3. Who shall ascend unto. It being very well known that it was of pure grace that God erected his sanctuary, and chose for himself a dwelling-place among the Jews, David makes only a tacit reference to this subject. He insists principally on the other point contained in the verse, that of distinguishing true Israelites from the false and bastards. He takes the argument by which he exhorts the Jews to lead a holy and righteous life from this, that God had separated them from the rest of the world, to be his peculiar inheritance. The rest of mankind, it is true, seeing they were created by him, belong to his empire; but he who occupies a place in the church is more nearly related to him. All those, therefore, whom God receives into his flock he calls to holiness; and he lays them under obligations to follow it by his adoption. Moreover, by these words David indirectly rebukes hypocrites, who scrupled not falsely to take to themselves the holy name of God, as we know that they are usually lifted up with pride, because of the titles which they take without having the excellencies which these titles imply, contenting themselves with bearing only outside distinctions;2 yea, rather he purposely magnifies this singular grace of God, that every man may learn for himself, that he has no right of entrance or access to the sanctuary, unless he sanctify himself in order to serve God in purity. The ungodly and wicked, it is true, were in the habit of resorting to the tabernacle; and, therefore, God, by the Prophet Isaiah, (chap. 1:12,) reproaches them for coming unworthily into his courts, and wearing the pavement thereof. But David here treats of those who may lawfully enter into God’s sanctuary. The house of God being holy, if any rashly, and without a right, rush into it, their corruption and abuse are nothing else but polluting it. As therefore they do not go up thither lawfully, David makes no account of their going up; yea, rather, under these words there is included a severe rebuke, of the conduct of wicked and profane men, in daring to go up into the sanctuary, and to pollute it with their impurity. On this subject I have spoken more fully on the 15th psalm. In the second part of the verse he seems to denote perseverance, as if he had said, Who shall go up into the hill of Sion, to appear and stand in the presence of God? The Hebrew word קום, kum, it is true, sometimes signifies to rise up, but it is generally taken for to stand, as we have seen in the first psalm. And although this is a repetition of the same idea, stated in the preceding clause, it is not simply so, but David, by expressing the end for which they ought to go up, illustrates and amplifies the subject; and this repetition and amplification we find him often making use of in other psalms. In short, how much soever the wicked were mingled with the good in the church, in the time of David, he declares how vain a thing it is to make an external profession unless there be, at the same time, truth in the inward man. What he says concerning the tabernacle of the covenant must be applied to the continual government of the church.
4. He who is clean of hands, and pure of heart. Under the purity of the hands and of the heart, and the reverence of God’s name, he comprehends all religion, and denotes a well ordered life. True purity, no doubt, has its seat in the heart, but it manifests its fruits in the works of the hands. The Psalmist, therefore, very properly joins to a pure heart the purity of the whole life; for that man acts a ridiculous part who boasts of having a sound heart, if he does not show by his fruits that the root is good. On the other hand, it will not suffice to frame the hands, feet, and eyes, according to the rule of righteousness, unless purity of heart precede outward continence. If any man should think it absurd that the first place is given to the hands, we answer without hesitation, that effects are often named before their causes, not that they precede them in order, but because it is sometimes advantageous to begin with things which are best known. David, then, would have the Jews to bring into the presence of God pure hands, and these along with an unfeigned heart. To lift up, or to take his soul, I have no doubt is here put for to swear. It is, therefore, here required of the servants of God, that when they swear, they do it with reverence and in good conscience; and, under one particular, by synecdoche, is denoted the duty of observing fidelity and integrity in all the affairs of life. That mention is here made of oaths, appears from the words which immediately follow, And hath not sworn deceitfully, which are added as explanatory of what goes before. As, however, there is a twofold reading of the Hebrew word for soul, that is to say, as it may be read, my soul, or his soul, on account of the point hirek, some Jewish commentators read, Who hath not lifted up my soul to vanity, and understand the word my as spoken of God, an exposition which I reject as harsh and strained. It is a manner of speaking which carries in it great emphasis, for it means, that those who swear offer their souls as pledges to God. Some, however, may perhaps prefer the opinion, that to lift up the soul, is put for to apply it to lying, an interpretation to the adoption of which I have no great objection, for it makes little difference as to the sense. A question may here be raised—it may be asked, why David does not say so much as one word concerning faith and calling upon God. The reason of this is easily explained. As it seldom happens that a man behaves himself uprightly and innocently towards his brethren, unless he is so endued with the true fear of God as to walk circumspectly before him, David very justly forms his estimate of the piety of men towards God by the character of their conduct towards their fellow-men. For the same reason, Christ (Matth. 23:23) represents “judgment, mercy, and faith,” as the principal points of the law; and Paul calls “charity” at one time “the end of the law,” (1 Tim. 1:5,) and at another “the bond of perfection,” (Col. 3:14.)
