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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Psalms 15

Verses 1-5


So much having been said in so many psalms of the privileges and blessings accorded to the righteous man (Psalms 1:3; Psalms 3:8; Psalms 5:11, Psalms 5:12; 4:9,12, 18; Psalms 10:17, Psalms 10:18; Psalms 11:7, etc.), the arrangers of this book thought it fitting to insert in this place a definition, or description, of who the righteous man is. They found a "psalm of David" (see title) in which such a description was set forth with singular force and brevity. The psalm is one of five verses. In the first verse the question is raised; the remaining four give the answer, which is arranged in two strophes of two verses each, the first verse of each strophe declaring the character of the righteous man positively, and the second verse negatively. The result is that five positive and five negative features are pointed out, by which the righteous man may be known. There is nothing to indicate at what period in David's life this psalm was composed, except that it was after the establishment of the tabernacle on Mount Zion (Psalms 15:1).

Psalms 15:1

Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? rather, Who shall sojourn? Whom wilt thou accept as a sojourner in thy tent, to be near to thee, and consort with thee? Who shall dwell (i.e. whom wilt thou permit to dwell) in thy holy hill? The "tabernacle" and the "holy hill" of Zion are, of course, not to be understood literally. They are figurative expressions, pointing to the Divine presence and favour, and the blessedness of abiding in them.

Psalms 15:2

He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness. An upright walk is the first requisite (comp. Genesis 17:1; Psalms 26:3, Psalms 26:11; Isaiah 33:15). Such a walk involves the doing of righteousness, not, of course, in absolute perfection, but with a sincere intention, and so as to have "the answer of a good conscience towards God" (1 Peter 3:21). And speaketh the truth in his heart. Not "from his heart," as in the Prayer-book Version, which would make the reference one to mere truth of speech, but "in his heart," which points to internal truthfulness—that truthfulness "in the hidden council-chamber of the soul," which "holds no parley with what is false" (Kay).

Psalms 15:3

He that backbiteth not with his tongue. Among the negative virtues the first place is given to the observance of the ninth commandment, probably because to err in this respect is so very common a fault (see Jeremiah 6:28; Jeremiah 9:4; James 3:5-8). Nor doeth evil to his neighbour; rather, to his friend, or his companion—a different word from that used at the end of the verse, and implying greater intimacy. There is special wickedness in injuring one with whom we are intimate. Nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour. The good man does not, even when it is true, spread an ill report concerning his neighbour. He prefers to keep silence, and let the report die out (see Exodus 33:1).

Psalms 15:4

In whose eyes a vile person is contemned. So the LXX; the Vulgate, Ewald, Hupfeld, Hengstenberg, and the Revised Version. Others prefer to translate, "He is despised in his own eyes, [and] worthless" (Abort Ezra, Hitzig, Delitzsch, Kay, 'Speaker's Commentary'). Either rendering furnishes a good sense; but the law of parallelism is very decidedly in favour of the former. As the righteous man honors those who fear God, so he contemns those who are vile or worthless. He is no respecter of persons. Men's outward circumstances are nothing to him. He awards honour or contempt according to men's moral qualities. But he honoreth them that fear the Lord. "It is no common virtue," says Calvin, "to honour pious and godly men, since in the opinion of the world they are often as the offscouring of all things (1 Corinthians 4:13)? He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not. The righteous man, if he happens to have sworn to do something which it turns out will be to his own hurt, nevertheless keeps his engagement (comp Le Psalms 5:4, where לְהָרַע is used in the same sense).

Psalms 15:5

He that putteth not out his money to usury. Usury, when one Israelite borrowed of another, was strictly forbidden by the Law (Exodus 22:25; Le Exodus 25:36; Deuteronomy 23:19). When the borrower was a foreigner, it was lawful (Deuteronomy 15:3; Deuteronomy 33:20); and no discredit can attach to the practice, so long as the rate of interest charged is moderate (comp. Matthew 25:27). Here the writer contemplates only such usury as was forbidden by the Law. Nor taketh reward against the innocent; refuses, i.e; to take a bribe, either as judge or witness, when a charge is made against an innocent person. The contrary conduct was widely practised by the Israelites in later times (see Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 5:23; Jeremiah 22:17; Ezekiel 22:12; Hosea 4:18; Micah 3:11, etc.), and prevails generally in the East to the present day. He that doeth these things shall never be moved (comp. Psalms 16:8). He shall continue "steadfast, unmovable,'' having God "at his right hand," as his Protector and Sustainer.


Psalms 15:1, Psalms 15:2

A standard of integrity.

