Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
There is no reason to doubt that the title of this psalm, which ascribes it to David, is correct. A portion of the psalm Psa 24:3-6 has a strong resemblance to Psa 15:1-5, and doubtless was composed by the same author.
The occasion on which the psalm was composed is not designated; but from its contents it was evidently on some public occasion of great solemnity; probably on the removal of the ark of the covenant into its appointed place in Jerusalem, where it was to abide permanently; a solemn entrance of Yahweh, as it were, into the place of his permanent abode, Psa 24:7-10. This could not have been the temple, because:
(a) that was not erected in the time of David; and
(b) the description Psa 24:7-10 is rather that of entering into a "city" than into a temple or a place of public worship, for the psalmist calls upon the "gates" to lift up their heads - an expression more suitable to a city than to the doors of a tabernacle or a temple.
According to this view, no occasion seems more appropriate than that of removing the ark from the house of Obed-edom to "the city of David," or to Jerusalem, as described in Sa2 6:12-17. David indeed placed the ark "in the midst of the tabernacle which he had pitched for it" on Mount Zion Sa2 6:17, but the particular reference of the psalm would rather seem to be to the entrance of the ark into the city than into the tabernacle. It was probably designed to be sung as the procession approached the city where the ark was destined to remain. The occasion of thus taking up the ark into the holy hill where it was to abide seems to have suggested the inquiry, who would be suited to ascend the holy hill where God abides, and to stand in his presence, Psa 24:3-6.
The psalm properly consists of three parts:
I. An ascription of praise to God as the Maker and Upholder of all things, Psa 24:1-2. He is represented as the Proprietor of the whole earth, and as having a right to all that there is in the world, since He has made the earth and all which it contains. This universal claim, this recognition of Him as Lord of all, would be especially appropriate in bringing up the symbol of his existence and His power, and establishing his worship in the capital of the nation.
II. An inquiry, who would ascend into the hill of the Lord, and stand in His holy place; who could be regarded as worthy to engage in His worship, and to be considered as his friend? Psa 24:3-6. This part of the psalm accords in the main with Psa 15:1-5; and the inquiry and the answer would be especially appropriate on an occasion such as that upon which the psalm appears to have been composed. In asserting God's claim to universal dominion Psa 24:1-2, and in introducing the symbols of His power into the place where he was to be recognized and adored Psa 24:7-10, nothing could be more suitable than the question who would be regarded as qualified to worship before Him; that is, who would be regarded as His friends. The essential thing here asserted to be requisite, as in Psa 15:1-5, is purity of heart and life - things essential to the evidence of piety under every dispensation, patriarchal, Mosaic, Christian.
III. A responsive song on the entrance of the procession with the ark into the city, Psa 24:7-10. This consists of two strophes, to be sung, it would seem most probable, by responsive choirs:
First strophe, Psa 24:7-8.
(a) The call upon the gates to lift up their heads, that the King of glory might come in.
(b) The response: Who is this King of glory?
(c) The answer: Yahweh, mighty in battle.
Second strophe, Psa 24:9-10.
(a) The call upon the gates to lift up their heads, that the King of glory might come in.
(b) The response: Who is this King of glory?
(c) The answer: Yahweh of hosts.
The earth is the Lord's - The whole world belongs to God. He is the Creator of the earth, and therefore, its Proprietor; or, in other words, "the property vests in him." It belongs to Him in a sense somewhat similar to our right of property in anything that is the production of our hands, or of our labor or skill. We claim that as our own. We feel that we have a right to use it, or to dispose of it, as we choose. No other person has a right to take it from us, or to dictate to us how we shall employ it. Thus, God, in the highest possible sense, has a right to the earth, and to all which it produces, as being all of it the creation of His hands, and the fruit of His culture and skill. He has a right to dispose of it as He pleases; by fire, or flood, or tempest; and He has an equal right to direct man in what way He shall employ that portion of the productions of the earth which may be entrusted to Him. All the right which any person has to any portion of the earth's surface, or to what is treasured up in the earth, or to what it is made to produce, is subordinate to the claims of God, and all should be yielded up at His bidding, whether He comes and claims it to be employed in His service, or whether He comes and sweeps it away by fire or flood; by the locust, or by the palmer-worm.
And the fulness thereof - All which it contains; everything which goes to "fill up" the world: animals, minerals, vegetables, people. All belong to God, and He has a right to claim them for His service, and to dispose of them as He pleases. This very language, so noble, so true, and so suitable to be made conspicuous in the eyes of human beings, I saw inscribed in a place where it seemed to be most appropriate, and most adapted to arrest and direct the thoughts of men - on the front of the Royal Exchange in London. It was well to remind the great merchants of the largest commercial city in the world of the truth which it contains; it does much to describe the character of the British nation that it should be inscribed in a place so conspicuous, and, as it were, on the wealth of that great capital.
The world - The word used here - תבל têbêl - is a poetic word, referring to the earth considered as fertile and inhabited - the "habitable" globe; the same as the Greek, οἰκουμένη oikoumenē.
