The notion of private property is important to modern production. It is certainly important to agriculture. Private property allows a farmer to have certainty that the primary means of production will always be available. The farmer needs to buy seeds. The farmer needs labor for planting, maintenance, and harvest. None of that is possible without the land.
The notion of private property was alien to the ancients, mostly. Certainly the 1% of antiquity held property, including slaves. Property allowed them to produce income to keep them in their lavish lifestyles. For the most part, the 99% did not have the money to own property. Principally farmers, they worked on a rich person’s property or they simply planted on open fields. Any land that was not owned by someone was open for anyone to work. Most land was open.
The patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were sheepherders. Sheepherders were nomads. Many sheepherders in the Middle East today are also nomads. Sheep have this bad habit of eating their food to the roots. Sheep denude an area that they feed on. This requires the shepherd to always move them to a new pasture. They can only be shepherds if there is no private property.
The Bible is very clear on who owns everything around us, God. Jews have no theological concept of private property. Everything belongs to the one who created everything, God. This is the concept of tithing in the Bible. Everything we have belongs to God. But God is generous. God only wants 10%. You can keep the rest. God makes no claim on the 90%.
Technically, what God gets is even smaller than 10%. The 10% is given to the priests. The Law of Moses specifies what animals and grains are to be given to the priests, with an allowance to be made for the very poor. So the priests and Levites, the tribe of Levi, receive the 10% tithes. The priests and Levites are not allowed to farm. The tithe is their living. But the priests and Levites are also required to tithe. So 10% of what the priests receive are burned to a crisp, making a smoke and smell pleasing to the Lord.
It is this theological mindset that begins Psalm 24. The earth and everything in it belongs to the Lord. Everything that lives on the earth belongs to the Lord. Why? God established the earth on the waters. This is referring to Genesis 1. In essence, we are owned by God. The implications of this would be yet another blog for another time.
Throughout the Old Testament, God has parts of the earth that are more special than others. We all have parts of the earth that are more special than others. For me, they are Hawaii and Yellowstone. I think that the Sierra foothills is a special place to live.
For God, these special places tend to be in what we call the Holy Land. God called a Middle Eastern people to a special relationship. Where they lived made the land holy and because God wanted them to live in this land.
There some high places, hills, that are special to God. One in particular is Mount Zion. This is the place designated by God for God’s temple. Since this is more holy than other places on the earth, only those who are special and have made special preparations can set foot on the holy mount, the temple mount.
What are these preparations? Have clean hearts and clean minds, follow the truth, rejecting lies, and when you swear, do not do so deceitfully. In other words, keep your word. Be sincere.
It is to such as these that receive the Lord’s blessing. It is to such as these that receive salvation. These are the ones who seek God, the God of Jacob (not to be confused with any other gods). They are saintly.
Another term to describe someone as set apart for God is a saint. Properly, we think of saints as someone who is exceptional. The apostles are all called saints. Special people in the history of the church are called saints. When we see someone acting in a particularly commendable way, we might say, “That person is such a saint.”
Saint Paul referred to saints. Anyone who was baptized was called a saint by Paul. To be baptized is to be set apart. We are marked as Christ’s own forever. As part of creation we belong to God. As a baptized person, we belong to Christ. We become members of Christ’s tribe, the church.
For the ancient Israelites, they were not only tribal, but power was held by clan leaders. There was never really any tribal leader. Judges came along and united some tribes but never all eleven. The priests and Levites were prohibited from being soldiers. Justice was decided by the clan leaders. For minor offences that system remained even to the time of Jesus. There was no need of a king, because they already had a king, God. The tithe was a religious obligation and it was also tribute to the king, the God of glory.
The tribes of ancient Israel were united by two things: worship of the one God and claiming descent from Jacob, who was renamed by God as Israel. Otherwise they had little in common. They formed a loose confederation for trade and self-defense, except the call to arms was usually never answered by all the tribes. It was an attitude that so-and-so isn’t threatening us so why would we risk our lives for you?
This system worked somewhat well until a significant military presence arrived threatening the existence of the tribes. A sea-faring people called the Philistines arrived on the coast. They were much more militarily advanced than the Israelites. They had an ancient super weapon, the chariot.
To meet this threat, the people clamored for a king to lead them against the Philistines. The Judge, Samuel, anointed Saul as king. Saul was a king without a palace, without a capital city. Saul’s palace was a tent because he was constantly at war with the Philistines.
Thus the Israelites became like the other peoples and they replaced their spiritual king with a human being.
Some people attribute the authorship of the psalms to King David. However, many the psalms describe situations that existed long after David’s death. I think it is likely that some of David’s songs became accepted by the priests as songs of the temple and were incorporated in the psalms.
Psalm 24 is ascent psalm. It was likely sung as the priests led the people to the temple during a religious holiday. The psalm affirms that God is sovereign, certainly not any human king. The psalm specifies who is worthy to process to the temple.
Then the procession arrives at the gates of the temple. Oh gates: wake up and open up! The king of glory needs entrance. Who is this king? It is a king who is strong and mighty. Oh gates: wake up and open up! The king of glory needs entrance. The God of heaven is the king of glory.
The only time we typically process, en masse, into church is on Palm Sunday. The traditional ascension psalm or song is “All Glory Laud and Honor.” We enter the church as being made worthy through Jesus’ death on the cross and by Jesus’ birth or incarnation.
In our time and place where private property is valued, there are many gates. We have gates because we have fences. We even have a sense that we cannot get to heaven without going through the Pearly Gates. This would imply that we can’t sneak our way into heaven. We have to go through a gate and get a seal of approval from St. Peter.
This concept seems to have come from an idea that we have to prove our goodness to be accepted by God. I, for one, do not think that God is clueless about my goodness or lack thereof. I also don’t think that my goodness is an issue about whether or not I get into heaven. Jesus did die for the sins of the whole world. St. Paul was very specific in his writings that we are saved by grace, not our grace but by God’s grace.
Jesus made us worthy. Our clean hearts may get smudged. Our clean hands get dirty. We might spare someone’s feelings by swearing deceitfully. Jesus erased all that. We are blessed. We are vindicated. We are saved. Blessed are those who seek the face of the God of Jacob!
Text: Psalm 24