“Who will go up upon the mountain of Yahweh;
And who will rise in his holy place?”
In the context of the wonderful creation of all things, David cries out, who will go up for us? Who will ascend the mountain of God, who will ascend Mount Zion and who will stand in our place before the Lord of Hosts in his holy sanctuary—in his holy temple? Oh, beloved, we know the answer to that question, do we not! It is the Lord, Jesus Christ who has gone up in our stead. It is only Jesus who could stand before the Lord in his holy place—it is only Christ who can stand before God in his own strength and righteousness. If sinful man were to stand before the Lord, the righteous Judge of all creation on his own strength—oh, not one of us could stand (Psalm 130:3).
Yet, loved ones, even though we know the answer to the question that David poses, let us step back into his sandals, if we can, for a few minutes and dwell on this wonderful question that he asks. This language of “who will go up” is language that is often used in the Old Testament to reflect one going up on behalf of others—often for the purposes of battle. It is the question, “who will be our defender, who will be our redeemer, who will be our savior in the face of such enemies!” (see Judges 1:1, 20:18; 1 Samuel 6:20; even in Deuteronomy 30:12 it is used metaphorically to refer to the one who would go and gather the law on behalf of the people).
The language of the “mountain of Yahweh” is language that is used of a mountain where God had revealed himself in a personal, covenantal way—namely of the mountain where Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac (see Genesis 22:14; some scholars argue that this would later be where Jerusalem would be built, and hence the temple, but we cannot be sure of this) and to Mount Sinai (Numbers 10:33). Yet, by the time that David would be writing this, when the mountain of the Lord would be spoken of, it would be most clearly seen as that of Mount Zion—the mountain on which the temple would be built. By the time of the prophets, the language of the mountain of the Lord would clearly point to Mount Zion and it would carry then redemptive significance in that in the day of the Lord—with the coming of the messiah—all nations would be drawn to Mount Zion to worship in his holy place (see Isaiah 2:3; Micah 4:2; Zechariah 8:3).
Lastly, we must ask the question about the language of “who will rise.” The word that is used here is the word ~Wq (Qum), which literally means “to rise up or to get up.” While this word has a variety of uses and is found more than 600 times in the Old Testament, it generally carries with it the idea of getting up from a sitting or a prone position. This makes many of our English translations a bit awkward at this point. Most translations say something to the extent of “who will stand…” The problem with this translation is that in English, the verb “to stand” carries with it the connotations of standing erect and staying firm rather than rising up. In English, “to stand” is a stationary verb and in Hebrew, ~Wq (Qum) is a verb that denotes movement. In other words, the question that David is asking is not “who will stand firm for us” but “who will rise up on our behalf?”
Thus, putting these elements together, we have a wonderful statement of anticipation. Here is David, the anointed King of Israel crying out to God, who will go up for us, in our place, into your presence, Oh, Lord? Who will rise up for us even in your holy place? Who can bear the load and burden for our sins, yet rise up from under their weight? Who can ascend, Oh, Lord, who will ascend for us! The verses that follow in this psalm give us a description of the one who can do just that. Yet, as sinful men, these are not characteristics that are part of our nature or part of our capacity—one greater is needed, but let us not get beyond the verse we are in—just yet, that is… This verse anticipates a coming messiah who is able to stand as righteous before the Lord—no common man, but one who is fully God and fully man, who is full of the perfections of God, yet has become man so that he might represent men before God on high. Get excited, beloved, these words anticipate our Lord! Yet, calm your heart, let us not run too far ahead of our dear psalmist.
It may be argued that the temple did not exist in David’s day and would not be built until his son, Solomon, would ascend to the throne. While this is certainly true, there are two things that must be recognized. The first is that the temple was built upon the same layout as the Tabernacle, and indeed, David had brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, and hence the Tabernacle with it. Secondly, though God did not permit David to build the temple—something David had greatly desired to do—God allowed David to gather supplies, resources, and draw up plans for the temple that his son would build. Thus, the reality of the temple to come was clearly in the eyes of David, not to mention the existing reality of the priestly sacrifices that were performed in the Tabernacle. In a sense, David has both of these in mind as he sings these words of praise to God—he sees the actuality of the tabernacle and looks forward to the temple, which was promised. Thus, in a very real sense, in the context of this psalm, which was quite possibly written for the dedication of the Temple, we can speak of the Temple, even though it was yet to be built—the presence of the Tabernacle being the assurance of all that the Temple would be.
With that in mind, in David’s day, the high priest was the one who would go into the Holy of Holies on behalf of his people. Yet, he was only allowed to go in once a year and then only enshrouded with clouds of incense to sprinkle the blood of the offering on the mercy seat (Leviticus 16). Yet, this High Priest could not rise up in God’s presence, indeed, he was one who went into God’s presence in the greatest humility—for even the High Priest was unworthy to stand or raise up his head before the Lord. How much greater is our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, than the priesthood that prefigured him (see Hebrews 8:1-13)! Our high priest has ascended into the presence of God the Father himself, and rather than only going in once a year and then veiled, our High Priest gazes at the unveiled face of the Father on high and resides with him for all eternity. He is the one who goes up for us—he is the one who has gone up for us, and he is the one in whom all of our hopes find their fulfillment! And once again, beloved, I have gotten ahead of myself.
Rest here, loved ones, in that David is looking not just to an earthly priesthood, but he is anticipating the great high Messianic priest who would come—indeed, all of the saints of the Old Testament found their hope in the promised one. Centuries later, when the writer of the book of Chronicles would close his work with a statement of this same hope (2 Chronicles 36:23)—depending on how you translate the final Hebrew the writer either makes a statement or a poses a question. If you translate this as a statement, it is a statement of anticipation, looking toward the one who would go up for the people; if you translate this as a question, the chronicler is asking, wondering, who would be the redeemer for the people. Either way, the heart of the statement is still the same—they are looking for a Messiah that has been promised—and oh, how that question is answered when you arrive in the New Testament. Who will go up for us? The Lord, Jesus Christ, he is the King of Glory—but then again, I have gotten ahead of myself.
Through the years you made it clear
That the time of Christ was near,
Though the people couldn’t see
What Messiah ought to be.
Though your Word contained the plan,
They just could not understand,
Your most awesome work was done
In your Son.