Restoration Quarterly 45.3 (2003) 151-164.
Copyright © 2003 by Restoration Quarterly, cited with permission.
A PORTRAIT OF THE RIGHTEOUS PERSON
Center for Christian Education
Psalm 15 was most likely composed independently for use in a specific cultic
setting as is argued by Hermann Gunkel:
Ps. 15 most clearly presupposes a specific worship service. The priest communicates
an answer for the laity to the question of their condition if they wish entry onto the
holy mountain. However, the text does not offer a single word regarding which
festival would have included this kind of question and answer.1
Gunkel challenges Mowinckel's contention that Psalm 15 is connected with the
annual festival of the enthronement of Yahweh.2 While Gunkel disputes
Mowinckel's assertion that this psalm's usage can be pin-pointed to a specific
event on the Israelite calendar, I question the "presupposed worship service" that
causes this psalm to be read as a liturgical entrance psalm. Gunkel himself says,
"The response [to the question in v. 1] we think must come from the mouth of the
priest."3 Could the question posed in verse 1 be a rhetorical question similar to
the one asked by the prophet in Micah 6:6–7? Other rhetorical questions appear
elsewhere in the first book of the Psalter (Pss. 8:5; 11:3; 27:1; 39:7). Then, what
is the point?
It is possible that this psalm circulated independently beyond its original
setting in life, being used in situations other than the one for which it was initially
composed. It is also possible that this psalm circulated with two or three similar
temple worship psalms such as Psalms 24, 48, 65, and 87. We simply do not
An Introduction to the Psalms: The Genres of
the Religious Lyric of
(completed by Joachim Begrich, trans. James D. Noglaski, Mercer Library of Biblical
2 Sigmund Mowinckel, The Psalms in
3 Gunkel, Introduction to the Psalms, 313. This interpretation has been widely
accepted. See, for example, Artur Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary (trans. Herbert
Analyse Structurelle et
(Recherches Nouvelle Serie
Bellarmin, 1984), 139; Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 1-59: A Commentary (trans. Hilton
and Studying the Book of Praises (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1990), 89.
152 RESTORATION QUARTERLY
know as much as we would like to know about the history of this psalm.
However, we can observe the setting of Psalm 15 within the first book of the
Psalter, Psalms 1-41. Therefore, I begin this study with a translation of Psalm 15
followed by a brief reflection upon its present setting— within the first book of
1 A psalm of David:
0 Yahweh, who may sojourn in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?
2 The person who walks honestly4 and who practices what is right
and who speaks truth in his heart,
3 Does not slander with his tongue, does no evil to his friend
and does not take up a reproach against his neighbor.
4 In his eyes a man scorned (by God) is despised
but he honors those who fear Yahweh;
who swears (an oath) that causes (him) harm5 but does not change.
5 He who does not give out his money at interest nor takes a bribe against the
he who does these things shall never be moved.
Since Gunkel's watershed studies, Psalm 15 (along with Psalm 24) has
usually been classified as an entrance liturgy psalm. We do not know if it was
originally composed as an entrance, liturgy, to be used responsively (that is, the
worshipper asks the question in verse 1, and the priest utters the answer in verses
2-5). Perhaps such a request was the Sitz im Leben of the poem, or perhaps the
psalm was originally a wisdom-type psalm in which the psalmist asked a
rhetorical question and answered it himself. I cannot rule out the possibility that
the psalmist asked the question only to have some "inner voice" reveal the virtues
required to dwell in Yahweh's presence. Then, perhaps this poem was later
adapted and used in the liturgy for the temple. We just do not know for certain.
I prefer to read Psalm 15, however, within its present, canonical context, as
a wisdom-influenced psalm;6 that is, its is primarily didactic in purpose. Psalm
15 delineates the way of righteousness (the way of life), which stands in stark
contrast to the way of wickedness (destruction). I am aware of the difficulties
4 Compare Amos 5:10: "They hate him who reproves in the gate and they abhor him
who speaks truthfully/honestly" (MymiTA). Here in Amos 5:10-12 the focus is also upon
5 Compare the translation
to his own hurt" in L. Koehler and
Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1958), 902. The Septuagint (and
the Syriac) correct the problem by translating the phrase "who swears to his neighbor and
does not set (it) aside."
