We do not know at what occasion this song was composed. That is, we do know in general, but not in particular. It may fit several occasions. It may very well point to the ascension of the ark of the covenant into the hill of Zion at the time David fetched it from the house of Obed-Edom. And again: it may refer us to one of the occasions when David returned from the battle with the selfsame ark after successfully slaying the enemies of the Lord. We do not know at what particular occasion this psalm was composed, but we do know that it refers to God’s ascent of the hill Zion in the ark of His strength. Therefore Psalm 68 is of like contents. See especially verse 18 of that Psalm.
The first and second verses have troubled commentators no end. What seems to be the connection between them and the rest of the psalm? What has the creation of the world to do with ascent into the bill of the Lord?
Well, it seems to me that the connection is very lucid.
You have the parallel here which is found throughout in the Bible, between the earthy symbol and the spiritual reality.
You will all agree that the Gospel, the Kingdom of God, the realization of His eternal covenant is just this, that He exalts the things that are low, even in deepest hell, unto the heights of the new heavens and the new earth. Man, elect man, the church, is caught in the everlasting arms and carried to the hill of the Lord, that is, the heavenly city of the new Jerusalem. And both earth and heaven, as well as brute creation, will partake of this exaltation of God’s people.
Of this exaltation we find the symbol in what happened on the third day of creation week. On that day, the third, the Lord called the dry land out of the chaotic state of the earth which is described as without form and void. The whole earth was one great pool of mud, one great morass. And when the Lord called, the dry land appeared majestically above the churning waters of the great ocean. God exalted the earth. And he established her upon the floods; He founded the earth upon the seas: henceforth the earth is exalted.
And as such, the dividing of the waters and the dry land is a symbol, a picture, of the exaltation of the church and with her, the world, unto the dizzying heights of the new and eternal commonwealth that is called The New Jerusalem.
Proof for this is II Cor. 4:6.
In that place we find another symbol of another spiritual counterpart. There we read that the calling of light out of darkness which happened on the first day of creation week, is the earthy counterpart of the spiritual boon which we often call: the effectual calling. Now read the verse as such: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
And in the psalm which we have for the object of our study at this time we find the exaltation of the world through Jesus Christ, first as it happened in creation, which is the symbol; and second, as it happened centrally when Jesus ascended to heaven. Delitzsch is wrong on two counts. He understands nothing of the symbolism of the first world; and he militates against the patristic effort to see in this psalm the ascension of our Lord to heaven. We have a profound respect for Delitzsch’s acumen as a Hebrew scholar but we are convinced of the meagerness, the futility of his theology.
After seeing the dry land majestically appear out of the churning waters, as the earthy will of Jehovah, whose it is by right of creation, we hear a question : “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord: and who shall stand in His Holy place?” And in that question, we first of all proceed from the symbol to the type.
Of that type we read very often.
Essential in the type is, again, exaltation, the elevation of the earthy to the heavenly. Essential, as is proven when we study the altar: a mound of earth or stone, firstling of the hill of the Lord, Who raises the earthy to the heavenly through Jesus Christ the Lord.
The earth, this present world, is in darkness, ethical darkness: man has sinned and is henceforth in terrible obscurity, spiritually without form and void. And darkness is upon the face of the deep.
Now listen again to the question: Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in His Holy place?
That question is answered somehow, because from the very dawn of history I see sinful men stand round about altars, mounds of earth, elevations of and in the world. I hear Abel’s cry and Noah’s lament, but lament and cry notwithstanding: they worship and adore about the altar of God, the God of their salvation.
The altar, later the tabernacle, still later the temple are types. They are types of a reality that is blinding and dazzling in its glory and brilliancy.
The altar, the tabernacle and the temple have this in common: they typify unto us the fact that somehow God is dwelling with His people, drawing them upward and onward, from out of the abyss of hell unto the hill of God, the heavenly beauty of His House an eternal bliss.
Now let us listen to the answer: clean hands, pure heart, rich soul and true tongue. All those who answer that description shall receive the blessing of the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation. They are the men and women that seek the face of Jehovah God. Their name is attached in a summarizing sense at the end of the description: Jacob is the name of that generation. Somehow, in some way, Jacob will dwell in the house of God, he will ascend the hill of Jehovah, partake of the exaltation of all things and finally sit in splendor and majesty in the thrones round about the God of his salvation.