3 Who is acceptable to the Creator-King? How may people prepare themselves for fellowship with him? The psalmist expresses the nature of fellowship with God in OT terms (e.g., ascending “the hill of the Lord” and standing in “his holy place”). “The hill of the Lord” is a reference to Mount Zion (cf. 2:6), also known as “your holy hill” (15:1) and “his holy place” (24:3). Because God is the great Creator-King (vv. 1–2), whose residence on earth was symbolized in Jerusalem’s temple (vv. 7–10), those who seek his favor need to prepare themselves not only ceremonially but also by sanctifying their lives (cf. 15:2–5). If one were to come into God’s presence, it should not be for “curse” but for “blessing” (v. 5; see Reflections, p. 408, Zion Theology).
It may be that the instructions on moral purity were originally part of a ceremony before completion of the last leg of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Such an interpretation, however, is not necessary. The hymn instructs God’s people wherever they may be to live in the presence of the Creator-King in order to receive his blessing. The verbs “ascend” and “stand,” as well as the phrases “the hill of the Lord” and “his holy place,” may also be borrowed terms from the pilgrimage ritual. By these words the psalmist impresses on the people the requirements of the Lord in general. In view of the absence of cultic or ritual specifications, the psalm need not, therefore, be interpreted solely as preparation for worshiping the Lord.
4 The Lord expects purity and singleness of heart from all who seek his presence (cf. Mt 5:8). Purity of “hands” and “heart” is the condition of living before God in accordance with his precepts and out of the desire of his heart. Appearance of holiness is not enough, because the “clean hands” are expressive of “a pure heart” (cf. 73:1). The one who has “clean hands” is innocent of wrongdoing and readily asks for forgiveness when he or she has sinned against God. In contrast is the sinner, whose “hands are full of blood” and who needs cleansing, forgiveness, and reconciliation (cf. Isa 1:15–18).
God expects, in addition to loyalty to the Lord in heart and life, a singleness of devotion. The godly do not dishonor the Lord’s name by idolatry or by falsehood. The parallel construction of “falsehood” (“vanity”; NIV, “an idol”) with “what is false” (i.e., “with deception”) and of the verbs “lift up” and “swear” favors the conclusion that the psalmist has only dishonesty in mind, without a reference to idolatry as a particular act of dishonesty (cf. Ex 20:16; Mal 3:5). If this is so, the two positive descriptions of integrity (v. 4a) are balanced by two negative descriptions (v. 4b). Godly people are “pure” and not “false” (or hypocritical). This excludes, of course, idolatry in any form. Their “yes” means “yes” and their “no” means “no” (cf. 15:3–4; Mt 5:37).
Ver. 3.—Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? The second strophe opens with one of David’s sudden transitions. Who is worthy to be brought into contact with a God of such might and glory? Who shall ascend into his hill? God’s “hill” is, in reality, the highest heaven, wherein he has his dwelling-place. Its representative on earth was, at this time, the Mount Zion, where it was already determined in the Divine counsels that the temple should be built, and whither David was now about to transfer the ark of the covenant (see the introductory paragraph). David asks the question as a warning to the Levites, whom he was about to employ in the transport of the ark, that they might purify themselves in heart and soul before venturing to take part in the solemn ceremony. Or who shall stand in his holy place? Who, i.e., shall stand and minister inside the tabernacle, when the ark has been placed therein, and it has thus become, in a special sense, God’s holy place?
Ver. 4.—He that hath clean hands. He whose hands are free from acts of sin (comp. Ps. 15:2–5), and not only so, but he who hath also a pure heart, since the heart is the source of all evil (Matt. 15:19, 20), and wrongful words and wicked acts are the necessary results of the heart being impure. “God’s demands upon his people,” as Hengstenberg observes, “go beyond the domain of action. Those only see him—those only are fit to ascend into his hill—who have a pure heart.” Who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity; i.e. who has not lusted after vain and worthless things, whose desires are subdued, brought into captivity to the Law of God, and kept under strict control. This is really implied in purity of heart. Nor sworn deceitfully. False swearing is the worst—or, at any rate, one of the worst—sins of the tongue. The psalmist means to say that a man is not fit to draw near to God unless he is righteous in act, in thought, and in word.