6 Compare Mitchell Dahood, Psalms I:
1-50, AB (
MALONEY/PORTRAIT OF THE RIGHTEOUS PERSON 153
involved in even defining what is and is not a wisdom psalm,7 but I read Psalm
15 similar to the way I read the other wisdom (or better, "wisdom-influenced")
psalms such as Pss. 34:12–14 [English vv]; 37:28–31, and 112:4–6, 9 (cf. Job
29:12–17; 31:5-21). In other words, my focus is upon what Whybray calls
"modes of thought" characteristic of biblical wisdom (Job, Proverbs, Qohelet)8
instead of upon a particular genre or literary form called "wisdom." My interest
in wisdom-influenced psalms is here very narrow, consisting of texts that list
specific virtues. Interestingly, Psalm 101 would be another example of a psalm
that lists specific personal virtues or examples of ethical actions. In fact,
depending on how one counts, there appear to be ten such virtues also listed in
I cannot prove that such a reading of Psalm 15 is the original usage, but I
think this approach will open the way to a better understanding of the psalm as
it stands here between Psalms 14 and 16. Among the psalms of the first book, this
psalm is hardly unique as a "non-lament." In fact, several of the psalms in the first
book are not laments.9 What, then, is the function of this psalm in its present
location? Are there any apparent connections between Psalm 15 and the
preceding psalm or to the concepts in Psalms 1–14? First of all, I will work
through the individual verses of the psalm, paying attention to especially
significant psalmic terms and concepts. Then I will ask whether the ten "social
justice" virtues (i.e., “love your neighbor as yourself”) listed in Ps. 15:2–5
contain any allusions to the material found in the Decalogue.
Analysis of Psalm 15
As I read through Psalm 15 and worked on the translation, certain terms and
concepts captured my attention. These are deserving of closer study because of
the richness and depth they add to the understanding and interpretation of the
psalm. First, in verse 1 the general consensus is that lh,xo is parallel to "holy hill"
and refers to the
7 See especially Norman Whybray, Reading the
Psalms as a Book (
(as opposed to interpolated "wisdom elements"), he lists Pss 8; 14//53; 25; 34; 39; 49; 73;
90; 112; 127; 131, and 139 (60-73). Cf. Whybray, "The Wisdom Psalms," in Wisdom in
H. G. M. Williams;
8 Ibid, 37. Cf. G. von Rad, Wisdom in Israel (Nashville: Abingdon, 1972), 47-48.
9 Pss. 8, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, 29, 30, 32, 33, 34, and 37. Lament psalms
dominate not only Book I but Books I–III. See Bellinger, Psalms:
45, 75, and 81.
10 Kraus points out this is not an "archaizing" expression but rather a reflection of the
tent sanctuary tradition found in 2 Sam 7:6 (Psalms 1-59, 228). He does, nevertheless,
154 RESTORATION QUARTERLY
question is asked is significant: not, "who may enter your tent, 0 Yahweh?" but
"who may sojourn (rUg) in your tent?" In other psalms, the term xOB is typically
used to talk about entering or coming into the presence of Yahweh (see Pss 5:8;
42:3; 96:8; 100:2, 4; 118:19—20). Why is a different term used here? The usage
of the term rUg in the rest of the Psalter sheds light on its connotation in 15:1. In
Ps 5:5 we find that "evil cannot sojourn" with God. Evil is an unwelcome guest,
not a protected sojourner or stranger—protected under the Torah. Kellermann,
in his comment on Ps 5:5, says "commentators and translators assume that gur
has the general meaning, ‘to dwell, tarry.’ However, it is also possible to get a
deeper understanding . . . if the meaning of ger is kept in mind when translating
gur."11 He goes on to point out that in Ps 39:13 the psalmist "knows that he is
only a ger, ‘guest,’ . . . before Yahweh, like all his fathers.12 Other occurrences
of rUg are found in Pss 61:5 (in the context of refuge, shelter); 94:6 and 146:9
(a protected person, along with the widow and the orphan); 105:12, 23 (in the
context, Yahweh cares for the sojourners); and 120:5.
Second, the phrase qd,c, lfepoU in verse 2 is interesting and important in any
canonical reading of this psalm. Three earlier psalms (5:6; 6:9; 14:4) mention the
"workers of iniquity." This phrase is one of several designations for the
psalmists' enemies. In stark contrast to the "workers of iniquity" who "devour my
people as they devour bread" and "do not call upon Yahweh" (14:4), here in
Psalm 15 we encounter a person who is a "worker (doer) of what is right" (v. 2)
and who is known for his godly behavior towards his fellow citizens, not his
abuse of them (vv. 3-5). He or she also does call upon Yahweh (v. 1).
Third, at my first reading of Psalm 15, verse 4 seemed out of place. The
psalmist has been praising the righteous person for the considerate and ethical
treatment of others (v. 3), and this theme is again picked up in verses 4b—5. Yet
here in the first part of verse 4 we read "in whose eyes a vile person is
despised."13 This virtue does not sound very "ethical." The verbal form sxm
appears in eight other psalmic texts. In five of these eight occurrences, God is the
subject of the verb—he is the one who "scorns"14 or "rejects"15 certain individuals
believe Psalm 15 is pre-exilic (227). This echoes the opinion of Gunkel (Introduction to
the Psalms, 330).