Now continue your psalm for here comes Jacob! King Jacob!
There is someone who is seen ascending the bill of God. And when he comes within hearing of the walls of the city, we hear a cry of the accompanying host: Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in!
From within comes the question: Who is this King of glory? And the answer: The Lord mighty in battle!
The question is repeated and so is the answer, with a variation. The King is identified with the Lord of Sabaoth, the Lord of hosts.
All this has happened when David led God’s people in Old Testament times around the ark of the covenant upward on the slopes of Mount Zion. The doors of the walls of the city were opened and the ark was deposited in the rightful place: in the midst of the people of God.
But that was a type.
All this was fulfilled centrally when Jesus arose in the garden of Joseph of Arimathea and later ascended from Mount Olivet, penetrating the heavens and arriving in heavenly Jerusalem, going through the heavens and appearing before the throne of God. He is King Jacob, King David, King Solomon, the fulfillment of all the types.
He answers the description of those that shall calmly be able to ascend and stand, right before the face of the Holy God!
Clean hands, pure heart, rich soul and true tongue. It is the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
Do you know any other?
Clean, pure, rich and true are the sine qua non of communion with God. And only in Jesus they are found.
The rest of mankind are unclean, impure, vain and deceitful.
I hear you repeat a question that came to us through the ages: Who then can be saved?
To answer that question is easy if you understand the types.
Come with me and we will retrace our steps. I have spoken to you of altars, tabernacles and temples. I have spoken of the ark of the covenant and you must look strongly at it. So did the cherubim: they were very desirous to look into the things of reconciliation. They did not fully understand until they were commissioned to go to the earth along with the Son and witness the Nativity. Then they fully understood. Later, they saw again and were very still. I refer to Golgotha. Yes, they were still around Golgotha. It was their turn to be still. This hour was for the horrible laughter of satyrs, of devils, of hell.
But we were to speak of the altar.
Essential to the altar is the Mood that is spilled on it, the sacrifice, bleeding, crushed, slaughtered. Essential to the ark of the covenant is its mercy-seat on which is spilled with solemn regularity the blood of the innocents.
Yes, I have pointed out to you that we have seen many of the sons of Adam, round about those altars of the ages, crying and wailing, but also singing and rejoicing. Psalm 68.
They have cried and they have wailed; they have sung and they have rejoiced because of the blood.
And that blood is Jesus: it is fulfilled in the death of Innocentius, and that is our blessed Lord, the royal Jacob, David, Solomon. Jehovah Salvation!
And that blood is precious. It is so valuable and rich that it has bought the untold millions of the generation that seek the face of God. It has bought that generation not because they seek God’s face, but that they might seek it.
That blood has covered your and my uncleanliness, impurities, vanities and lies.
And through the power of that blood (the Spirit of grace) he makes you principally clean, pure, rich and true. Since then you lift your heads on high and look toward the mountains: the exaltation of the kosmos; centrally, the throne of David.
Yes, God spake and the earth appeared out of the whirlpools of mud.
And: Hallelujah! God spake again, now through His Son, and the exalted earth and heaven appear with its heart: New Jerusalem, Jesus our Lord and all His brethren.
God has gone up with a shout (Psalm 47:5); Thou hast ascended on high (Psalm 68:18). Yes, in order to give gifts unto the rebellious even.
You will kindly remember, beloved, that I drew a parallel between the appearance of the dry ground and Jesus’ ascension. God made the earth: He established her upon the waters. God made New Jerusalem: He established her forever!
Well, now listen to Psalm 68:22b: ‘The Lord said: 1 will bring My people again from the depths of the sea!”
Is it not divinely beautiful?
Yes, we will follow Jesus, ascending the slopes of Mount Zion.
Looking strongly at Golgotha we sing: The glorious gates of righteousness, throw open unto me; and I will enter them with praise, O living God to Thee!
O God of eternally miraculous wonders! I never wrote with fonder adoration: For Jesus’ sake!
Amen and amen!