One of the many things that I appreciate about the Psalms is that because many of them are so short, they can be read and studied in one relatively short sitting. The average length of a Psalm is about seventeen words, but Psalm 15 is much shorter than that. Coming in at only five verses, this short little Psalm packs in a lot of vitally important information. Let’s take a look.
Verse 1 — “Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in your holy hill?” To what does this verse refer? The tabernacle was the mobile tent that served as the site of worship for the Jews while they journeyed from Egypt to Canaan (and for some time afterwards). It was built with very specific instructions given to Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex. 25:9), with the instructions being called a “pattern.”
The tabernacle was the predecessor to the temple which came later. It was first built by Solomon around 1000 BC (1 Kings 6), but later destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC because of the people’s sins (see the book of Jeremiah, among other books of the prophets). But is this verse referring to the physical tabernacle, or to its successor, the temple in Jerusalem?
While David probably had some of that application in mind for his immediate readers, the broader application would be the concept of abiding among the saved. This at that time would mean abiding safely in the congregation of Israel; today it refers to abiding safely in the church, which will ultimately abide safely with God in heaven. After all, the church is the antitype of both the tabernacle and the temple (Acts 15:16; Heb. 8:2, 5).
Verse 2 — “He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart…” This verse describes one whose lifestyle is characterized by continuous growth toward godliness (1 Tim. 4:8), one who is a doer of God’s Word (James 1:22). Righteousness comes through faith in Christ (Rom. 3:22), but not by merely acknowledging belief in Christ as many erroneously teach We know this because James says we are justified “not by faith only” (James 2:24). Paul also mentions “obedience to the faith” (Rom. 1:5), a certain kind of belief that leads “to the saving of the soul” (Heb. 10:39). This type of faith is characterized as obedient faith (Heb. 11:1-40).
The last part of the verse is also of note. It refers to he who “speaks the truth in his heart.” God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). It sets men free from sin (John 8:32). Those who are of the truth recognize the spirit of truth versus the spirit of error (1 John 4:6). They carefully “handle aright” the Word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15, ASV).
Verse 3 — “He who does not backbite with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor does he take up a reproach against his friend…” This can be summarized by the Golden Rule: “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). Would we want people to backbite (speak maliciously about, slander against) us behind our backs? Certainly not. Gossip is probably one of the most common sins, and also one of the most overlooked…but those who dwell in God’s tent do not participate in it.
This verse also mentions the importance of not doing evil against one’s neighbor, or taking up a reproach against his friend (which means to speak harshly and unjustly against him). These, too, are common sins and must be avoided.
Verse 4 — “In whose eyes a vile person is despised, but he honors those who fear the Lord; He who swears to his own hurt and does not change…” This verse deals with proper character of thought followed by actions. A righteous person who dwells in God’s tent does not approve or think fondly of wicked people (Rom. 1:32; Ps. 101:3).
The end of the verse shows that a righteous person will be so principled that he will not go back on his word even if it brings upon him hardship, financial or otherwise. This virtue stems from his love of the truth (v. 2).
Verse 5a — “He who does not put out his money at usury, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent…” This verse centers on the godly virtue of fairness or justness. A person who dwells in God’s tent does not charge interest when he lends out money to those of his brethren who are truly in need. I should point out that I believe this characteristic of the godly is in reference to the Law of Moses’ prohibition of Israelites charging interest to their brethren, other Israelites (Deut. 23:19); I do not consider it a prohibition against interest in general (cf. Matt. 25:27).
Another example of fairness characterized by the righteous includes not taking bribes. The Old Testament is replete with examples of unjust leaders perverting justice after being bribed. (cf. 1 Sam. 8:3; Prov. 17:23; Is. 1:23; Amos 5:12; et al). Those who dwell in God’s tent do not succumb to this vice.
Verse 5b — The conclusion. “He who does these things shall never be moved.” This is reminiscent of Psalm 1:3 which says that the righteous “shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” The righteous one who dwells in God’s tent will not be moved in the sense that he will not allow the cares of this world to move him away from staying faithful to his God. Like Moses (Heb. 11:25), he understands that no amount earthly pleasure is worth losing the safety that is found by dwelling in God’s tent.