11 See D. Kellermann, rUg, in TDOT 2:448.
12 Ibid., 449. See also James L. Mays, Psalms. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary
for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994), 84: "To speak about
being in this sacred space, [Ps 15] uses language
the resident alien, the outsider who was permitted to live along with those to whom tents
and territory belonged. Those who enter the presence are like resident aliens, because they
have no inherent right to be there; the privilege must be granted," Cf. Ps 119:19.
13 This translation comes from Harold Fisch, ed., The Jerusalem Bible. Compare the
NRSV: "in whose eyes the wicked are despised." Neither of these seem to get at the
meaning of the term sxm as it is used in the Psalter.
14 William L.
Testament: Based Upon the Lexical Work of Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 180. He suggests "scorned" for Ps 15:4 and Jer 6:30.
15 Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, eds., A Hebrew and English
MALONEY/PORTRAIT OF THE RIGHTEOUS PERSON 155
or groups of individuals (Pss 53:6; 58:8; 78:59, 67; and 89:39). Thus in Psalm 15
it is virtuous to despise those who have been rejected by Yahweh. In the
canonical context of the psalm, those despised are certainly the aforementioned
"workers of iniquity," the enemies of the psalmists, the wicked whose way is not
known by Yahweh (Ps 1:6).
Both Kraus and Craigie astutely point out that the parallel line in verse 4b
indicates that companionship or "daily associations" is on the mind of the
psalmist, although Kraus alone makes the connection with Psalm 1:1.16 Dahood
comments: "Just as no evil man can be a guest in Yahweh's tent (vs. 1, Pss v 5,
xxiv 3), so the hospitality of the godly man does not extend to the wicked."17
In verse 5 the idea of stability is of special interest. In a holistic reading of
the Psalter, we have already come across the word FUm in Ps 10:6, where it is
found on the lips of the wicked who arrogantly says in his heart: "I will not be
moved." This confidence, of course, is vain. Yahweh the eternal king will break
the arm (strength) of the wicked person and will "seek out his wickedness" until
there is none left to find (Ps 10:15). In later psalms, the promise in Ps 15:5 is
echoed quite frequently in the psalmists' assertions of stability in Yahweh (Pss
16:8; 17:5; 21:8; 30:7; 55:23; 62:3, 7; 66:9; 112:6; 121:3; cf. 46:6; 93:1; 96:10;
Now I will examine the basic structure of Psalm 15 and any possible
allusions to the material found in the Decalogue. Mowinckel observed that verses
2-5 list ten virtues or activities of the person who is allowed to sojourn in
Yahweh's tent on his holy hill. In a discussion of Psalm 81:9-10, he says:
The influence of this ‘decalogical tradition’ is also clearly seen in Ps. 15, where the
number of commandments making the ‘laws of entrance’, the ‘conditions of
admission’ to temple and salvation, are precisely ten; this is certainly no mere
accident. . . . The existing toroth of entry belong to the decalogical tradition. The
traditional figure 10 in such groupings of the fundamental commandments of the
covenant . . . is probably derived from the instruction of pilgrims: one commandment
for each finger.18
Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907; repr. 1978), 549.
16 Kraus, Psalms, 230; Peter Craigie, Psalms 1-50 (WBC; Waco: Word, 1983), 152.
17 Dahood, Psalms 1: 1-50, 84.
Book of Psalms (London: Oliphants, 1972), 136; and Craigie, Psalms 1-50. Craigie
admits there is some uncertainty here, but says the number ten is "confirmed by the inner
grouping of positive and negative conditions. Three positive conditions are followed by
three negative conditions, then two positive followed by two negative—total ten" (150).
Contrast Kraus, Psalms 1-59, 228.
156 RESTORATION QUARTERLY
In addition to Mowinckel's theory about the pedagogical significance of the
number ten, one should also consider the theological significance of this number.
M. Pope has called attention to the twofold sacred nature of the number ten. First,
the number is used often to connote "completeness." Second, "as a sacred
number, ten may derive some of its significance from the fact that it is the sum
of the two other especially sacred numbers, three and seven." Finally, the sanctity
of the Ten Commandments would have given this number added significance.19
While Craigie agrees that there are ten conditions listed in Psalm 15
reminiscent of the Decalogue's "ten words" (Exod 20:1-17; Deut 5:1-21), he
dismisses the possibility of any "precise inner correspondences between the
conditions and the Commandments.”20 He echoes Mowinckel and emphasizes the
pedagogical function of the ten conditions or virtues corresponding to the ten
fingers on the student's hand.
