The “Hallel” Psalms: “Theme Songs” (Psalms 113-118)

orchestraEvery great movie is more than a visual adventure – it couples the visuals with great musical themes that drift in the background that move to the story. Anyone who watched the shark approach in “Jaws” recalls the haunting sound of the “Duh-duh” as it sped up with the approach of a hungry predator. Fans of an entire generation thrilled at the sound of George Lucas’ themes in “Star Wars”. For an older generation: ”Who didn’t get a lump in their throat at the high and lilting theme that filled the air when “Lassie” was about to start?” In fact, I would bet that in the average church meeting we could find people who could sing more of the openings to old TV shows like “Gilligan’s Island” and “Gumby” – carefully recalling each word – more than we could find people who could recite the same number of words from any Scripture passage they chose. We all know it is true. Many of us have minds filled with “Oscar Mayer Weiner” theme songs, but can barely recall much in the Word past Psalm 23 and John 3:16. Let’s admit it: songs STICK with us.

Each year Israel was called by God to gather in Jerusalem and come to worship and celebrate the memory of their national rescue from Egyptian bondage by God. The rescue of God from slavery was initiated and completed by God’s power, executed before a largely stubborn and resistant people on both sides – the slaves and their reluctant retiring masters. We have read the stories of that time in Exodus and Numbers, but perhaps the whole scene will be filled in, just a bit better, if we include the theme songs that went with the occasion’s memory in Jewish history. As a “Palm Sunday” experience, perhaps that is the time to recall these songs, an appropriate time to recall the lyrics of the “redemption Psalms” that were called in antiquity the “Hallel Psalms”. These songs were (and are) sung or recited during the Passover season (Pesach and Unleavened Bread), but the lesson applies to all of us who know and walk with God at any time of the year. These are songs of gratefulness, songs of overwhelming praise for the rescue of God by those set free!

Key Principle: Our rescue came from God’s powerful hand – because He is a both a Master and a Loving Father.

Turn back to the song sheet provided by the ancient Hebrews. Remember that there was not one book of Psalms in antiquity, but FIVE collections of Psalms, sometimes called the “Five Books” of the Psalms. Within that collection were Psalms that every Hebrew learned by the time of the Second Temple (the time of Jesus and Paul). Those Psalms included:

• The “Psalms of the Word” (1, 19 and 119);
• The single Psalm of Moses (Psalm 90);
• The Sabbath Psalm (Psalm 92);
• Two “song sheets” of Psalms that were linked to the feasts and their celebration. The first “song sheet” was the “Psalms of going up to Jerusalem” – called the “Psalms of Ascent” in the old English versions (found in Psalm 120-134 in most editions).
• The second “song sheet” was the selection of our study for this lesson – the “Hallel Psalms” (found in Psalm 113 to 118). Turn there for an interesting look at the “celebration of the rescued”.

Take a moment and walk through this special set of Psalms…Let’s begin at the first of the series…Psalm 113:

Psalm 113

This Psalm was perfect for singing from the top of the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, and was also sung at the beginning level of the Nicanor stairs of the women’s court of the Temple by the Levitical choir. It began with…

The Call to Worship: from one to many

Psalm 113:1 Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD, Praise the name of the LORD.

First the lead worshipper exclaimed the beginning of the time of praise with his own loud shout of praise: (from “hallel”: loudly exalt and boast of…) the Lord (Yahweh).

Next, the congregation of God’s people who were the bondservants of God (eved) were called to praise (from “hallel”: loudly exalt and boast of…) the Lord (Yahweh), who is both their Master and provider. Inherent in the term “eved” is both the truth of a Sovereign, and the sense that their Lord supplies for them and watches over them.

A third call to praise reinforces the purpose of the whole song: It was a joyful boast of God’s character by His people. Praising the NAME (ha-shem) of the Lord meant separating Him from any other, and proclaiming His fame and unique identity above any other. He alone is Yahweh. Others will claim strength. Other nations will boast of a god. Yet, there is only One Yahweh – and He draws out of grateful hearts the praise of His people in Israel.

The point of the opening line is that praise begins when one follower calls the others to recall the greatness and character of God – because His power and love has rescued us a lost creation. From around the camp of those who know Him, praise rises. Why? Knowing Him more intimately fills my every recess of my heart with gratitude as my mouth joins others in loud exclamations of His goodness and worthiness of praise.

Reach out to grasp the expanse of praise: in time and place!

Psalm 113:2 Blessed be the name of the LORD From this time forth and forever. 3 From the rising of the sun to its setting The name of the LORD is to be praised. 4 The LORD is high above all nations; His glory is above the heavens.

The worshiper was called to recognize the places from which Yahweh will draw praise from the eastern skyline to the western one (113:3a,4) – all visible from the summit of the Mount of Olives. At that place, an approaching worshiper can see both the mountains of Moab in the east, and the horizon along the ridges west of Jerusalem – the expanse of the visible width of more than half of the land of Israel. This is a praise that is joined to the hearts of the people streaming into Jerusalem from all sides – as all are drawn to boast in Yahweh’s goodness!

