Psalm 15: Who will live on the holy mountain?

Psalm 15 New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

I want to live on the mountain

Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
    Who may live on your holy mountain?

Every Christian longs for this don’t they? We long to see God face to face. We long to be nearer to Him. We yearn to experience more of his presence. Our deepest desire is to know God more fully and live forever with him in glory.

So when the psalm asks the question in v1, “Who will dwell in your sacred tent? Who will live on your holy mountain?” my attention is captivated. There are few answers in the world that I care more about.

I can’t live on the mountain

The one whose way of life is blameless,
    who does what is righteous,
    who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander,
    who does no wrong to a neighbour,
    and casts no slur on others;
who despises a vile person
    but honours those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
    and does not change their mind;
who lends money to the poor without interest;
    who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things
    will never be shaken.

As I read on through the psalm, I find that something unexpected happens. Instead of the elation I was anticipating, I start to feel hope draining away.

I once entered into a bodyboarding competition at my school. After the competition, I was told that I had come first. Great! However, a few minutes later they realised they had counted the scores incorrectly and that I didn’t even make it onto the podium. Not so great.

This is what happens to me when I read on from v1. I go from the elation of a dream come true to cold hard reality of knowing that I can never experience that dream.

It is not as though I don’t think the psalm is fair or right. (It is perfectly legitimate for a morally pure God to forbid all but those who are “blameless” to dwell in his presence.) I desperately want to be the sort of person described in this passage. But when I look at that list of qualifications I cannot, no matter how hard I try to convince myself, claim this as a consistent and perfect description of my life:

  • blameless way of life
  • righteous deeds
  • speaks sincerely and truthfully
  • never slanders
  • never does wrong
  • never maligns
  • hates all the evil of people
  • honours God’s people
  • always keeps their promises
  • gives generously to those in need
  • not susceptible to corruption

Frankly, I would be surprised (note my use of classic British understatement) to find that there is anyone alive today who meets that description. I cannot draw any other conclusion: I will not live on the Lord’s mountain. I will not be accepted into his presence. Right? Yes and no.

I will live on the mountain

It is true that if my hope of living in the presence of God is dependent on becoming the sort of person described here then I have no chance. However, the psalmist would also be aware that long before God gave his people the promise of reward through obedience to the Law, he gave them the promise of blessing through an oath he swore to Abraham. The psalmist’s hope would not be based on the law, but on the promise; not on himself but on God. I will do the same:

  • I know that although I have failed to meet God’s standards in the law, he will nevertheless keep his promise of grace.
  • I know that Jesus, the Son of God, is the only one who has ever lived up to these standards. He is the only one to ever fulfil the righteous requirements of the law.
  • I know that Jesus, though he was blameless, suffered the penalty of death and judgement that his people deserved leaving them blameless in God’s sight.
  • I know that he transfers his perfect obedience to those who trust in his promise to bless his people through Jesus.
  • I know that I will dwell with God in his presence forever because of the sheer grace of God.

I will strive to live like one who belongs on the mountain

So my dream will come true. If your desire is to see God, and you place your trust in Jesus to give you what you cannot earn, then he will give you the desires of your heart. And until that day, I will strive to live like the person Jesus has made me. I want to be like Him. I want to live like one who belongs… because I do belong.

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me
My name is graven on His hands
My name is written on His heart
I know that while in heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart
No tongue can bid me thence depart

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