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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Psalms Chapter 15


psa 15:0

The Conditions of Access to God

The preceding Psalm distinguished דור צדיק, a righteous generation, from the mass of the universal corruption, and closed with a longing for the salvation out of Zion. Psa 15:1-5 answers the question: who belongs to this דור צדיק, and whom shall the future salvation avail? Psa 24:1-10, composed in connection with the removal of the Ark to Zion, is very similar. The state of mind expressed in this Psalm exactly corresponds to the unhypocritical piety and genuine lowliness which were manifest in David in their most beauteous light on that occasion; cf. Psa 15:4 with Sa2 6:19; Psa 15:4 with Sa2 6:21. The fact, however, that Zion (Moriah) is called simply הר הקּדשׁ in Psa 15:1, rather favours the time of the Absolomic exile, when David was cut off from the sanctuary of his God, whilst it was in the possession of men the very opposite of those described in this Psalm (vid., Psa 4:6). Nothing can be maintained with any certainty except that the Psalm assumes the elevation of Zion to the special designation of "the holy mountain" and the removal of the Ark to the אהל erected there (Sa2 6:17). Isa 33:13-16 is a fine variation of this Psalm.

Psalms 15:1

psa 15:1

That which is expanded in the tristichic portion of the Psalm, is all contained in this distichic portion in nuce. The address to God is not merely a favourite form (Hupfeld), but the question is really, as its words imply, directed to God. The answer, however, is not therefore to be taken as a direct answer from God, as it might be in a prophetical connection: the psalmist addresses himself to God in prayer, he as it were reads the heart of God, and answers to himself the question just asked, in accordance with the mind of God. גּוּר and שׁכן which are usually distinguished from each other like παροικεῖν and κατοικεῖν in Hellenistic Greek, are alike in meaning in this instance. It is not a merely temporary גּוּר (Psa 61:5), but for ever, that is intended. The only difference between the two interchangeable notions is this, the one denotes the finding of an abiding place of rest starting from the idea of a wandering life, the other the possession of an abiding place of rest starting from the idea of settled family life.

(Note: In the Arabic jâm ‛lllh is "one under the protection of God, dwelling as it were in the fortress of God" vid., Fleischer's Samachschari, S. 1, Anm. 1.)

The holy tabernacle and the holy mountain are here thought of in their spiritual character as the places of the divine presence and of the church of God assembled round the symbol of it; and accordingly the sojourning and dwelling there is not to be understood literally, but in a spiritual sense. This spiritual depth of view, first of all with local limitations, is also to be found in Psa 27:4-5; Psa 61:5. This is present even where the idea of earnestness and regularity in attending the sanctuary rises in intensity to that of constantly dwelling therein, Psa 65:5; Psa 84:4-5; while elsewhere, as in Psa 24:3, the outward materiality of the Old Testament is not exceeded. Thus we see the idea of the sanctuary at one time contracting itself within the Old Testament limits, and at another expanding more in accordance with the spirit of the New Testament; since in this matter, as in the matter of sacrifice, the spirit of the New Testament already shows signs of life, and works powerfully through its cosmical veil, without that veil being as yet rent. The answer to the question, so like the spirit of the New Testament in its intention, is also itself no less New Testament in its character: Not every one who saith Lord, Lord, but they who do the will of God, shall enjoy the rights of friendship with Him. But His will concerns the very substance of the Law, viz., our duties towards all men, and the inward state of the heart towards God.

In the expression הולך תמים (here and in Pro 28:18), תמים is either a closer definition of the subject: one walking as an upright man, like הולך רכיל one going about as a slanderer, cf. היּשׂר הולך Mic 2:7 "the upright as one walking;" or it is an accusative of the object, as in הולך צדקות Isa 33:15 : one who walks uprightness, i.e., one who makes uprightness his way, his mode of action; since תמים may mean integrum = integritas, and this is strongly favoured by הלכים בּתמים, which is used interchangeably with it in Psa 84:12 (those who walk in uprightness). Instead of עשׂה צדקה we have the poetical form of expression פּעל צדק. The characterising of the outward walk and action is followed in Psa 15:2 by the characterising of the inward nature: speaking truth in his heart, not: with his heart (not merely with his mouth); for in the phrase אמר בּלב, בּ is always the Beth of the place, not of the instrument-the meaning therefore is: it is not falsehood and deceit that he thinks and plans inwardly, but truth (Hitz.). We have three characteristics here: a spotless walk, conduct ordered according to God's will, and a truth-loving mode of thought.

Psalms 15:3

psa 15:3

The distich which contains the question and that containing the general answer are now followed by three tristichs, which work the answer out in detail. The description is continued in independent clauses, which, however, have logically the value of relative clauses. The perff. have the signification of abstract presents, for they are the expression of tried qualities, of the habitual mode of action, of that which the man, who is the subject of the question, never did and what consequently it is not his wont to do. רגל means to go about, whether in order to spie out (which is its usual meaning), or to gossip and slander (here, and the Piel in Sa2 19:28; cf. רכל, רכיל). Instead בּלשׁנו we have על־לּשׁנו (with Dag. in the second ל, in order that it may be read with emphasis and not slurred over),

(Note: Vid., the rule for this orthophonic Dag. in the Luther. Zeitschrift, 1863, S. 413.)

because a word lies upon the tongue ere it is uttered, the speaker brings it up as it were from within on to his tongue or lips, Psa 16:4; Psa 50:16; Eze 36:3. The assonance of לרעהוּ רעה is well conceived. To do evil to him who is bound to us by the ties of kindred and friendship, is a sin which will bring its own punishment. קרוב is also the parallel word to רע in Exo 32:27. Both are here intended to refer not merely to persons of the same nation; for whatever is sinful in itself and under any circumstances whatever, is also sinful in relation to every man according to the morality of the Old Testament. The assertion of Hupfeld and others that נשׂא in conjunction with חרפּה means efferre = effari, is opposed by its combination with על and its use elsewhere in the phrase נשׁא חרפה "to bear reproach" (Psa 69:8). It means (since נשׁא is just as much tollere as ferre) to bring reproach on any one, or load any one with reproach. Reproach is a burden which is more easily put on than cast off; audacter calumniare, semper aliquid haeret.

