What does Psalm 15:4 mean?
ESV: in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
NIV: who despises a vile person but honors those who fear the LORD; who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind;
NASB: A despicable person is despised in his eyes, But he honors those who fear the Lord; He takes an oath to his own detriment, and does not change;
CSB: who despises the one rejected by the Lord but honors those who fear the Lord, who keeps his word whatever the cost,
NLT: Those who despise flagrant sinners, and honor the faithful followers of the Lord, and keep their promises even when it hurts.
KJV: In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the LORD. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.
The person the Lord allows to be His tabernacle guest (Psalm 15:1) understands how mankind ought to react to their Creator (Genesis 1:26–27). There are two important terms in this first phrase. The word "vile" describes a deliberately wicked, morally worthless person. "Despise" comes from a term which can also mean "to hold in contempt" or "to disdain." These are both understood through direct contrast. The opposites of those conditions are to "honor," or to esteem and respect, and those who "fear" God, in the sense of submissive reverence and obedience (Proverbs 1:7). A godly person respects those who honor God and rejects the lifestyles of those who hate Him.
This partly includes refusing to partner with evil people in evil activities. The apostle Paul commands in 2 Corinthians 6:14–16, "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols?" The righteous person chooses to honor those who fear the Lord. He commends them, edifies them, and supports them with his fellowship and prayers.
Philippians 2:2–4 exhorts believers to honor one another by sharing the same mind and love, being unified, and putting one another's interests ahead of their own. According to this verse, the righteous person is true to his word regardless of the consequences. Even when the promise is hard, it is God-honoring to keep one's word (Matthew 5:37).
Psalm 15:2–5 describes the person who is qualified to be the Lord's guest in the tabernacle (Psalm 15:1). This is not an explanation of "how" a person comes to be qualified. Rather, it describes "what" a person's life looks like to honor God and reflect His goodness. While not a direct parallel, the ten ideas given here complement the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1–17).
David raises the question of what it looks like to live worthy of the presence of God, even knowing such a thing is not entirely possible in this life (Psalm 51:1–2; 143:2; Romans 3:23). Such a person develops a good reputation as they live and speak truthfully. The righteous person serves God obediently, refrains from slander, and does not harm his neighbor in any way. He recognizes the difference between those who ignore God and those who honor Him. A righteous person is true to his word even when such integrity hurts. He does not take advantage of those who need to borrow money, nor accept bribes. The truly righteous person is secure forever, and nothing can shake him from his relationship with the Lord.
The psalms immediately preceding this describe the wicked who deny God's existence and assault the poor. Here, David describes the lifestyle of a righteous person. David makes these comments knowing no human being is without flaws (Psalm 51:1–2; 143:2). Ideally, however, a believer honors the Lord and relates righteously to his neighbor. David may have written this psalm after bringing the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem.
The book of Psalms is composed of individual songs, hymns, or poems, each of which is a ''Psalm'' in and of itself. These works contain a wide variety of themes. Some Psalms focus on praising and worshipping God. Others cry out in anguish over the pain of life. Still other Psalms look forward to the coming of the Messiah. While some Psalms are related, each has its own historical and biblical context.
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