Psalms - Teachers Comments

2024 Quarter 1 Lesson 11 - Longing for God in Zion

Teachers Comments
Mar 09 - Mar 15

Key Text: Psalm 84:2

This week we shall focus on the trope, “Zion,” as expressed in the book of Psalms (see Psalm 46, Psalm 84, Psalm 87, Psalm 122, and Psalm 125). Psalms is full of hope and the expectation of the righteous to visit and dwell securely in God’s sanctuary, a refuge of safety and peace.

The concept of “Zion” in the Scriptures is itself a mix of geography, politics, and theology. We shall consider these different aspects in order to grasp Zion’s spiritual meaning for God’s people in the past as well as for ourselves, who are in urgent need today of the hope that Zion offers.

Part II: Commentary

The Geography of Zion

The location of Mount Zion in Jerusalem in relation to Mount Moriah has important theological significance. David conquered Mount Zion (2 Kings 5:6, 7; 1 Chron. 11:5–7), occupying a relatively small area of the hill that came to be called the City of David. To the north, about 600 meters away, stood Mount Moriah, where Isaac had been “offered” in sacrifice (Gen. 22:1–12). Here also the angel of the Lord stood by the threshing floor of Araunah, the Jebusite, and was halted in the midst of destroying Israel in consequence of the sin of David, who attempted to carry out a census (2 Sam. 24:16) contrary to God’s will. Subsequently, David purchased the threshing floor and reared an altar to the Lord there, and in atonement for his presumption, gave burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord (2 Sam. 24:25; compare with 1 Chron. 21:15–30).

Solomon’s temple and its outbuildings also were built on this same spot (2 Chron. 3:1). The city of Jerusalem extended to the north and embraced the holy mountain, and eventually the name “Zion” came to include the Temple Mount. As we have seen in the Psalms, “Zion” often refers to the city of Jerusalem as a whole (Ps. 48:1–3; Ps. 69:35; Ps. 74:2; Ps. 82:2–5; Ps. 125:1, 2).

Zion, the Holy Mountain

Long before Solomon built God a temple, the Lord manifested Himself on Mount Sinai and commanded Israel to build Him a tabernacle so that He might dwell in their midst (Exod. 25:8, 9). When the sanctuary was completed and erected, the presence of God descended in a cloud and rested on the tabernacle of meeting (Exod. 40:34, 35), making it the center of divine manifestation and worship for Israel. Thus, God moved the physical manifestation of His presence from Sinai into the midst of the Israelite camp. The Sinai theophany continued to abide above the Tent of Meeting during the journey through the desert.

The tabernacle perpetuates, intensifies, and completes God’s work upon Mount Sinai. The tabernacle, as a divine dwelling, is fundamental to the later understanding of the importance of the “holy mount.” God initially dwelt in the sanctuary, and when His temple was afterward built by Solomon, its placement upon Mount Moriah conferred honor upon it. When King Solomon dedicated the temple and prayed for God to bestow His blessing upon it, the Lord expressed His approval in fire from heaven (2 Chron. 7:1–3). Thus, Mount Moriah in the time of the Israelite kings was considered the “holy mountain” because God dwelt there amid His people.

Keep in mind that Jehovah is never confined to a specific mountain. Nor is He limited to a particular earthly location in the Old Testament because no location is, in and of itself, holy. Although He is frequently linked to Sinai and Zion, God reveals Himself in connection with a wide variety of mountains. He manifests His presence wherever He desires. Even Zion itself merits no special distinction as the earthly residence of the Lord. Rather, Zion is simply the footstool of a majesty that not even the heavens can contain (1 Kings 8:27, 2 Chron. 6:18).

Zion and Its Eschatological Perspective

How is Zion portrayed in the Scriptures? Mount Zion, which is a symbol of God’s people (Isa. 29:8), also is the place from which Jehovah fights against enemy nations (Isa. 31:4) who war against Israel. A remnant of Israel will go forth from Zion and be preserved (2 Kings 19:31), and to Zion they will return Israel (Isa. 51:11). Salvation is found in Zion (Isa. 37:32, Joel 2:32). This mount also relates to cosmic signs (Isa. 24:23). Ultimately, the Lord will reign over His people in Mount Zion (Mic. 4:7) in the earth made new.

Joel 3:1–17 speaks of the gathering of the nations in the valley of Jehoshaphat, where God will contend with them in judgment and plead for the deliverance of His people. The valley of Jehoshaphat is the symbolic name given to the place of ultimate judgment. Geographically, it was a deep ravine that separated Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, through which the Kidron flowed. Because of its location, the valley of Jehoshaphat played a significant role in Israel’s religious traditions and rituals (1 Kings 1:9, 33), such as in the religious reforms of Asa (1 Kings 15:13, 2 Chron. 15:16), in the reigns of Jehoshaphat (2 Kings 23:4, 6, 12) and Hezekiah (2 Chron. 29:16, 2 Chron. 30:14), and in the future purification of Jerusalem (Jer. 31:40). It was there that Solomon was anointed as monarch. Therefore, there is a close relationship between the “holy mount,” or Zion, with the judgment and coronation of the king.