Tucked in the middle of the place is a second phrase which intentionally draws worshippers to call for the timing of this praise to Yahweh (עוֹלָם -וְעַד מֵעַתָּה) – it is from that time to forward through the ages (113:3b). God will be praised 100 million million million years from now…Don’t forget that! Scoffers may reject Him, and loud and arrogant men may have decided He isn’t there – but that doesn’t change the fact that He is there, and He will always be there. He will be praised. Every knee will bow – in Heaven and on earth!

The third phrase exposes the reason for this special boast – God is above all nations and is exalted from Heavenly places (113:4). The Lord God is not simply the God of a single nation or people – even though He is most often recognized by them. He is Lord of all men, and His abode is high above them all.

Here is the truth: God is worthy of the praise of every rescued lip on fallen earth as well as those who observe from the Heavens above. He is the Creator, the Sustainer, the Savior, the Master and the King. There is no one above His station. His Majesty is beyond description. He is worthy of every praise of the human mouth – for He is the highest and greatest of all.

The Psalmist knows that He is Master of those who submit to Him and those who do not. He is King of those who cede to Him their hearts and those who do not believe He exists. God needs no vote or affirmation to be Who He is – any more than the morning dawn requires the vote of earth’s inhabitants. He is Lord – recognized or not. His praise should be known from all ends of the earth, and from every century of man’s history. We are invited to know and exalt His Name – but His place is far above ours. He is Lord of Heaven – not merely an earthly Master.

When you grasp the expanse – ask yourself what is… the reason for praise? It is the character of our God!

Psalm 113:5 Who is like the LORD our God, Who is enthroned on high, Who humbles Himself to behold [The things that are] in heaven and in the earth? 7 He raises the poor from the dust And lifts the needy from the ash heap, 8 To make [them] sit with princes, With the princes of His people. 9 He makes the barren woman abide in the house [As] a joyful mother of children. Praise the LORD!

The song moves to the loud boasts of three marks of character of the Lord:

He Reigns! His sits in the highest seat of the Sovereign.
• He is attentive to observe from His place. There is distance between God’s observation and my life – He is near! Though He must stoop to even view the occurrences of the cosmos and the earth – He does so because He desires to be near me.
• He is Intimate and Personal! He lifts the broken and the hurting from a place of loss and destruction and brings them into a place of special honor. He sees the one who is empty and fills them with great blessing.

What is left to do, but praise Him? The Psalm closes with “Praise the LORD!”

Step back and recognize for a moment where your salvation began – it was not with your attainments, not your works and not by your personal righteousness – it was by God’s work and through His grace. He took you from a life that only saw Him in the abstract, and He made Himself known to you. If you know and love Him – it is because He met you while you were busy pursuing other things. Like Saul of Tarsus, you may have been moral and even religious – but you met Him when He dropped you to your knees and you encountered Him as God. Worship begins with the acknowledgement of God’s place in the universe, and continues in recognition of God’s place in my life. He is Master. Isaiah worshiped first when he saw the Lord high and lifted up (Isaiah 6). Ezekiel was called when he experienced a vision of the God and Abraham (Ezekiel 1-3). Jesus called us to pray beginning “Our Father Who art in Heaven”. Everything in worship starts with God – not my problems, not my needs – but my focus on Him.

The Passover season’s worship is no different. It is the celebration of national rescue and salvation – and it begins with the acknowledgement that God is God – and there is none that should steal away His deserved praise!!

Psalm 114

The praise is not ended – the celebration has just begun! The Passover was God’s rescue of His people, and the song sheet continues to recall the event. Imagine thousands of worshipers streaming into Jerusalem and recalling the history of God’s work – to prepare them to seek His face anew.

This is a praise of the whole land: God has rescued us!

Psalm 114:1 When Israel went forth from Egypt, The house of Jacob from a people of strange language,

There was a time when God’s people were in bondage – but the Lord did not forget them. From Egypt they were drawn, from foreign soil and a foreign king they were guided home by the Lord (114:1).

Psalm 114:2 Judah became His sanctuary, Israel, His dominion.

When they returned, God rooted them back into the land of their fathers. The place of God’s meeting on earth with man was given to them in the heart of the land at Jerusalem (114:2).

Psalm 114:3 The sea looked and fled; The Jordan turned back. 4 The mountains skipped like rams, The hills, like lambs. 5 What ails you, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back? 6 O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs?

Their return to the land was met with cooperation of nature – because the Lord is over the world as well. The sea moved at God’s command. The Jordan River stopped its flow at God’s nod. The mountains and hills burst with vegetation at God’s directive (114:3-4). It was not a mere natural phenomenon – for nature blesses no one. This was the deliberate response to the Creator’s touch that caused the water to flee backward against the course of nature. The landscape’s burst of new life was not simply due to the Canaanites new farming techniques – God was at work (114:5-7)!

