Friday, April 13, 2007

Vicarious Hill-Climbing

by JM

Psalm 24

In the first two verses of David’s psalm, he’s unequivocal about to whom the world belongs. It doesn’t belong to men, kings, or even devils.

Psalm 24:1-2, “The earth is the LORD'S, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. 2 For He has founded it upon the seas And established it upon the rivers.
Such is God’s rule of exhaustive power and scope that always all things are in God’s immediate possession to turn which way he wants. Even the “god of this world” is an unwilling accomplice in Yahweh’s plan.

Although the world is clearly described as the Lord’s, David also implies a significant separation between the Creator and “those who dwell” on earth. He would seem to declare that no earth-dweller is fit to be a heaven-dweller; no person may ascend into God’s favor. This is suggested by the third verse.

Psalm 24:3 3 Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place?
The flavor of the question is rhetorical, as if to say,

“Among the inhabitants of the earth, who has the strength to scale a mountain on top of which resides the celestial city?”

“what is this vanity of man that he thinks he has virtue enough to ascend to God.”
Perhaps this is the kind of vanity picked up later by the prophet Isaiah when he describes the quintessential bombast who said,

“‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. 14 'I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High'” (Isaiah 14:13-14)
This first bombast is also the first Babel builder, setting the unholy precedent of the attempted circumvention of the glory of God, as well setting in motion the first of innumerable failed and frustrated building projects attempted by his sons and daughters (John 8:44). It is upon these children that God visits the iniquity of the father, even on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate the Lord.

To dispel all doubt of the futility of heaven-entry, David cements the answer implied by these questions with the impossible criteria needed for such ascension. Who may ascend into heaven?

Psalm 24:4-5 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood And has not sworn deceitfully. 5 He shall receive a blessing from the LORD And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Who among earth-dwellers has the strength of untarnished hands to grab the clefts of God’s mountain, or the holy blood pumped by a pure heart to power such ascent, or who hasn’t been bowed and broken down in soul by deceit and falsehood?

Sometime before David’s answer, Job’s friend would answer correctly and emphatically, “No One!”

Job 15:14-16 14 "What is man, that he should be pure, Or he who is born of a woman, that he should be righteous? 15 "Behold, He puts no trust in His holy ones, And the heavens are not pure in His sight; 16 How much less one who is detestable and corrupt, Man, who drinks iniquity like water!”
It’s at this point that the psalm presents both a baffling and exhilarating statement.

Psalm 24:5-6 5 He shall receive a blessing from the LORD And righteousness from the God of his salvation. 6 This is the generation of those who seek Him, Who seek Your face-- even Jacob. Selah.
Here’s the baffling part: Jacob is undoubtedly a man without the clean hands and the pure heart that is requisite for this heavenly rock climbing expedition. As to deceit and lying, the meaning of his name embodies the man and his life. Jacob means “deceiver.” Jacob means “one who has lifted his soul to falsehood.” Jacob means “one who swears deceitfully.” Yet, Jacob is presented here as both the man prohibited from heaven and the man permitted into heaven. So which is it? Either heaven doesn’t require these virtues to enter, or Jacob (and all those like him) will not enter.

This is also exhilarating. Psalm 24 tells us that there are those like Jacob, and those who are of Jacob’s generation, who although they are just as incapable of this heavenly ascent as the rest of mankind, nevertheless make it. This is potentially good news for the rest of impure humanity.

This then of course moves us to raise the question: how is it that those with sinful hands, impure hearts, deceitful and vile souls, are able to ascend the hill of the Lord when God says such a feat is audacious and humanly impossible? David cryptically answers:

Psalm 24:7-10 Lift up your heads, O gates, And be lifted up, O ancient doors, That the King of glory may come in! 8 Who is the King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, The LORD mighty in battle. 9 Lift up your heads, O gates, And lift them up, O ancient doors, That the King of glory may come in! 10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, He is the King of glory. Selah.
Some commentators believe that these are the gates of Jerusalem. I want to suggest that David is referring to the gates of the New Jerusalem, heaven itself. It’s hard to believe that Jerusalem, which is established by David, would be considered by him as having “ancient” gates; it’s even more difficult to adopt this view if David meant what the KJV translators thought he meant when they render the term, “everlasting.” The gates, so it would seem, would have an antiquity much like the “ancient of days.” If I’m right, then we have someone not only opening doors of heaven that were bolted shut, but also someone extending the height of the lintel of these heavenly doors to allow for a grand entry. This is none other but the King of Glory.

At this point, we still don’t have the answer as to why it is that Jacob and his generation are ‘exempt’ from the qualifications in the action whereby the King of Glory passes through and expands of heaven’s gate. So what’s so significant about this passage?

Notice that this is a passage into heaven, not a departure from. This verse implies that the Lord had previously stepped outside of the gates of heaven and descended down the hill of the Lord; all of which without the expansion of her doors. Whatever feat the Lord accomplished outside of her gates (at the base of this hill), whatever battle in which the Lord was strong and mighty, as he makes way back into the heavenly city and His arrival has the corresponding effect of broadening it’s doors.

Now what feat of the LORD could the Psalmist possibly be referring to? I think the New Testament writers would say the feat of the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Messiah.

Ephesians 4:8-13 8 Therefore it says, "WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN." 9 (Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

Hebrews 9:24 24 For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us;

John 6:38-40 38 "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 "This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40 "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day."
To further support this interpretation, as Paul describes the centrality of the cross of Christ as the sole means of the salvation of God’s people in 1 Corinthians 2, he links Christ with the “LORD of glory” referred to by David in Psalm 24.

1 Corinthians 2:7-8 7 but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory;
In these passages, we have the Son of God, the LORD of Glory exiting heaven, descending in the incarnation, with a mission to rescue a particular people from eternal death unto eternal life by his own death. Some time shortly after his resurrection, Jesus ascends the hill of the Lord with clean hands and pure heart, with a soul not lifted into falsehood or deceit, in order to present a sinful people as righteous before God. On his back, he carries booty from his conquest; the sons of Jacob: all those who like Jacob who had be visited with unmerited grace. With his arrival, the doors must be enlarged to allow for the influx of souls into a heaven which previously banned them.

This psalm gives a fresh perspective of the “Footprints” story. David’s rendition is one of vicarious hill-climbing in which the Messiah carries a company of disabled people with the strength of his holiness and virtue.

Sola Dei Gloria!!!