“He carries blessings from Yahweh,
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”
As we get to this verse, perhaps it is best to quickly remind ourselves of the context of the passage. David, who is writing this psalm, begins with a praise to God for who he is and for all he has done and then poses this question. In light of our sin—our separation from God because of our fallen-ness—who shall ascend into the presence of God on our behalf? And the answer is that it is he who is clean from the guilt of sin. In that context, then we spoke about how the priests went through elaborate purification rituals so that they could enter into the presence of God for just a short time, but that the whole purpose of this was to demonstrate the inadequacy of the earthly priesthood and point us to a Messianic great high priest who would come. It is the messiah who will ascend the mountain of Yahweh, rising in his presence eternally. And though we are on the other side of the cross, and we know how God chose to unravel his redemptive plan, we can almost sense the anticipation that David had as he looked forward in faith, hoping to see the day when the Messiah would come. And oh, how similar is the anticipation that we feel as we look forward in faith, hoping to see the day when Jesus will return again in glory and majesty and power and might! Who is this King of Glory? Yahweh, strong and mighty! But, oh, I get ahead of myself once again.
As we return to verse five, with this context before us, we need to ask the question as to what is the purpose of the one who goes up for the people. Certainly the high priest was to make sacrifices on behalf of his people and take the blood of the sacrifices into the Holy of Holies on the day of atonement. Indeed, that is what he did, but why did he do it? The purpose of the sacrifice was certainly to make atonement for sins, but atonement was sought so that God would remain in the presence of his people. It is God’s presence and God’s presence alone that brings blessings to the people of God, it is what makes them distinct from all the rest of the people of the world (Exodus 33:16). This is the great blessing of God, that in spite of our rebellion and falling away in sin, He pursues us and He chooses to come into relationship with us, dwelling in our presence. This was assured year in and year out by the work of the Levitical priesthood; this was assured eternally by the work of Jesus Christ, who now sits at the right hand of the Father on high. Thus, I would argue, that while atonement is important, the question of atonement is not in David’s sights as he writes these verses—the results of the atoning work are in view, namely the blessings that come from the presence of God with his people.
With that in mind, when we read the first clause in verse 5 in most modern translations, we run into a stumbling block. Usually it is translated, “He will receive blessing…” (ESV, NASB, KJV, NIV, RSV, etc…). Young’s Literal Translation actually does a good job of getting to the meaning of what David is writing. To translate the verse as these translations do puts the focus entirely on the individual. HE goes up and HE receives blessing. Yet, this is not what the Hebrew reads. David uses the verb af’n” (nasa), which most naturally means “to carry.” Now, it is admitted that this verb has a wide range of meanings, and can mean “to take to oneself” as one would do with wives or concubines (Ruth 1:4, 2 Chronicles 11:21), but when it is used this way, emphasis is on the verb’s subject actively taking something, not passively receiving something.
Thus, the idea that is being conveyed here is not so much the idea of the High Priest going up to receive blessings for himself, but to gain blessings to be carried out for the congregation of God’s people. What would be the value of one going up “for us” if it is only the one who goes up who receives the blessing of God? No, he who goes up does so on behalf of his people so that he may carry out blessings from God to the people. This was indeed the purpose of the priestly work and this is fulfilled and consummated by the work of Christ, who has gone up on our behalf, to sacrifice once, but to make continual intercession for his people for all eternity. And the presence of God with his people? In the fullness of Christ’s work it is no longer a presence that is veiled by the glory cloud within the Holy of Holies of the temple, but it is in person, through the Holy Spirit, in the heart of every believer! Beloved, no longer do we need to make a pilgrimage to the temple once a year to make sacrifices to enter into God’s presence, but he has sought us out in the person of his Son, made a singularly perfect sacrifice on our behalf, and now resides with us, his people wherever we go and has promised to never leave our presence! What blessings have been carried to us by our great high priest!
Yet, let us not end there, because David does not end the verse there. Not only does this Messiah carry blessings to God’s people, but he brings righteousness from the God of his salvation. Do not stumble over the language of “his salvation” for the simple reason that as Christ identified with us in our sins, though he did not need saving, because of this identification, we enter into his blessing and salvation and he bore the curse of our sins. Thus, in this identification with us, Yahweh becomes the God of the Messiah’s salvation as well. Yet, never forget this is only in terms of function in redemptive history, for as God, Christ needs no saving. This is perhaps part of the reason that some of the Gospel accounts refer to Christ as “being raised” by God as opposed to his “raising himself.” But the results of this exchange—Christ taking the cup of curse we deserve and we receiving the cup of blessing that is rightfully Christ’s—we enter into God’s presence not in our own righteousness but in the righteousness of Christ. No longer are we, as believers, judged according to our own merit, but we are judged according to the merit of our Mediator, Jesus Christ.
And this is the fullness of God’s blessing—not only are we assured, by the work of Christ, that we will have fellowship with God here on earth, but we are assured that we will have a fellowship that is eternal and that will continue when we pass from this place, for we will pass into the real presence of the God of our salvation! Oh, beloved, this promise is originated, given, fulfilled, and kept by the hand of God himself! We have had nothing to do with it, yet God, in his grace, in his infinite and wonderful grace, has chosen to call us to himself so that we might share in this infinitely wonderful blessing! Oh, this should cause us to worship our God and our King. Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord!
Praise him! Praise him! Jesus our blessed Redeemer!
For our sins he suffered and bled and died;
He our Rock, our hope of eternal salvation,
Hail him! Hail him! Jesus the Crucified.
Sound his praises! Jesus who bore our sorrows,
Love unbounded, wonderful, deep, and strong:
Praise him! Praise him! Tell of his excellent greatness;
Praise him! Praise him! Ever in joyful song!