Summary: Year A. 4th Sunday of Advent Psalm 24 December 23, 2001 Title: “Presence and awareness are the twin keys to blessing, righteousness and peace.”
Year A. 4th Sunday of Advent Psalm 24
December 23, 2001
Title: “Presence and awareness are the twin keys to blessing, righteousness and peace.”
The Ark of the Covenant, said to have been built by Bezalel for Moses in the desert of Sinai according to Exodus 37: 1-9, symbolized God’s presence in the midst of his people. The Philistines had captured it according to 1Samaul 4: 11 and, after bringing bad luck to any town that would house it, it ended up in the house of Obed-edom, the Gittite. From there David had it brought to his new capital, Jerusalem, where, after the building of the Temple by Solomon, it was placed in the Holy of Holies. It was Israel’s most cherished symbol of God’s presence among them. In the early days, it was carried into war as a protection from harm and a guarantee of victory. The return of the Ark and its enthronement in Jerusalem was so cherished a memory for Israel that she very, probably, re-enacted that event every year, possibly at the autumnal festival. Psalm 24 would have been sung at that yearly occasion, a renewal of loyalty to the God of the Covenant.
Even though the historical basis for the psalm was the entrance of the Ark into Jerusalem, the psalm evolved into an entrance liturgy for the people as well. Verses one and two, acknowledge God as creator and sustainer of the world. The Israelites thought of the Exodus, the event starting the process leading to the Covenant, as God’s second act of creation, creating God’s people. Verses three to six, give a summary of the conditions of the Covenant, that is, the commandments, as well as, the conditions for entrance into the Temple, God’s presence. Verses seven to ten, acclaim the Lord as the glorious king who showed his might by guaranteeing the Israelite victory in battle, just as he was victorious over the cosmic forces of chaos, the enemy of order another term for “creation”.
In verse one, the earth is the Lord’s and all it holds, Israel’s God was no local god ruling over a limited turf. He is the God who created everything, owns it all, and sustains it all in being.
In verse two, God founded it on the seas…rivers, Canaanite mythology imagined creation as the result of a victory, by Baal, over chaos, pictured as Sea, also called River, establishing order in nature and law in human society. The Hebrews were influenced by this story and described creation in similar terms. The cosmology of the day envisioned earth as a sort of saucer floating atop the waters but anchored by pillars, like a house near the sea built on stilts.
In verse three, who may go up to the mountain of the Lord? The “mountain,” was considered the place where the gods dwelt. Yahweh would dwell on Mount Zion where the Temple was later built. By the time this psalm was sung at an annual liturgy it would be part of a formal entrance into the Temple. Outside, the question would be asked, much like the “Who goes there?” question of a sentinel, by a priest. In this context it seems to be more of a choir-to-choir dialogue, either a person or group rotating the questions and answers from this verse on through to verse ten, The first two verses may well have been sung by all. Remember they would be marching in procession at this point.
Who can stand in his holy place? Typical of Hebraic poetry where the ideas rhyme, the question is repeated in another key. The “holy place,” refers to the now built Temple.
In verse four, the clean of hand and pure of heart…not devoted to idols…not sworn falsely, the answer reflects the Ten Commandments of the Covenant. The “clean of hand,” would mean those who had not killed. The “pure of heart,” would be those who had not committed adultery or coveted someone’s wife or goods. The “not devoted to idols,” would be those who kept the first three commandments. The “not sworn falsely,” would be those who kept the commandment against perjury. Yet, these are more than external conditions. One’s actions, done by the hands, reflect one’s attitudes, motives, done by the heart. One not only does what is right, clean of hand, but does it for the right motives, pure of heart. The requirement for authentic worship, cult, was always moral purity, conduct. This would not necessarily mean a perfect observance in actual fact, but the desire the hungering and thirsting for righteousness” of Matthew 5: 6. The “true Israel,” subordinates daily life to the demands of the Torah. These characteristics are among those, the list is representative, not exhaustive, that identify the Covenant community.
In verse five, they will receive blessings …and justice, in poetic parallelism, these two terms are used synonymously. “Blessing,” means the privilege of enjoying God’s presence and the consequences of that- a prosperous and happy life. “Righteousness,” means a right relationship with God and, so, much the same as blessing. Whatever is functioning, as it should is “righteous.” There is righteousness or “justice,” in court when the right person prevails. There is righteousness when honesty prevails in daily dealings and when success prevails for the faithful one. As such, righteousness is not only synonymous with “blessing, “ but also with “peace.”