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10 April 2017

Psalm 15: God's Holy House


The 15th Psalm describes what the tabernacle (the ancient forerunner of the temple) is, and who we need to be in order to make the House of the Lord our home, too.

In Psalm 11 we read about the importance of fleeing to the temple; this Psalm is about who we need to be in order to be able to shelter at the temple.

Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill? 
-Psalm 15:1

Tabernacle is an interesting word. The Hebrew word in Psalms 15:1 that's been translated as "tabernacle" is ohel: a tent. while it's rendered as "tabernacle" 198 times, it's also rendered as "tent" almost as many times: 141 times. Genesis 4:20 talks about Jabal as the "father of such as dwell in tents", and it can even be used to mean housing for animals, as in 2 Chronicles 14:15, where Asa, king of Judah, has appealed to the Lord for assistance in repelling Ethiopian invaders, who are soundly defeated, followed home, and their cities spoiled, and the tents of their cattle destroyed, and the livestock driven off. The Hebrew ohel is used in each case: the tent for the animals, the tent of the people, and the holy tent that is the Tabernacle of the Lord.

It's very interesting to me that there is so much overlap in the language used to describe the people's homes, and the language that's used to describe the holiest places of worship: ohel meant both Tabernacle and also the tents that people lived in, and our bodies are even referred to as tabernacles. Today we live in houses, and when we visit the temple we go to the "House of the Lord".

In reading the Old Testament with my boys, we've had a chance to hear the lengthy descriptions of the Tabernacle that was built in Moses's day several times. I've gradually realized that there's a lot that's interesting in the account of building the tabernacle (It starts in Exodus 25.), and a lot of symbolism in it.



So when we are invited to the tabernacle, or in our day, to the temple, in a way we are visiting not only one of the Earth's most holy places, designed to instruct us and to help us remember Him, but we are also invited to, at least symbolically, visit God's home. The 15th Psalm is instructions for what kind of person we need to be.

Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? 
He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righetousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.
-Psalm 15:1-2

In English, "upright" means to be strictly honorable and honest. But the Hebrew word this was translated from is even more demanding: tamiym is translated into several different words in the King James version, "without blemish" being the most common.

When one is described as tamiym, there is nothing in his outward activities or internal disposition that is odious to God. This word describes his entire relationship to God. 
-Strong's Concordance, entry for tamiym, Hebrew 8549


The 15th Psalm describes what the tabernacle (the ancient forerunner of the temple) is, and who we need to be in order to make the House of the Lord our home, too.

The Psalmist continues, describing several things we must avoid doing as we seek to make our abode with the Lord:

He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor take up a reproach against his neighbor. 
-Psalm 15:3

Webster's 1828 Dictionary defines backbiting as: To censure, slander, reproach, or speak evil of the absent. And it defines a reproach as: To censure in terms of opprobrium or contempt, to charge with a fault in severe language, to treat with scorn or contempt. This is not an endorsement of today's brand of "tolerance" that pretends that vice is as respectable as virtue; the next verse continues:

In whose eyes a vile person is  contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord. 
-Psalm 15:4

Rather, I think this is commentary on how we ought to treat each other. To contemn means to consider unworthy of regard or respect. So at the same time that we draw a sharp distinction between that which is vile and that which is upright or tamiym, we should be careful to draw a distinction between the sin and the sinner, and to treat all God's children kindly.

The 15th Psalm describes what the tabernacle (the ancient forerunner of the temple) is, and who we need to be in order to make the House of the Lord our home, too.
From The Virtue of Kindness, April Conference 2005

The last verse and a half of the Psalm continues to deal with the standards of integrity and with our treatment of others:

In whose  eyes a vile person is contemned;but he honoureth them that fear the Lord. He that swearth to his own hurt, and changest not. He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. 
-Psalm 15:4-5


I love that this Psalm starts and ends with promises of blessings: the Psalmist begins by asking who will abide in, dwell in, the House of the Lord. And then, after outlining the character requirements, he finishes with this:


He that doeth these things shall never be moved.
-Psalm 15:5


Temple photo courtesy the LDS Image Library.


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