Don’t miss the invitation just because it comes to us in the form of a question.
We are invited into relationship with God: into the presence of God.
A question is addressed to the God of Israel, using his personal name יְהוָֹה: (which may have been pronounced”Yahweh”) who can live in Your presence?
יְהוָֹה מִי־יָגוּר בְּאָהֳלֶךָ מִי־יִשְׁכֹּן בְּהַר קָדְשֶׁךָ
“O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?”
That’s the way I interpret this: it is talking about the presence of God. We need to see beyond the place. Yes, it speaks of God’s “tent” or “tabernacle” (pointing to the time of David, before the great Temple of Solomon was built). Yes, it speaks of God’s “holy hill.” But, these places are symbolic of God’s presence. And, I think that’s the real point: the presence of God.
Yes, yes. It would be possible to take this verse as meaning: who is fit to visit the Temple? But, the language seems to speak of abiding / remaining / dwelling. This is more than a visit.
This word means “sojourn” or “dwell.”
And, this verb signifies “to dwell.”
And, that is the point here: Who is the person who is fit to live in the presence of God?
So, I think John Wesley’s comment here is wrong. He says that the Psalm was written “to shew us the way to heaven.” This approach gets us mired in moralism: do this & this and you shall be saved. No. In this Psalm, it’s not the way to salvation so much as the result of such salvation that is spoken of. It’s about living in God’s presence in the here and now. It’s about living in such a way that we would be fit to live always in God’s Tabernacle.
And, I don’t think this can be reduced to a formula. Verse 1 asks the question. The verses that follow characterize the kind of people who can dwell with God. Their character is recognized from the things they do and the things they don’t do.
Thus, the ancient command of Leviticus 19:2: “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” (NRSV). God’s people are to reflect the character of their God. God’s people are known by their actions.
But, as I said, let’s not pass over the wonderful promise of this verse just because it comes to us in the form of a question. It is possible in this world, in this life, wherever we may be, to find a home in the presence of God. We can be in God’s presence wherever we are.
In the Gospel of John Jesus says to us: “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:4, 5 (NRSV).
Teach me to live in Your presence.
Teach me how to live
So that I can continually sense Your nearness
And, when darkness seems to surround me
Grant me the assurance
To walk in faith.