Two ideas for Sunday worship:
Include one of these songs in your worship. The links are in the end notes:[i]
He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands
A video of Be Alright by Evan Craft, Danny Gokey and Redimi2.
An antiphonal reading of the entire psalm. The text is below this commentary.
I am a professor. Welcome back to Canaanite Religion 101 Continued. You may remember the two Canaanite gods, Yam and Baal, from my Psalm 29 APA comments. Yam was the sea god. You may also recall that Yam was a chaotic “god of mighty waters.”[ii] It was Yam who controlled the destructive force of the rivers and seas which often killed the cattle and ruined the crops. Marvin Tate points out that Yam’s name literally means ‘sea.’ He was also called Nahar, which means ‘river.’
In the Canaanite Religion, Baal was viewed as the god of fertility and rain. His name means ‘lord’ or ‘owner.’ He was the thunder god. Yam and Baal went to war. Baal defeated Yam, which allowed Baal to control the waters of the earth. He did this in a positive way sending rain and dew for the benefit of the farmers.[iii]
Now let’s consider Psalm 24.
The structure of the psalm is very clear:
1 – 2 – The earth prepares for the King’s arrival.
3 – 6 – The earth’s people, its inhabitants, prepare for the King’s arrival.
7-10 – The King arrives.[iv]
James Mays offers these subtitles:
1 – 2 – Identifies the owner of the world
3 – 6 – Identifies the congregation who makes the confession
7-10 – Identifies the King of glory.[v]
For centuries, ownership of intellectual and a physical property has been a big deal. In 1942, Adidas began marketing athletic shoes with three iconic parallel stripes. In the early 1990’s Payless started selling shoes with two and four parallel stripes. Not wanting its brand to be tarnished, Adidas took Payless to court. The jury trial lasted seven years and examined 268 pairs of Payless shoes. In the end, Adidas was awarded $305 million.[vi]
Ownership is a big deal for Our Creator. The first two verses of Psalm 24, which God co-wrote with a human, begin by declaring God’s ownership of the earth and everything in it.
Several older versions render the first phrase: The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. About which Charles Spurgeon observed: “The ‘fulness’ of the earth may mean its harvests, its wealth, its life, or its worship; …he made it full and he keeps it full.”[vii] When the newer NLT version records, and everything in it, the word ‘everything’ means exactly that: everything. Yes, God has the whole world, including and especially us, in his hands.
When the Israelites sang, “For He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” (v. 2 – NASB), they knew that God was large and in charge of the seas and rivers, not the god, Yam, whose name meant seas and rivers and whose reputation caused chaos.
Who may climb the mountain of the Lord? Ever since King David chose Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Jews have referred to traveling to Jerusalem as “going up,” since all approaches to Jerusalem were upward. While it’s not actual mountain climbing, it is a definite ascending grade.
Verse 4 supplies the answer to the verse 3 questions. Simply put, those who can stand before God in worship are pure in their actions (hands) and intentions (heart).[viii] True worshipers have a purity of character that is both outer holiness, as seen in the work of their hands, and inner holiness, based on the desires of their hearts. When it comes to pure hands, Pilate is the best bad example. As James Montgomery Boice points out, Pilate publicly washed his hands as an act of innocence in spite of his guilt. Pilate thumbed his nose at Roman law in allowing Christ to be crucified after Christ had been declared innocent three different times.[ix]
This is not an absolute or perfect purity. Only God is absolutely perfect. Rather, this is a purity that comes from consistently keeping our eyes fixed on Christ and allowing the Spirit to continue to transform us into greater Christlikeness.
In addition to a godly character, the worshipers demonstrate their worthiness by their righteousness. Righteousness mean living in a right relationship with God, with others, with themselves and with creation. This verse highlights the first two types of righteousness. The second line of this verse indicates a right relationship with God by not setting up idols in their lives. David Thompson points out, “The word idol can be translated worthless or destructive.”[x] Humans have an incredible ability to not only fabricate an actual image to worship, but we often turn wealth, celebrities, reputation, career success, even our leisure into our personal idols. Often, we give these things priority over the worship of our Creator. What results is a worthless, if not destructive, lifestyle.
The third line of this verse deals with our right relationship with others as we refuse to tell lies.
In verse 6, David calls the Lord, “God of Jacob.” It was with Jacob that God renewed the covenant (Genesis 28:13-15) he first made with Grandfather Abraham. Jacob was a man of the covenant. In spiritual terms, Christians are Jacob’s descendants since we too are people of the covenant.