"Lord, who shall abide," etc.? We may truly call this brief psalm a flawless gem of religious ethics, unmatched in all the treasures of heathen literature. It is a sufficient proof that the moral failures which surprise and distress us in many of the Old Testament saints were due to human infirmity—the imperfect character of the men and of the times, not to deficient revelation of truth and duty. Then, as now, men knew more than they practised. What the New Testament has done for morality is, firstly, to give us a model of holiness—a pattern life, which human imagination could never have framed, in the Person and life of Jesus our Lord; secondly, to supply motives to holiness only given in his gospel. But no higher standard of spotless integrity can be set forth than this psalm contains. The best commentaries on it are St. John's First Epistle and St. James's Epistle.

I. THE QUESTION. Who is the guest of God? "Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle?" etc. In David's time there were two tabernacles—the ancient one, where the brazen altar remained, at Gibeon; and the new one, to which the ark had been removed, on Mount Moriah, which thenceforth became the "holy hill" (1Ch 15:1; 1 Chronicles 16:1; 2 Chronicles 1:3-6). But here is no question of priestly ritual or office, but of personal character before God; therefore under the image drawn from the actual tabernacle, the real thought is of spiritual communion with God (cf. Psalms 23:6; Psalms 27:4). Who is he who shall commune with God as a child with his father—to whom Christ's great promise shall be fulfilled (John 14:23)?

II. THE ANSWER. (Verse 2.) The portrait is here drawn in three strokes. The rest of the psalm is the shading and colouring of the picture.

1. "Walketh uprightly." Our walk in Scripture means our conduct, especially as regards ourselves, and as in God's sight—the inward, even more than the outward, life (Luke h 6; Acts 9:31; Genesis 5:24).

2. "Worketh righteousness." Deals justly, fairly, honestly, with others. This is the outward side, of which Christ says, "Let your light shine" (Matthew 5:16).

3. "Speaketh truth in his heart." The correspondence of the inward and outward life. People sometimes speak truth with the lips—what is literally true, but with a different meaning in the heart. Transparent integrity is indicated—speech, the clear mirror of the hidden soul. No need to draw any strong line of distinction between these three—walk, work, speech. Like the sides of a triangle, each implies the other two. If we walk with God, we must needs deal justly with our fellows, and shall account our speech one of the most responsible parts of conduct towards God and towards man.

This is no impossible picture of ideal perfection—simply a description of wholehearted obedience. Our Lord and Saviour expects no less. Strange if less were expected in a "disciple indeed' than in "an Israelite indeed" (John 1:47; John 8:31). Fellowship with our Father and our Saviour implies "walking in the light" (1 John 1:5-7; John 15:1-5). This fellowship is the earnest of and preparation for that of which the earthly "tabernacle" and "holy hill" were the faint, vanishing shadows (Revelation 7:15; Revelation 21:3, Revelation 21:27; Revelation 22:3, Revelation 22:4).


Psalms 15:1-5

The man in undisturbed rest.

It matters little when this psalm was written, or by whom. Although there is no reason for denying its Davidic authorship, still its contents are manifestly and equally precious, whoever was the inspired penman, and whenever he penned these words. Manifestly, the psalm is a product of Judaism. £ The Mosaic legislation had its ritual, but it was not ritualistic. There was not only an altar of sacrifice, but also a pillar of testimony and the tables of the Law; and to leave out either the sacrificial or the ethical part of the Hebrew faith would give as the residuum, only a mutilated fragment of it. This psalm is not one of those which in itself contains a new revelation, but one the inspiration of which is due to a revelation already received. The forms of expression in the first verse indicate this with sufficient clearness; the entire psalm suggests to us three lines of truth for pulpit exposition.

I. THERE IS A HOME FOR THE SOUL IN GOD. We do not regard the question in the first verse as one of despair, but simply as one of inquiry. It suggests that there is a sphere wherein men may dwell with God, and asks who are the men who can and do live in this sphere. The inquiry is addressed to "Jehovah," the redeeming God of Israel, who by this name had made himself known to the chosen people as their God—the Loving, the Eternal, the Changeless One. Moreover, there had been a tabernacle made, and afterwards the palace of the great King was erected on Mount Zion, the holy hill. "This is my rest for ever; here will I dwell, for I have desired it." And inasmuch as this was the spot where God dwelt with men, to the devout soul the happiest place was that spot where he could meet with God; and if, perchance, he could there abide, not only to sojourn as for a night, but even to take up his permanent abode, he would realize the very ideal of good. "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple." But in the later form of scriptural thought it is not only in this place or that that the yearning spirit can find God, but everywhere; yea, God himself is the soul's home—a home neither enclosed by walls, nor restricted in space, nor bounded by time. And we know what are the features of that home—it is one of righteousness, of a purity which allows no stain; it is one of mercy, in which all the occupants have made a covenant with God by sacrifice; it is one of closest fellowship, in which there may be a perpetual interchange of communion between the soul and the great eternal God. And when we remember that on the one hand, God is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity, and that on the other hand, even all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, it must always be a wonder of wonders that the sinner should ever be allowed to find a home in God; and never can it be inappropriate to ask the question with which the psalm begins, "Lord, dost thou give it to all men to find their rest in thee? If not, who are these happy ones?" "Who shall sojourn in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?"

