O Yahweh, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill?

Psalm 14 is a unique Psalm -- because of its lack of uniqueness. That is to say, it is one of the few Psalms that is wholly duplicated elsewhere in the book (Psalm 53). There are a few minor differences between the two, namely the fact that Psalm 53 replaces "Yahweh" with "Elohim." (This is related to the fact that Psalm 53 appears in a large section of the Psalms that tend to used Elohim predominantly over Yahweh as the name for addressing God.)

Some initial points of comparison:

If the Psalms are revolving around a contrast between the righteous and the wicked, (Psalms 1 and 2) then Psalm 14 is certainly an extended description of the wicked. The "fools" of Psalms 14:1 are the "wicked," "enemies," "sons of men," etc. that have appeared so far in Psalmist's writings.

Another point of comparison, already addressed in an earlier post, is the similarity of Psalms 14:1-2 to Psalms 10:4:

"The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God'" (Psalms 14:1).
"All his [the Wicked's] thoughts are, 'There is no God'" (Psalms 10:4b).

"Yahweh has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men
To see if there are any who understand, who seek after God
" (Psalms 14:2).
"The wicked in the haughtiness of his countenance, does not seek Him."(Psalms 10:4a).

I suggested earlier that the problem in Psalm 10 with the statement, "There is no God" is not a person's conviction on whether or not God exists per se, but how a person conducts himself in the context of that God. It is further clarified in Psalms 10:11, "He says to himself: 'God has forgotten; He has hidden His face; He will never see it." The ancient pagan world of course, did not deny the existence of Yahweh. There merely considered him one of many deities, and a localized one at that. Likewise, even the people of Israel (who seem to have been the source of David's real enemies for most of his life) claimed to follow Yahweh, but in fact turned aside after many different gods, and didn't even properly worship the true God that they had.

Another dimension of the problem is addressed in Psalm 14 -- God is looking among the sons of men, not merely for people who believe that He "exists," but rather for people who "do good" (Psalms 14:1, 3), "understand" (Psalms 14:2), "seek after God" (Psalms 14:2), or "call upon the Lord" (Psalms 14:4). God is looking for people who take refuge in Him, like what happens in Psalms 14:6. Of course, if the parallel between Psalms 1 and 2 means anything, the "righteous" man is also the man who takes refuge in God. The people who God will save are not the people who have some kind of academic awareness of God's existence, but rather the people who trust Him with their difficulties and take refuge in Him for protection. Psalm 14 echoes the thought of Psalm 1 in saying:

"God is with the righteous generation" (Psalms 14:5).
"Yahweh knows the way of the righteous" (Psalms 1:6).

Also note that the salvation of God's people comes out of Zion (Psalms 14:7), the same place that God set His King in (Psalms 2:6). This righteous King will ultimately be the source of salvation for all Israel.

What exactly is the point of this Psalm, however? The fact that it gets repeated somewhere else in the book is itself intriguing, and those who would present the Psalms as merely nothing more than Israel's songbook might liken this to the behavior of a modern songbook editor who can't make up his mind whether he likes singing "Higher Ground" in 3/4 or 4/4. However, if the arrangement of the Psalms is important (which I believe it is), then there is a possibility that Psalm 14 and 53 are identical ideas, but placed into different contexts.

The New Testament use of this Psalm is interesting. Parts of the first three verses are quoted in Romans 3, when Paul is establishing the universal nature of sin:

"There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside
Together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.
"

In this same context, Paul also draws from Psalm 5:9; 140:3; 10:7; Isaiah 59:7; and Psalm 36:1 to establish this point, in what is one of the longest composite quotes of Scripture in the New Testament. I mentioned in earlier that we ought to view the Psalms as doctrinal rather than merely devotional. Part of the reason for this thought is quotations that Paul makes like this. These six Old Testament passages (five of which are from the Psalms) are apparently enough to establish the teaching that "all have sinned," which becomes the foundation for the remainder of the argument in Romans.

In fact, there are two problems with the thematic statements about the righteous and the wicked in Psalm 1:

  • The wicked appear to be prospering while the Psalmist continues to suffer
  • There really aren't any righteous people in the first place, since everyone at some point "turns aside" (Psalms 14:3)

Psalms 14 is meant to state this second problem. As the book of Psalms unfolds, I believe that answers to both of these dilemmas are given and expanded upon.

In fact, this raises the question of Psalm 15:1:

"O Yahweh, who may abide in Your tent?
Who may dwell on Your holy mountain?
"

For some reason that is still beyond me, the NASB95 is not consistent in translating the word for "mountain / hill" (??). In Psalms 2:6 it is rendered "mountain," and in Psalms 15:1 it is rendered "hill." Both are technically valid, but I really wish they would pick one and stick with it.

