12. God’s Holy Mountain

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:  12. God’s Holy Mountain

Psa 3:4    he answers me from his holy mountain.

God’s Presence: Again, how casually I have sped over these words with so little thought, and yet I suspect (is He telling me?) that here there are such profound truths to be mined as we meditate. Before we move on in this psalm, I believe there is something of significance that we have passed by without comment here in verse 4: “he answers me from his holy mountain”. What is that ‘holy mountain’?

Zion: Well, back in Psa 2 we read, “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” (Psa 2:6) Further back in 2 Sam 5:7 we read, “David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David.” That is the first reference to ‘Zion’ and it clearly meant Jerusalem. It had long been known as Jerusalem, occupied by the Jebusites who Israel had failed to overthrow initially (Judg 1:21), and it had not been taken until David arrived in power, when he re-established it as his base and subsequently the capital of Israel. When the ark was brought there, and later in Solomon’s reign the temple built, and filled with God’s presence (1 Kings 8:10,11), it became known as the ‘holy city’: “Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city.” (Isa 52:1)

Jerusalem: Jerusalem is described as “set high in the hills of Judah” (New Bible Dictionary) and one Internet site describes Jerusalem as follows: “Jerusalem’s seven hills are Mount Scopus, Mount Olivet and the Mount of Corruption (all three are peaks in a mountain ridge that lies east of the old city), Mount Ophel, the original Mount Zion, the New Mount Zion and the hill on which the Antonia Fortress was built.” When a prophet or psalmist refers to the ‘mountain of the Lord’ or ‘his holy mountain’ it can either mean Jerusalem generally or the hill or mountain on which the Temple was eventually built.

As David writes pre-the Temple, it is more likely to mean Jerusalem at large, Jerusalem the whole city. The designation ‘mountain’ may refer to the fact that all of the ‘hills’ of the Jerusalem area are well over 2000 feet above sea level, or it may simply be creating spiritual significance of a place of ascent on which God resides. A study of ‘mountains’ in the Old Testament must take us first to Moriah: Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Gen 22:2) Amazingly this was Jerusalem where Solomon eventually built the temple (2 Chron 3:1) equated today, it is said, with the vicinity of Calvary. What a symbolic picture. The second mountain that stands out is Sinai where God met with Israel during the Exodus (See Ex 19-). The imagery that goes with that encounter suggests inaccessibility except by divine permission. So often when people went there, the record says they went up to Jerusalem, that same picture of ascending to meet with God that Moses showed us. Thus Jerusalem becomes the place of encounter with the inaccessible God and the place of god’s offering of His own Son to save the world.

Tent of Meeting: God’s instructions to build a Tabernacle (Ex 25-27) appear to be His early means of bringing limited access to Himself by His people. It was also referred to as ‘the tent of meeting (Ex 27:21 etc.): Set up the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, on the first day of the first month. Place the ark of the covenant law in it and shield the ark with the curtain.” (Ex 40:2,3) and it continued in existence until Solomon replaced it with the Temple (see 1 Kings 8). However in the time of Eli and Samuel, after the debacle with the Philistines, the ark (and presumably the Tent) stayed at Kiriath Jearim (1 Sam 7:1,2) until twenty years later David took it to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6) where it was placed inside “the tent that David had pitched for it.” (1 Chron 16:1), but this was clearly different from the Tabernacle still pitched at Gibeon (1 Chron 16:39) The ‘tent’ was clearly simply the home or location for the ‘ark of the covenant’ that was seen to be the place where the presence of God resided on earth. As we noted above, both ark and tent of meeting (as this tent now clearly became) were taken to the temple by Solomon (1 Kings 8:1-4)

God’s Dwelling Place? The ark in the Tabernacle? The ark in the Temple? The ark disappeared in history, but the Temple remained until Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it during the Exile but until then the Temple (and the ark) had been the focus or ‘dwelling place’ of God on earth. Why is that so significant? Because it was there by God’s instructions, and it was a place of focus on God, a place where people could go to worship God (even though they could not encounter His presence hidden in the Most Holy Place, or the Holy of Holies). So when David prays and get answers, they come from the God who has revealed Himself and positioned Himself in the midst of Israel.

