26 Jul 2018

Psalm 24: Psalm for the First Day of the Week

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: A Gathered People, Church, Exegesis, Faith, Grace, Hebrew Bible, Jewish Backgrounds, Psalms, Spiritual Disciplines, Worship

A mere ten verses, Psalm 24 is a short psalm. The psalm was originally part of Israel’s worship processions, bringing the ark of the covenant and pilgrims into the sanctuary (this could have originally been the Tabernacle but would be the temple through most of Israel’s history).

Centuries before Jesus was born, however, Psalm 24 became the Psalm for the “first day of the week.” So in the Jerusalem Temple each Sunday, Psalm 24 was sung by the Levites and pilgrims coming to worship in God’s house. Pious Jews copied this practice in the synagogue and in their homes as well. Whether Psalm 24 became the Psalm for the First Day through a prophet or a sage we do not know, but the association is a stroke of Spiritual genius.

Yahweh is King

The First Day is, first of all, a day of new beginnings because we remember the first day of creation itself. The first day when all was good, before sin vandalized God’s creation. Psalm 24.1-2 evokes the creation of world in Genesis 1.1-5.

Quite literally our text reads, this is the claim of all claims and all flows from it,

The LORD’s is the earth.

Yahweh’s ownership of the entire realm of earth is stated in no uncertain terms. Why is the earth the Lord’s? Because God founded it, God created it, God established it (vv. 1-2). The Creator is the King over it. Psalm 24, on the First Day of every week, reminds every Israelite that the world is not random, the world is not order less, the world is not threatened because God is Creator. “In the beginning God created … Day One” (Gen 1.1-5). God established the order of the universe.

Yahweh is Owner Yet 

But we do not begin our week only by remembering that the good world began with the Creator. We begin our week by knowing what that means.

The world belongs to the Creator.

In fact we confess, as the Israelites did (and Jesus did), that to say God is the Creator means God owns it. God is sovereign over it. That means God is King. Every inch of creation is God’s. Every thing, and every person, belongs to God. He is the King of Glory (24.7-10).

Our lives, our week, are in the hands of the King of Glory, the Sovereign Owner of all that exists. On the first day we confess that Yahweh is not simply God of Israel. Yahweh is not some tribal deity, but King of all that exists. The sun, the moon, the stars, the galaxies, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and even the peoples of the world belong to Yahweh. God is yet King. What a powerful way to reset our own moral compass by confessing that everything we see and do not see belongs to God.

The Psalm of the First Day of the Week reminds us that God’s concern is not only for or about us. God’s concern is everything God made.

This means, Our enemies may not be God’s enemies!

Long before Jesus (who drank the Spiritual water of the Psalms daily), Temple pilgrims are reminded – at the beginning of the week as at the beginning of Creation – all humanity is equally created and equally owned by the King. God created, and therefore owns, black folks, white folks, yellow folks, brown folks, Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Nigerians, Russians, Arabs, Europeans.  A humbling way to begin our week with the Lord.

God’s people have not always grasped that last point, though we have confessed it regularly. Some humans, we have denied were important and may not even have a soul. This was regularly done in the late 19th century of black folks. But it was the Baptist preacher, of the 19th century, named Charles Haddon Spurgeon who grasped the point. Many in America in the late 19th century despised African Americans and declared that God did not care for them. Commenting on Psalm 24.1-2, Spurgeon noted that if a person (his example is”the negro and other despised races”) is a human then, “God claims that person” as his own creation, equally loved and cared for. God’s people easily slip back into effectively saying “God does not care for that human” because the reality is that we do not care for that human. But on the first day of the week, the Psalm reminds us the human race is one.

Creation and Worship

On the First Day of the Week, Psalm 24 also proclaims who among the human race can worship and come into the glorious Presence of the Lord. This too evokes Genesis 1. “The Spirit of God hovered on the face of the deep.” All life on earth, all blessing on earth,  flows from God’s presence through the Spirit. Genesis 1-2 is a temple text, Israel knew that for thousands of years before modern scholars

Psalm 24.3 has the Gatekeepers of the sanctuary thunder to those seeking entrance,

WHO shall ascend the hill/mountain? Who shall stand in his holy place?

