WHO MAY DWELL WITH GOD?
By Nanabea Baidoo and Nana Yaw Aidoo
A devotional study of the psalms is a most profitable study that ought to be engaged in by every child of God. The psalms are called by Matthew Henry, “one of the choicest and most excellent parts of the Old Testament.” In this book “…we have most present remedies against all temptations and troubles of mind and conscience, so that being well practised in this, we may be assured against all dangers in this life, live in the true fear and love of God…” (Geneva Bible Notes). It is thus little wonder that in these times when the world battles the covid-19 pandemic, many have sought solace in this part of God’s Word, especially the 91st psalm and particularly the tenth verse.
By inspiration, the psalmist began the 91st Psalm thusly; “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty." That he who dwells with God shall be blessed is unmistakably alluded to in this text. And having been given all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Pet.1:3), we are told, long before the words of the 91st psalm were penned, what it takes to dwell with God in the 15th psalm.
Ps 15:1 ¶ <<A Psalm of David.>> LORD, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill?
2 He who walks uprightly, And works righteousness, And speaks the truth in his heart;
3 He who does not backbite with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor does he take up a reproach against his friend;
4 In whose eyes a vile person is despised, But he honors those who fear the LORD; He who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
5 He who does not put out his money at usury, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.
When, where and why David wrote this psalm, we cannot tell. However, a cursory reading and one cannot fail to see that he who would dwell with God must be of a certain character. Evidently, this is inspired commentary on the statement of the first verse of the 91st psalm. This psalm begins with two questions which serve as the backbone of the entire chapter. The verses following, clearly answer the opening questions. “Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill?” The tabernacle typifies the Lord’s church whereas the holy hill on which Solomon built the temple, typifies the permanence of heaven. Thus, the relevance of this Psalm to those who have been added to the blood-bought church of Christ, even those who desire to dwell with God permanently in heaven, cannot be stated enough. We would be wise to ask these questions of ourselves, “Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill?” and learn the answers given therein by the Psalmist.
He who walks uprightly and works righteousness
This is the first of ten character traits that David gives in response to the opening inspired questions. Literally, walking uprightly connotes moving in a straight posture, void of bending. The idea of walking denotes manner or way of life (cf. Gal.5:16-25). Hence, Upright walking requires that we live our lives in accordance with the standards of God as stipulated in the Scriptures. (cf. Psa.119:160). Righteousness suitably explains upright walking. To walk uprightly is to work righteousness and to work righteousness is to walk uprightly. The common root word found in both expressions is right. It is not right to sin. Neither is it right to justify or approve of sin or those who commit sin. (Rom.1:32). Thus, in order to dwell with God, we ought to take and make right choices in our everyday dealings with God, and our fellow men.
He who speaks the truth in his heart
In Proverbs 6:16-19, the wise man wrote of seven things that the Lord hates. Twice, lying is mentioned in this list. It therefore ought not to surprise us to see that he who would dwell with God must be a truthful person. Many a time, we are faced with the hard choice of not only admitting to truth but speaking or practicing it. We may be very much aware of truth but feel reluctant to admit it and live by that standard. Moreover, to speak truth not only involves moral truths but the positive truths of God’s Word. (John 17:17). These two stand or fall together. It is a waste of time to be truthful or honest in our dealings with others and yet teach soul-damning error and vice versa. (see Isa.8:20; 1 Tim.4:16). The Holy Spirit in the apocalypse says plainly, “all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone” (Rev.21:8). He who desires to dwell with God must be a bastion of truth.
He who does not backbite
To backbite is to speak evil of another. This act breaches contemporary conduct as much as it contradicts God's Word. (cf. Lev.19:16; Psa.34:13). It involves destroying the image and reputation of others behind their backs. It is the unfortunate habit of some people to say only negative things about others and to negatively portray them before others. The act of backbiting is an act of treachery and betrayal. Why tell my mistakes to others in my absence, when I am the one who needs to make amends? A person who does not backbite is “one who treats his neighbour with respect. He says nothing that might injure him in his character, person, or property; he forgets no calumny, he is author of no slander, he insinuates nothing by which his neighbour may be injured.” (Adam Clarke’s Commentary). Surely, he who backbites cannot dwell with God.
He who does no evil to his neighbour
This is good neighbourliness. Ensuring that your neighbour is alright. In other words, treating your neighbour as you would want them to treat you in word, thought and deed. (cf. Matt.7:12). Lessons could be drawn from the parable of the Good Samaritan. We see then that good neighbourliness may qualify us to dwell with God.
He does not take up a reproach against his friend
Disgrace, discredit and shame are some synonyms of reproach according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary. And on the other hand, the word friend carries an aura of peace, acceptance and openness and an environment of encouragement and personal development. Friends are supposed to have each other's wellbeing at heart and to support one another. Solomon wrote that “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Pro.17:17). Thus, the words “take up a reproach” and “friend” are mutually exclusive. The picture here painted by the psalmist is one in which a person is unwilling to believe a statement against his friend or to spread it without sufficient evidence. He who takes up “a reproach against his friend” shall not dwell with God. We say with Adam Clarke; “Reader, drive the slanderer of your neighbour far away from you: ever remembering that in the law of God, as well as in the law of the land, “the receiver is as bad as the thief.”