II. ONLY SOME SOULS FIND GOD A HOME FOR THEM. The rest of the psalm answers the question which is raised at the outset of it. Inasmuch as the very phraseology of the psalm is built upon and assumes the divinely appointed institutions of priesthood, sacrifice, penitence, prayer, and pardon, it is needful only to remark in passing that the man who dwells in God's holy hill is the one who accepts the divinely revealed plan of mercy and pardon through an appointed sacrifice. But the fact that by God's mercy we are permitted to base the edifice of our life on such a foundation does by no means dispense with the necessity or lessen the importance of our erecting such edifice with scrupulous exactness according to the Divine requirements. The two parts of revealed religion cannot be disjoined now, any more than of old; the sacrificial and ethical departments must be equally recognized. And we arc here called upon to study a Scripture portraiture of a virtue which God will approve, by seeing how a man who lives in God will demean himself before the world.

1. His walk is upright. His entire life and bearing will be of unswerving integrity. Bishop Perowne renders the word "uprightly," "perfectly," which in the scriptural sense is equivalent to "sincerely," with an absolutely incorruptible aim at the glory of God.

2. His deeds are right. They correspond with the simplicity and integrity of his life's aim and intent.

3. His heart is true to his words. He does not say one thing and mean another, nor will he cajole another by false pretences.

4. He guards his tongue. He will not "backbite" or "slander:" the verb is from a root signifying "to go about," and conveys the idea of one going about from house to house, spreading an evil report of a neighbour.

5. He checks the tongues of others. He will not take up a reproach against his neighbour. Retailers of gossip and scandal will find their labour lost on him.

6. He abstains from injuring a friend—by deeds of wrong.

7. He estimates people according to a moral standard, not according to their wealth. A base person is rejected, however rich. A man who fears the Lord is honoured, however poor.

8. He is true to his promise, though it may cost him much, even more than he at first supposed.

9. He is conscientious in the use of what he has. He will not be one to bite, to devour, or to oppress another by greed of gain, nor will he take a bribe to trick a guileless man. He will be clear as light, bright as day, true as steel, firm as rock. While resting on the promises of God as a ground of hope, he will follow the Divine precepts as the rule of his life. As Bishop Perowne admirably remarks, "Faith in God and spotless integrity may not be sundered. Religion does not veil or excuse petty dishonesties. Love to God is only then worthy the name, when it is the life and bond of every social virtue." £ A holy man said on his death-bed, "Next to my hope in Christ, my greatest comfort is that I never wronged any one in business."

III. FROM THEIR HOME IN GOD such SOULS CAN NEVER BE DISLODGED. (Psalms 15:5, "He that doeth these things shall never be moved.") The man is one who lives up to the Divine requirements under the gospel.

"Yet when his holiest works are done,
His soul depends on grace alone."

Even so. And he shall not be disappointed. Note, in passing, it is not his excellence that ensures this security; but the grace of God honors a man whose faith and works accord with his will.

1. No convulsions can disturb such a man. His rest in Divine love is one which is secure against any catastrophe whatever (Psalms 46:1, Psalms 46:2; Romans 8:38, Romans 8:39).

2. Time is on the side of such a one. For both the graces of faith and obedience will strengthen with age; while the Being who is his Stronghold is the same "yesterday, and to-day, and for ever." Such characters, moreover, can never get out of date.

3. No discoveries in science nor in any department can dim the lustre of such a life. To trust in the great eternal God and to aspire to his likeness, is surely that of which no advance in human thought can ever make us ashamed.

4. The faithful God will never desert such a one. Whoever clings to God in faith, love, and obedience will never find his love unreciprocated or his trust unrecompensed.

5. The promises made to each a one will never fail. They are all Yea and Amen in Christ; they are sealed by "the blood of the everlasting covenant." And hence they who repose their trust in them can never be moved.

In conclusion, the preacher may well warn against any attempt to divorce these two departments of character—trust and action.

1. Without trust in God there can be no right action.

2. Without the aim at right action we have no right £ to trust in God.—C.


Psalms 15:1-5

A life without reproach.