And Today? The writer to the Hebrews conveys something quite amazing when he speaks to us: “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire …. But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” (Heb 12:18,22) For us, Mount Zion is not just a mountain but a city and it is in heaven. At the end of his amazing visions recorded in the book of Revelation, John records, “One of the seven angels…. said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” (Rev 21:9,10) In the final words that follow it is clear that this heavenly city comes down to the newly recreated earth and is accessible to all, and Father and Son are in the midst of it. The mountain where God had been inaccessible, the place where the Godhead dwells, has finally come to be in the midst of redeemed mankind. In heaven or on the new earth, the dwelling place of God is accessible to redeemed mankind, to the people of God.

A Poignant Psalm: For David it was the place towards which he uttered his prayers, which makes this psalm, headed by “A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom”, so poignant. Until then he had focused on God in Jerusalem but now he was on the run out of and away from Jerusalem and so his focus became more ‘long distance’ if we may put it like that. Yet there is another significant truth: even though David may not have close access to the Tent in Jerusalem, the Lord is still there; He has not departed Jerusalem, it is still HIS city and therefore there is a sense when David utters these words, they come with an underlying assurance that he is still in God’s hands, this is all happening because God is working out His disciplinary will for David and He, the Lord, is still the same and will still be there in Jerusalem for David to call to, and will still be there should the Lord allow him to return. God IS there – for us in heaven and for us by His Spirit, incredibly, indwelling us – and so it doesn’t matter what the earthly circumstances appear to be showing, in respect of the Lord, nothing has changed! He is there and He is there for us and He is there available to us because He has made it so! Hallelujah!

26. The Tabernacle

Lessons from the Law: No.26 : The House of the Lord

Ex 25:1,2,8,9 The LORD said to Moses, 2″Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from each man whose heart prompts him to give…. Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.

Technically this is not the Law but we include it here as this and following chapters contain many instructions about establishing a focal point for worshipping the Lord, and it will be here that many of the operations of the Law will be carried out. But perhaps we need to go back a few verses to gain perspective.

The Ten Commandments were spoken by the Lord to Moses up on Mount Sinai (Ex 20:1) which were inscribed on two tablets of stone (Ex 24:12, 34:28). The rest of the laws that we have been considering were spoken by the Lord to Moses on the mountain and we find the following when he came down: “When Moses went and told the people all the LORD’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.” Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said….Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” (Ex 24:3,4,7). So these laws were given to Moses on the mountain, he wrote them down and those writings became the “Book of the Covenant.” These were the original laws given by God that formed the covenant with Israel at Sinai.

When we come to the book of Leviticus with its many rules and procedures we find, “The LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting.” (Lev 1:1). Thus the Tent of Meeting – or the Tabernacle as it was also known – was the place of encounter between Moses and God and it was there that the Lord conveyed what became the rest of the Law.

Thus in chapter 25 on, we find detailed instructions for the construction of this large tent and its sounding yard area. It was to be the place where God made His presence known, yet hidden from common sight – hence it is a ‘sanctuary’. We will not be studying the details of this Tent of Meeting, but will simply observe its purpose and God’s hand in bringing it into being. In these chapters we find detailed instructions from the Lord as to how it is to be built, but that is not the end of it, for the Lord had also chosen a man to head up the construction, a man who He filled with His Spirit to enable him to do the work and lead others to do the work (see Ex 35:30-).

When the work was eventually completed we find the following: “Then Moses set up the courtyard around the tabernacle and altar and put up the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard. And so Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” (Ex 40:33-35) So, the finished tent was filled with a cloud of immense brightness, indicating the Lord’s presence. Thus the Tabernacle became a focal point for the people to come to meet with the Lord and to bring their offerings and sacrifices which we will consider briefly in the following meditations.

The Tabernacle signifies the Lord’s awareness that His people needed a focal point, a meeting place with Him. His presence was very obvious because we are told, “the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.” (Ex 40:38) but yet they needed a place to come to, to focus their faith. After they had settled in the Promised Land, Solomon’s Temple replaced the Tabernacle as a permanent meeting place.