He despises a vile person
Throughout the Scriptures, we see time without number that evil people are not partakers of the heritage of our Lord. (Psa. 1:5). We ought to be mindful of the fact that it is the evil deeds that have been allowed to become second nature that is detested. Jesus Christ proved beyond doubt that He came for sinners, that they might be saved. (Luke 19:10). Every single soul, God desires to save (1 Tim.2:4) but Satan who is wide awake (1 Pet.5:8) has through lies, and the pleasures of this world (John8:44; 1 John 2:15-17) gotten some to give him an opportunity in their lives (Eph.4:27). These are people who dance to his dictates and pride themselves in their vileness. These are those who walk in sin. The Bible admonishes such people to repent lest they face the fierce wrath and punishment of God. (Isa.13:9; Luke 13:3). The Psalmist says also; “gather not my soul with sinners...and bloodthirsty men.” (Psa.26:9). Thus, we see that the “vile person” ought not be or should not be allowed to be in fellowship with the righteous. Chances are that the righteous may turn with them to their evil ways. (1 Cor.15:33). The prophet Amos quipped; “Can two walk together unless they agree?” (Amos 3:3). Furthermore, this point shows the error of those who think all judgment is sinful. Clearly, there ought to be some amount of judgement in determining who is or is not a “vile person.” This is “fruit-picking” (Matt.7:15-20) or as our Lord puts it, “righteous judgement” (John 7:24). There is divine authority for the child of God to “judge with righteous judgement.” He who may dwell with God is he who despises a vile people. We cannot be equally yoked with sinners. (2 Cor.6:14ff).
He honours those who fear God
One character of those who may dwell with God is the honouring of Godly or God-fearing people. We are to give honour to whom honour is due (Rom.13:7). Implied in this point is the necessity or importance of being God-fearing. Fearing God involves learning and living by the statutes of God. Imagine how wonderful our lives would be if this world were filled only with Godly people. We press on in the assurance that such a beautiful thought would be reality in heaven. “If there be no other men of honor in the world, let the saints be such.” (Spurgeon Devotional Commentary).
He who swears to his own hurt and does not change
Swearing to one’s own hurt and not changing involves making decisions based on godly convictions and standing by those decisions. “As if a man solemnly swear by the name of the great God, that he will sell him such an estate at a price below the full worth, or that he will give a poor man such a sum of money, which when afterwards he comes to review and consider, he finds it very inconvenient and burdensome to him, where he is tempted to break his oath…to wit, his purpose or course, but continues firm and resolved to perform his promise, and sacrificeth his interest and profit to his conscience, and the reverence of God and of an oath. See Eze 17:18,19.” (Matthew Poole’s Commentary). Most life changing decisions in Christianity require conviction. Like the decision to take a step to Christ for salvation and the decision to live in accordance with God's laws, despite the many temptations. Hence, we are to possess a strong will and not kowtow to the whims of this temporal life. We are not to be fence-riders.
He who does not put out his money at usury
Usury according to Dictionary.com is the practice of lending money at a rather exorbitant rate. A synonym for the word is exploitation. The word “usury” comes from a verb which means “to bite as a serpent.” Thus, it is the making of gain in such a way that the other party is bitten as if by a serpent. Making gain in such a manner is contrary to God’s Word. (Exo.22:25; Lev.25:36, 37). Have you lent money to someone and made unlawful profit when the person paid back? That is the sin which is here being condemned. Usually in our quest to make money, we resort to means that seek to deprive the poor of a livelihood and sometimes their survival. Jesus Christ taught a lot on giving to the poor and needy and thus, a major tenet of Christianity is benevolence. We need to help others and not extort from them. Here we have unquestionable proof that those who lend “money at heavy premiums, and crushing interest” if they do not repent, surely shall not dwell with God.
He who does not take a bribe against the innocent
Taking a bribe against the innocent involves satisfying one’s greed at the expense of the vulnerable in society. It also involves being unjust to an innocent party. Here is a picture of one who takes a bribe “…from him who hath a bad cause; that he may either condemn the innocent, or acquit the guilty…” (Matthew Poole’s Commentary). The psalmist wrote that God delivers the poor and needy from those who plunder them (Psa.35:10). Then again, God loves justice and does not forsake his saints. (Psa.37:28). Hence, he makes himself an enemy of God, who sees to injustice or takes bribe against the innocent. He who partakes in such cannot dwell with God.
The 15th Psalm thus ends; “He who does these things shall never be moved.” Here we have answered the question, “Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill?” If we walk uprightly and righteously, are truthful, quit backbiting, do no evil to others, do not take up a reproach against others, despise evil doers until they repent, honour those to whom honour is due, make decisions based on godly convictions and stand by them, do not use unlawful means to enrich ourselves and serving justice to whom it is rightly deserved, then in addition to “such things as naturally and necessarily” flow from the foregoing, by God’s grace, we “shall never be moved” and shall abide with Him here in His church and be with Him forever, in the sweet by and by.