Worthy to Worship the One Who is Worthy
Psalm 24 is titled like many of the Psalms, “a Psalm of David. It was written about three thousand years ago, but its message beckons to us today as well. It is part of consider the third of a set of psalms (22,23,24) which have been labeled, “The Cross”, “The Crook”, and “The Crown”. These psalms have been seen as descriptive of the Person and work of Christ. Let’s take a look.
Exposition of the Text
The Psalm begins with God’s sovereign claim over the world. It does not belong to us. Neither does it belong to Satan or anything else. It belongs to Yahweh alone. This verse hints at creation as it refers to God’s founding it upon the seas and the waters. Because he has established order from chaos, He is Lord over it and us as well. God has a rightful claim on us which beckons everyone to respond in worship. This is doubly true of God’s people. In fact, some commentators see the Hebrew (Ah-retz) as referring to the Land of Israel that God has established from among the chaos of the surrounding nations which is often metaphorically rendered “waters” or “seas”. If this narrower rendering is used, it talks about God’s covenant promises to Israel. This Hebrew word can be translated either way, so it cannot be clearly determined what David is referring to. But if we use the analogy of Scripture in comparing this Scripture to the rest of Scripture, then both statements express God’s truth.
The next section of the Psalm beginning with verse 3 starts with the question: “Who may ascend the hill of the LORD, or who can enter His Holy Place. This is a question of introspection. In David’s day, the Temple of Solomon, his son had not been built. Because of this, some think that David could not have been the author. It is true that the Temple stood on the Temple mount, so coming there to worship would involve climbing the hill. But this would also been true for Shiloh, where the tabernacle stood in the early days of David before he captured Jerusalem. At that time, he took the Ark there, having to stop at the threshing floor or Ornan the Jebusite. That, too, was on the top of Mt. Zion. So there is no reason to assume that David did not write this because the Temple seemed a more magnificent referent to this Psalm. If the truth be told, whether tabernacle or temple, they are but pointers to God’s Holy Place in heaven.
Is the one who is able to ascend the hill to God’s Holy Place able because of means of physical fitness? Verse four tells us that God has a quite different qualification to stand there. One has to be morally pure. In other words, the worshiper must be worthy to offer worship (worth ship) to God. This is not place for people who have unclean hearts, who demonstrate this in false oaths and deceiving God and neighbor. The one who is pure in heart is the only one who can come there and be blessed. There is an implication that those who try to enter with unclean hearts will incur God’s curse.
Verse six makes an ironic statement. It begins with “This is Jacob”. The name “Jacob” means deceiver, which is the very opposite of what God requires of someone to enter. If someone who was what the name were to seek God in His Holy Place with a name like that, would God even let such a person enter in? There is a saying, like father, like son”. The nation of Israel was more like Jacob than Jacob’s transformed name “Israel”. They might seek the Face of God, but how could they even approach without reproach?
It would seem that the entire human race would be disqualified from entering through the gates of the City of God, but now the voice cries out for the gates of the city to be lifted. The King of Glory is coming. He is worthy to enter into the Holy Place of God. What would have happened at any earthly tabernacle could only be a dim reflection of the scene here. The choirs may have beckoned out this psalm back and forth in antiphon. At the time of the magnificent Temple of Solomon, it would certainly have been an impressive show which moved people’s hearts to worship. But only One could enter this perfect heavenly Temple. To Him, the gates would be lifted and the doors opened. Hallelujah, the King of Glory is worthy!
The next verse asks: “Who is this King of Glory? The answer comes back that He is Yahweh of Hosts (armies). The one who can enter bears the Divine name. He and he alone is able to enter the throne room and sit between the Cherubim. This One is so majestic that no earthly image in the shadow Temple or Tabernacle on earth can represent Him. The whole sequence of asking about the identity of the One who is worthy to have the gates lifted and the doors opened for is repeated and answered in a parallelism to more fully define and emphasize the character of this person.
We should see that the problem of being worthy to enter into the worship of God is not a problem for the ancient Israelites alone. If these were unworthy to ascend the Holy Hill to worship despite their privileged status with God in being specially chosen to reveal the Oracles of God, where do the rest of us appear? This unworthiness is reflected in the 4th chapter of Revelation in that no one was found who was worthy to open the seals of all of the created order, until the voice cried out that there was One found worthy. We hear from Revelation that Jesus, the Lamb of God was found worthy to open the seals. This is the same one who bears the Divine name, who is worthy to enter into the Divine Presence. We worship the One who is worthy to enter? But what hope does this give us to enter ourselves?
1 John 1:5-10 describes this dilemma in a similar fashion. “God is light, and in Him is not even a speck of darkness.” But we are full of sin, full of deceit, full of darkness. If we were to try to enter God’s presence, we would burn like a cinder. The cherubim who guard the holiness of God would not even open the doors to the City of God. We who are but Jacob’s would seemingly have no hope.
But there is indeed hope. The One who has entered through the gates and is seated at the right hand of the Majesty on High is the conqueror of sin and death. The Lord of Hosts who enters brings His army with Him. He is not only Divine, He is also one of us, human. His shed blood has made us worthy to enter the heavenlies with Him. It is our identification with Him, our confession of Him, and our cleansing represented by baptism that allows us to enter into God’s presence. The moral Mt. Everest which we could not climb has been made a plain. The crooked has been made straight. The rough places have been made plain. We who were Jacob’s are now the spiritual Israel. By the grace of God alone, by faith, which is given by God as a gift, alone, in the work of Christ alone. Only our identification with the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ makes us worthy to enter. Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift!
We have not yet attained to the fullness of the Heavenly Jerusalem, but our names are recorded there who believe on the Lord Jesus. Someday, we shall see Him in His full glory when He who has started this good work in us brings it on to perfection. In the meanwhile, while we wait for the complete fulfillment of the promise of God, let us do our best to reflect the new reality of who we are and put off the old Jacob in us. As Charles Wesley puts it in “For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, let us “anticipate our heaven below”. If we sin, let us be quick to confess it, knowing that if we do, we shall find forgiveness for it from our advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous.
By Jesus who is the LORD of Hosts, we have been made worthy to worship. So let us now come with full assurance of faith into His presence. The gates have been lifted, the doors have been opened. In the throne room of God surrounded by the cherubim there is incense, which is the prayer of the saints. Our prayers make it past the guards at the door into the very presence of the Triune God. And someday, the rest of us will make that same ascent to His Holy Place to cast down our golden crowns before Him. Thanks be to God! Amen!