From the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) every believer became indwelt by the Holy Spirit and so each one of us is now referred to as a temple of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor 3:16,17, 6:19, 2 Cor 6:16). No longer do we have to go to a special place to encounter the Lord for, as Jesus said to his disciples at the Last Supper, you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (Jn 14:17). However, for the Israelites, in their very embryonic relationship with the Lord, the Tabernacle was to become the focus for them, the place of encounter with the Lord. It was there that the ceremonial law was carried out. So far we have been focusing on the law of the covenant in Exodus at Mount Sinai which involved their relationship with the Lord and with one another, but next we will consider briefly the ceremonial law which was all about attitude and how to approach God. As we observe the principles that under-gird this activity, we will find there is much to learn and hopefully our own relationships with the Lord will be sharper as a result.

(We will pause up in this Series for a few weeks but will come back and continue to examine further laws of Moses at a later date)

21. God’s Dwelling

Ephesians Meditations No.21

21. God’s Dwelling

Eph 2:21,22 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Now have expressed the truth of this verse many times in these meditations in different ways but it is really so amazing that we make no apology for repeating it in detail here. Paul in the previous verse has just referred to us as God’s household, that I summarised as everyone who ‘lives under God’s roof’. There Paul had been speaking about us as the community of God’s people but having used that expression he now slightly changes it to refer to a ‘building’ and this building is actually a ‘temple’ where ‘God lives’. Now it is possible that many of us are familiar with this idea but forty years ago it was only just coming into the awareness of the church.

Now to catch the full significance of this analogy we have to go back into the Old Testament, first to Mount Sinai where we find, Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.” (Ex 25:8,9) There we have the first references to a ‘sanctuary’ and a ‘tabernacle’, a tent for meeting with God for which God gave very specific instructions. When those instructions were followed and the tabernacle was first set up, we find, “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” (Ex 40:34,35) a clear indication of the presence of the Lord approving and filling the tent.

Many years later after David had taken it to Jerusalem, he wanted to make a permanent structure for the Lord but was told that his son would do it. Thus we find that Solomon built the first Temple in Jerusalem and when it was finished we find, “When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple.” (1 Kings 8:10,11), again a clear indication of the presence of the Lord approving and filling the Temple.

Thus the Temple came to be seen as the place where God dwelt, where people would come to meet with Him. When we come to the New Testament we find Paul using this analogy again and again: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) and, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor 6:19) and, “For we are the temple of the living God.” (2 Cor 6:16). This is the amazing truth that Christianity claims, that God comes to us, when we surrender to Him and receive the finished work of Christ on the Cross, and puts His own Holy Spirit within us. We thus become the very dwelling of God on the earth. No longer a building but people, millions of people.

In the previous verses Paul has just referred to, “Christ Jesus himself… the chief cornerstone.” so at the beginning of this verse when he says, “In him the whole building is joined togetherthe “in him” is Christ. This is Paul yet again emphasizing that it is only as we become “in Christ” that we become part of his family or household, part of the building that he is creating. We are “in him” and he is in us. That is the unity that the New Testament speaks about.

This ‘building’ thus becomes the dwelling of God by His Holy Spirit and it is an ongoing building process for Paul says “you too are being built together,” which suggests an ongoing activity. Why is it thus? Because the growth of the church means that day in, day out, new believers are being born again, being added to the body, added to the family, added to the household, and added to the Temple. In Barcelona there is a strangely designed church that has been under construction since 1882, called the Sagrada Família, and it is still incomplete. It is now a mixture of designs and in the sense of the mixed designs and incomplete nature, it is a good representation of the Church. It will never be complete until the day when God winds up all things, which is why it often appears immature and questionable. It is a Temple in the making and you and I, as Christians, are part of it. The wonder is that it is where God dwells on earth and, most importantly, where He wishes to reveal Himself to the rest of the world. If God dwells among men, it is so that He can interact with us and reveal Himself to more and more people so that the Temple grows ever bigger and the glory of the Lord is seen more clearly. We have some way to go yet!