The believer has an ally wherever God plans it. Revelation says that Israel will be chased and hounded in the end times, but God will make the ground work for them to protect them. Whenever you are discouraged, don’t forget – God has anything He chooses to have at His disposal to win in the end!

Psalm 114:7 Tremble, O earth, before the Lord, Before the God of Jacob, 8 Who turned the rock into a pool of water, The flint into a fountain of water.

In praises for Israel’s past, there is yet a command for the present: earth – remember Who is your Commander! Rocks that contain water stores, remember that God directs the flow from you as He calls. You, oh earth, have a Master. You oh mountain are not your own. You were all created – and you must move when the Master calls you!

It is not only mankind that awaits redemption – but the whole cosmos that was marred by the horror of man’s rebellion. Yet even in its mournful and fallen state – earth knows its Master. The rocks are subject to the One Who formed them.

How great the power of the Creator! Do you celebrate the way God brought salvation to you? Can you see the way God moved things in your life to get you to the place of rescue? Jews recalled God’s rescue annually – do you EVER recall it at all anymore?

Psalm 115

But the beat goes on… As one first glanced at the skyline of Jerusalem facing west over the Kidron Valley – the sight of the Holy Temple was overwhelming. Nearly eighteen stories in height, by the time of the Gospels, this was the earth’s largest Temple! It was situated on a plaza nearly 1600 feet long and 800 feet wide, and remarkably held not a single statue! Yet, it could easily become a source of the people’s pride, rather than a reminder of the humility that should be obvious standing before a Holy God! The song sheet continued:

Oh God: You deserve the glory!

The Psalmist cried out:

Psalm 115:1 Not to us, O LORD, not to us, But to Your name give glory Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth.

It was God’s faithful and enduring love “that would not let them go” they celebrated – wrapped in the scrolls of the TRUTH in which that love was proclaimed!

God: We are a testimony to You!

Instead of looking at the Temple as a proud symbol, they were to see they were to be a testimony in their worship…

Psalm 115:2 Why should the nations say, “Where, now, is their God?” 3 But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases. 4 Their idols are silver and gold, The work of man’s hands. 5 They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see; 6 They have ears, but they cannot hear; They have noses, but they cannot smell; 7 They have hands, but they cannot feel; They have feet, but they cannot walk; They cannot make a sound with their throat. 8 Those who make them will become like them, Everyone who trusts in them.

The God of the Hebrews did not dwell in the Temple of the Hebrews – for He was much too large and a mere building on a tiny planet on the edge of the galaxy was nothing compared to His greatness. He was not in a man-made image, and He would not be contained in a man-made structure.

Every ministry must remember this: no matter what we can accomplish for God – it is infinitesimal compared to His greatness. We cannot get so pleased with ourselves that we forget that our lives are most valuable when our service is faithful and selfless.

God: We must trust You!

As they turned from their pride in the building, they looked up to Heaven for defense, supply and sustenance.

Psalm 115:9 O Israel, trust in the LORD; He is their help and their shield. 10 O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD; He is their help and their shield. 11 You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD; He is their help and their shield.

Two words float through the verse – trust and fear. They are opposed to one another – at tension with one another. When I trust my Father, I do not fear. When I fear my adversary, my trust wanes. Have you celebrated God’s protection for you recently? Have you told Him that you TRUST Him with your life?

For some of us, that means staring at the diagnosis sheet the doctor gave us and fighting back tears and fear. Listen carefully. None of us know what lies ahead – we only know WHO will be there when we get there – and that is all we need to know to settle down and trust our Savior.

God: We acknowledge your blessing!

The Psalmist sung out of God’s blessings…

Psalm 115:12 The LORD has been mindful of us; He will bless [us]; He will bless the house of Israel; He will bless the house of Aaron. 13 He will bless those who fear the LORD, The small together with the great.

Are you DOING that today? Are you picking out the blessing of God and proclaiming that He is GOOD?

God: We invite your blessing on others!

People that bless God and celebrate Him become generous. They don’t believe their wealth is all theirs. They believe they are blessed, in every way, to be a blessing! They invite God to bless those around them.

Psalm 115:14 May the LORD give you increase, You and your children. 15 May you be blessed of the LORD, Maker of heaven and earth. 16 The heavens are the heavens of the LORD, But the earth He has given to the sons of men.

Note the songwriter made clear that the heavens are beyond man’s grasp, but earth is his to manage. Sometimes we miss blessing because it comes disguised as much labor!

God: We understand it is our time!

The songwriter continued…

Psalm 115:17 The dead do not praise the LORD, Nor [do] any who go down into silence; 18 But as for us, we will bless the LORD From this time forth and forever. Praise the LORD!