In verse 7, the gates and doors of Jerusalem are commanded to open for the arrival of the King of glory. The occasion for the writing of this psalm may have been when King David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. That event is recorded both in 2 Samuel 6 and 1 Chronicles 15 & 16. For that special day, David did write a Song of Thanksgiving (1 Chronicles 16), which he gave to Asaph and all the other Levites. In this song, David includes God’s creation, which are God’s ancient gates and doors, to join in praise and worship. He invites the whole earth to sing to God (v. 23). The heavens are to be glad, and the earth is to rejoice (v. 31). The sea and everything in the sea is to shout praise to God. The fields and crops burst out with joy (v. 32). Even the trees are to sing joyfully before the Lord (v. 33).
In this song (vv. 25-26), David first elevates the Lord above all other gods. In the Near Eastern nations of David’s time, each nation had its own god or gods. Their potency was based on victories and losses in battle. Then, David goes a step beyond acknowledging these so called gods to naming them idols, worthless and destructive idols. Just as this psalm acknowledges the Lord as Creator, David does the same:
25 Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise! He is to be feared above all gods. 26 The gods of other nations are mere idols, but the Lord made the heavens!
Psalm 24 was a Jewish celebration for 1000 years plus. It was easy for people to conclude that this Jewish God was meant for the Jews alone, whom he had chosen as his people. Even after the resurrection the disciples were still thinking of an exclusively Jewish kingdom “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) Jesus’ challenge was to help them understand the kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom open to all.
Derek Kidner explains that mighty in battle was first used of Israel’s Warrior God in the Song of Victory after crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 15:3).[xi] In 1 Samuel 4, we have record of the Israelites taking the Ark of the Covenant to war with them. This was an exception and not a rule. It happened under King Saul’s reign. The Ark represented God’s presence. A few scholars suggest this psalm was written for bringing the Ark back into Jerusalem following battle. The words strong, mighty, and invincible are words that describe a warrior. Israel understood that the Lord fought their battles with them. He continues to fight our battles with us.
Verses 9 & 10 are a close repetition of verses 7 & 8. Hebrew authors used repetition to make a point, to highlight what is important, and to bring focus on something. These last four verse are the climax of this psalm.
Boice notes that Psalm 24 was used in Jewish liturgy on the first day of the week. He observes, “we may assume that these were the words being recited by the temple priests at the very time the Lord Jesus Christ mounted a donkey and ascended the rocky approach to Jerusalem.”[xii]
Glory, in verse 10, means ‘heaviness’ or ‘weight.’ It has the feel of our word gravitas which refers to a person’s ‘importance,’ ‘dignity,’ ‘authority,’ and ‘seriousness.’ Who is this King? He is our King of gravitas, who heads a heavenly army, and fights our battles with us. Lift up your pure hands and hearts to him!
A modification of James Montgomery Boice’s antiphonal reading of Psalm 24 from the NLT version:[xiii]
First group of readers (The chorus approaching with the king):
1 The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him. 2 For he laid the earth’s foundation on the seas and built it on the ocean depths.
A single reader (A voice from within the walls):
3 Who may climb the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?
Second group of readers:
4 Only those whose hands and hearts are pure, who do not worship idols and never tell lies. 5 They will receive the Lord’s blessing and have a right relationship with God their savior. 6 Such people may seek you and worship in your presence, O God of Jacob.
First group of readers:
7 Open up, ancient gates! Open up, ancient doors, and let the King of glory enter.
A single reader (A voice from within the walls):
8 Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty; the Lord, invincible in battle.
First group of readers:
9 Open up, ancient gates! Open up, ancient doors, and let the King of glory enter.
10 Who is the King of glory? The Lord of Heaven’s Armies— he is the King of glory.
[ii] Craigie, ibid.
[iv] Boice’s structure with a vocabulary modification, P. 218
[v] Mays, Pp. 119-124
[vi] Gambino, Megan. “Ten Famous Intellectual Property Disputes.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 21 June 2011, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/ten-famous-intellectual-property-disputes-18521880/.
[vii] Guzik, web
[viii] Guzik, ibid.
[ix] Boice, P. 217
[x] Thompson, P. 240
[xi] Kidner, P. 115
[xii] Boice, P. 214
[xiii] Boice, P. 219