3. “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?” It is uphill work for the creature to reach the Creator. Where is the mighty climber who can scale the towering heights? Nor is it height alone; it is glory too. Whose eye shall see the King in his beauty and dwell in his palace? In heaven he reigns most gloriously, who shall be permitted to enter into his royal presence? God has made all, but he will not save all; there is a chosen company who shall have the singular honour of dwelling with him in his high abode. These choice spirits desire to commune with God, and their wish shall be granted them. The solemn enquiry of the text is repeated in another form. Who shall be able to “stand” or continue there? He casteth away the wicked, who then can abide in his house? Who is he that can gaze upon the Holy One, and can abide in the blaze of his glory? Certainly none may venture to commune with God upon the footing of the law, but grace can make us meet to behold the vision of the divine presence. The question before us is one which all should ask for themselves, and none should be at ease till they receive an answer of peace. With careful self-examination let us enquire, “Lord, is it I?”
4. “He that hath clean hands.” Outward, practical holiness is a very precious mark of grace. To wash in water with Pilate is nothing, but to wash in innocency is all-important. It is to be feared that many professors have perverted the doctrine of justification by faith in such a way as to treat good works with contempt; if so, they will receive everlasting contempt at the last great day. It is vain to prate of inward experience unless the daily life is free from impurity, dishonesty, violence, and oppression. Those who draw near to God must have “clean hands.” What monarch would have servants with filthy hands to wait at his table? They who were ceremonially unclean could not enter into the Lord’s house which was made with hands, much less shall the morally defiled be allowed to enjoy spiritual fellowship with a holy God. If our hands are now unclean, let us wash them in Jesu’s precious blood, and so let us pray unto God, lifting up pure hands. But “clean hands” would not suffice, unless they were connected with “a pure heart.” True religion is heart-work. We may wash the outside of the cup and the platter as long as we please, but if the inward parts be filthy, we are filthy altogether in the sight of God, for our hearts are more truly ourselves than our hands are. We may lose our hands and yet live, but we could not lose our heart and still live; the very life of our being lies in the inner nature, and hence the imperative need of purity within. There must be a work of grace in the core of the heart as well as in the palm of the hand, or our religion is a delusion. May God grant that our inward powers may be cleansed by the sanctifying Spirit, so that we may love holiness and abhor all sin. The pure in heart shall see God, all others are but blind bats; stone-blindness in the eyes arises from stone in the heart. Dirt in the heart throws dust in the eyes.
The soul must be delivered from delighting in the grovelling toys of earth; the man who is born for heaven “hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity.” All men have their joys, by which their souls are lifted up; the worldling lifts up his soul in carnal delights, which are mere empty vanities; but the saint loves more substantial things; like Jehoshaphat, he is lifted up in the ways of the Lord. He who is content with the husks will be reckoned with the swine. If we suck our consolation from the breasts of the world, we prove ourselves to be its home-born children. Does the world satisfy thee? Then thou hast thy reward and thy portion in this life; make much of it, for thou shalt know no other joy.
“Nor sworn deceitfully.” The saints are men of honour still. The Christian man’s word is his only oath; but that is as good as twenty oaths of other men. False speaking will shut any man out of heaven, for a liar shall not enter into God’s house, whatever may be his professions or doings. God will have nothing to do with liars, except to cast them into the lake of fire. Every liar is a child of the devil, and will be sent home to his father. A false declaration, a fraudulent statement, a cooked account, a slander, a lie—all these may suit the assembly of the ungodly, but are detested among true saints: how could they have fellowship with the God of truth, if they did not hate every false way?
24:3–4. David then pondered who could go into the presence of such a sovereign Lord (i.e., to the tabernacle on the hill[cf. comments on “holy hill” in 2:6] of the Lord and its holy place). The answer, perhaps given by priests at the sanctuary, is that one whose conduct is pure and whose worship is faithful may do so (cf. Ps. 15). Clean hands refers to right actions, and a pure heart refers to a right attitude and will. Only those who do not worship an idol can be true worshipers, and can walk by faith in integrity.
 Calvin, J., & Anderson, J. (2010). Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Vol. 1, pp. 404–407). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, pp. 259–260). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Psalms (Vol. 1, p. 173). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.
 Spurgeon, C. H. (n.d.). The treasury of David: Psalms 1-26 (Vol. 1, pp. 375–376). London; Edinburgh; New York: Marshall Brothers.
 Ross, A. P. (1985). Psalms. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 812). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.