The time for this kind of praise and singing is when I am alive and seeking God. This is OUR TIME to fill God’s ears with the voice of praise. These are our fleeting moments to bring a smile to the Father. We will do so in the future, but in a different way. NOW is the time to worship, to praise, to celebrate and proclaim His goodness!

Psalm 116

Not all my celebration comes from good times and easy life. Life can be scary, and the nights can be long. Psalm 116 was sung while passing by the cemetery going down the hill of the Mount of Olives. Listen to the song as the music changes in the background…

Psalm 116:1 I love the LORD, because He hears My voice [and] my supplications. 2 Because He has inclined His ear to me, Therefore I shall call [upon Him] as long as I live. 3 The cords of death encompassed me And the terrors of Sheol came upon me; I found distress and sorrow. 4 Then I called upon the name of the LORD: “O LORD, I beseech You, save my life!”

The singer acknowledged that God hears and makes an effort to listen – but times of trouble still come. Death draws near, and distress grows as our body weakens. We cannot stop time and we cannot fight weakness – it comes to each of us. When we are laid low – we can cry out to our Father. Who is He that He would listen? Keep listening to the Word…

Psalm 116:5 Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; Yes, our God is compassionate. 6 The LORD preserves the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me. 7 Return to your rest, O my soul, For the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. 8 For You have rescued my soul from death, My eyes from tears, My feet from stumbling.

He is gracious, righteous and compassionate. I may be simple, but God is my protector. I may be weak, but God is my strength…

Yet, the time for my departure may come. I may not hear the trumpet sound. If that happen… I will leave this world with confidence…Psalm 116:15 Precious in the sight of the LORD Is the death of His godly ones.

I know that my departure will be noticed by you. You consider my slipping from the body a PRECIOUS thing. “Yaw-kawr” is a word for splendid, weighty, and costly. If you follow Him, your life is precious and your death is something God marks. I am no number to the Lord. I am a tiny man watched by an immense and unmeasurable Creator!

Psalm 117

The next part of the Psalm is often said climbing up the Kidron Valley to the Temple doors near the summit of the hill. Thankfully, they are the shortest verses!!

Psalm 117:1 Praise the LORD, all nations; Laud Him, all peoples! 2 For His lovingkindness is great toward us, And the truth of the LORD is everlasting. Praise the LORD!

Again we celebrate the chesed: the faithful love, and the truth – the place where that love is revealed (in God’s Word). His truth will not die. His love will not vanish… We will keep proclaiming His goodness – for our universe is built on His character and from His mind!

Psalm 118

The last part of the song sheet celebrated that love in 118:1-5, but then offered something startling… something SHOCKING… something counter to all that a lost world believes about our God…

Psalm 118:6 The LORD is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me? 7 The LORD is for me among those who help me; Therefore I will look [with satisfaction] on those who hate me.

• No prince on earth can protect me like the Lord above me (118:8-9).
• Nations can surround me – but God’s NAME is faithful. (118:10-12)
• When I am hemmed in on every side, a Mighty God is my Protector and my Rescuer (118:13-14).
• There is no power that can match His outstretched arm (118:15-17).
• Though I forsake Him and He finds reason to chastise me, yet He will do right – He always does (118:18-20).
• I may come to tears and cry out – but You will hear me, and You will rescue me (118:21).

Maybe no one will understand me. Maybe they will see me as odd, and walk away from me. It doesn’t matter. My God will make something beautiful out of me. He will do it through something the world cannot understand. The Psalmist closed with a word of prophecy…

In Jerusalem, when the Assyrian invasion was coming upon the city from the fall of the Northern Kingdom, which was slowly eaten up between 732 and 722 BCE – more than ten years of slow and methodical advance… A wall was erected around the west side of the city. That wall was carefully quarried out of stone from the north side of Jerusalem, on the northern extension of the Ophel Ridge and the Western Ridge. When the quarry workers came to a piece of stone in the middle of that valley, they left it. The stone had too many fractures. The stone was of no value – they rejected it.
Seven hundred years passed, and that rejected piece of stone became a place that looked like a lonely skull hill that stuck up above an olive grove. They called in Golgotha. Others called it Calvary – but it was a rejected piece of stone. Listen to the words of Psalm 118:

Psalm 118:22 The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner [stone]. 23 This is the LORD’S doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day which the LORD has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

There it was – a place rejected that became the foundation stone of our salvation. God keeps His promises, and He uses the foolish and rejected things – and the lowly and rejected people – to keep His promises.

The song ends…

118:25 O LORD, do save, we beseech You; O LORD, we beseech You, do send prosperity! 26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD; We have blessed you from the house of the LORD. 27 The LORD is God, and He has given us light; Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar. 28 You are my God, and I give thanks to You; [You are] my God, I extol You. 29 Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.

