Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the LORD? (Part 1)

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Once a soul has come to understand something of the unutterable majesty of the holiness of God, the question asked in Psalm 15 and 24 suddenly weighs upon the heart: “Who shall ascend the mountain of the LORD?” That is, who can draw near to this living God in worship? Who can climb their way to the summit of his dwelling place and gaze upon his beauty? Who, what’s more, could ever abide with God in his house?

Ezekiel 28:13-14 describes the Garden of Eden as being upon “the holy mountain of God,” a landscape we may have been able to figure out from the description in Gen 2:10-14 of the river flowing down from Eden, branching out into four riverheads to fructify the earth. Our first parents, then, had tasted the bliss of living in the Presence of God upon the holy mount. They once knew a little of what it means to be human, having experienced the goal of our creation: fellowship with God in a life of all-encompassing worship that could only be described by the word “glory.” But from this breath-taking height, radiant with the countenance of God, Adam’s sin plunged all humanity into the dark abyss of exile from the divine Presence –a “Fall,” to be sure. Humanity, once enjoying the paradise of God himself, was made to descend the mountain of the LORD. Who, now, shall ascend? It was, after all, God the Father our Maker who, in holy justice, expelled us, for “He drove out the man,” and “He set cherubim,” angelic warriors, to guard the gateway to himself, threatening us with a whirling sword of flame (Gen 3:24). Who dares enter through that gate? Indeed, how can any human attempt at approaching God not be considered presumptuous?

This central tragic event, humanity’s exile from the presence of God, drives the plot of history itself. The tragedy of the Fall is the catastrophe about which the drama of the Bible turns, a drama that finds its denouement (or resolution) through the promised Messiah who, in bearing our sins upon the Cross so to bear the holy wrath, will one day bear us into the glory of our Father’s Presence. What was once the goal of creation, in other words, is now the goal of salvation, namely, worship. And in God’s inscrutable wisdom, that worship — that blinding glory of life before the Triune Godhead — will, in the new creation, far exceed what would have been had there never been a tragic Fall, for then we could not sing about the vast immensity of that love poured out with the blood, the blood of God’s own Lamb.

But I get ahead of myself. Between the original creation (and subsequent Fall) described at the beginning of Genesis and the glory of humanity dwelling with God in the new creation at the end of Revelation, there is a sweeping drama. Being so used to life in a “fallen” world, we may easily forget that all the biblical narratives following the Fall of Gen 3 are in some fashion or another, and by varying degrees, moving this drama forward, developing the plot that eventually resolves in, to borrow Dante’s insight, a “comedy.” That plot can be followed by keeping one’s eye (and, surely, one’s heart) fixed upon the central question given us in Israel’s book of worship: “Who shall ascend the mountain of the LORD?” This theme at the heart of Scripture would, I think, be profitable for us to explore together….

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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.

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