I suggest that the possibility of correspondence between the Decalogue and
Psalm 15 is not entirely out of the question. Although "precise" correspondences
are not apparent, it is possible to hear in Psalm 15 allusions to the Decalogue,
especially the last six of the ten words that deal with the treatment of one's
"neighbor" (Exod 20:12-17). I do not intend to argue that these allusions are
definitely what the author of Psalm 15 had in mind. Nevertheless, it seems
reasonable to assume that the psalmist is alluding to the ethical intent of the
Decalogue, which would have been ancient and well-established in the
consciousness of the people even by the time of a pre-exilic psalmist. What
follows is a re-reading of Psalm 15, this time looking not at specific terms and
their usage in the Psalter, but rather at the general concepts or ethical implications
of the ten conditions listed. Correspondences will be highlighted between these
ethical precepts and the ethical implications of the prohibitions in Exod
20:12-17. I am arguing for "general correspondences" in thought and not that
each condition in Psalm 15 is a direct allusion to ethical principles found in the
Of course, on the other hand, the claim by J. Blenkinsopp (and others) that
in its final form the Pentateuch is a product of the Persian period21 could well
19 Marvin H. Pope, "Number, Numbering, Numbers," in Interpreter's Dictionary of
the Bible (ed. G. A. Buttrick;
finger counting to ten (
of the number itself, see Georges Ifrah, From One to Zero: A Universal History of
Numbers (trans. Lowell Bair;
15:1 be viewed as another example of catechetical or school questions? (see G. von Rad,
Wisdom, 18-19). Cf. G. von Rad, The Problem of the Hexateuch and Other Essays
(London: SCM Press, 1984), 252.
20 Craigie, Psalms 1-50, 150.
21 Joseph Blenkinsopp, The Pentateuch: An Introduction to the First Five Books of
the Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 239-41. He also discusses the Deuteronomistic
(mid-sixth century B.C.E.) influence upon the final version of the Decalogue in Exodus.
MALONEY/PORTRAIT OF THE RIGHTEOUS PERSON 157
account for the correspondences between wisdom-influenced psalms and the
Decalogue. Similarly, the wisdom literature is typically dated in the post-exilic
period although its roots reach into early ancient Israelite home and clan life.
Blenkinsopp goes on to challenge Mowinckel's theory that the Decalogue
is cultic in origin, based on the correspondences between Psalm 15 and Exod
20:2-17. He correctly points out the allusions to these ethical requirements as
early as the eighth-century prophets.22 Others have noted the close relationship
between those wisdom psalms or wisdom-influenced psalms listed above and
torah (instruction/law). R. E. Murphy, for example, calls attention not just to the
similarity between wisdom psalms and torah but, in the larger picture, to the
similarity between "wisdom" in general and "law":
It is reasonable to think that what later became "wisdom" and "law" was at first an
undifferentiated mass of commands, prohibitions, and observations concerning life.
At this level there is a pre-urban and pre-school stage of instruction where the family
and tribe are at the center of society. Only later did instruction become differentiated
into the scholastic and legal areas. Indeed, the Decalogue itself is a reflection of the
ethos of early Israel.23
I do not wish to "reclassify" Psalm 15 as a wisdom psalm, but merely to note
its didactic qualities. My first observation concerns the general message of this
psalm and how it corresponds to the Decalogue. That is, the close connection
between the worship of Yahweh (cult) and treatment of other human beings
within the covenant (ethics).24 In the Decalogue, the first four commandments
focus upon one's responsibility towards Yahweh while the last six focus upon
one's responsibility to the community. Similarly, Psalm 15 deftly combines the
idea of communion with Yahweh (v. 1) with social or ethical stipulations (vv.
2-5). This emphasis upon social justice is often attributed to the eighth-century
prophets, yet their insistence that acceptance before Yahweh presupposes social
righteousness goes back to the teaching of the Torah.
The specific conditions in Psalm 15 recall the Decalogue: "Who speaks truth
in his heart,"25 "does not slander with his tongue," and "does not take up a
22 Ibid., 208-9.
23 Roland E. Murphy, The Tree of Life: An Exploration of Biblical Wisdom
Literature (2d ed.;
24 Similar to Murphy's aforementioned connection of wisdom and law as having a
common background and development, A. Ceresko, "The Sage in the Psalms," in The
product of the torah/wisdom teachers, and the final form of this collection of psalms bears
the stamp of their influence and intent" (217).
