Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the LORD? (Part 2)
The paradise atop Eden’s mount is described in Genesis 2-3 as a well-watered Garden with an abundance of fruit trees, a place where humanity and animals lived in harmony. These physical blessings, however, were but tokens (and small ones at that) of the greater delight of their Source: the very life-giving Presence of God. After Adam and Eve’s sin, and consequent descent from the mountain of the LORD, the biblical narrative continues to deal with the dilemma: How shall we abide in the divine Presence — who shall ascend?
Sadly, as the narrative continues we find a progressive movement away from the Presence found in paradise. We read of Cain who, after offering what the Reformers and Puritans would have called “will worship,” murders his brother and so must go “out from the Presence of the LORD” and dwell (presumably, farther) “east of Eden” (Gen 4:16). From here, the descent into Sin and away from the LORD continues: we are introduced to the tyrannical Lamech who changes God’s mercy into a license for violence (Gen 4:23-24) — a wickedness that spread until the whole earth became corrupt, filled with violence (Gen 6:11). And so the narrative that had begun with “In the beginning…” leads to the divine declaration that “the end” has come (Gen 6:13). God, the righteous Judge of all the earth, will reverse His creative act of separating the waters above from the waters below, causing a deluge to overwhelm the world. So much for the history of “the world that was” (2 Pet 3:7). And yet, the focus of the Flood account is not so much on the destruction of the wicked as it is on the deliverance of Noah and his household. In other words, and given that we, too, are promised “the end” to this world as well, how is it we can escape the judgment? How is it Noah escaped? This question, as will become evident, is not so very different than that of the psalmist in Psalms 15 and 24: “Who shall ascend the mountain of the LORD?” — for that holy mount is the only place of refuge (see Pss 46, 48).
By the power of God’s Spirit, a renewed world emerges from the watery deep just as it had done once before (compare 8:1 with 1:2). There, at the summit of one of the mountains of Ararat, stands Noah with his family, surrounded peacefully by all the creatures of the animal kingdom, and enjoying the Presence of God. “Be fruitful and multiply,” comes the Creator’s blessing, “and fill the earth.” Noah, delivered through the waters, was conveyed by the Ark to the mountain of the LORD. Salvation, then, being inseparably bound up with worship, Noah builds an altar and (how unlike Cain) offers a lavish burnt offering, well pleasing to the LORD.
Now it is when we come to understand the significance of the Ark that the psalmist’s question will come into view. Because the Ark was the divinely revealed means of salvation, its doorway receives fitting prominence in the narrative: Who may enter and be saved? Just as the divinely barred gateway of Eden (see “Part One”), so the Ark’s doorway is presided over by God. The LORD calls Noah to enter, “Come into the Ark, you and all your household” (Gen 7:1), and the LORD himself shuts the door, barring entry afterward (7:16). Life upon the holy mount may only be found within that doorway — who may enter? Why was Noah given entrance? The narrative, allowing us to hear the LORD’s explanation, leaves us in no doubt as to the answer: “…because I have seen you are righteous before Me” (7:1). Indeed, Noah is introduced to us in Gen 6:9 as “righteous” and “blameless,” the same two qualifications given in Psalm 15: “LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy mountain? He who walks blamelessly and who works righteousness” (vv 1, 2). Otherwise, the term “blameless” is most often translated as “without blemish,” describing the kind of sacrifice acceptable to the LORD, brought to him at “the doorway of the Tabernacle of Meeting before the LORD” (Lev 1:3). (There’s another doorway, the Tabernacle dimensions curiously proportional to the Ark’s — more on that, perhaps, another time.)
The Scriptures, then, are uniformly consistent. Who may ascend the mount of the LORD? The blameless and righteous one alone. As the first human being called “righteous” in the Bible, Noah’s righteousness is, to be sure, emphatic. Yet lest we are tempted to think Noah’s was a self-made righteousness, the verse preceding his description preempts us: “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (Gen 6:8). Indeed, when we come to the next righteous man in Genesis, Abraham, we learn that such righteousness is credited to those who believe the LORD (15:6). Whose account that righteousness is debited from — well, that story begins with an Advent that was really a Descent, a descent from the heavenly mount by One who “tabernacled among us” and then ascended on high.
L. Michael Morales is a Teaching Elder in the PCA and is Dean of Admissions (recruitment) and Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Ligonier Academy of Biblical & Theological Studies.