And they that dwell therein - All the inhabitants of the earth, embracing men and animals of all kinds. Compare Psa 50:10-11. God has a claim on people - upon their services, upon their talents, upon all that they can acquire by labor and skill; He has a right to all that fly in the air, or that walk the earth, or that swim in the sea. On the occasion on which it is supposed that this psalm was written, in bringing up the ark of God, and placing it in the tabernacle provided for it in the capital of the nation, no sentiment could be more appropriate than that which would recognize the universal supremacy of God.
For he hath founded it upon the seas - That is, the earth, or the habitable world. The ground of the claim to the earth and all that it contains, which is here asserted, is the fact that God had created it, or "founded" it. The language used here - "he hath founded it," that is, he has laid the foundation of it, "upon the seas" and "the floods" - is in accordance with the usual mode of speaking of the earth in the Scriptures as laid upon a foundation - as a house is raised on a firm foundation. See the notes at Job 38:6. As the earth appeared to be surrounded by water, it was natural to speak of it as "founded" also upon the waters. There is probably an allusion here to the statement in Gen 1:9-10, where the waters are said to have been so gathered together that the dry land appeared. Above all the waters the earth was established, so as to become the abode of plants, animals, and man.
And established it upon the floods - The streams; the torrents. The earth has been elevated above them, so as to be a residence for animals and for men. The essential thought is, that this earth has become what it is by the fact that God has founded it; and, therefore, what it produces belongs of right to Him.
Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? - Mount Zion; called the hill of the Lord, because it was the place designated for His worship, or the place of His abode. See the notes at Psa 15:1. The idea here is, "Who shall ascend there with a view of abiding there? Who is worthy to dwell there?" The question is equivalent to asking, What constitutes true religion? What is required for the acceptable worship of God? What will prepare a person for heaven?
Or who shall stand in his holy place? - In the tabernacle, or in the place where he is worshipped. Compare the notes at Psa 1:5. Who is worthy to stand before God? Who has the qualifications requisite to constitute the evidence of his friendship?
He that hath clean hands - In the parallel passage in Psa 15:2, the answer to the question is, "He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness." The sentiment is substantially the same there as in the passage before us. The meaning is, that he who would be recognized as a friend and worshipper of Yahweh must be an upright man; a person not living in the practice of iniquity, but striving always to do that which is right. The "hands" are the instruments by which we accomplish anything; and hence, to have clean hands is equivalent to being upright. See Job 17:9; Isa 1:15; Isa 59:3; Act 2:23; Psa 26:10. The margin here, as the Hebrew, is "the clean of hands."
And a pure heart - Not merely the one whose external conduct is upright, but whose heart is pure. The great principle is here stated which enters always into true religion, that it does not consist in outward conformity to law, or to the mere performance of rites and ceremonies, or to external morality, but that it controls the heart, and produces purity of motive and of thought.
Who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity - Unto that which is "vain," or which is "false." This expression might refer to one who had not devoted himself to the worship of an idol - regarded as vain, or as nothing Co1 8:6; Isa 41:24; Psa 115:4-8; or to one who had not embraced that which is false and vain in opinion; or to one who had not sworn falsely, or taken the name of God in vain, Exo 20:7. The probable meaning is, that he has not set his heart on vain things, or that which is false. He has sought after substantial truth, alike in the object of worship, in that which he professes to believe, and in the statements and promises which he makes to others. He aims to secure that which is true and real. He is in no sense "carried away" with that which is unreal and false.
Nor sworn deceitfully - This is one form of that which had been just specified - his love of truth. The idea here is, that he has not affirmed under the solemnities of an oath, that which was false; and that he has not, under similar solemnities, promised what he has not performed. He is a sincere man; a man seeking after the true and the real, and not running after shadows and falsehood; a man true to God and to his fellow-creatures; a man whose statements are in accordance with facts, and whose promises may be always relied on. In the parallel passage, in Psa 15:2, the statement is, "he that speaketh the truth in his heart." See the notes at that passage.
He shall receive the blessing from the Lord - literally, "He shall bear away a blessing from Yahweh." The blessing here referred to means His favor and friendship. He shall be recognized and treated as His. In other words, God bestows His favor on those who possess the character here referred to.
And righteousness from the God of his salvation - He shall be regarded and treated as righteous. Or, he shall obtain the divine approval as a righteous person. The idea of the psalmist would seem to be, not that he would obtain this as if it were a gift, but that he would obtain the divine "approval" of his character as righteous; he would be recognized and dealt with as a righteous man. He would come to God with "clean hands and a pure heart" Psa 24:4, and would be welcomed and treated as a friend of God. The wicked and the impure could not hope to obtain this; but he who was thus righteous would be treated according to his real character, and would meet with the assurances of the divine favor. It is as true now as it was in the days of the psalmist, that it is only the man who is in fact upright and holy that can obtain the evidences of the divine approval. God will not regard one who is living in wickedness as a righteous man, nor will he admit such a man to His favor here, or to His dwelling-place hereafter.