25 Dahood (Psalms I, 83) translates `from his heart," citing the article by Nahum
Sarna, "The Interchangeability of the Prepositions Beth and Min in Biblical Hebrew," JBL
78 (1959): 310-16. Cf. Mark D. Futato, "The Preposition ‘Beth’ in the Hebrew Psalter"
158 RESTORATION QUARTERLY
reproach against his neighbor" (vv. 2–3) recalls the prohibition against "bearing
false witness against your neighbor" in Exod 20:16. In this case, the psalm is
more detailed in its description of the ethical behavior required of the person who
stands in Yahweh's presence. What would "bearing false witness against a
neighbor" look like? It begins in the heart of person. The best way to keep from
transgressing the ninth commandment is to be a person of integrity and honesty
who speaks truth from the heart. Again, this kind of personal character is a stark
contrast to the person envisioned in Ps 12:3—the person who speaks with a
"double heart" (see also Ps 28:3).
Other specific ways to break the ninth commandment are spelled out. One
might engage in slandering one's neighbor, making false and malicious state-
ments that could, at the very least, damage the neighbor's reputation in the
community of God's people. If this slander took place in a legal trial at the city
gate, for example, the consequences for the accused could be even more severe.
Ps 15:5 appears to indicate that a judicial context is not an unlikely setting for the
slander mentioned in verse 3. Likewise, if one took up a reproach (assumedly,
a baseless one) against a neighbor, it would have damaging results. In these three
conditions from Psalm 15 and the prohibition in Exodus 20, the human tongue
is used as a powerful weapon against one's fellow participant in the covenant
with Yahweh, against a person who shares the history of having been "brought
out of the
serious if one recalls the Hebrew concept of the innate power contained within
the spoken word: That is, these accusations and deceitful words contain the power
to cause harm. They are not empty words but, potentially damaging deeds.26
A person who uses speech in such a way is not acting in concert with
Yahweh's holiness and righteousness. Instead, that person is behaving like the
enemies of the psalmists (at least, as described in Book I) who speak deceitfully
(see Pss 3:3; 4:3; 5:7, 10; 7:4;27 10:7; 12:3; 13:5; 22:7–9; 27:13; 35:11, 20–21;
36:4; and 41:6–7). In fact, a perusal of these passages in their respective literary
contexts reveals that a dominant hallmark of the evil-doing enemies is their
threatening evil speech against the godly, ethical psalmists.28 They also foolishly
speak against Yahweh himself (2:2-3; 10:3–4; 11, 13; 12:4–5; 14:1).
WTJ 41 (Fall 1978): 68-81. Craigie (Psalms 1-50) correctly points to the primary focus
as the "inner truth of the heart (viz., the mind), which in turn results in the outward
speaking of truth" (149).
26 On the pervasive belief in the "magical power of the [spoken] word" see G. von
Rad, Old Testament Theology (San Francisco: Harper, 1962), 1:143. See also J. Bergman,
H. Lutzmann, and W. H. Schmidt, rbDi, in TDOT, 3:85-87, 92-93, 115-16, and Siegfried
Wagner,rmxi, in TDOT, 1:332, 336.
27 Implied here is a setting in which the psalmist finds himself falsely accused (cf. v.
“concerning the words of
28 Hans-Joachim Kraus, Theology of the Psalms (trans. Keith Crim;
MALONEY/PORTRAIT OF THE RIGHTEOUS PERSON 159
In Ps 15:3, "does no evil to his friend" (in the context of ten conditions),
recalls the ethical provisions within the Decalogue. Again, the correspondence
is general, allusive—not precise. Unlike the previous example, in this case the
psalmic virtue is abstract, and the commandments in Exod 20:13ff. are concrete.
Certainly, doing evil to one's friend casts a broad net that could include
numberless offenses against others. Exodus 20 lists three concrete examples of
"evil" against others murder, adultery, and stealing.29
In Ps 15:4b, we actually have one of only two30 semantic connections to the
Decalogue—the term dbk. Here the object of honor is "those that fear Yahweh"
while in Exodus 20 it is one's parents (Exod 20:12). In both texts the righteous
person is known for his or her attitude and behavior towards others. This
commandment in Exodus 20 is interesting in another way-it carries a
"promise."31 It says "honor your father and your mother so that your days may be
long upon the land that Yahweh your God is giving you" (Exod 20:12). One may
also read Psalm 15:5 as a promise: "the one who does these things [including
honoring those who fear Yahweh] will never be moved." While using different
terminology, both of these promises concern stability and security ("peace,"
"well-being") for the person who is obedient to Yahweh's ethical code. Kraus
The participant in worship on
shows his hqdc in the hidden deals and business transactions which are not acces-
to the intervention of any judicial agent. . . . Every visitor of
give a declaration of loyalty: Do you also conduct your life in accordance with the
covenant of Yahweh? Is Yahweh the Lord of your everyday life?32
Ethical worshippers are those who will not be moved but who will be sustained
and supported by Yahweh, just as they have supported the neighbor.
