Notes (NET Translation)
A psalm of David.
This psalm is made up of three sections:
- Verses 1-2: Yahweh is the creator and owner of the earth.
- Verses 3-6: only the godly are qualified to enter Yahweh’s presence.
- Verses 7-10: a liturgy demanding the gates open for the glorious king, Yahweh.
It is debated how the three sections are related to each other. Goldingay opines that the psalm may be a processional liturgy, “in which case vv. 1-2 might be the procession’s song of praise as it stood outside the city gate before beginning the double liturgy.”1
At a later date in its history, it is clear that the whole psalm was used as a unity within the regular worship of Judaism. The psalm’s title, in G[reek Old Testament], designates it as a psalm for use on the day after the sabbath, and in the Talmud the reason for such association is related to the history of creation, implied in the first two verses (Ros. Has. 31a; cf. Tamid vii. 4). But if one assumes that the psalm achieved its present unity prior to incorporation within the Psalter, the possibility remains that the entire psalm was a liturgical piece with a setting in some specific cultic activity. It is difficult to be more precise because of the difficulty in discerning a single theme unifying the three parts.2
In my approach to the psalm, the hymnic use is more prominent. The allusions to Mount Zion and the Lord’s glorious entry are not sufficiently strong to provide the background for a return of the ark from war, the entry of the ark into Jerusalem or into the temple (as Ps 132), or a representation of a cultic ceremony — whether an autumnal festival, a divine epiphany, or a theophany. It seems more likely that the hymn celebrates God’s kingship as it relates to God’s people. God is King by virtue of having created all things (vv. 1-2), but he desires to rule over the people who open themselves to him by living clean, pure lives in his presence. He is the Redeemer-God of the elect in Jacob, to whom he appears as the Divine Warrior.3
1 The LORD owns the earth and all it contains, the world and all who live in it.
2 For he set its foundation upon the seas, and established it upon the ocean currents.
Yahweh owns the earth because he created it.
At first sight, it appears as if the language of v 2 reflects primitive cosmology: the world, like a floating saucer, is anchored “upon the seas.” Yet the language is more profound and contains within it a transformation of Canaanite (Ugaritic) cosmogony. Yam (literally, “Sea”), who is also called Nahar (literally, “River”), represented a threat to order in Canaanite mythology; the conquest of Yam by Baal represented the subjugation of chaotic forces and the establishment of Baal’s kingship. The Hebrew poet, using the terms yam and nahar in a demythologized and depersonified sense (ימים, נהרות, v 2), depicts forcefully the Lord’s creation of an ordered world, “upon” seas and rivers, symbolizing the subdued forces of chaos. . . . The symbolism of the language is significant: just as in the underlying Ugaritic myth, the conquest of Yam culminated in kingship, so too the Lord’s creative work, as described here, is linked with kingship in vv 7–10.4
3 Who is allowed to ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may go up to his holy dwelling place?
Verse 3b can also be translated: “Who may stand in his holy place?” “Talk of standing rather than bowing down suggests that the questioners come not simply to worship but also to make request. They take the posture a suppliant takes before a king.”5
4 The one whose deeds are blameless and whose motives are pure, who does not lie, or make promises with no intention of keeping them.
5 Such godly people are rewarded by the LORD, and vindicated by the God who delivers them.
6 Such purity characterizes the people who seek his favor, Jacob’s descendants, who pray to him. (Selah)
“Jacob” makes explicit that the “company” [people] (dôr) is more than a collection of unrelated people: the word often means a “generation” and in the context of Israel thus suggests a group of related people. This company comprises the descendants of Jacob alive at a particular moment. They are the people who have recourse to or seek help from Yhwh. Seeking Yhwh’s face [NIV] has similar implications to that verb (cf. 27:8). It means not merely seeking a sense of being in God’s presence, but also seeking to see Yhwh’s face shining. It implies seeking that Yhwh should shine out in blessing on one’s life. So “having recourse to Yhwh” or “seeking Yhwh’s face” is another way of talking about seeking Yhwh’s “blessing” and “deliverance,” the expressions of Yhwh’s faithfulness (v. 5).6
7 Look up, you gates! Rise up, you eternal doors! Then the majestic king will enter!
Whereas the presupposition of vv. 3-6 was that Yhwh was on Mount Zion and that other people wished to come there, the presupposition of vv. 7-10 is that Yhwh is outside Mount Zion, and people are urging Yhwh’s admittance.7
8 Who is this majestic king? The LORD who is strong and mighty! The LORD who is mighty in battle!
9 Look up, you gates! Rise up, you eternal doors! Then the majestic king will enter!
For variation the verb in the middle colon is now qal, repeating the form in the first colon, rather than niphal as it was in v. 7.8
10 Who is this majestic king? The LORD who commands armies! He is the majestic king! (Selah)
Craigie, Peter C., and Marvin E. Tate. Psalms 1-50. Nashville: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2004.
Goldingay, John. Psalms: Volume 1: Psalms 1-41. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 2006.
Kidner, Derek. Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008.
VanGemeren, Willem. Psalms. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2008.