The holy mountain is Mount Zion which was Mount Moriah and Jerusalem of the Old Testament. There are two different Hebrew verbs used for “may dwell” and “may live” and both refer to two different locations: the tabernacle (“sacred tent”) and the temple (“holy mountain”). The first verb, “may dwell” (Heb. “gur”) speaks of a temporary stay similar to the nomad culture and is used with “tent.” The second verb “may live” (Heb. “sh-k-n”) presents a more permanent residence and is paired with the holy mountain where the Temple building stood.
Some commentators consider this Psalm to be a dialogue between a worshipper entering the temple courts and a priest or Levite at the entrance guarding the gate. Or, Psalm 15 may come from the wisdom literature of Israel to serve as a teaching on morality and true spirituality that is collected in a memory list of ten things.
How the question, “Who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?” is NOT answered is revealing. The answer is NOT:
- Covenant relationship (Abrahamic, Mosaic, etc.)
- Religious ritual (sacrifice, offering, etc.)
The answer to “Who may dwell in the Lord’s presence?” is a clear list of moral qualities presented without the clutter of metaphors or emotional appeal. Simply put the list includes ten conditions:
- Speaks truth
- No slander
- No wrong to neighbor
- No slur
- Despise vile people/honor those who fear God
- Keep oaths
- Lend money to poor without interest
- Reject bribes
The answer to who may enter the Lord’s presence involves both positive actions and avoidance of negative conditions. The man of God must be active in righteousness while also avoiding evil. The list includes good deeds, guiltlessness, speech, interaction with other people and money.
The Psalm ends with the promise that a lifestyle that incorporates these characteristics will be blessed because it will never be shaken. The concept is that this man cannot be shaken from the presence of the Lord. Only a man’s own actions and words can separate him from the divine presence.
Psalm 15 can be divided into three parts:
- Entrance Question
Isaiah writes in similar fashion in Isaiah 33:14-17:
“The sinners in Zion are terrified; trembling grips the godless:
‘Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire?
Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?’
- Those who walk righteously and
- speak what is right,
- who reject gain from extortion and
- keep their hands from accepting bribes,
- who stop their ears against plots of murder and
- shut their eyes against contemplating evil—
they are the ones who will dwell on the heights,
whose refuge will be the mountain fortress.
Their bread will be supplied, and
water will not fail them.
Your eyes will see the king in his beauty and
view a land that stretches afar.”