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)!
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.