At the climax of the confrontation between the Lord and the nations, “the Lord also will roar from Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem” (Joel 3:16, NKJV), and God’s people will know that “I am the Lord your God, dwelling in Zion My holy mountain” (Joel 3:17, NKJV).

The righteous (Ps. 15:2–5) are depicted as those who will dwell on the holy mountain of God (Ps. 15:1), from whence God answers prayers (Ps. 3:4). In contrast, those who forsake Jehovah forget His holy mountain (Isa. 65:11). The Lord chose to make the earthly Zion His center of action, not because it was inherently unique or valuable but because He willed it so.

Noteworthy Psalms About Zion

Psalm 2

Psalm 2 is recognized as a royal, or Messianic, anthem that exalts Jehovah’s Anointed. It contains the following three aspects or themes: the historical, the Messianic, and the cultic or devotional. The poem is structured in four stanzas. In the second stanza (Ps. 2:4–6), God shows His disdain for the arrogance of the nations (Ps. 2:1–3); the stanza concludes by indicating that God has set His King on Zion, His holy mountain (Ps. 2:6).

This hymn teaches the concept that YHWH reigns, with His Anointed One, in Zion. Once again, the idea is affirmed that the mountain is holy because of the presence of the Deity of heaven in its midst.

Thus, Zion, the sacred mount, consecrated by the theophanic presence of YHWH in His temple, is the seat of God’s earthly dominion, the residence of the anointed king of Israel, and the capital of the world, before which all nations and kings are bound by cords of love or iron bonds. (Compare with Isaiah 2:2–4 and Micah 4:1–4, wherein the mountain of the house of YHWH is the refuge and resource of all nations for instruction and government and for universal peace.)

Psalm 2:6, 7 reveals that the Lord claims as His own both the Anointed One and jurisdiction over the mount. The Anointed One and the mount are of central importance to the theology of the kingdom of God in Psalms. In the election of the king as my Anointed (Ps. 2:2), My King (Ps. 2:6), and My Son (Ps. 2:7), who is placed on “the mount of my holiness,” we see that the election is determined by divine decree and that human beings have no influence in this selection. Hans LaRondelle insists that “as long as the Lord stayed in the Most Holy Place of that sanctuary, that mountain was ‘holy’ because God’s Shekinah glory dwelled there.”—Deliverance in the Psalms (Bradenton, FL: First Impressions, 2006), p. 55.

Psalm 48:1–3

This psalm expands on the Messianic concept of Zion, both as the dwelling place of God and as the capital of His kingdom. The psalmist sings of Jehovah’s care for Jerusalem and the deliverance of His people from the hands of the enemy. The central theme of the song is the praise of the greatness of God, as symbolized by Zion, “the mountain of his holiness” (verse 1).

In verses 1–3, the psalmist uses different expressions to refer to the site of the divine manifestation, such as “the city of our God,” “Mount Zion,” “the sides of the north,” and “the city of the great King.” The psalmist also refers to Zion as this “holy mountain of His,” which could be translated as “the mountain consecrated to Him” (see Ps. 2:6, Ps. 87:2, Ps. 121:1, Zech. 8:3).

Psalm 99

In Psalm 99, we again see the connection between Mount Zion and Israel’s experiences in both the wilderness and at Mount Sinai. The psalm is composed of three stanzas, each of which ends with the sentence: “He is holy” (Ps. 99:3, 5, 9, NKJV). After exalting Jehovah as king (Ps. 99:1), as the One who dwells in Zion (Ps. 99:2), and declaring Him to be “great,” “dreadful,” “holy” (Ps. 99:3), and “righteous” (Ps. 99:4), the psalmist invites the people to worship Him (Ps. 99:5).

Psalm 99:6–8 discusses the experiences of Moses, Aaron, and Samuel. The cloudy pillar undoubtedly recalls the wilderness experience, a direct reference to Moses and Aaron, with whom God spoke. Samuel also heard Jehovah speak in the temple at Shiloh (1 Sam. 3:1–14).

The psalm concludes with a call for the people to exalt the Lord and worship Him “at his holy mountain” (Ps. 99:9, ESV) because of the forgiveness that God manifested toward them there (verse 8). As we see from our study, the holiness that Mount Sinai once held as the abode of God was transferred to Zion after the temple was built there.

Part III: Life Application

Our Creator God is a most excellent Teacher. He uses physical places and material things to express spiritual concepts, as in the case of the literal Mount Zion and its surrounding hills. Through this object lesson, Israelites could better understand God’s redemption plan.

Zion is a symbol of God’s presence, the place where the Lord is interceding for, and protecting, His people. As the Israelites in the past, we should keep in our hearts a burning desire to be in the presence of the Almighty. Fellowship on Sabbath is undeniably essential. But let us also seek, throughout the week, to commune with the presence of God in His heavenly sanctuary. “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22, NKJV).