The Mountain of God
(15) O mountain of God, mountain of Bashan, O many-peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan, (16) why do you gaze enviously, O many-peaked mountain, at the mountain which God desired (to make) his dwelling, where Yahweh will dwell forever? (17) The chariots of God are ten thousand, thousands upon thousands. The Lord (is) among them, (at) Sinai, in the holy place. (18) You have ascended on high. You have taken captivity captive. You have received gifts from men, even from the rebellious, that you, Yahweh God, might dwell there. (19) Blessed be the Lord who day by day sustains us, God (who is) our salvation. (Selah) (20) Our God (is) a God of salvation, and to Yahweh, the Lord, (belong) deliverance from death.
Several repetitions highlight the message of this segment. God’s names are used repeatedly. “Elohim” or its variant, “El,” is found seven times, occurring in each of the six verses and twice in verse 20. “Adonai” (Lord) is used twice (vss. 17 & 20), and “Yahweh” occurs three times (vss. 16, 18, & 20). The word for “mountain” is found six times as the psalmist compares Sinai to the great mountains of Bashan.
Two different words for “dwell/dwelling,” one used twice, speak of God’s choice of Zion as his eternal habitation (vss. 16 & 18). Note that both the verb and noun are used. Twice the psalmist declares that God is the God of our salvation (vss. 19 & 20). Without doubt Paul had verse 18 in mind when he used a similar phrasing to describe the Holy Spirit’s distributing spiritual gifts to believers in the church (Eph. 4:8-10). However, in its original context, this verse was not referring to spiritual gifts but rather to the supremacy of God’s rule from Zion.
I. God’s enviable preference for Zion (15 & 16)
II. God’s powerful presence in Zion (17 & 18)
III. God’s person praised for saving and sustaining us (19 & 20)
God’s choice of Zion as his eternal dwelling place sets it apart as the center from which his saving grace flows.
In his dedicatory prayer for the newly constructed temple, King Solomon asked a spiritually insightful question: “But will God really dwell on earth?” He then answered his own question with this observation: “The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you, how much less this temple I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27). Yet, we read earlier in the chapter, “When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple” (1 Kings 8:10 & 11). The answer to Solomon’s question had already been given. God did, in fact, choose to take up residence in the temple just as his presence had previously graced the tabernacle.
In Solomon’s question, there is hidden a second question, implied but never really specified in the passage: “How could our eternal God possibly stoop to dwell among us?” Theologians answer this by using two terms, “accommodation” and “condescension.” In essence, the omnipresent, omnipotent God of the universe accommodated himself, condescending to dwell in the specific geographical location of Mount Zion in the midst of his chosen people.
Later, in his incarnation, the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, would likewise accommodate himself, condescending to become one of us, taking the name, “Immanuel,” or “God with us.” He dwelt among us in order to accomplish our salvation. How could such a thing happen? In the words of Charles Wesley: “‘Tis mystery all, the immortal dies. / Who can explore his strange design? / Amazing love! How can it be, / that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”
We can never fully grasp how God’s Son could stoop so low to accomplish so much. We simply do not have the ability with our limited mental capacity to understand how our eternal God could condescend to dwell among us, first in a tabernacle, then in a temple, and then in the body of a finite human being. How could the second person of the Godhead take on flesh to dwell among us? How could his death on the cross serve as the atoning sacrifice for our sins? How could it be that by placing faith in him we are granted the gift of eternal life? ‘Tis mystery all indeed, but true!