Now it is appropriate to return to the question of the form and function of
Psalm 15 within its setting in Book I of the Psalter. As mentioned earlier, some
commentators have conceded that this psalm may be classified as a wisdom
psalm due to the emphasis on Torah stipulations, especially ethical concerns.33
29 Perhaps even "coveting" (Exod 20:17) should be included in a list of evil acts
perpetrated against one's neighbor. See von Rad, Theology, 1:191 n. 9: "Even with
coveting what is in question is an act, illegal machinations, as J. Herrmann has shown in
Festschrift fur E. Sellin,
30 See also Ps 15:3 and Exod 20:16, 17 (tDN-12).
31 See Paul's description of the commandment to honor one's parents in Eph 6:2,
"ti<ma to>n pate<ra sou kai> th>n mhte<ra, h!tij e]sti>n e]ntolh> prw<th e]n
32 Kraus, Psalms 1-59, 230-31.
33 Anderson (Psalms) notices this emphasis in Psalm 15 and highlights a similar
theme in prophetic passages such as Jer 7:1 ff.: Ezek 18:5—9; Mic 6:6ff. and Isa 33:14ff.
160 RESTORATION QUARTERLY
Psalm 15 might be classified as a wisdom psalm in the same sense as Psalm 1,
which describes the moral attributes of the righteous. Craigie says: "Thus it is
possible that Ps 15 is a wisdom poem, based perhaps upon the form of the
entrance liturgy; its didactic role would have been in the instruction of young
people concerning the moral implications of participating in worship."34 Once
again, the major interest of this paper is not to argue for a form critical "re-
classification" of Psalm 15. This psalm certainly can (and should) be read as an
entrance liturgy psalm. This psalm could just as easily be read simply in the
context of wisdom ethics. My concern is to highlight the didactic (or
catechetical?) use of Psalm 15 as it stands here in the final form of Book I of the
Psalter, immediately after Psalm 14. My interest is to call attention to
correspondences between the ethical attributes of the righteous person in Psalm
15 and the ethical requirements listed in the Decalogue. In commenting on the
other entrance liturgy psalm, Ps. 24, McCann correctly says:
The identification of Psalm 24 as an "entrance liturgy" and the attempt to identify its
liturgical setting do not deal adequately with the content and theology of the psalm.
. . . When our attention is directed beyond questions of form and function to matters
of content and theology, we notice that Psalm 24 addresses the same fundamental
issues that we have encountered in Psalms 1-2, 8, 19, 95-96, 100.35
What connections exist between Psalm 15 and Psalm 14 or the other
preceding psalms of Book I? The possibility of some kind of interconnectedness
is suggested by J. Brennan's study of Psalms 1-8.36 First; the concluding promise
of Psalm 15 represents an actual semantic link between this psalm and other
psalms in Book I. Psalm 10:6, where the wicked person thinks he will never be
moved nor find himself in troubled times, evidences this link. This arrogant,
wicked person engages in many behaviors that are direct opposites of the
behaviors of the righteous person pictured in Ps 15:2-5. He pursues the ynifA and
murders the yqinA (10:2, 8) in contrast to the righteous person who does no evil to
his friend and does not take a bribe against the yqinA (15:3, 5). The mouth of the
wicked is full of deceitful and fraudulent speech (10:7; cf. 5:7) while the
righteous person in Psalm 15 walks honestly and speaks truthfully (v. 2). He or
He wisely cautions, however, against assuming interdependence (much less, dependence
upon the part of the writer of Ps. 15 ). He finally says: "Both Ps. 15 and the prophets
may belong to the same stream of Yahwism which was firmly rooted in the Covenant
traditions" (137). Cf. Gunkel, Introduction, 289. Cf. W. H. Bellinger Jr., Psalmody and
Prophecy (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1984).
34 Craigie, Psalms 1-50, 150.
35 J. C. McCann, A Theological Introduction to the Book of Psalms: The Psalms as
Torah (Nashville: Abingdon, 1993), 72—73.
36 Joseph P. Brennan. "Psalms 1—8: Some Hidden Harmonies." BTB 10 (1980):
25—29. Cf. Cf. J. L. Mays, "The Question of Context in Psalm Interpretation," in The
Shape and Shaping of the
J. Clinton McCann; Sheffield,
Press, 1993), 19-20.
