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Psalm 15

Qualifications of God’s servants

 A David psalm.

 1 What kind of person
do you take into your royal household,c Yahveh
to live on your holy hill?

People of integrity
who do what’s right
and speak truth from the heart.
Who don’t slander
harm their neighbor
or hurt their reputation.
Who loathe sleaze artists
and honor God-fearers.
Who keep their oaths, no matter what
refusing to go back on their word.
Who don’t charge interest
on loans to the poor
or rob the innocent of justice
for a bribe.

No one who lives like this
will ever fall from Yahveh’s favor.

In contrast to the preceding psalms, this one describes the person who pleases God. Inclusion in a royal household always held the combined promise and threat of royal favor and disfavor. The sanctuary was God’s earthly home and thus represented his royal household. Picture David in exile, fallen from Saul’s favor, anointed but uncrowned, longing for refuge. Whether that was its original context,a this psalm describes the person God welcomes into the blessing and protection of his home.

While God offers refuge, his holiness makes it demanding. Not that God accepts only those who are perfect.b He knows how prone to wander we are. But neither does he cut deals with evildoers to gain their loyalty or adulation. He welcomes people of character, who seek to live holy lives and seek his forgiveness whenever they fall short.

Verse by verse, the body of the psalm alternates between positives and negatives, both being equally important. Positively, God welcomes those who have integrity, do what’s right, speak honestly, loathe the loathsome, honor the God-fearing and keep their word. Negatively, they don’t slander, harm others, gossip, take advantage of the poor or take bribes. None who live like this will ever be shaken.

Though you are holy and I’m far from perfect, I would eat at your table and serve in your kingdom, Lord. Help me see as you see, love what you love and hate what you hate, please you in all I do, model my character after yours. Make me holy as you are holy, I pray. Amen.

c Literally, “sanctuary” or “sacred tent.”

a If “holy hill” refers to Mount Zion, this interpretation would be anachronistic since the sanctuary wasn’t located there till David became king. Regardless, the psalm asks what God looks for if he’s to grant us shelter and include us in his royal household, as Saul included David in his and David Mephibosheth in his.

b After all, the sanctuary was precisely where sinners were to seek and obtain God’s forgiveness.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.