Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place?…
Who may ascend, was a picturesquely appropriate question for singers toiling upwards; and "who may stand?" for those who hoped presently to enter the sacred presence. The ark which they bore had brought disaster to Dagon's temple, so that the philistine lords had asked in terror, "Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God?" And at Beth-Shemesh its presence had been so fatal that David had abandoned the design of bringing it up, and said, "How shall the Ark of the Lord come to me?" The answer which lays down the qualifications of true dwellers in Jehovah's house may be compared with the similar outlines of ideal character in Psalm 15 and Isaiah 33:14. The one requirement is "purity." Here that requirement is deduced from the majesty of Jehovah, as set forth in vers. 1, 2, and from the designation of His dwelling as "holy." But this is the postulate of the whole Psalter. In it the approach to Jehovah is purely spiritual, while the outward access is used as a symbol; and the conditions are of the same nature as the approach. The general truth implied is, that the character of the God determines the character of the worshippers. Worship is supreme admiration, culminating in imitation. Its law is always, "They that make them are like unto them; so is everyone that trusteth in them." A god of war will have warriors, and a god of lust sensualists for his devotees. The worshippers in Jehovah's holy place must be holy. The details of the answer are but the echoes of a conscience enlightened by the perception of His character. In ver. 4 it may be noted that of the four aspects of purity enumerated, the two central refer to the inward life (pure heart; lifts not his desire unto vanity), and these are embedded, as it were, in the outward life of deeds and words. Purity of act is expressed by "clean hands," — neither red with blood nor foul with grubbing in dunghills for gold and other so-called good. Purity of speech is condensed into the one virtue of truthfulness (swears not to a falsehood). But the outward will only be right if the inward disposition is pure, and that inward purity will only be realised when desires are carefully curbed and directed. As is the desire, so is the man. Therefore the prime requisite for a pure heart is the withdrawal of affection, esteem, and longing from the solid-seeming illusions of sense. "Vanity" has, indeed, the special meaning of idols, but the notion of earthly good apart from God is more relevant here. In ver. 5 the possessor of such purity is represented as receiving "a blessing, even righteousness," from God, which is by many taken to mean beneficence on the part of God, "inasmuch as, according to the Hebrew religious view of the world, all good is regarded as reward from God's retributive, righteousness, and consequently as that of man's own righteousness or right conduct" (Hupfeld). The expression is thus equivalent to "salvation" in the next clause.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place?