In fact (as may may guess from the above comment), Psalms 15:1 is connected to Psalms 2:6 by the expression: "holy mountain." The entirety of Psalm 15 is sometimes called a description of the "Citizen of Zion." In other words, what does a person who lives in the city of Zion look like? The rest of the Psalm is a depiction of what that righteous citizen does and does not do. Psalm 15 acts as a foil or a response to Psalm 14. Psalm 14 primarily depicted the character of wicked people, while Psalm 15 primarily depicts the character of the righteous. The righteous person:

Does:

  • Walk with integrity (Psalms 15:2)
  • Work righteousness (Psalms 15:2)
  • Speak truth in his heart (Psalms 15:2)
  • Despises reprobates in his eyes (Psalms 15:4)
  • Honors those who fear Yahweh (Psalms 15:4)

Does Not:

  • Slander with his tongue (Psalms 15:3) (Remember the discussion on "speech" in Psalm 12?)
  • Do evil to his neighbor (Psalms 15:3)
  • Take reproach up against his friend (Psalms 15:3)
  • Does not change when he makes a vow that hurts himself (Psalms 15:4)
  • Does not put out his money at interest (Psalms 15:5)
  • Does not take a bribe against the innocent (Psalms 15:5)

Some of this material is similar to later wisdom psalms, such as Psalm 34 or 37. There is an emphasis on the "fear of Yahweh" that is characteristic of Psalms that fall into the "wisdom" genre. There is also an emphasis on doing good (contrasted with Psalms 14:1, 3), and not acting selfishly. Virtually everything listed in this Psalm is mentioned in the Law of Moses. It seems as if the Psalm is meant to say that the person who dwells in God's tent is the one who keeps the Law.

Of course, if the dilemma of Psalm 14 is correct, there is no one righteous who actually fits the descriptions listed! In light of the New Testament understanding, we all realize that no one keeps the Law perfectly, and that all fall short of the expectations listed in this Psalm. In one sense, this describes the ideal "Citizen of Zion," but in another sense, the only person who could genuinely fit this description perfectly is the righteous King of Zion Himself -- Jesus Christ. Ultimately, it is He who will be able to sanctify His people and bring them into that tent with Him, but more on that later.

Psalm 16 is a Psalm that primarily expresses trust in God. Every verse (with the exception of Psalms 16:4) expresses trust in God in some capacity.

  • Psalms 16:1 begins with the Psalmist's claim that he has "taken refuge" in God -- similar to the beginning of Psalm 7, but again recalling the theme of those who "take refuge" (Psalms 2:12).
  • In Psalms 16:3-4, there is a contrast between the delight the Psalmist has in the "holy ones" and the sorrows that will be multiplied for idolaters.
  • In Psalms 16:4-5, there is a possible connection between the "drink offerings of blood" that the wicked are offering, and the true "cup" that is Yahweh.
  • In Psalms 16:5-6, there is a parallel between Yahweh being the Psalmist's "inheritance" and the fact that the Psalmist's heritage is "beautiful" to him.
  • Because Yahweh is the Psalmist's Lord (Psalms 16:2), portion (Psalms 16:5), inheritance (Psalms 16:5), and cup (Psalms 16:5), the Psalmist "blesses" Yahweh who counsels Him.
  • Psalms 16:9 expresses trust in life -- the Psalmist's flesh will dwell securely.
  • Psalms 16:10 expresses trust in the face of death -- the Psalmist will not be abandoned into Sheol.
  • Psalms 16:8 and Psalms 16:11 contrast Yahweh being at the Psalmist's "right hand" with there being pleasures in God's "right hand."

It is possible that this Psalm is acting as a response to the lament of Psalm 13.

"Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death." (Psalms 13:3)
"For You will not abandon my soul into Sheol; Nor will you allow your Holy One to undergo decay." (Psalms 16:10)

"My adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken." (Psalms 13:4)
"Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken." (Psalms 16:8)

"My heart shall rejoice in your salvation" (Psalms 13:5)
"Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices" (Psalms 16:9)

If this is the case, it is a further illustration of the proper response to difficulty. While there is a place for lamenting and pouring out our problems before God, we must pour these problems out so we can look at them in their proper context. Once we understand God's relationship to both us and our difficulty, we will build a profound sense of trust in God like the Psalmist did.

Of course, Psalm 16 is not merely a devotional expression of trust. The New Testament writers used this Psalm apologetically to advance the case for the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:25-31; 13:34-37). The extent of trust that the Psalmist shows in God is such that He believes God will even deliver Him from the power of death and decay (Psalms 16:10). However, David who wrote this Psalm died and was buried, and his tomb existed even in the days of the apostles. David definitely underwent decay in this state of death, so the implication is that unless God intervened in some manner, the teaching of this Psalm was left unfulfilled.

Perhaps this is why, in spite of a lack of clear Old Testament teaching on the resurrection, most Jews by the days of Jesus had a belief in the resurrection of the dead. It seems to be the only reasonable conclusion for those who put their hopes in the Scriptures. Since the statement of not undergoing decay did not apply to David, it had to apply to one of His descendants -- in this case Jesus Christ who is now seated on the throne in heaven. In the same way, the Psalm still has a teaching left to be fulfilled, in that God will raise to life everyone who trusts Him to walk in paths of life and to finally dwell in righteousness on His holy mountain.