose eyes a reprobate is despised. In the last analysis, the man of God must not envy, or make excuses for, or show any preference whatever for the reprobate; but, on the other hand, he honors and appreciates the people of God. Back of this is the fact that a man associates with the people he admires and honors, and any association with reprobate and wicked men could lead only to disaster for God's child.

And putteth not his money to interest. The Old Testament forbade the devout Jew to take interest from a brother, but allowed them to charge Gentiles. The word interest here is actually a reference to excessive interest, usury, or illegal and unlawful interest. What is specifically condemned here is the profession of the "loan shark." See Leviticus 25:36,37 and Deuteronomy 23:19-20. As DeHoff expressed it, "The reference here is to unlawful interest, or to taking advantage of a distressed brother.[10]

Nor taketh reward against the innocent. This is a reference to bribery, One of the commonest sins of the mid-East, and a grievous error into which God's people themselves were prone to fall. Christ's parable of the unjust judge was no doubt the result of widespread abuse in this very sector.

"He that doeth these things shall never be moved." We might have expected that "sojourning in the tabernacle of the Lord" might have been promised here, in line with the question in Psalms 15:1; but the figure is changed. Here, the person who exhibits the desirable qualities outlined in this passage, will never be removed from his safe position in the favor of God.

One more comment I would like to include in this study, and that is a line from the notable American Statesman, Thomas Jefferson. He said, "Psalms 15 is wonderful. It gives the ten earmarks of a true gentleman."[11]

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 15". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.