The years thus well begun are, in the historical books, characterized mainly by three events, namely, the bringing up of the ark to the newly won city of David, Nathan's prophecy of the perpetual dominion of his house, and his victories over the surrounding nations. These three hinges of the narrative are all abundantly illustrated in the psalms.
As to the first, we have relics of the joyful ceremonial connected with it in two psalms, the fifteenth and twenty-fourth, which are singularly alike not only in substance but in manner, both being thrown into a highly dramatic form by question and answer. This peculiarity, as we shall see, is one of the links of connection which unite them with the history as given in the Book of Samuel (2 Sam. vi.). From that record we learn that David's first thought after he was firmly seated as king over all Israel, was the enthronement in his recently-captured city of the long-forgotten ark. That venerable symbol of the presence of the true King had passed through many vicissitudes since the days when it had been carried round the walls of Jericho. Superstitiously borne into battle, as if it were a mere magic palladium, by men whose hearts were not right with God, the presence which they had invoked became their ruin, and Israel was shattered, and |the ark of God taken,| on the fatal field of Aphek. It had been carried in triumph through Philistine cities, and sent back in dismay. It had been welcomed with gladness by the villagers of Bethshemesh, who lifted their eyes from their harvest work, and saw it borne up the glen from the Philistine plain. Their rude curiosity was signally punished, |and the men of Bethshemesh said, Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God, and to whom shall He go up from us?| It had been removed to the forest seclusion of Kirjath-jearim (the city of the woods), and there bestowed in the house of Abinadab |upon the hill,| where it lay neglected and forgotten for about seventy years. During Saul's reign they |inquired not at it,| and, indeed, the whole worship of Jehovah seems to have been decaying. David set himself to reorganize the public service of God, arranged a staff of priests and Levites, with disciplined choir and orchestra (1 Chron. xv.), and then proceeded with representatives of the whole nation to bring up the ark from its woodland hiding-place. But again death turned gladness into dread, and Uzzah's fate silenced the joyous songs, |and David was afraid of the Lord that day, and said, How shall the ark of God come unto me?| The dangerous honour fell on the house of Obed-edom; and only after the blessing which followed its three months' stay there, did he venture to carry out his purpose. The story of the actual removal of the ark to the city of David with glad ceremonial need not be repeated here; nor the mocking gibes of Michal who had once loved him so fondly. Probably she bitterly resented her violent separation from the household joys that had grown up about her in her second home; probably the woman who had had teraphim among her furniture cared nothing for the ark of God; probably, as she grew older, her character had hardened in its lines, and become like her father's in its measureless pride, and in its half-dread, half-hatred of David -- and all these motives together pour their venom into her sarcasm. Taunts provoke taunts; the husband feels that the wife is in heart a partisan of the fallen house of her father, and a despiser of the Lord and of His worship; her words hiss with scorn, his flame with anger and rebuke -- and so these two that had been so tender in the old days part for ever. The one doubtful act that stained his accession was quickly avenged. Better for both that she had never been rent from that feeble, loving husband that followed her weeping, and was driven back by a single word, flung at him by Abner as if he had been a dog at their heels! (2 Sam. iii.16).
The gladness and triumph, the awe, and the memories of victory which clustered round the dread symbol of the presence of the Lord of Hosts, are wonderfully expressed in the choral twenty-fourth psalm. It is divided into two portions, which Ewald regards as being originally two independent compositions. They are, however, obviously connected both in form and substance. In each we have question and answer, as in psalm xv., which belongs to the same period. The first half replies to the question, |Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord, and who shall stand in His holy place?| -- an echo of the terror-struck exclamation of the people of Bethshemesh, already quoted. The answer is a description of the men who dwell with God. The second half deals with the correlative inquiry, |Who is the King of Glory?| and describes the God who comes to dwell with men. It corresponds in substance, though not in form, with David's thought when Uzzah died, in so far as it regards God as drawing near to the worshippers, rather than the worshippers drawing near to Him. Both portions are united by a real internal connection, in that they set forth the mutual approach of God and man which leads to communion, and thus constitute the two halves of an inseparable whole.
Most expositors recognise a choral structure in the psalm, as in several others of this date, as would be natural at the time of the reorganization of the public musical service. Probably we may gain the key to its form by supposing it to be a processional hymn, of which the first half was to be sung during the ascent to the city of David, and the second while standing before the gates. We have then to fancy the long line of worshippers climbing the rocky steep hill-side to the ancient fortress so recently won, the Levites bearing the ark, and the glad multitude streaming along behind them.