Can you see what they did? They recognized that God saved them – so they broke out in song (113). They looked back at their history and saw God’s hand – so they poured out their hearts in song (114)! They looked past the work of their hands and proclaimed all they did SMALL before God (115)! They saw the graves of those who went before, and acknowledged that death is real and life is hard – but God was watchful – so they cried out in praise (116). They were winded as they walked up in the Temple and so they sung a short by poignant praise (117). As they passed through the ritual baths for cleansing, and walked up the stairs into the Temple – they exclaimed that God would meet them at a place rejected by the calloused hands of men who worked. God would meet them at the place were rejects are tossed aside – at a place where criminals and derelicts are found.

Has He met you at Calvary? For those who have, we are celebrating today, because… Our rescue came from God’s powerful hand – because He is a both a Master and a Loving Father.


Grasping God’s Purpose: “The Reliability Factor” – Exodus 25:1-9 and Psalm 15

The most reliable watch, is the one that seems to keep time well. I read a clip more than ten years ago:

Time technicians at the National Institute of Standards & Technology (Formerly the National Bureau of Standards) set a new level of precision in 1949 by inventing the atomic clock. It counted the oscillations of the nitrogen atom in an ammonia molecule–and was reliable to within one second in three years. More recently, NIST switched to an atomic clock based on the vibrations of cesium atoms. It will need 300,000 years to gain or lose a single second. But NIST scientists are working on a still-better model: a single mercury ion will be trapped in a vacuum by laser beams and cooled to its lowest possible energy level. The atom’s oscillations will then be so stable that the new timepiece should be accurate to within one second in 10 billion years–the total life span of stars similar to our sun. – Business Week, reported in Resource, Mar/April, 1990.

Wow! That seems pretty reliable. What do we mean when we say something is RELIABLE? We mean that it is something we can count on… A reliable car will start morning after morning. A reliable employee will show up and do their job day in and day out…. What we are actually saying is this: reliability means it will perform according to our specifications. It will, simply put, do what we want done, when we want it done, the way we want it done.

Let me ask a penetrating question: Does God think you are a reliable person? Can He trust you to do what He wants you to do, and when He calls you to do it?

One of the places we need reliability is in our building of homes and common structures in society. If you ever had a house built, I am sure you would agree that the most reliable builder is the one who follows the properly approved plans you give them. That is our focus today, because our story is about a time when God gave men plans to build a worship place for Him. God didn’t reveal the pattern of the worship place because He wanted the people of Israel to move close to Him – but so that He could move in and dwell with them. I know because He said so.

Exodus 25:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution. 3 “This is the contribution which you are to raise from them: gold, silver and bronze, 4 blue, purple and scarlet material, fine linen, goat hair, 5 rams’ skins dyed red, porpoise skins, acacia wood, 6 oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, 7 onyx stones and setting stones for the ephod and for the breastpiece. 8 “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. 9 “According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it. …40 “See that you make them after the pattern for them, which was shown to you on the mountain.

Boil down what we have just heard from God’s Word. He said, “Take a collection. Get this list. Build the way I specify. I want to live within your community.” God specified the exact pattern He desired the Tabernacle builders to use – and as the coming occupant of the structure, He wanted things built in accordance with His choices…nothing more, nothing less.

Key Principle: God has specific requirements that He has stated that invite Him into the midst of His people to dwell with them. If we would be His people today, an unchanging God seeks reliable builders both in our worship and our daily walk – in order that we would allow Him to feel at home with us.

To that end, let me ask you two other penetrating questions: Do you think that God should settle for anything we want to give Him? Doesn’t it make perfect sense that He should be able to determine what He wants and expect us to become that?

The pattern of our text indicated that God knew what He wanted, and what He did not. The history of the people in the story reveals that God didn’t accept any compromise of the plan of the building, nor did he excuse the compromised character of the people who built it. If God said fire was only to come from the brazen altar to be taken to light the incense altar inside the Tabernacle, and two priests got tipsy with wine and brought their own lighter into the incense altar – God opened up the ground and swallowed them up. He knew what He wanted, and He demanded His people pay attention to what He wanted.

I wonder what would happen if we applied the same standard of our personal faithfulness to God and His Word that we expect from other areas of our lives? If your car started once every three tries, would you consider it reliable? If your postman skipped delivery every Monday and Thursday, would you consider him trustworthy? If you didn’t go to work once or twice a week so that you could just take “time for yourself” would you see yourself as a reliable employee? If your refrigerator stopped working for a day or two every now and then, would you say, “Oh well, it work most of the time.”? If your water heater provided an icy cold shower a few mornings a week, would you think it was dependable? If you skipped paying a few of electricity bill payments do you think your provider would mind?

We need to set aside the silly and haphazard way we have approached God, and pay attention to what He has said pleases Him.

