Who Shall Ascend?: Counseling Pride from Psalm 24

Psalm 24 is an incredibly useful passage to turn to when counseling issues related to pride. Specifically, Psalm 24:3-6 confronts and corrects those hearts tempted to be self-righteous. 

Where is the Hill of the LORD?

In the Psalms “the hill/mountain of the LORD” is the place that Yahweh had placed His king (Psalm 2:6 – “As for Me, I have set My King on Zion, My holy hill.”) This mountain is not a literal mountain that can be located with GPS coordinates; rather, this mountain is figurative. The consistent witness of the Scriptures is that God’s dwelling place is on high ground, far above where we dwell.

The theme of God’s presence being fixed on a mountain goes all the way back to Genesis, where God’s presence is first observed in the Garden of Eden. Eden was likely on elevated ground. We know this because Genesis records that a river “flowed out of Eden” (Genesis 2:10), and Ezekiel says that Eden is God’s “holy mountain” (Ezek. 28:13-14). 

Professor Jim Hamilton states that, “From the beginning of the Bible to its end, to ascend Yahweh’s mountain is to enter His presence.” This point is significant if we are going to fully understand the meaning behind David’s words in Psalm 24.

The Purpose of David’s Question

When David asks, “Who may ascend the hill of the LORD?” (Psalm 24:3), it is as if he is asking, “Who among you can summit Mt. Everest in your pajamas?” Without a doubt, David is asking a rhetorical question. It is obvious that none of us can ascend the hill of the LORD, because none of us possess the righteousness necessary to be in God’s presence. It is as if God lives on a mountain and none of us have the climbing gear necessary to safely ascend that mountain. 

David’s question and qualifications are meant to isolate and exhaust the reader’s pride. No matter how good you are, no matter how obedient you are, you CANNOT climb God’s mountain. The degree of righteousness it would take to ascend the hill of the Lord is totally beyond your reach.  Some may feel further along than others, but no one is even remotely close to the summit. 

Qualifications for Climbing

To make sure that the point is not missed, David includes three characteristics a person must possess in order to climb the hill of the LORD in verse 4. The worthy climber: (1) must have “clean hands and a pure heart,” (2) must “not lift up his soul to what is false,” (3) and “does not swear deceitfully.” 

Perhaps the most interesting dynamic at play in these qualifications pertains to the word “clean” found in the first characteristic listed. While many translations use the word “clean”, the actual word in the Hebrew means innocent. In order to ascend the hill of the LORD, you must have innocent hands – not just clean hands.

In total, these qualifications describe an individual who is morally upright far beyond what any mere human could ever attain. These qualifications are meant to further David’s point that we cannot ascend the hill of the LORD without the necessary righteousness. In the mind of David the only one who is apparently able to ascend the hill of the LORD is the King of Glory, “the LORD strong and mighty” (v.8)!

Killing Pride 

To fight against pride is to fight for humility. In order to grow in humility, what your counselee needs is a new view of self. This new view of self is achieved by seeing oneself in light of God and His grace. More specifically, it is only when your counselee sees the magnitude and majesty of God that he will start to reject his self-righteousness and lean on God’s grace instead. 

Psalm 24 is helpful towards growing in humility because it reinforces for us just how far away everyone is from achieving the righteousness of God. Psalm 24 points forward to Christ as our means of righteousness. Jesus alone could ascend the hill of the LORD, and He did just this on Calvary.

Likewise, this truth is easily observed in Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” When we begin to see ourselves in contrast to the absolute splendor of Yahweh and His unmerited favor, we are mercifully pushed away from pride and towards humility. 


The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Psalm 24 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash

Photo by Mads Schmidt Rasmussen on Unsplash

The Subtle Havoc of Pride

If you could choose any one sin for God to immediately and permanently deliver you from what would it be? My guess is that pride is not the first sin which comes to mind. I think the reason that this is so is that the havoc of pride is subtle. Its invasive tentacles slither into every room of your heart with imperceptible movement and its suffocating grip is tolerable over time. But underestimating the toll pride can have on your life is a dangerous miscalculation.

My hope is that as we look together at Psalm 131 God will activate its truths in your heart in order to equip you to better fight pride. Psalm 131 helps us understand the particular havoc pride causes and that there is hope available for those who suffer from this havoc.