In Psa 15:4 the interpretation "he is little in his own eyes, despised," of which Hupfeld, rejecting it, says that Hitzig has picked it up out of the dust, is to be retained. Even the Targ., Saad., Aben-Ezra, Kimchi, Urbino (in his Grammar, אהל מועד) take נבזה בעיניו together, even though explaining it differently, and it is accordingly accented by Baer נמאס

נבזה בּע יניו (Mahpach, Asla Legarme, Rebia magnum).

(Note: The usual accentuation בּעיניו נמאס

נבזה forcibly separates בעיניו from נבזה to which according to its position it belongs. And Heidenheim's accentuation נבזה בעיניו נמאס is to be rejected on accentuological grounds, because of two like distinctives the second has always a less distinctive value than the first. We are consequently only left to the one given above. The MSS vary.)

God exalts him who is קטן בּעיניו, Sa1 15:17. David, when he brought up the ark of his God, could not sufficiently degrade himself (נקל), and appeared שׁפל בּעניו, Sa2 6:22. This lowliness, which David also confesses in Psa 131:1-3, is noted here and throughout the whole of the Old Testament, e.g., Isa 57:15, as a condition of being well-pleasing before God; just as it is in reality the chief of all virtues. On the other hand, it is mostly translated either, according to the usual accentuation, with which the Beth of בעיניו is dageshed: the reprobate is despised in his eyes (Rashi, Hupf.), or in accordance with the above accentuation: despised in his eyes is the reprobate (Maurer, Hengst., Olsh., Luzzatto); but this would say but little, and be badly expressed. For the placing together of two participles without an article, and moreover of similar meaning, with the design of the one being taken as subject and the other as predicate, is to be repudiated simply on the ground of style; and the difference among expositors shows how equivocal the expression is.

On the other hand, when we translate it: "despicable is he in his own eyes, worthy to be despised" (Ges. 134, 1), we can appeal to Psa 14:1, where השׁהיתוּ is intensified just in the same way by התעיבוּ, as נבזה is here by נמאס; cf. also Gen 30:31; Job 31:23; Isa 43:4. The antithesis of Psa 15:4 to Psa 15:4 is also thus fully met: he himself seems to himself unworthy of any respect, whereas he constantly shows respect to others; and the standard by which he judges is the fear of God. His own fear of Jahve is manifest from the self-denying strictness with which he performs his vows. This sense of נשׁבּע להרע is entirely misapprehended when it is rendered: he swears to his neighbour (רע = רע), which ought to be לרענוּ, or: he swears to the wicked (and keeps to what he has thus solemnly promised), which ought to be לרע; for to what purpose would be the omission of the elision of the article, which is extremely rarely (Psa 36:6) not attended to in the classic style of the period before the Exile? The words have reference to Lev 5:4 : if any one swear, thoughtlessly pronouncing להרע או להיטיב, to do evil or to do good, etc. The subject spoken of is oaths which are forgotten, and the forgetting of which must be atoned for by an asham, whether the nature of the oath be something unpleasant and injurious, or agreeable and profitable, to the person making the vow. The retrospective reference of להרע to the subject is self-evident; for to injure another is indeed a sin, the vowing and performance of which, not its omission, would require to be expiated. On להרע = להרע vid., Ges. 67, rem. 6. The hypothetical antecedent (cf. e.g., Kg2 5:13) is followed by ולא ימר is an apodosis. The verb המיר is native to the law of vows, which, if any one has vowed an animal in sacrifice, forbids both changing it for its money value (החליף) and exchanging it for another, be it טוב ברע או־רע בּטוב, Lev 27:10, Lev 27:33. The psalmist of course does not use these words in the technical sense in which they are used in the Law. Swearing includes making a vow, and לא ימר disavows not merely any exchanging of that which was solemnly promised, but also any alteration of that which was sworn: he does not misuse the name of God in anywise, לשּׁוא.

In Psa 15:5 the psalmist also has a passage of the Tra before his mind, viz., Lev 25:37, cf. Exo 22:24; Deu 23:20; Eze 18:8. נתן בּנשׁך signifies to give a thing away in order to take usury (נשׁך( yrusu ekat ot r from נשׁך to bite, δάκνειν) for it. The receiver or demander of interest is משּׁיך, the one who pays interest נשׁוּך, the interest itself נשׁך. The trait of character described in Psa 15:5 also recalls the language of the Mosaic law: שׁחד לא לקח, the prohibition Exo 23:8; Deu 16:19; and על־נקי, the curse Deu 27:25 : on account of the innocent, i.e., against him, to condemn him. Whether it be as a loan or as a gift, he gives without conditions, and if he attain the dignity of a judge he is proof against bribery, especially with reference to the destruction of the innocent. And now instead of closing in conformity with the description of character already given: such a man shall dwell, etc., the concluding sentence takes a different form, moulded in accordance with the spiritual meaning of the opening question: he who doeth these things shall never be moved (ימּוט fut. Niph.), he stands fast, being upheld by Jahve, hidden in His fellowship; nothing from without, no misfortune, can cause his overthrow.