Who Shall Ascend? A Response to Psalm 24

Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?

In the last post we saw how psalms 22 and 23 are linked, as I said in that post: ‘The Lord can only be my shepherd and lead me through the valley of the shadow of death if he himself makes that journey with me, and psalm 22 tells me he does just that.’ I think this prophetic sequence, which began with psalm 22 continues into psalm 24, a coronation psalm which has always been used by the church to reflect on and celebrate the ascension of Christ, understood as the King of Glory in this psalm

Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors: and the King of glory shall come in.

Who is the King of glory: even the Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.

This interpretation throws new light on the crucial question asked earlier in the psalm

Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord: or who shall rise up in his holy place?

The psalm answers that by describing a person of complete holiness, with ‘clean hands and a pure heart’. In the Old Testament perspective only such holy people can ascend and come into the presence of the Holy,  and for the Christian only Christ belongs naturally in heaven. And yet because he has atoned for us and we have put our hearts into his, we are able to ascend, not by our own rights, but with and in him. So a psalm that might have been forbidding to us, is transformed by Christ into a Royal Invitation.

As always you can hear me read the poems by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalms’ into the search box on the right.

XXIV Domini est terra

And draw me into his eternity?

But who can rise up to that holy place?

Can all its splendours really be for me?


Before that holy fire I hide my face

My hands were never clean, as for my heart

He’ll search out its impurity and trace


The sources of its sin in every part,

And in the whole, its weariness and stain.

Who can ascend? I cannot even start.


But even as I fear my hopes are vain

My saviour comes, his love revives my hope

I feel him search my wounds, deal with my pain,


And offer me again the healing cup.

Raising my head, he says: Now rise with me

The gates will open for us both, look up!


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Filed under christianity, Poems

13 responses to “Who Shall Ascend? A Response to Psalm 24

  1. Jackie Gooding

    Really enjoy the rhyme-scheme with all those monosyllabic words. Thanks!

  2. revcharmaine

    Hi Malcolm

    I have a recollection of a reflection you did to accompany your sonnet for John the Baptist – is it still available? I’d like to use the sonnet tomorrow.

    Thanks – I’ll buy a coffee!


    Sent from my iPhone


    • malcolmguite

      Thanks yes if you put ‘John the Baptist’ into the search bar on this blog that should pull
      up some posts with the poem and introductory reflection

  3. stefanie

    this one brought tears to my eyes. so timely for my soul. thank you so much for continuing to share.

  4. Barbara Parry

    Like Seamus Heaney says about poetry, He (the Word made Flesh) comes to redress the imbalance between Heaven and earth?

  5. Dear Poet,
    I have a request. Would you consider writing about the tension and the reality of :
    “My hands were never clean, as for my heart
    He’ll search out its impurity and trace
    The sources of its sin in every part,”
    and how God is able to see me now, in the present, as whole and not needing to be fixed.
    I have lived my 60 years with mainly the first truth – my uncleanness and sinfulness. I need help integrating the part about how at the same time, I am God’s wonderful, beautiful, whole creature now in this moment. I need this in order to be fully present to myself and in relationships – to bring out the best in myself and others. I hope I have explained myself well enough without going into lengthy explanation.

    Your poems have been my “touch tree” during quarantine. Through your sonnets I have discovered that the sonnet is the best form of poetry of me. And I love the crown of poems you are giving us! Hearing your words and your voice every day has been something of a lifeline for me to the power and beauty of faith at a time when I am facing the abyss of lost faith. Thank you so much!

  6. Mary Herbert

    Powerful. Thank you. Wonderful.

  7. Evangeline Magee DeMaster

    So penetrating! Thank you.

  8. Tim Brooke

    Psalms 22 – 24: the cross, the crook and the crown.


  9. This gave me so
    much hope.

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