MALONEY/PORTRAIT OF THE RIGHTEOUS PERSON 161
she also refuses to take a bribe--another specific, concrete act of honesty and
integrity. Ironically, this wicked person says: "I shall not be moved." But Yahweh
(the psalmist hopes) will say otherwise (10:12--14). In Ps 15:5, Yahweh says: "the
person who does these things shall not be moved." Next, in Psalm 14 is a vivid
description of the wicked person in stark contrast to the righteous person in Psalm
15, as I noted earlier in the contrast between qd,c, lfePo (15:2) and Nv,xA ylefEPo37
(14:4). Again, one may note the similar contrast between 14:2 and 15:1. In 14:2
Yahweh looks down from heaven to see if anyone has insight--that is, does
anyone "seek God." Evidently, no one is found—"not one" (v. 3b). In the story
of Noah, no one was seeking Yahweh. The thoughts of every person were
"continually evil." But then Noah found favor in the eyes of Yahweh (Gen.
6:5-8). In Psalm 14 is an equally dismal picture. In Psalm 15, however, one
righteous person is found. One person is left who seeks Yahweh, asking him:
Who may sojourn in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? F. Delitzsch
noted this connection between these two psalms in his comments on Psalm 15:
"The previous psalm distinguished from the mass of universal corruption a qydc
rOd, and concluded with the
expression of longing for the salvation out of
Ps. xv answers the question: who belongs to that qydc rOd, and for whom is the
future salvation meant?"38
In 14:7, the psalmist looks forward to
the return of
of rejoicing. The deliverance will come out of
expression of hope is part of the eschatological39 material that appears through-
out the Psalter and which, according to Gunkel, comes from the influence of
captivity of his people" or "when Yahweh brings back the fortunes of his
people."40 In either case, Psalm 15 is placed immediately after Psalm 14 by the
37 For an excellent discussion and challenge of S. Mowinckel's contention that the
Nv,xA ylefEPo are magicians casting "spells" (which cause illnesses) upon the righteous
psalmists, see Gunkel, Introduction, 143-47.
38 Franz Delitzsch. Biblical Commentary on the Psalms (3 vols.; rev. ed., trans.
39 For Gunkel, "eschatological" refers to God's ultimate victory at the end of time.
40 For such a translation
of tUbw;, see Fisch,
Bible: Reader 's Edition (Garden City: Doubleday, 1968). According to Liddell and Scott,
Greek-English Lexicon, abridged edition (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987), 23, this term means
"captivity; a body of captives." See the detailed study by William L. Holladay, The Root
SUBH in the Old Testament (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1958), 112: ". . . most of the
[occurrences] can (contextually speaking) be either ['captivity' or ‘restoration’]: since the
meanings are after all not too far apart, and one can posit a semantic development from
either to the other." Similarly,
Charles A. Briggs and Emilie G. Briggs, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the
Book of Psalms (2 vols.;
occurrences of this phrase] we might render, restore captivity, bring back captives; but
162 RESTORATION QUARTERLY
editor(s) of Book I in order to bolster the hope of future restoration in 14:7,
whether that hope is for a return from exile or a return of better times for the
people of Yahweh. When Yahweh "restores" his people, will it be possible to
"sojourn" in his tent on his holy hill? Yes indeed! Moreover, Psalm 15 provides
a memorable picture of what kind of person will be able to enjoy such wonderful
communion with Yahweh.
In view of the other connections between Psalms 14 and 15, the possibility
that Psalm 15 functions in the way that I have described deserves consideration.
Gunkel pointed out the need for considering the contexts of the various psalms,
although he did not have in mind "canonical contexts." He says, "There is an
unbreakable principle of scholarship that nothing can be understood outside of
its context. Accordingly, the particular task of psalm studies should be to
rediscover the relationships between the individual songs."41 Later, he seems to
think there is evidence that certain psalms are juxtaposed in order to present
theological viewpoints although he can detect no overarching, unifying principle
for the canonical sequence of the psalms.42
I cannot detect an overall unifying theme for the entire Psalter. I find Mays's
suggestion interesting but wonder if it is not too broad, too general to serve as a
unifying theme for the entire collection. That is, the statement "Yahweh reigns"
or "Yahweh is sovereign" seems, on one level, not much different from the
statement "Yahweh is God," obviously a concept well entrenched in the Israelite
psyche by the time of the psalmists. In other words, the statement "Yahweh is
God" is equal in meaning to the statement "Yahweh reigns (as sovereign king)"
because "God" equals "King" in the ancient Near Eastern milieu. That is, they
appear to be in the same "semantic field."43 I do indeed recognize, however, the
some of them must have the more general mng. restore prosperity."
Psalms, 864: "restore one's fortune or prosperity."
41 Gunkel, Introduction, 3.
42 Ibid., 335. Other scholars have sought to find a unifying principle for the entire
Psalter. Recent attempts include Gerald Wilson, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter
(SBLDS 76, ed. J. J. M. Roberts; Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1985), who posits various
organizing principles for the various groups of psalms, but not an overarching, unifying
principle; James Mays, The Lord Reigns: A Theological Handbook to the Psalms
(Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), especially 12-22, in which he
argues for the phrase Yhwh malak as the center or unifying principle of the entire Psalter.
