301 – Psalm 15 – More Questions?

Psalm 15:1 (NKJV)

           1       [YHWH], who may abide in Your tabernacle?

    Who may dwell in Your holy hill?

Last time we considered Psalm 15:1. There’s more to observe in this two-sentence verse. I mentioned last time that according to Logos Bible Software a few glosses for the Hebrew word “abide” are: dwell as alien and dependent, sojourn (“live temporarily”), lodge, and dwell. I didn’t tell you that the Hebrew word is “yagur”. The word “dwell” in the second sentence is the Hebrew word “yiskon”, and Logos Bible Software reports the glosses as settle, reside, be enthroned. 

You may ask, “who cares! What difference does it make what the Hebrew words are and their glosses, isn’t English good enough?”

To that I would answer English is only good enough when it communicates effectively what the author of the Hebrew intends for his readers to understand. If we didn’t look up the Hebrew words in the source language dictionary we would probably think the words “abide” and “dwell” were synonymous and could be used interchangeably, but we’d be wrong. We have to go back to the Hebrew to discover that the Hebrew word “abide” here indicates temporarily abiding in the tabernacle, whereas the Hebrew word “dwell” is the permanent kind of dwelling. So we could accurately restate David’s question to YHWH this way, “YHWH, who may temporarily as a stranger passing through abide in Your tabernacle? [And] who may settle down and dwell permanently in Your holy hill?”

What about if the correct gloss for “yiskon” or dwell was “be enthroned”? Would that maybe indicate that David was asking what king could rule permanently from His holy hill? Interesting preponderance don’t you think? Personally, I wouldn’t force the gloss “be enthroned” as the definition for “dwell” without contextual evidence in the passage. In other words, is there any evidence in the surrounding text that David is talking about a king?

Let’s put a pin in the discussion for a moment because we have one more word, or rather phrase, to define before we can try to make sense of verse one. To what is “Your holy hill” referring?

If we were to take the time to look up the scriptural references of “holy hill” we’d run into words and phrases like “Zion” and “City of David”. We’d sew the various passages together (correlation) and would discover that YHWH’s “holy hill” is referring to the city of Jerusalem, which is actually on top of a hill! As an aside, this particular Psalm was likely a Psalm of ascent, meaning one of the “songs” worshippers sang as they walked up to Jerusalem to sacrifice and worship.

Now, let’s go back to trying to make sense of verse one. Why might David have used two different Hebrew words for abide/dwell that likely meant “temporarily sojourning” and “permanently settling”? One possible answer would be revealed if we considered the form of Hebrew poetry David employed here. You may recall that Hebrew poetry is not about rhyme and meter like our poetry. It actually employs different forms of parallelism.  Synthetic parallelism gives some information in a phrase or sentence, then synthesizes or gives additional information in the next phrase or sentence.

If verse one is being communicated in synthetic parallelism what could be the message? Great question! I don’t think we have made enough observations of the passage and considered the Psalm as a whole in order to make interpretive decisions yet. So let’s continue to make more observations for now.

David asks YHWH a question in verse one, then it seems he goes on to answer his own question in the remaining verses of the Psalm. We believe this because there’s no indication YHWH answered. There’s nothing like, “YHWH answered….” nor the use of the pronoun “I” indicating a person change for the response.

David says in order to abide/dwell there are three things a person does (verse 2) and three things a person does not do (verse 3). He then tells us the perspective the dweller maintains (verse 4). In thinking about the three good things this abider/dweller does in the backdrop of verse one, it can’t be in reference to “abiding in the tabernacle”. The tabernacle was first a place of sacrifice for sin. The altar was the first thing one encountered walking through the gate. You couldn’t do good things to qualify yourself to make a sacrifice for your sins. Nor could you refrain from sinful behavior in order to qualify yourself. It seems clear then that these dos and don’ts are related to residing in Jerusalem.

But that begs another question. What could a person’s behavior have to do with living in a city? That doesn’t seem to make sense at all. Consider Jerusalem’s occupants today. Would we be prepared to conclude they all were doing the good things in this passage and avoiding the bad in order to reside in Jerusalem? Certainly not! Do we believe the ancient Jerusalemites were any different? No.

Maybe it seems to you that the more observations we make of the passage the farther down a rabbit hole we go. Will we ever reach the bottom? Maybe a better question would be will we ever be able to dig ourselves back out? This is how studying a passage always goes. The more we observe the more questions arise. The more we learn the more we uncover what we don’t know. Trust me. We are not forever stuck in the observation/questioning mode. We eventually make it to interpretation (understanding what was written) and application. The word of God is packed full of flavor, but without proper study, we simply don’t have the palate for it. The tragedy of a lack of study is when it leads us to misunderstand and misapply the word of God.

I know we can’t study every little segment of scripture, but don’t you think it’s worth setting aside some time regularly to take some deep dives into the word of God? If we do we will most certainly surface refreshed!

YHWH is worthy of all praise, worship, adoration, and service!


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