Now let’s be clear… We do not do this to earn a relationship with Him – we can only do this AFTER we have one. The people in the story were already God’s people. He already saved them. Yet, as His people, there was much they needed to learn. They wanted Him to dwell with them in comfort and joy – and so do we. We want Him to be at home in us and with us. Before we go a step further in our text, I want to break away from the beginnings of the Tabernacle construction to follow up on the phrase God said in Exodus 25:8: “…that I may dwell among them.” Let’s have a look at the words of David on his personal preparation for spending time with God in Psalm 15. I know of no other text that will help pull out the steps in a more clear presentation. These words are essential to understanding what we will see as the story of the Tabernacle unfolds in the coming lessons.

As we turn to look at Psalm 15 for a few moments, let me ask you an easy question… “Did you ever observe what happens when young people fall in love?” In a desire to impress that young man or woman, they do crazy things. Some find the shower regularly for the very first time since momma was bathing them. Some comb their hair…. Astounding! These changes remind us of some of the laws of human change. One such law is: With the right incentive, we can change.

Long ago, King David knew what it was like to see people change their clothing, and their behavior based on being in the presence of power. If they wanted the king’s attention, there was an expected pattern of behavior. As a king, he confronted the tendency people have to change their behavior radically in order to gain access to his presence. King David took that observation and went in a different direction than most of us would have. He decided that if people changed themselves to be acceptable in his presence, he too must carefully examine his life and decide if he had sufficiently prepared himself to be in the presence of his Holy King – to walk in intimacy with his God. David already concluded that the changes were WORTH THE SACRIFICE, and devised, under the influence of the Spirit, a preparatory inspection checklist he could use to gear himself up for intense and prolonged worship and intimacy with God.

Though it isn’t talked about enough, in my view, we are responsible for our own preparation to worship. A worship team cannot draw you in to worship a God you have walked away from all week. We have to change – and it takes forethought and effort. Be warned: the changes have been revealed. We don’t have to THINK UP what God would want us to do to prepare… He told us here in the poetic frames of David in the Psalm.

Let me admit something: Writer upon writer has concluded that Psalm 15 is a response to time with God, so what I am teaching goes against the grain. Yet, in close inspection of the passage, I cannot accept that based on the opening question of David. The question wasn’tHow will I be changed if I am with you.” That is the question many commentators seem to approach the passage with. The question is not about the EFFECTS OF WORSHIP as much as the PREPARATIONS FOR INTIMACY with God. Seems to be asking: “What kind of person is truly prepared to be in Your presence and remain close to You, O Lord?” He then formed a seven step checklist that it looks like he used to get ready for worship.

The text opens in 15:1 “Master, who may dwell (goor) in your tent (ohel)? Who can live (shawkan) on the place of your holy mountain (har kodesh)?”

The question reveals that some choices were already made by David. First, he wanted to come into the presence of God, and dwell there – or prolong the time they shared together. Second, he presumed that NOT EVERYONE was ready simply because they wanted time with God. The mountain of God was HOLY (kodesh) or distinct from any other place. The question reveals that David understood that we cannot be casual with the holy. We must prepare. We must acknowledge its supreme difference from the normal.

Before we dismiss this quickly, we must recall that OUR BODIES are called holy to the Lord. Our relationships among brothers are part of what God calls holy. Our choices in the world are to be holy…. All of these prepare us to enter worship.

I hear far too little about preparation for worship, and far too much about how worship should change us. (Jesus reminded the disciples that the soil is also important to growth – not simply the seed and sower). I do not argue that worship should and will change us – I argue that preparation was also part of the plan of God. We need to take responsibility for preparation – and not spiritualize our laziness and inertia in making right choices to prepare our hearts to meet God.

Keep reading the Psalm. Each verse contains three specific attributes of a “twelve attribute” checklist – I organized them into seven steps by category. There is a case to be made that the twelfth is actually an observation, but we will not dwell on that distinction for the time being. Psalm 15:2 includes the first three specifics that appear to deal primarily with inner attitudes that set the stage for all the others. “הולך תמים ופעל צדק ודבר אמת בלבבו׃

Psalm 15:2 “He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart”.


Attentive to sin blemishes (holech tamim): One whose “goings are unblemished” (tawmim- 15:2a). The idea included the attention to avoid sinful practices, as well as the daily maintenance of proper life.

Shalem is a word for completed and perfect in Hebrew, but that is not used here. The other Hebrew word for “perfect” is tawmim, meaning absolutely complete, right (related to tawmid, “continual,” perpetual,” “daily”). Thus tawmim meant morally perfect, not just living up to all the light you have or according to your own conscience (which can be enlightened or not).

When I was a kid, my mother told us what time we needed to be ready for church. We appeared, like a whole team (I come from a large family) at the front sidewalk before we climbed into the panel van to go to church. We were to be clean. We were to have church clothes. We were to be 100% ready. Mud on the clothing, dirt on the hands, grease in the hair – were all wholly unacceptable. Trying to cover dirt was unacceptable. The same is true here.

