Mizmor 24: Ascending God's Mountain


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A Psalm in Three Parts: What is the Connection?

Psalm 24 divides into three, seemingly unconnected, sections.  Verses 1-2 speak of Hashem's dominion over all the earth, highlighting His role as creator. Verses 3-6 shift gear to discuss the characteristics necessary to make one worthy of ascending the mountain of God. Finally, verses 7-10 switch the focus back to God, with the poet calling on the "gates" and "eternal entrances" to lift their heads so that the "king of glory" can enter. What is the relationship between the three parts of the chapter?  What message is the poet trying to impart both in each individual unit  and in the psalm as a whole?

Additional Questions

  • Historical setting – What is the historical backdrop of the psalm?  Was it composed regarding a specific event?  Does it refer to the past or the future?
  • "Who will ascend Hashem's mountain" – In these words, is the psalmist referring to literally climbing up a certain holy mountain, or is the question perhaps meant metaphorically?  If the former, to which mountain does the poet refer?  If the latter, what is the image meant to convey?  Either way, what is prompting the question?
  • Worthy traits –  The chapter speaks of several traits which make one worthy of ascending God's mountain, including being of clean hands, pure of heart, and not swearing falsely.  Is there a common denominator between these qualities?  Why were these specified as opposed to any other positive attributes?
  • "שְׂאוּ שְׁעָרִים רָאשֵׁיכֶם... פִּתְחֵי עוֹלָם" – What gates/entrances are being referred to by the psalmist? What is meant by the metaphor of "lifting their heads"? If this refers to the opening of gates, why not use the root "פתח" (open) or an equivalent?
  • "י״י גִּבּוֹר מִלְחָמָה" – In response to the question: "Who is the king of glory", the verses mention "Hashem, mighty in battle".  Does the allusion to war imply that the psalm as a whole might be connected to battle?  If not, why is this the trait of God which is emphasized? In addition, how does this epithet compare to the description in verse 10 which instead reads "י״י צְבָאוֹת"?

Role in the Liturgy

This psalm plays a role in several places in the liturgy.  It was chosen as the psalm of the day for Sundays, having been sung by the Levites in the Mikdash on that day.1 In many communities, it is recited after the Torah reading when the Torah is returned to the ark.2 Finally, it is included in the evening prayers of both Rosh HaShana and Yom HaKippurim.3 What is the connection between the themes of the psalm and these various occasions?  What makes it an appropriate choice to be said for such distinct events?