1 O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. 2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. 3 O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore. (ESV; see below)

Hints of a Former Life

Listen to how the psalmist describes his current spiritual state in verse 1. His “heart is not lifted up,” his “eyes are not raised too high,” and he does not “occupy [himself] with things too great and too marvelous” (which means he recognizes there are things which only God can be and God can do). All these phrases describe a man who is humble.

Presumably, this was not always the case. There was a time in the past when this man’s heart was proud, his eyes raised too high, and being and doing the things reserved for God controlled him.

One of the graces of Psalm 131 is that it provides an opportunity for us to consider what pride is still lingering in our hearts and the destruction it is causing.  

The Havoc: Spiritual Restlessness

In verse 2 the psalmist speaks of being “calmed” and “quieted.” Obviously, the psalmist experienced havoc which needed to be calmed and quieted. This chaos is not external as if the psalmist is speaking about the world around him. Just the opposite is true. The world is still just as chaotic and restless as it has ever been. Rather, the psalmist has internal chaos; his soul (his inner being), therefore, is in need of being calmed and quieted.

I don’t know what label to attach to this havoc of the soul. But having a label or name is secondary. Those who suffer in this way know that no word can fully capture all that it entails. For the sake of conversation, I will just simply refer to this havoc as spiritual restlessness.

Can Pride Really Cause Spiritual Restlessness?

The most valuable truth I’ve learned from Psalm 131 is that there is a link between pride and spiritual restlessness. Pride doesn’t cause all spiritual restlessness but pride can lead to, and feed into, spiritual restlessness. It pressures you to be and to do things reserved for God alone. Here are four examples of this kind of pride (Zack Eswine in his book ‘The Imperfect Pastor’ helped me understand these pressures):

  • The pressure to have more – “If I just had more time and money all my problems would be solved.
  • The pressure to be more – “If only I could be a better spouse, a better parent, a better employee and a better church member, things would be different.
  • The pressure to do more – “I just wish I just had more energy to do things I need to do.
  • The pressure to know more – “If I just had more information I would have made different decisions and things would be different.”

But here is the thing with all these pressures – God hasn’t designed you to have everything, be everything, do everything, and know everything. God and God alone is all sufficient, holy, and all knowing. These pressures are unnecessary and leave you feeling exasperated and frustrated or you could say spiritually restless. God knows this and his grace is up for the challenge.

The Hope and Source of Soul Quietness

The psalmist experienced something that we all desire for ourselves. This ‘something’ is that he had been “calmed” (Hebrew word meaning to level or make smooth) and “quieted” (Hebrew word meaning to make still). The psalmist calmed and quieted his soul (v.2) by undergoing the spiritual work of humbling his prideful self (v.1). The psalmist understood that calming and quieting his restless soul demanded fighting pride because pride is what fed into his spiritual restlessness. When this pride went unchecked spiritual restlessness flourished in his soul.

Was this growth easy? No way! The pain is like what a baby experiences when being weaned from his mother’s milk. But God’s grace worked in him and he was calmed and quieted as he fought to kill pride. Why wouldn’t a kind and loving God do the same for you?

Hope in God

Fighting pride is more than just putting off pride-filled thought patterns. It also requires putting on hoping in the LORD as the psalmist explains in verse 3. This work of hoping in the LORD requires resting in who He is and what only He can do. This LORD is the one who has “steadfast love” and in Him, there is “plentiful redemption” (Psalm 130:7). This LORD is the one who came to “redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (130:8). Whereas pride turns your hope inward, hoping in the LORD requires you look outside of yourself for safety, certainty, and security.


We need Psalm 131 as often as we can remind ourselves of it. Pride is always knocking on the door of our hearts. Before we open the door and invite that old friend in again I pray that God would bring at least two truths from Psalm 131 to our remembrance: First, I pray that God will remind us of the ruin pride brings in the form of spiritual restlessness. When God helps us remember sin’s danger it is one of His good graces which help us avoid sin in the first place. Second, I pray that when we find ourselves in this unfortunate state that we would humble ourselves as we hope in God.


Photo by William Krause on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Psalm 24 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Eswine, Zack (2015). The Imperfect Pastor. Wheaton, IL. Crossway.

Other Resources

If you enjoyed this post you should also check out David Powlison’s chapter titled Peace, Be Stil: Psalm 131 in his book ‘Seeing With New Eyes‘ (P & R Publishing, 2003), and John Piper’s sermon Join Me in Soul-Satisfaction in God on Psalm 131. Both of these resources were a joy to interact with and helped me see the beauty of Psalm 131.