Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.
– Psalm 24:7, ESV
If you have ever visited Washington D.C. you will quickly realize that there are a lot of security measures all throughout the city. The reason is to protect the seat of government and those who are elected to serve in all three branches of government. One cannot easily walk into a government building and take over. This is seen most clearly when visiting the White House. One cannot simply walk up to the front door, ring the bell and ask to speak to the President. There are security barriers that surround the premises, foot traffic only is allowed on the streets that surround the White House. A large gate prevents visitors from getting onto the property. On top of the mansion are snipers ready to protect the President from any would be intruders. The message is clear, not just anyone can enter without being invited. In a much bigger sense this is the picture we see portrayed in Psalm 24.
Psalm 24, written by David, appears to be penned for a special occasion, likely describing the events of 2 Samuel 6. David had just defeated the Philistines and decided to bring the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem to establish it as the place of worship to the Lord. In this infamous story, the ark is placed on a cart pulled by oxen. Yet this was not the proper way to transport the ark of the covenant (see Exodus 25:13-15). The oxen stumble and the cart carrying the ark shifts, and Uzzah puts his hand on the ark to steady it, seemingly an innocent and natural gesture. Immediately Uzzah is struck dead because he improperly touched the ark of the covenant. This story, as the backdrop to Psalm 24, reminds us that we cannot approach worship in any way other than how the Lord prescribes. From this psalm we see two important aspects of proper worship.
The Proper Heart (v. 3-6)
First, is the proper heart for worship. In verse 3, David asks the question “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?” (ESV). This is a good question to ask, because not just anyone can ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in his holy place. The hill of the Lord refers to Jerusalem in general and Mount Moriah more specifically. This is the place that Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac before the Lord provided the goat (Genesis 22). Later in Israel’s history this site became the place where the temple was built.
The holy place refers to the tabernacle and later the temple. Not just anyone could enter the temple, only consecrated priests. A court surrounded the temple, and only Jewish men could enter when bringing a sacrifice for worship. In order to approach the temple, a worshiper must go through a series of ritual washings and cleansings. Even then, not even every priest could enter the temple. There were two inner rooms that comprised the temple proper: the holy place, and the holy of holies. These two rooms were divided by a massive curtain (see Exodus 26:31-34). Certain priests entered daily into the holy place to burn incense, light the lamp stand, and place fresh bread on the table (Luke 1:8-9). Only one day a year could anyone enter into the holy of holies. The high priest alone could enter on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) to sprinkle blood on the ark of the covenant as prescribed in Leviticus 16.
David’s response to the question posed in verse 3 does not seem to match the prescribed worship of ancient Israel. He states not, “He who has been born into the priestly family lineage”. No, David says, “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false” (v. 4, ESV). David thus opens up the possibility for anyone to enter the presence of a holy God, so long as they too are holy. It would seem as though the question posed in verse 3 is rhetorical, for we know that “there is no one who does good” (Psalm 14:1, Romans 3:10-18). Yet later in Romans we read, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8, ESV). Do you remember what happened at the very moment Jesus died? We read about it in Matthew 27:51, “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom…” (ESV). This event signified that the holy of holies was no longer inaccessible. Jesus, our great high priest, has made all believers members of the royal priesthood and granted access into the presence of God (see Hebrews 4:14 – 5:10 and 1 Peter 2:9).
The Proper Place (v. 7-10)
Secondly, in this psalm we see the proper place for worship. As discussed above, for ancient Israel the proper place for worship was at the temple in Jerusalem. In these verses we see a call and response of those seeking to enter the place of worship. The interesting part, however, is the one seeking entrance. It would be natural to assume that one seeking entrance would be the worshippers, those seeking to enter the temple. Yet notice who is the one requesting access, it is the Lord. “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in” (v. 7 & 9, ESV). This is astonishing! Why would the Lord need to request access into the place of worship? The answer is not fully revealed in Psalm 24, because the full revelation of God had not been made manifest.
In light of the new covenant, the proper place of worship has changed. One is no longer required to travel to Jerusalem to worship the Lord. He can now be worshiped anywhere because there is no longer just one temple, but many temples. The Apostle Paul sheds light on this in his first letter to the Corinthian church, “Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s temple and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16, CSB). And later in the same letter he says, “Flee sexual immorality!…Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20, CSB).
This brings us back to the first two verses of Psalm 24, “The earth is LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers” (ESV). Jerusalem was only a foreshadowing of the true place of worship. The entire universe belongs to the Lord and displays his glory (Isaiah 6). His presence never only resided in Jerusalem, it was everywhere. For a period of time, it was displayed most acutely in the temple. Now that his presence is displayed most acutely in believers, we can “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16, CSB).
“Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory!” (Psalm 24:10, ESV). Amen!
Hymn of Worship
Zach Kendrick is the editor of Reading For The Glory.
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