This is the generation of them that seek him - This describes the race of those who seek Him; or, this is their character. The word "generation" here is used evidently in the sense of "race, people, or persons." This is the character or description of the "persons" who seek His favor; or, this is the character of His true friends. The phrase "to seek God" is often used as descriptive of true piety: Psa 9:10; Psa 14:2; Psa 63:1; Pro 8:17; Mat 6:33; Mat 7:7. It indicates an earnest desire to know Him and to obtain His favor. It denotes also humility of mind, and a sense of dependence on God.
That seek thy face, O Jacob - Margin, O "God of" Jacob. DeWette understands this as meaning that they would seek the face of God among His people; or that they who belonged to the race of Jacob, and who were sincere, thus sought the face of God. There is supposed to be, according to this interpretation, a distinction between the true and the false Israel; between those who professed to be the people of God and those who really were His people (compare Rom 9:6-8). It seems to me that the word is not used here as it is in the margin to denote the "God of Jacob," which would be a harsh and an unusual construction, but that it is in apposition with the preceding words, as denoting what constituted the true Jacob, or the true people of God. "This is the generation of them that seek him; this is the true Jacob, that seek thy face, O Lord." That is, this is the characteristic of all who properly belong to the race of Jacob, or who properly belong to God as his true people. The sense, however, is not materially affected if we adopt the reading in the margin.
Lift up your heads, O ye gates - Either the gates of the city, or of the house erected for the worship of God; most probably, as has been remarked, the former. This may be supposed to have been uttered as the procession approached the city where the ark was to abide, as a summons to admit the King of glory to a permanent residence there. It would seem not improbable that the gates of the city were originally made in the form of a portcullis, as the gates of the old castles in the feudal ages were, not to "open," but to be "lifted up" by weights and pullies. In some of the old ruins of castles in Palestine there are still to be seen deep grooves in the "posts" of the gateway, showing that the door did not open and shut, but that it was drawn up or let down. (The Land and the Book, vol. i. p. 376. One such I saw at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight; and they were common in the castles erected in the Middle Ages.) There were some advantages in this, as they could be suddenly "let down" on an enemy about to enter, when it would be difficult to close them if they were made to open as doors and gates are commonly made. Thus understood, the "heads" of the gates would be the top, perhaps ornamented in some such way as to suggest the idea of a "head," and the command was that these should be elevated to admit the ark of God to pass.
And be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors - The doors of a city or sanctuary that was now to be the permanent place of the worship of God. The ark was to be fixed and settled there. It was no longer to be moved from place to place. It had found a final home. The idea in the word "everlasting" is that of permanence. The place where the ark was to abide was to be the enduring place of worship; or was to endure as long as the worship of God in that form should continue. There is no evidence that the author of the psalm supposed that those doors would be literally eternal, but the language is such as we use when we say of anything that it is permanent and abiding.
And the King of glory shall come in - The glorious King. The allusion is to God as a King. On the cover of the ark, or the mercy-seat, the symbol of the divine presence - the Shekinah - rested; and hence, it was natural to say that God would enter through those gates. In other words, the cover of the ark was regarded as his abode - His seat - His throne; and, as thus occupying the mercy-seat, He was about to enter the place of His permanent abode. Compare Exo 25:17, Exo 25:20, Exo 25:22.
Who is this King of glory? - This is probably the response of a portion of the choir of singers. The answer is found in the other part of the verse.
The Lord strong and mighty - Yahweh, strong and mighty - describing Him by His most exalted attributes as a God of power. This is in accordance with the idea in Psa 24:1-2, where He is represented as the Creator and the Proprietor of all the earth. Perhaps, also, there is an allusion to the fact that He is mighty, as distinguished from idols which have no power.
The Lord mighty in battle - Who displays His power eminently in overthrowing hostile armies; perhaps in allusion to the victories which had been won when His people were animated in war by the presence of the ark in the midst of their armies, and when the victory could be properly traced to the fact that the ark, the symbol of the divine presence, was with them, and when, therefore, the victory would be properly ascribed to Yahweh himself.
Lift up your heads ... - The repetition here is designed to give force and emphasis to what is uttered. The response in Psa 24:5 is slightly varied from the response in Psa 24:8; but the same general sentiment is expressed. The design is to announce in a solemn manner that the symbol of the divine presence and majesty was about to be introduced into the place of its permanent abode, and that this was an event worthy to be celebrated; that even the gates of the city should voluntarily open themselves to admit the great and glorious King who was to reign there forever.
Who is this King of glory? - See the notes at Psa 24:8.
The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory - On the meaning of the phrase, "the Lord of hosts," see the notes at Isa 1:9. The essential idea is, that God rules over the universe of worlds considered as marshalled in order, or arrayed as hosts or armies are for battle. All are under His command. The stars in the sky, that seem to be marshalled and led forth in such perfect and beautiful order - the inhabitants of heaven in their different orders and ranks - all these acknowledge Him, and submit to Him as the supreme God. In the close of the psalm, therefore, there is an exact accordance with the thought in the beginning, that God is the Sovereign Ruler of the universe, and that He should everywhere be recognized and regarded as such. The entrance of the ark of the covenant into the place provided for it as a permanent residence was a fit occasion to proclaim this thought; and this is proclaimed in the psalm in a manner befitting so solemn an occasion and so sublime a truth.