The central purpose of the Book of Psalms is to shape our image of what it truly means to be blessed such that we will be able to praise the Lord, even in the midst of a wicked world and our own sinful flesh. Psalms 1 and 2 present the foundation to this image of blessedness as a proper conception of life under God’s rule. God is king, he has set his anointed one on Zion, his holy hill, and all who submit to that rule and actually take refuge in him will be blessed like a tree flourishing by streams of water. However, if you conceive of God’s rule as something that is burdensome, if you seek to cast off the rule of God and his anointed, if that’s your image of what it means to be blessed, then you will perish.
Allowing the Word of God to form that image in our hearts—musing on the music of God’s Word—is what will lead us out of the lament toward praise. It’s what will help keep us from despair when we look around us and see so much chaos and wickedness, and it’s what will keep us from giving into the counsel of the wicked that tempts us to follow a different path, one that conceives of the good life apart from the rule of God.
Ascending the Hill to Blessedness
So how can we use the psalms—in their entirety—to lead us to a life of true blessedness and praise? Psalm 15 essentially asks this question when it opens,
Lord, who may abide in your tabernacle? Who may dwell in your holy hill?
Who may ascend the hill of the temple from the harsh realities of life to blessed worship in God’s presence? The psalm answers,
2 He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart.
And the psalm continues by describing the life of such a righteous person, one who may indeed dwell in God’s holy hill:
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; 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; 5 he who does not put out his money at usury, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.
This is a striking psalm, especially in its place in Book I. No mention of the wicked here at all. And no mention of sin. Psalm 15 essentially describes the truly blessed man, one who submits to the Lord as king and therefore enjoys the kind of flourishing God originally promised to Adam, a life free of hardship and full of praise.
And yet, here is the hard question: who is characterized by the kind of life Psalm 15 describes? Who always “walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart”? Who may dwell in God’s presence?
Psalm 14 already answered: No one.
Read in isolation, Psalm 15 may appear to be a “happy-clappy” psalm, but it could actually be quite discouraging. No one measures up to the standard of a blessed man that Psalm 15 presents.
This is why it is so important to recognize the intentional organization of the psalms. It is very instructive that Psalm 24 asks almost the same questions that opened Psalm 15:
3 Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in his holy place?
And it should not surprise us that Psalm 24 continues by answering the questions in a very similar way to Psalm 15:
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully. 5 He shall receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. 6 This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek him, who seek Your face.
The editors placed Psalms 15 and 24 intentionally to form an inclusio—they both deal with the same questions and the same answers: only a perfectly righteous person may ascend the hill and dwell in the presence of the Lord. But while Psalm 15 leaves us a bit discouraged at the reality that “there is no one who does good, no, not one” (Ps 14:3), Psalm 24 continues by identifying the one man who has ever lived who qualifies to ascend God’s holy hill:
7Lift up your heads, O you gates!
And be lifted up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
8Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
the Lord mighty in battle.
9Lift up your heads, O you gates!
Lift up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
10Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory.
Who may ascend God’s holy hill? Only one person: the King of glory And who is the King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory. The Lord himself is the only one worthy to ascend the hill.
And yet, the psalms have led us to expect the possibility of the kind of blessedness these psalms describe for a man, not simply Yahweh himself. God promised that an Anointed son of David would ascend the hill, not Yahweh alone. Of course, the answer is in a God-man, an Anointed One who is both David’s son and David’s Lord.
The Truly Blessed Man
And in between the bookends of Psalm 15 and Psalm 24, the editors introduced to us this God-man, this one who fulfills the duties failed by Adam, Moses, Joshua, David, and Solomon. The truly Blessed Man.
He is one who puts his trust in the Lord (Ps 16:1), just like Psalms 1 and 2 admonished. God will not leave this one in Sheol or allow his Holy One to see corruption (Ps 16:10). Rather, this Blessed Man will experience fullness of joy and pleasures in God presence (Ps 16:11). David is not talking about himself in Psalm 16—he ultimately fails the requirements of Psalms 15 and 24. No, Peter says in Acts 2:25 that David is speaking of him—his Greater Son. He is the apple of God’s eye (Ps 17:8). He is the Anointed King to whom God shows mercy and deliverance (Ps 18:50). He is the one who perfectly delights in the Law of the Lord (Ps 19).
And Psalms 20–24 are all about the victories of this King, as he makes his way into God’s holy city and ascends his holy hill. Yet part of that victory includes suffering (Ps 22). But that suffering qualifies him to be the Shepherd of his people (Ps 23), and ultimately, it qualifies him to ascend onto the hill of the Lord and stand in his holy place. Ultimately, the only one worthy to ascend God’s holy hill—the true Blessed Man—is Jesus the Anointed One, David’s Greater Son, who lived in perfect obedience to the Law of God, suffered to pay the penalty of sin that his people deserve, and rose in victory to take his rightful throne as God’s mediatorial ruler.
And in reality, the entire five-movement cantata of the Psalms traces this Anointed One as he ascends in victory to God’s holy hill.