I don’t get to edit the Bible according to what I like or dislike. I don’t have the arrogance of Thomas Jefferson, who chucked out whatever he found primitive and unenlightened and kept the moral and inspirational parts that appealed to him, leaving us with the much-abridged Jefferson Bible.
But that doesn’t mean I like everything I read in the Scriptures. In fact, the opposite of Jefferson, I tend to shy away from what feels moralistic, preferring stories and prayers.
This is why I’ve tended to blitz through Psalm 15’s five verses, moving quickly on to Psalm 16. Psalm 15 always felt too cut and dried for my tastes, too check-box.
Thankfully, slowing down and spending time with this brief psalm has changed my relationship with it. Not having the freedom to dismiss it that Jefferson took for himself, I’ve had to wrestle with it. And I’m pleased to say that it won me over.
What changes everything is its first word, something I passed over too quickly before.
Our English translations render the divine name as “the LORD,” instead of as Yahweh. This follows the Jewish reading tradition of saying Adonai (Hebrew: Lord) whenever coming across the name Yahweh in the Scriptures to avoid taking God’s name in vain. But we lose something in the process.
Names are personal, including God’s name. Names establish relationships and maintain those relationships.
When Jesus speaks the name “Mary” in the garden shortly after he has risen from the dead, everything changes for her (John 20:16). She moves immediately from a heart-heavy mourner to a loved friend who is shocked and thrilled that he is alive.
When friends say my name, I feel known. When acquaintances forget my name, I feel unimportant.
Whenever we encounter the name Yahweh in the Psalms (and elsewhere), God’s relationship with his people is in view. He has tied himself to us with covenantal bonds that are both personal and eternal. And so his faithfulness and mercy/lovingkindness are always included.
Psalm 15 begins by saying God’s name: Yahweh. Relationship is invoked. Faithful love is implied. Although what follows feels like a generalized wisdom psalm, it all issues from the personal.
It’s initial concern has to do with worship: What conditions are necessary for worship? What prepares me to worship God? It’s a good question but rarely asked, since we assume we can waltz into worship without a thought.
LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain? (Ps. 15:1)
The answer seems odd at first, because it has less to do with God than with our relationships with other people.
This begs the question: Why is God always so interested in our relationships with other people? Why isn’t he satisfied with our relationship with him? Why meddle in our other relationships?
As Trinity, relationship is at the core of who God is. His essence is relationship. He can’t get away from relationship. And relationship is what he created us for.
Creation itself takes place out of the overflow of love within the Trinity. Father loves Son. Son loves Father. Son loves Spirit. Spirit loves Son. Spirit loves Father. Father loves Spirit. Life and love are flying everywhere. So much so, there’s an excess.
We were created to be invited into the relationship of life and love within the Trinity. This is highlighted by the theme of Genesis 2 — It’s not good for the man to be alone; he needs someone who is from him but different from him as a loving, life-sharing companion.
Because God is relational and wants to draw us and our relationships into this beautiful web of life and love within the Trinity, the way we relate with others is of the utmost concern to him.
Worship, which is an expression of our relationship with God, is always tied to our human relationships.
This is why Jesus said, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23-24).
If our human relationships are wrong, our relationship with God is wrong. We’re trying to pull our broken human relationships into the unbroken relationship within the Trinity when we enter worship unreconciled.
So, how does Psalm 15 prepare us for worship? It leads us through a self-examination process, helping us see if we are true and generous in our relationships.
So, let’s walk through it.
The one whose walk is blameless,
Uh-oh. Blameless? I’m sunk already.
But wait. This isn’t perfection. This is being above accusation. And this is where’s Jesus’ words quoted above come into play. When we come clean and reconcile with others after we’ve sinned, we do in fact become blameless.
who does what is righteous,
This isn’t individual holiness, but relational holiness. Do we act justly? Am I treating others fairly? Am I mistreating the poor? How about my employees or co-workers? Are my business dealings above board?
I’m in the process of buying a house right now and there are so many ways to lie or cheat or misrepresent or squeeze people in such a transaction. In the current deal, I’ve got some leverage over the sellers, but Psalm 15 is telling me to make sure they are taken care of in the sale and not just me.
who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others;
The truth is to be in my words, not just in my actions. And this spoken truth arises from a true inner person. And just as God is true and his words are so true and solid they form the foundation for creation, my words must be like words for them to have any value in worship.
So, no gossip. No tearing down words. No chipping away at the reputations of others. No factually true words that are relationally poisonous.
who despises a vile person
but honors those who fear the LORD;
I am to recognize evil and call it for what it is, now sweeping it under the carpet. This means not honoring people because they are wealthy, powerful, or popular, but honoring the little ones who reverence God.
In a culture obsessed with celebrity, this requires a massive shift for me. It means refusing to keep up with the Kardashians. It means ignoring almost everything in People magazine and on BuzzFeed, choosing to fill my mind and heart with God’s humble ones instead.
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
Because God sticks to his word no matter what, I’m to stick to mine. I’m to live a covenantal life where words matter. I’m not to be stubborn and closed-minded, but I’m not to be swayed by cultural shifts like people (including pastors) who jump on the latest bandwagon, thinking they’re relevant when all they are is wishy-washy and lacking in conviction.
Words matter. Ideas matter. Not in the abstract, but because relationships are built on them.
who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
To be a true worshiper, I’m to have a good relationship with money, not letting it control me by grabbing what I can and not receiving it in a way that hurts the innocent. (There’s a legal context implied here where I would receive financial gain by supporting the wealthy over the poor.)
A core generosity in me means I’m other-centered rather than self-centered — like God. The alternative it to be a greedy self-idolater.
Whoever does these things
will never be shaken.
Does this mean I won’t ever suffer if I check these boxes? No. That’s not the promise here.
I myself will not be shaken, because my core person is built on the solid foundation of God. His truth. His justice. His kindness. His generosity.
My finances can be shaken, but that’s not who I am. My health can be shaken, but that’s not who I am either. My relationships are the true sum of who I am. And if I live this way, my relationships with God and others will be rock solid, unshakeable. I will have lived a life worth living. And I will be welcome in the house of God.