The answer to this question is completely detached from ethnicity, gender or social status. The answer is egalitarian. Every Israelite that came to the temple in 700BC or AD 30, each one that recited Psalm 24 on the first day of the week was reminded that not only was Yahweh King of All, but that ALL the human race is called to acknowledge that.

It is not JEWS who could come to the Presence.
It was not Egyptians.
It was not whites or blacks or browns.
It was not the rich and powerful.

The criteria has less than zero to do with race, gender, or social status.

Who can worship, who can enter the sacred space filled with God’s nourishing Holy Spirit is a matter of integrity and the heart. Those who have “clean hands and pure hearts” (24.4) are allowed by the Gatekeepers to pass into the holy sphere beyond the gates. Neither of these criteria could be measured by the Gatekeeper. Only the seeker of Yahweh’s Presence knew if these criteria were met.

Clean hands” generally refers to how one treats another human. “Pure heart” refers to inward devotion, integrity. So this is a way of saying to the pilgrims, keep the greatest commands: If you have you loved your neighbor and loved God you are allowed to enter the temple. Jesus, the greatest of all students of the Psalms, himself echoes this psalm in his famous Sermon on the Mount.

Blessed are the pure in heart heart for they shall see God” (Mt 5.8)

So the Gatekeepers say to the festive throng approaching the Temple,

Who shall ascend … those who have pure hearts …
Such is the company of those who SEEK HIM,
who SEEK the FACE of God
” (24.4, 6).

Love and Grace

On the First Day we are reminded that existence is a gift of grace. Being created is an act of divine love (cf. Ps 136). On the First Day, we are reminded that an audience with the King requires that we love him and love all the King has made. Our love reflects back to Yahweh, Yahweh’s own love.

And on the First Day, the Psalm for the First Day reminds us that our standing before God, our reception of blessing, is a matter of pure grace. On Sundays, Jews and Israelites, and all who pray Psalm 24 know that,

They will RECEIVE blessing FROM the LORD,
and faithfulness FROM God their Savior.

“Blessing” and “faithfulness” are from God.  They come from the throne of mercy to us.  Blessing and faithfulness are not brought by us to God.

This is the Book of Romans in a single verse. As the week begins anew we are reminded yet again that relationship with God is something received, something that is given, something that is “from God.”

Relationship with God is not an achievement.

Relationship does not flow from the Precision of our Obedience. Psalm 24 boldly proclaims it begins in grace. It continues in grace. It ends in grace. We do not bring faithfulness TO God rather it is received from God … the One who creates us is also the One who saves us (This is NT Christology in a nutshell as well). We receive blessing and we receive faithfulness.

The First Day of the Week and Psalm 24

The First Day is the day the world began. The First Day is when Pentecost, the celebrating of the covenant and receiving of the Torah, is held. Every Jew knew this.

But as disciples of King Jesus, we are further down the Story of God and we know that on the First Day creation was REnewED in the Resurrection of the King. We know that the covenant was REnewED on the First Day in Acts 2 (Pentecost is on Sunday beloved, Leviticus 23.15-16).

Psalm 24 does not loose significance in light of the Messiah’s coming. Psalm 24 in stead takes on greater significance and meaning than ever because the Messiah has come. On the day we gather as the People of God, the old question from the Gatekeeper is still truer than ever. On the First Day with Ps 24:

+ We celebrate that God is still the Creator.
+ Confessing God’s Kingship we kneel in worship before God our Maker.
+ We confess that all humans are equal in God’s sight and welcome at the Table.
+ We confess that all humans are called to love the King and love those created by the King.
+ We confess that we receive blessing, we receive faithfulness, we are here “by grace.”

What a way to begin our fresh lease on life in a new week lived out before the Gracious King of Glory.

I encourage you to integrate Psalm 24 in the rhythm of your First Day of the Week.


One Response to “Psalm 24: Psalm for the First Day of the Week”

  1. Charlie M. Says:

    The old song, Sweet Hour of Prayer, echoes this, I think:

    “…I hasten to the place where God my Savior shows His face…”

    Great series of articles, sir. Thank you.

Leave a Reply