Rev. Gordan Runyan wrote: “This verse is saying that the worshipper must be sincere. “Sincere” comes from two Greek words that you might’ve heard spoken in the marketplaces. Our Sincere comes from Sine and Cera. Together, they mean “No Wax.” When a potter fired his wares in the oven back then, it was common for the clay to crack. An unscrupulous potter would then take some wax and use it to fill in the cracks, then paint over it all and try to pass it off as a good piece of pottery. But a shrewd buyer of pottery knew that a simple test could show him if the pot was truly good or not. He held it up to the sunlight. Spots filled with wax would be plainly evident then as the light penetrated and shone through. A pot with no wax was thus a “sincere” pot. It had no wax. It really was consistent with its advertising. There is no wax in the true worshipper. He is not like the Pharisee, saying on the outside that he loves God and obeys. Neither is he like the modern Evangelical Christian, who loudly proclaims his heartfelt love for Jesus, but cannot bring himself to keep the commandments. The cup is washed inside and out. He speaks the truth in his heart, and that truth is consistent with how he acts.”


Active in seeking right acts (“and works righteousness” is v’pual tsedek): accomplishes what is right and just (15:2b). Am I actively working with my energies to accomplish positive tasks in the life of people? It is one thing to focus on walking in a way that is unblemished, but a whole different matter to be positively producing right acts with my time, talent and treasure – all received from my God to live this life.

Who have you been deliberately helping this week but yourself? Are you able to draw a line back to specific things that helped another that didn’t also somehow make YOUR LIFE better – so that you know you weren’t really just doing it to help yourself? Have you been a DELIBERATELY POSITIVE PART of someone’s week? Check your energy to be ready for worship. Don’t just be AGAINST EVIL in life, be helping GOOD.


Authentic (“and speaks truth in his heart” is v’debar emet b’lev-vo 15:2b): One who declares in words (debar) truth (ehmeth) in or from his heart (layvawv). I believe, if you really think about it, that it is easy to lie to myself. It is easy to convince myself that my actions and words had sound reasons that were rooted in Biblical values, and cover the tracks of my self motivation.

I must constantly check my heart, with God’s Word and the light of God’s Spirit. I must really face the fact that I can be self deceived. If I regard lies in my heart, God’s Word will be torqued around inside and produce more hardened justifications and self affirming feelings, rather than challenge my inner strong self and cause my knees to buckle to His holy distinctiveness. My hunger for His presence must press me to search deeply into the recesses of my heart before I can dwell in intimacy with Him. Isn’t that why David called upon God to “try his thoughts”…


Psalm 15:3 He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor takes up a reproach against his friend;

Psalm 15:3 includes three more specifics that seem to relate to SPEECH and the use of the tongue: לא רגל על לשנו לא עשה לרעהו רעה וחרפה לא נשא על קרבו׃

  • Guarded and gracious in speech (“does not slander” is lo rawgal al-lishanu – 15:3a): He who has no hidden words that speak from behind others (rawgal: to go on foot as if to spy from rehgel: foot – 15:3).

Recently I have been challenged anew with the casual way I could easily speak about others. I cannot allow this if I am prepared for a prolonged intimacy with God. I exclude myself from His inner confidences and hold myself outside the chamber if I casually treat the use of my words concerning others. I must guard my mouth. James could not have been clearer (see James 1) about the devastating nature of the “tongues fire” damage.

  • Positive (not provocative- לא עשה לרעהו רעה): Does not devise inequity or trouble for his neighbor (15:3b). Though the grammar does not exclusively include only the tongue, the context demands that I address verbal traps I may have set for people. The issue of not planning trouble for my neighbor is not ONLY about what I could say, but it is certainly in part about the use of words. I cannot become casual with another man’s heart, another man’s reputation – I must treasure others and their care if I am prepared to stand in the presence of the Master. The idea continues profoundly in the next phrase…
  •  Loyal : (וחרפה לא נשא על קרבו) One who will not allow (lo nasa: does not take in) his neighbor to be ashamed (Charpaph is reproach from charpaw: upbraid or blaspheme) or taunted (15:3b). The idea is that this one will not accept upbraiding of his neighbor, but loyally comes to his defense. A true worshipper defends his neighbor’s good name. I will not only cease from casually speaking badly of another, I will refuse to be in the place where such speech occurs. I will stop it, because it will blemish my heart and make me as unusable as a dropped scalpel in an operating room. I must check my tongue for loyalty, and behind disloyal speech I will find a hunger to be affirmed by others that is both unhealthy and unholy. My value comes from my Master – not my friends. The hunger to be seen as important is a manifestation of immaturity and ungodliness. It must be tamed and quieted inside, and then sacrificed on a holy altar before God.


