In this fourth installment of our walk through Psalm 24, we arrive at v. 4. David has just posed the question of who can abide in the presence of God and offer true worship (v. 3). Now David gives the answer to this burning question.
“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”
Let’s observe that David gives two positive phrases followed by two negative phrases. The worshiper of Yahweh, then, has things that are true about him, as well as things that can’t be attributed to him.
Furthermore, let’s note an interesting outer/inner arrangement of these requirements. Hands come first, then the heart, then the soul, and finally the mouth (which is used to “swear deceitfully”). The pattern is like this:
The center of this arrangement indicates David’s emphasis: the inward disposition of the person matters most. Yahweh rejects vain worship, which is worship offered when the heart is far from him (Matthew 15:8-9).
Outward acts of obedience honor God when they overflow from a heart that trusts him. To “not lift up” one’s soul to “what is false” means to reject idolatry and entrust one’s soul to the only true God. Belief in Yahweh results in obedience to him.
The requirements of clean hands and truthful mouths refer to relations with one’s neighbor. Clean hands are innocent of wrongdoing toward others, and a truthful mouth refers to someone who has not deceived his neighbor or broken an oath.
Now consider the fact that both trusting God rather than idols and maintaining honest relations with others refer to the Law of Moses represented by the Ten Commandments. Right relations with God and neighbor are, in fact, how Jesus summarized the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:36-40).
What, in essence, are the requirements cited by David for the one who goes before God? God receives those who keep his law, those who trust him with their heart and then demonstrate their faith with obedience.
But here’s the reality: we have all broken God’s law. We have often given our hearts to created things and thus are guilty of idolatry. And we have treated others with dishonesty and disdain. In the mirror of God’s law, our hearts aren’t pure and our hands aren’t clean. We are guilty, corrupt, condemnable.
If we come to God on any merit of our own, we fall short of his glory and cannot stand in his presence. He is holy, but we are not. Our faith frequently falters, and our flesh is weak.
The meaning of Psalm 24:4 is not ultimately fulfilled in us. Only one Person in history could go before God with clean hands and a pure heart, Someone who never committed idolatry and who always acted with purity and integrity toward others. Only one Person has ever ascended the hill of Yahweh and boldly entered the holy place on the basis of his own merits.
But more on Him later.