Psalm 15 — The Characteristics of a Believer
Psalm 15 is one of the shortest psalms, yet we find important information that cannot be ignored. The two questions asked at the outset of the psalm are questions that deal with the qualities of the person who will live with God.
The first question asks what characteristics will the person have who is allowed to “live with” God during his or her walk on earth. The second question asks what the characteristics are of the person who will be living with God in eternity.
The answers to these two questions are identical. Entering paradise and living with God after we die is no more difficult to achieve than to follow Him while we are alive! That is not to say that it is easy to follow Him during our walk on earth, however. Christians have always been persecuted, but it is becoming more “fashionable” in today’s world. Even in America we are seeing signs of it increasing.
Psalm 15 describes the standard against which we can measure our own relationship with God.
A Psalm of David.
1. Jehovah, who shall sojourn in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?
Instead of “sojourn,” many translations use the word “abide,” but the Hebrew word used here actually translates better as “sojourn.” To sojourn is to be a visitor or stranger in a place; one who abides temporarily, not permanently.
The original tabernacle, while a grand structure, was basically a tent meant to be used in the wilderness by God and a people on the move. It was temporary quarters where Yahweh would manifest Himself meet with His people. It symbolizes the growing, militant and active church of Moses and the Israelites as they moved out of Egypt, bound for the promised land. The Tabernacle was a place of sojourning for God.
The holy hill is completely different from the tabernacle. Here is the allusion to Mount Zion and the triumphant church. This is the resting place of the saints when they come home. It is in Zion, with the Lord, that they will be live forever. The sojourning is over, the battles have been fought and the war has been won and now is the time of rest.
As members of the visible church, our contemporary tabernacle of sojourning, we must be diligent to make sure we have prepared our hearts so that we might be fit to inhabit that Holy Hill with our Lord. Unless we walk uprightly, we are not fit for this all too imperfect church here on earth, and we most assuredly will not be fit for the church of eternity.
The remainder of the psalm gives us the answer to the questions.
2 He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.
The three action words in this verse are: walks, works, and speaks.
Walking … .
Read what Matthew Henry has to say about walking uprightly:
True believers do not cringe as flatterers, wriggle as serpents, bend double as earth-grubbers, or crook on one side as those who have sinister aims; they have the strong backbone of the vital principle of grace within, and being themselves upright, they are able to walk uprightly. Walking is of far more importance than talking. He only is right who is upright in walk and downright in honesty.
One who walks uprightly walks according to the covenant found in Genesis 17:1 . We must be honest, having integrity. We must be what we profess we are. Our heart must be firm and steady and we purpose to stand complete in the will of God.
Working … .
Again, here is what Matthew Henry has to say about working righteousness:
The righteous man is conscientiously honest and just in all his dealing and is faithful and fair with whom he deals. He walks by the rules of righteousness and truth, and scorns and abhors the gains of injustice and fraud. He walks in all the ordinances and commandments of the Lord, and takes care to give all their due, is just both to God and man; and, in speaking to both, he speaks that which is the truth in his heart; his prayers, professions, and promises, to God, come not out of feigned lips, nor dares he tell a lie, or so much as equivocate, in his converse or commerce with men.
Talking … .
Finally, Charles Spurgeon discusses speaking the truth:
Saints not only desire to love and speak truth with their lips, but they seek to be true within; they will not lie even in the closet of their hearts, for God is there to listen; they scorn double meanings, evasions, equivocations, white lies, flatteries, and deceptions. Though truths, like roses, have thorns about them, good men wear them in their bosoms. Our heart must be the sanctuary and refuge of truth. We must be careful that the heart is really fixed and settled in principle, for tenderness of conscience towards truthfulness, like the bloom on a peach, needs gentle handling, and once lost it were hard to regain it. Jesus was the mirror of sincerity and holiness.
Let’s continue to verse three.
3 He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.
The tongue may not be steel, but it still cuts, and it cuts so hard that, at times, it seems like the hurt will never heal. It may hurt when the tongue’s lashing is directed at us face-on; but it is most damaging and hurtful when used to backbite. It not only hurts the one toward whom it is directed, but it also hurts, deeply, the one who is speaking. It may not show up at that time, but it will come back to haunt. James has written about the tongue in chapter 3 verses 2 through 11. Here are some highlights:
2 … If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.
3 Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.
4 Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm [rudder], whithersoever [wherever] the governor [helmsman] listeth [wishes].
5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things … .
6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, …
8 But the tongue can no man tame ; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing.
We must be very careful using this smallest member of our body!
If we wish to sojourn with the Lord we must be very careful to hurt no one. We must be very careful not to damage our neighbor’s reputation (take reproach). We must not do any evil at all to our neighbor; certainly nothing to offend or grieve his spirit or anything that will harm his health; nothing to injure him in his wealth, property or dealing with the world or in his family or relations. We would do well to live by the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
4 In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.
If we are to dwell with God we need to value men by their virtue and piety and not by the figure they make in the world. Wicked people are vile people. We must regard evil people with scorn or contempt, disdaining and despising them. (Contemn: to treat or regard with disdain, scorn or contempt; to despise.) We can see who the wicked people are by the choices they make (Jeremiah 2:13) and by their practices and ways of life (Isaiah 32:6).
However, we must be careful not to deny the respect due a civil servant, if the wicked person holds such a position of authority. God has placed them over us for certain reasons, (see 1 Peter 2:17 and Romans 13:7). Even when bad men are in office, it is our duty to respect the office. We can respect the office and still despise the holder of that office.
As followers of the Way, we don’t look down on anyone because they appear not to have as much as we do or they do not dress as we think they should. We need to honor those who honor the Lord. Honesty in the fear of the Lord brings a man honor, he shines in a peace and a glory that only the Lord can give a person. This is of vastly more value than wealth, or a great name among men. It is the company of those who shine with the peace of God that we seek out to associate with.
We who seek to dwell with God desire a good conscience before any worldly interest or advantage. If we have given our promise, if afterwards it appears that it may damage our position in life, we need to honor that promise. (Psalms 15:4) God will in turn honor us. This applies to all matters. Lately we have seen it in financial matters – most notably in the housing market in which we have people just walking away from their houses and their promises.
5 He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.
God doesn’t like usury — it is a burden on those who must borrow – and who is it that must borrow most frequently? It is the poor or less fortunate. It is also using something that God has given to us. It has been freely given, so we should freely give. A citizen of Zion will freely lend to the poor, according to his ability, and not be rigorous and severe in recovering his right from those that are reduced by Providence.
The one who honors God that will not take personal profit through unjust practices. “Taketh reward …,” this is bribery, plain and simple. Bribery is a sin both in the giver and the receiver and was frequently practiced in Eastern courts of justice.
As Psalm 125:1 states: He that doeth these things shall never be moved. The true Christian is like Zion-hill itself, which cannot be moved, but abides for ever. As a living member of the church, we have built our foundation on a rock. The gates of hell cannot prevail against it and temptations shall not overcome us. Troubles will come to us, but we will not be overwhelmed because we have the one living God who loves us and cares for us watching over us, guarding our back. Nothing can steal away from us our present peace nor his future bliss.