In all ages there has been a sense of imperfection, and a longing and a cry for the perfect in human character. The ethical philosophers of Greece and Rome have given us their views; Christian teachers have aimed to set forth, in poetry and prose, their ideals of perfection; but it may be questioned whether anywhere we can find a truer or more beautiful portrait than this by the ancient Jewish poet. It has been said, "Christian chivalry has not drawn a brighter." And we might even dare to say that it compares well with the character of the perfect man as depicted by our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount. No doubt there are traits in the character that are peculiar to the times, and things are put differently in some respects from what they would have been in the light of the gospel; but we cannot contemplate the picture except with wonder and delight. In heart and tongue, in deed and life, as a member of society and as an individual, the man of this psalm is without reproach.

I. HIS INSPIRATION IS FROM ABOVE. It is the life within that determines character. Abraham walked before God, and therefore was exhorted to aim at perfection. The "tabernacle" is not wholly a figure of speech, but represents the meeting-place with God. For us Christ is the "tabernacle." Here we ever find light and strength. "Our life is hid with Christ in God."

II. HIS CHARACTER IS MOULDED AFTER THE HIGHEST PATTERN. (Psalms 15:2, Psalms 15:3.) The law of righteousness is his rule. Conscience is not enough; the lives of the good are not enough: there is more needed. The will of God as revealed to us is our true rule of faith and practice. There is a certain order observed—first, the person must be acceptable by entire surrender to God; then he must work by righteousness; lastly, his word must be truth. So God had regard first to Abel, and then to his offering (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:5).

III. HIS SOCIAL LIFE IS MARKED BY THE NOBLEST VIRTUES. (Psalms 15:3-5.) Some have counted here ten or eleven particulars; but it is better to regard the spirit than the letter. The chief things are truth, justice, and benevolence, while with these there is humility of spirit and charity towards all men. All this is brought out the more vividly by contrast with the selfish and worldly life of the wicked.

IV. HIS HAPPY DESTINY IS SURE AS THE THRONE OF THE ETERNAL. (Psalms 15:5.) There are things that can be moved; they have no stability or permanence. There are other things which cannot be moved; they are true as God is true, and stable as God is stable, with whom there is "no variableness, neither shadow of turning." This holds good of religion and the religious life (Hebrews 12:27, Hebrews 12:28). There are people who have no fixed principles. They cannot be trusted. St. James compares them to the waves of the sea—driven with the wind and tossed (James 1:6). But the man who trusts in God can say, "My heart is fixed;" and of such it is true—he "shall never be moved" (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:56-58; Acts 20:22-24; Acts 21:13).—W.F.


Psalms 15:1-5

The essentials of a spiritual religion.

This psalm is supposed by some to have been written on the removal of the ark to Zion. "As it is not only in David's time that the symbol has been placed above the thing signified, and a superstitious efficacy attached to the externals of worship, this psalm has an equal value in every age in keeping before the mind the great lesson that sanctity of life and truth of heart are the absolute essentials of a spiritual religion." How can we dwell truly and in the most intimate abiding fellowship with God? That is the question which the psalm answers; and the answer is—Access to God lies open to none but his pure worshippers. Two answers are given, each answer having both a positive and a negative form.


1. Positively. (Psalms 15:2.)

(1) He walketh uprightly; i.e. with integrity, with an undivided purpose of heart and mind. He does not try "to serve two masters"

(2) He worketh righteousness, or does the will of God. Not his own will, or the desires of the passions and appetites. He loves and does the right.

(3) He speaks the truth in his heart. Speaks the truth because he loves it, not with unwilling constraint. He speaks it in his heart, because it dwells there, before he utters it with his tongue.

2. Negatively. (Psalms 15:3.) He is not one who injures others

(1) by word; or

(2) by deed; or

(3) by listening to and propagating slander.

II. SECOND ANSWER. (Psalms 15:4, Psalms 15:5.)

1. Positively. (Psalms 15:4.)

(1) He turns away from the company of evil persons because he has no sympathy with them. He con-remus them.

(2) He honours the good in every way that he can honour them—defending, applauding, imitating them.

(3) He keeps sacred his word or his oath. "Not a casuist, who sets himself to find a pretext for breaking his word when it is inconvenient to keep it."

2. Negatively. (Psalms 15:5.)

(1) Not one who loves usury, but is willing to help the poor from a generous heart (Exodus 22:25).

(2) Does not take bribes in the administration of justice. Incorruptibly just. "Such a man may not take up his dwelling in the earthly courts of the Lord; but he shall so live in the presence of God, and under the care of God, that his feet shall be upon a rock." Would that all Christians answered to this picture!—S.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 15". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.