Psalm 15:4 “In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honors those who fear the LORD…”

Speaking of “checking my room” may require a bit of explanation. In 15:4 David includes three more phrases of preparation for God’s presence:

נבזה בעיניו נמאס ואת יראי יהוה יכבד נשבע להרע ולא ימר׃

The first two phrases related to the place in whick I choose to keep myself. There are choices involved in the room I choose to be in as I prepare to walk intimately with the Master. Do I spend my time surrounded by people that understand His Holiness and draw me toward Him, or do I casually encamp with those who have declared themselves to be His enemies, and than walk into His presence? The first phrases are both selective ideals:

  • Selective Rejection (negative): (“in whose eyes a reprobate is despised” is niv’zeh: despises + b’einav:in his eyes + nimas: from mawas: one who deliberately rejects) One who sets aside a rejector of God and His ways – 15:4. I dare not choose to pitch my tent in the camp of the scornful and agnostic men and then walk from that place into the tent of God on the Holy Hill. If I am not uncomfortable with the work of evil men, my heart is not right and ready. If I am not broken by their hardness, and wounded by their careless pride, I am not ready to worship.
  • Selective Affirmation (positive): (v’et-yirah YHWH v’chabbed) but places weight (kawbad) on those who revere the Lord! (15:4b). I am not only to be negatively selective (to move out of a room filled with those who despise my Master, but I am to select a room where others who seek His Holy presence and place weight on intimacy with Him are dwelling. The wrong room pulls me down, the right room moves me forward in righteous hunger, and righteous yearning.

Let me say it clearly: Who you hang out with affects your worship of God. What you laugh at in the world affects your worship. Where you were last night, and the night before has much more to do with what will happen today than you may believe!


Psalm 15:4b “…He swears to his own hurt and does not change.”

  • Unwavering: (nishbah: covenant + l’harah + to his hurt + v’lo yamir) He who keeps his word when he covenants to do something, refusing to exchange it when difficult (15:4b). It is easy for me to want the benefits of a relationship without the work in the relationship. It is easy for me to make promises but walk away from them when my attention is pulled elsewhere. The approach to the Holy One is a consuming vision. I must hunger to be in His presence more than I hunger for other things. What Dietrich Bonhoeffer said was absolutely true: “When I sin, I do not hate God – I simply forget God.” I must not forget. I must not place Him second. I must make the commitment to walk with Him, and show the desire by standing my other commitments. In a day awash in broken promises, contracts, mortgages, marriages – believers must stand apart from the culture of casual commitment.


Psalm 15:5 “He does not put out his money at interest, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

In the next two phrases, David revealed an attitude that can be uncovered in looking carefully at the use of money (Psalm 15:5):

כספו לא נתן בנשך ושחד על נקי לא לקח עשה אלה לא ימוט לעולם׃

  • Am I Generous? (כספו לא נתן בנשך ) He who gives his substance (kehsef) without an angle to personally gain from it (neshek: today a “weapon” but from the word “to bite” nawshak – 5:5a). Do I use money to “bite” another? Is this about THEM or about MY GAIN?

All that I have came from God’s good hand. If I want to be in His presence and walk in intimacy with Him, can I treat things as more important than the people of my life? If I am “flexible” and lenient on myself for the sake of business, I allow a blemish in my heart to grow. It will eventually grow to displace my hunger for Him – it will be a hunger to use what He has given me to ease my life at the expense of others. Could it be that some of my wealth was given so that I could care for others with no benefit beyond pleasing my Master?

  • Honest: (“nor does he take a bribe” is v’shochad: a bribe + al- naki: the innocent + lo lakach oseh eleh: nor take does these) He who cannot be bought to say something against innocent ones for personal gain (15:5B). This is logical next step when people are less important than money and gain in my life. The point to these last two is that OTHER PEOPLE ARE MORE IMPORTANT than my personal gain, or I am not prepared to walk with God.


Psalm 15:5b “…He who does these things will never be shaken.

Stability: לא ימוט לעולם׃ (lo yimot: won’t totter or collapse + l’olam: forever): “He who does these things will not totter (mote)!”

Not long ago the world was once again deeply torn by the heartbreak of an earthquake that struck Port au Prince, Haiti. After that, the Chilean government began the grim task of digging out people from the piles of rubble that shook their country. We know what earthquakes can do to the cities of the world… There are no words to describe the suffering of people in these places, and our prayers and help is sent continually to aid where we can. Anyone, anywhere can be rocked by the earth shifting. When the earth shifts, buildings fall. We design them for some movement, but nothing is designed for the power of a near 9 point quake.

In the same way, there is virtually nothing that can make a man stable against the shaking and shifting of his culture, the rattling of a failing body, the painful tremors of an unfaithful friend – like the stability of intimacy with his God…so I must deliberately prepare myself for the much needed worship.

God has specific requirements that He has stated that invite Him into the midst of His people to dwell with them. If we would be His people today, an unchanging God seeks reliable builders both in our worship and our daily walk – in order that we would allow Him to feel at home with us.