Hebrew poetry is laid out in exquisitely balanced lines where several components work together to give the sense that the second line belongs somehow with the first and enhances its meaning. Biblical poetry doesn't have rhyme, rhythm, or meter (the way we think of it), but it is artistically captivating. If you have studied Hebrew (or if you haven't but are highly motivated), I highly recommend two books on the subject: The Idea of Biblical Poetry by James Kugel, and The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism by Adele Berlin. Both were very, very helpful to me.
I've immersed myself in Psalm 24 this week, writing an exegesis paper on it. Here is my translation, with a few notes on what has stood out to me.
1 Of David, A song.
The earth and its fullness (are) Yahweh’s,
the world and those dwelling in it.
2 Because he himself laid its foundation upon the seas,
and established it upon the rivers.
Yahweh is the God of the whole earth. This is remarkable, because other nations of that day claimed to have their own deity, specific to their region. Israel declares that her God is the Lord of the whole earth.
Why does the whole world belong to Yahweh? Simple. He made it!
He subdued the chaos of nothingness and made a place we can inhabit.
3 Who may go up on the mountain of Yahweh?
And who may stand in his holy place?
(One who has) clean hands and a pure heart
who does not lift up my soul to vanity
and does not swear deceitfully.
5 He will carry a blessing from Yahweh
and righteousness from his saving God.
6 This (is the) generation seeking him,
the seekers of your face. Jacob. Selah.
How, then, can those who are citizens of this world made by Yahweh please Him? We must have clean actions and pure motives. What we say we will do, we must do. That is the kind of person Yahweh blesses. The descendents of Jacob, the deceiver, are unlikely candidates, but God delights in new beginnings! Take note that the one who ascends is not bowing in worship but standing, perhaps making a request. Those who want their prayers to be heard need to be this kind of person.
7 Lift up your heads, O gates
and be lifted up, O ancient doors,
so the glorious king may come in.
8 Who is this glorious king?
Yahweh, strong and mighty;
Yahweh, mighty (in) battle.
9 Lift up your heads, O gates,
and lift up, O ancient doors,
so the glorious king may come in.
10 Who is he then – this glorious king?
Yahweh of armies;
He (is) the glorious king. Selah.
Most commentators suppose that this section of the Psalm is a liturgy celebrating the bringing of the ark of God into Jerusalem. If they are right, Yahweh would have been seated above it with his feet resting on the cherubim. The gates would certainly have needed to 'lift their heads' for God to fit through!
But here's my nagging question, and none of the commentaries are asking it. David asks who may ascend the hill of the Lord (i.e. Jerusalem), and describes the kind of righteous person who is allowed to stand in the presence of God. Next we see Yahweh Himself making the ascent and entering the city. Is this to suggest that He alone is righteous? Does this hint that He will have to be the answer to the quest for a righteous person who can intercede for the people? If so, David's song points forward to the New Testament (see John 12:12-16).
N. T. Wright says this: "Jesus' prophetic vocation thus included within it the vocation to enact, symbolically, the return of YHWH to Zion." (Jesus and the Victory of God, 653)
Lift up your heads, O Gates,
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the glorious king - JESUS - may come in!