First there swells forth from all the singers the triumphant proclamation of God's universal sovereignty, |The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein. For He hath founded it upon the seas and established it upon the floods.| It is very noteworthy that such a thought should precede the declaration of His special dwelling in Zion. It guards that belief from the abuses to which it was of course liable -- the superstitions, the narrowness, the contempt of all the rest of the world as God-deserted, which are its perversion in sensuous natures. If Israel came to fancy that God belonged to them, and that there was only one sacred place in all the world, it was not for want of clear utterances to the contrary, which became more emphatic with each fresh step in the development of the specializing system under which they lived. The very ground of their peculiar relation to God had been declared, in the hour of constituting it to be -- |all the earth is Mine| (Exod. xix.5). So now, when the symbol of His presence is to have a local habitation in the centre of the national life, the psalmist lays for the foundation of his song the great truth, that the Divine presence is concentrated in Israel, but not confined there, and concentrated in order that it may be diffused. The glory that lights the bare top of Zion lies on all the hills; and He who dwells between the cherubim dwells in all the world, which His continual presence fills with its fulness, and upholds above the floods.
Then, as they climb, a single voice perhaps chants the solemn question, |Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord, or who shall stand in the place of His holiness?|
And the full-toned answer portrays the men who shall dwell with God, in words which begin indeed with stringent demands for absolute purity, but wonderfully change in tone as they advance, into gracious assurances, and the clearest vision that the moral nature which fits for God's presence is God's gift. |The clean-handed, and pure-hearted, who has not lifted up his soul to vanity, nor sworn deceitfully;| there is the eternal law which nothing can ever alter, that to abide with God a man must be like God -- the law of the new covenant as of the old, |Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.| But this requirement, impossible of fulfilment, is not all. If it were, the climbing procession might stop. But up and up they rise, and once again the song bursts forth in deeper and more hopeful words, |He shall receive the blessing from Jehovah, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.| Then that righteousness, which he who honestly attempts to comply with such requirements will soon find that he does not possess, is to be received from above, not elaborated from within; is a gift from God, not a product of man's toils. God will make us pure, that we may dwell with Him. Nor is this all. The condition of receiving such a gift has been already partially set forth in the preceding clause, which seems to require righteousness to be possessed as the preliminary to receiving it. The paradox which thus results is inseparable from the stage of religious knowledge attained under the Mosaic Law. But the last words of the answer go far beyond it, and proclaim the special truth of the gospel, that the righteousness which fits for dwelling with God is given on the simple condition of seeking Him. To this designation of the true worshippers is appended somewhat abruptly the one word |Jacob,| which need neither be rendered as in the English version as an invocation, nor as in the margin, with an unnecessary and improbable supplement, |O God of Jacob;| but is best regarded as in apposition with the other descriptive clauses, and declaring, as we have found David doing already in previous psalms, that the characters portrayed in them, and these only, constituted the true Israel.
This is the generation of them that seek Him,
That seek Thy face -- (this is) Jacob.
And so the first question is answered, |Who are the men who dwell with God?| -- The pure, who receive righteousness, who seek Him, the true Israel.
And now the procession has reached the front of the ancient city on the hill, and stands before the very walls and weather-beaten gates which Melchizedek may have passed through, and which had been barred against Israel till David's might had burst them. National triumph and glad worship are wonderfully blended in the summons which rings from the lips of the Levites without: |Lift up your heads, O ye gates! and be ye lift up, ye doors (that have been from) of old!| as if even their towering portals were too low, |and the King of glory shall come in.| What force in that name here, in this early song of the King! How clearly he recognises his own derived power, and the real Monarch of whom he is but the shadowy representative! The newly-conquered city is summoned to admit its true conqueror and sovereign, whose throne is the ark, which was emphatically named |the glory,|[S] and in whose train the earthly king follows as a subject and a worshipper. Then, with wonderful dramatic force, a single voice from within the barred gates asks, like some suspicious warder, |Who then is the King of glory?| With what a shout of proud confidence and triumphant memories of a hundred fields comes, ready and full, the crash of many voices in the answer, |Jehovah strong and mighty, Jehovah mighty in battle!| How vividly the reluctance of an antagonistic world to yield to Israel and Israel's King, is represented in the repetition of the question in a form slightly more expressive of ignorance and doubt, in answer to the reiterated summons, |Who is He, then, the King of glory?| With what deepened intensity of triumph there peals, hoarse and deep, the choral shout, |The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of glory.| That name which sets Him forth as Sovereign of the personal and impersonal forces of the universe -- angels, and stars, and terrene creatures, all gathered in ordered ranks, embattled for His service -- was a comparatively new name in Israel,[T] and brought with it thoughts of irresistible might in earth and heaven. It crashes like a catapult against the ancient gates; and at that proclamation of the omnipotent name of the God who dwells with men, they grate back on their brazen hinges, and the ark of the Lord enters into its rest.
[S] |And she named the child I-chabod (Where is the glory?) saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken.| -- 1 Sam. iv.21.
[T] It has been asserted that this is the first introduction of the name. (|Psalms Chronologically Arranged by Four Friends,| p.14). But it occurs in Hannah's vow (1 Sam. i.11); in Samuel's words to Saul (xv.2); in David's reply to Goliath (xvii.45). We have it also in Psalm lix.5, which we regard as his earliest during his exile. Do the authors referred to consider these speeches in 1 Sam. as not authentic?