Written by Paul J. Bucknell on February, 08, 2021
Life’s Greatest Pursuit (Psalm 15:1)
By regularly considering God’s mercy, we can pursue God and keep our lives and eternity in focus.
“O LORD, who may abide in Your tent?
Who may dwell on Your holy hill?”
(Psalm 15:1, NASB)
David undoubtedly asks these questions because he considers this to be life’s most desirable quest—to live in God’s presence. The two phrases comprising Psalm 15:1 ask a similar question on who may dwell in Yahweh’s tent. The tent (same as tabernacle) is synonymous with “Your holy hill.”
Think about your life for a moment. What are some great things that you hope to accomplish or, perhaps, have already done? All the glamor from those accomplishments quickly passes. Besides, God’s presence dwarfs all of them. This pinnacle of hope of being in God’s presence towered high in David’s mind and made him desire to live in light of Yahweh’s magnificence glory.
Most of us are preoccupied with earthly affairs. When young, we seek fun and excitement. When a bit older, we are busy with schooling, marriage, and then raising a family. Soon after starting this writing ministry in 2000, I had my eighth child, a daughter. Now twenty years have flashed by. We are so engaged in completing our daily to-do lists that we have little time to reflect on our true significance as God’s children and the real hope of life. Of course, caring for our families and faithfully carrying out our work and ministry responsibilities is crucial, but the Lord designed us for something much more excellent. There is a greater purpose for all these things. David knew of this eternal hope and so sought after God (1 Sam 16:7).
Hopefully, we have learned to take pauses in our lives to examine where we are headed and what is most important. I believe God made the sabbath rest partly for this purpose. David deliberated on dwelling with God when he wrote and sung this Psalm, just as he did when writing many Psalms (example: Psalm 23). One can imagine King David walking or riding a horse to that hilly mount, Mount Moriah, or Mount Zion (often used interchangeably)—God’s holy hill, singing himself this Psalm.
This “holy hill” represents a significant spiritual history. God hinted at His plan to build His tabernacle at Mount Moriah long before David’s time, but this hill, before the temple was set up there, became the scene of David’s most foolish decision (2 Samuel 24). How do we know?
Three huge events in David’s life left an indelible dark mark on Israel: Bathsheba/Uriah, Absalom’s rebellion, and David’s prideful counting of the people followed by a 3-day plague. (I assume David wrote this Psalm after this third tragic event.) Due to David’s insolent counting of the people, even when the prophet warned him, many people throughout Israel died—all because of David’s sin.
However, God specially revealed Himself to David just when the angel of death approached Jerusalem, when David interceded to God and made, as instructed, a sacrificial offering (2 Samuel 24). This hill would later become the same place where the Romans and Jews crucified Jesus, the Messiah—Mount Moriah.
By focusing on his many failures, David could lose hope of ever meeting God. “Who may dwell in God’s tent?” became a personal, almost nagging question, plagued with a deep fear of our guilt. His first thought—“Probably not me. No way.” It’s not David’s colossal mistakes but the slew of sins made throughout his life. David dared not blame others for these sins; he was the stained and condemned sinner. We know we don’t deserve to receive God’s love but still, deep down, dream for fellowship with Him.
A Flicker of Hope
I assume David meditated on these things when gazing upon Mount Zion. He’ll never forget what happened there. However, this was the exact place God stopped the ravaging plague from ravishing those in Jerusalem by instructing David to make a sacrifice. After many thousands had died, God heard his desperate cry for those in Jerusalem. The Lord accepted David’s sacrifice and stopped the plague. Due to God’s grace, there remained a flicker of hope for David, the flagrant sinner, to meet God and dwell with Him. Why else would God intervene on David’s behalf?
The more David contemplated God’s extreme and undeserving mercy found at that hill, the more he came to cherish God. The timely sacrifice, unknown to him, would point to the tremendous sacrifice David’s son would offer. Jesus Christ, David’s descendant, similarly made a sacrifice there but offered Himself on the cross rather than some animals. By deliberating on this mercy of God we, like David, will find a surging hope that we can also encounter God our Savior one day.
This is why the Apostle Paul mentions David in Romans 4 when speaking of the necessity of being saved by faith.
5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, And whose sins have been covered. 8 “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account” (Romans 4:5-8).
David, though a king and prophet, knew he couldn’t pass God’s holy approval. God dwelt on a holy hill, but David was unholy. He found himself unworthy of God’s grace and was unworthy just as we. The Lord, however, made way for sinners like David to draw near to God through faith in God’s promise and the Messiah. This truth becomes the beautiful Gospel announcement found in Romans and elsewhere—we are made right with God by faith in Christ’s sacrifice. Jesus is the Way, the Life, and the Truth (John 14:6).
Concluding Thoughts on the pursuit of God
Though David had amassed international recognition, much wealth, renown as a king and general, had a large family, he knew these were just fleeting life scenes. More important, however, for David and us, are our discoveries of our need for God’s grace. The memories of our unworthiness form the footsteps that lead to a heart that embraces God’s extreme grace found in the cross. We see these footprints embedded in other Psalms that David wrote.
“As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness;
I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake” (Psalm 17:15).
There remains a grand hope that the “who” of Psalm 15:1 included sinners like David and us. Salvation is not dependent on our works or righteousness but on Christ’s work on the cross alone. David had this hope in God’s intervening mercy and knew when God raised him from the dead, he would share God’s holiness and live in the Yahweh’s presence.
“Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).
Discussion Questions for Psalm 15:1
- Memorize Psalm 15:1. What stands out most to you from the verse?
- How are the two phrases comprising Psalm 15:1 similar or different?
- What do you think David might be asking when he twice says, “Who?”
- What are at least two things that happened at Mount Moriah? (Bonus: What is the third event previous to these two?)
- Extra: Do some research and find where Mount Zion got its name.
- Do you think it’s fair to conclude that the tent/tabernacle represents meeting with God? Explain.
- Do you think the twice-used “Who” is connected with David’s lack of holiness to be with God?
- What does the above Romans 4 quote by David reflect on his understanding of himself and God as Savior?
- What are some accomplishments you have done or hope to if God so wills?
- Would you say that you consider being with God as of more excellent value to you than these things on earth? Explain.
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