The subsequent chapters trace this motif throughout the five books of collection. See also
David Mitchell, The Message of the Psalter: An Eschatological Programme in the Book
of Psalms (JSOTSup 252. ed. David Clines
and Philip Davies;
Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), who sees an eschatological message as the unifying
principle, and Jerome Creach, Yahweh as Refuge and the Editing of the Hebrew Psalter
(JSOTSup 217, ed. David Clines and Philip Davies;
Academic Press, 1996).
43 See Frank M. Cross, *, in TDOT, 1:245-46, 249-50, 258-59; Von Rad,
Theology, 23-24, and John
Bright, The History of
MALONEY/PORTRAIT OF THE RIGHTEOUS PERSON 163
prevalence of the concept of Yahweh's kingship in the Psalter. I also appreciate
Mays's admission that this is but one theme in a "plurality of thought about God
in the psalms."44
I began this study of questioning the usefulness of postulating a recon-
structed cultic setting in order to help understand Psalm 15. If this poem is read
simply as a liturgical entrance psalm, we miss insights gleaned from viewing it
as an important part of the theological message of the first book of the Psalter.
Furthermore, we tend to minimize its semantic and conceptual links to the
previous fourteen psalms in the canonical text. For example, one sees the irony
of the wicked person in Ps 10:6 who boasts, "I will not be moved" versus the
righteous person in Ps 15:5, upon whose behalf Yahweh boasts, "He shall not be
moved." Such an intra-textual reading, including the connections of themes
between Psalms 14 and 15, enriches my reading, my understanding, and my
appreciation for the beauty of Psalm 15. The relationship of Psalms 15 and 16
and to the rest of the psalms in Book I is another study.
I applaud Mays for the following insights and their contribution to reading
the Psalter as a book:
In the standard commentaries and introductions, psalms are taken up individually
and identified as an instance of a genre, and/or as agenda for ritual performance or
as artefacts of
genre and its proposed history. an inferred festival or ritual occasion. or the ancient
Near Eastern history of religion. . . . When the Psalms are examined from [a con-
textual] perspective, questions and possibilities do appear which are not visible when
the classic genres and the pre-exilic cult are used as the primary and organizing
I have suggested that we read Psalm 15 as a wisdom-influenced psalm, in the
broad sense, and not just as an entrance liturgy psalm. This reading highlights the
literary setting of Psalm 15 immediately following Psalm 14 as well as conceptual
and linguistic links to earlier psalms in Book I. Like the wisdom (Torah) psalm
that begins Book I, Psalm 15 considers the question of what kind of person may
"sojourn" with Yahweh, what kind of person may be found in the "assembly of
the, righteous." Both of the psalms refer to Torah, Psalm 1 explicitly and Psalm
15 implicitly by means of allusions to the Decalogue traditions. As L. Perdue
successfully argued long ago, the
interested in worship and not just ethics.46 It is helpful to read Psalm 15 in its
1981), 151-52, 155-56, 158, 1171.
44 Mays, Lord Reigns, 22.
45 Mays, "Question of Context," in Shape and Shaping, 14, 19.
46 Leo G. Perdue, Wisdom and Cult: A Critical Analysis of the Views of Cult in the
Wisdom Literatures of
Scholars Press, 1977), 1-11, 17, 140-226, passim.
164 RESTORATION QUARTERLY
reconstructed cultic origin as an entrance liturgy psalm. However, it is also
helpful (especially in understanding the theological content of this psalm) to read
Psalm 15 as a didactic poem—a poem that echoes the decalogical ethical
traditions that were so important to those returning from exile.
Finally, a comment or two about the contemporary message of Psalm 15.
Someone has observed that scholars have too often focused so much attention
upon the cultic settings and original functions of the psalms that they missed the
power and the beauty of its message. Psalm 15 reminds the people of God of all
time periods that Yahweh's definition of "righteous living" is largely defined by
ethical concerns. That is, to love Yahweh with all one's heart and to fear him
demands is love our neighbors and treat them asYahweh demands! This is taught
not only by the great classical prophets of
Decalogue and in the Book of the Covenant.
The modern community of those who would seek to sojourn in Yahweh's
holy presence, to live in fellowship with him must remember this and proclaim
it' at all times. Unfortunately, there is too often a "gap" (if not in knowledge, at
least in practice) between the worship of God and the fear of God and practical,
everyday godly treatment of one's neighbor! Psalm 15 reminds us that we "shall
not be moved" only if we I treat fellow human beings in an honest and godly way.
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