Psalm 24 was written at a time of transition. The people had endured the transition that took away their national sovereignty. And though the Persians had allowed them to return home and re-establish Jerusalem, they remained a vassal to the Persian Empire. Yet, they proclaimed God’s sovereignty above all rulers on the earth. They had endured the transition that removed them from their homeland and their temple. Yet, they proclaimed the potential in any place for God to enter. They had experienced the positive transition of the people’s return, a new sense of peace, and the rebuilding of their temple and their city. Yet, they reminded one another of the importance of not becoming morally lax but remaining true to their ethical commitments.
Times of transition occur whenever we encounter the instability of change. Transitions can be initiated or unanticipated. Transitions can be large or small. They can be positive or negative. Yet, all transitions cause us to react emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. One of the temptations in times of transition is to focus on ourselves—our needs, our wants, our own protection against the changes. Psalm 24 suggests to us another way to respond to transitions. By singing songs of sovereignty in times of transitions, we anchor ourselves in that which does not change. While nothing can eliminate the stress of transition, I suggest four attitudinal shifts that emerge from Psalm 24 that can provide strength in transitory times.
1. Focus on God’s Power. The Psalm praises God’s majesty. It emphasizes God as the one who wins battles. When we face transitions, it is good to remember that God has seen every change that can come to a person and God has managed to overcome those changes and remain in control. The transitions may seem too big for us but they are not too big for God.
2. Reflect on Human Responsibility. In times of transition, we often throw up our hands and say, “Who’s going to take care of me. Who’s going to take care of my needs.” Sometimes it feels as though fortune has blessed someone else and we’re left to fend for ourselves. This turning in ourselves can be a deadly path leading to the graveyard of self-pity, victim mentality and defeatism. If we remember, however, that ultimately the best place to be is on God’s side we focus on our responsibility to align our lives with God. Those with clean hands and pure hearts are those who ascend to the hill of the Lord and stand in God’s presence. Clean hands refers to right action. Pure heart refers to right motives. Together the right internal motivation and the right external action enables us to find security in being on God’s side.
3. Rejoice in spiritual anticipation. This Psalm is often used during advent because it anticipates the arrival of God’s presence. Yet, those who have walked long with God know that you can’t schedule those times when God will make God’s presence known to us. The calendar may say December 25, but we cannot force the incarnation of God’s glory into a brightly wrapped box. On the other hand, each moment is filled with the potential that God might enter in a new way. As the old hymn sings, “Sometimes a light surprises a sinner as he sings. It is the Lord who rises with healing on the wings.” Lift up your heads and be lifted up. God just might enter in today.
Perceive the continuity over time. Old Testament scholar J. Clinton McCann points out the connections in Psalm 24 to both the giving of the Ten Commandments and Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. The reference to ascending to the hill of the Lord and standing in God’s presence remembers Moses’s ascent of Mount Sinai and his privilege to see the Lord’s back. Anyone who would see God’s face, they believed, would surely die. Yet, Psalm 24 anticipates the Beattitude spoken by Jesus, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Psalm 24 ties together one of the most important portions of Ethical teaching in the Old Testament with one of the most important ethical teachings in the New Testament. That in and of itself deserves more consideration than we can give it here. But for our purposes, it reveals the continuity over time. Psalm 24 points us to the tapestry that is woven of God’s authority and our responsibility. .