Give Us Clean Hands

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Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. (Psalms 24:3–4)

“Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?” David asks in Psalm 24:3.

It’s a simple question, but its conclusion is profound. This isn’t the first time “the hill of the Lord” is mentioned in the Psalms. In fact, this isn’t the first time we find this very question.

The King on the Hill

If we turn back to the very beginning of the Psalms, back to Psalm 2, we see this unmistakable declaration from God: “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” (Psalm 2:6).

God’s holy hill — “the hill of the Lord” — is also called Zion. It’s the place where God dwells, the place of his presence — the place where he has set his king, the human ruler over his chosen people.

Where the Blameless Man Dwells

But then, a few pages later in Psalm 15:1, we find this question: “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?” The answer comes in the next verse: “He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend” (Psalm 15:2–3).

So, according to Psalm 2, God’s chosen king dwells on the hill of the Lord. But according to Psalm 15, the blameless man dwells on the hill of the Lord.

Then in Psalm 24, the passage we’re looking at, the question comes again: “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?” (verse 3). And the answer, like in Psalm 15, comes in the next verse: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully” (verse 4). Which sounds like the blameless man described in Psalm 15.

But not so fast.

Welcome the King of Glory

If we keep reading in Psalm 24, we see the epic refrain: “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in” (Psalm 24:7). There’s this chosen king again, and this time he’s the one who is entering the throne room, the dwelling place of God, as it were. Let the gates swing open! Open up you ancient doors! Here comes the King! This sounds like the king described in Psalm 2.

So what is the connection between the chosen king and the blameless man? Both are associated with God’s dwelling place. Both are said to dwell, or be seated, on the hill of the Lord.

And that is because they are same person. The King is the blameless man. That isn’t a new concept, though. The Psalms open with Psalm 1 describing the ways of the righteous man, who sounds a lot like the blameless man in Psalms 15 and 24, and who looks like the ideal king of Israel. The man described in Psalm 1, just before explicitly talking about the King in Psalm 2, already meets the stipulations for the kings of Israel that are put forward in Deuteronomy 17. Central to the stipulations for Israel’s kings is that they meditate on the Bible and live righteously — precisely what the man in Psalm 1 is doing.

Therefore, the psalmist refers to the King and the blameless man synonymously. The King is the blameless man, and he’s the one who dwells on the hill of the Lord. He is the one who is blessed by God (Psalm 1:1; 24:5). And he is not ultimately David.

The True and Better King

The vision of the King here, the blameless King, is looking forward to a day to come when the Messiah will reign on the throne of God. David himself, who has written these psalms, is envisioning that future time when God’s true King, who we know to be Jesus — the truly blameless man — will come and reign over God’s eternal kingdom.

Jesus is the one who has clean hands and pure heart, the one who never lifted up his soul to what is false, who never spoke a deceitful word. Jesus is the one who receives blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.

And only because of Jesus, because we are united to him by faith, we share in this blessing.

Such Is the Generation

The psalmist is getting there. After talking about this man who will dwell on God’s hill, the man who will receive God’s blessing, he says in verse 6, “Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.” There is the King, the blameless man, and then there is a whole generation of those who seek God. There is the Messiah, and then there are the people who share in his blessing.

That is, there is Jesus, and then there is us.

And that’s what leads us to sing this great prayer, Give us clean hands. Give us pure hearts! By faith, we are united to Jesus and empowered by his Spirit to walk in his steps. Like him, we want clean hands and pure heart. We want to bow our hearts and bend our knees. We want to be humble. We want to be a generation who seeks his face and knows the fullness of his glory in our lives. O God, let us be!