In our PREVIOUS paper, we firstly considered the theme of Zion as the place of God’s choice, similar in thought to the choice of the Assembly in Christ before its formation at Pentecost. Secondly, we described the delay in the manifestation of Zion, during which the ark, known by few, was at Kirjath-jearim, and this answered to the resurrection position of Christ. Finally, we considered the capture of Zion by David, exercised to do the will of God.
The Ascension Position
The historical record given in 1 Chronicles chapters 13, 15 and 16 is well known. There we read of the further exercise of David to bring up the ark from Kirjath-jearim, 13. 5, to the tent that had been pitched on Zion, 16. 1. The interpretation of these events is not left to the imagination. Here, Scripture interprets itself, justifying the suggestion already made that the movements of the ark are similar in character to those of the Lord Jesus through death and resurrection.
Several Psalms of David appear to refer to this triumphant ascent of the ark up mount Zion. Psalm 24. 3, ‘Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?’ may well answer to this event, although the prophetical interpretation of this Psalm is millennial in character. But Psalm 68 appears to be the specific song of praise sung by the singers during the ascent. The first verse ‘Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered: let them also that hate him flee before him’ is peculiar to a movement of the ark (sec Numbers 10. 35 for the origin of this quotation). Moreover, of the few recorded movements of the ark in David’s reign (for example, 2 Samuel 15. 24, 29), the trium-phant rejoicing of Psalm 68 fits only this particular event of the ark ascending up mount Zion. The supreme note of praise in Psalm 68. 18 ‘Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive’ is taken up by Paul in Ephesians 4. 8 and made to refer specifically to the ascension of the Lord Jesus. The position of the ark in the tent pitched on mount Zion answers very properly then to the ascension of Christ into heaven itself, there to be found with His Assembly in the heavenlies accord-ing to Ephesians 2. 6. The practical position of Zion today is attained when saints enter further into the purpose of God that the Assembly is associated not only with a risen but an ascended Lord. This seals the heavenly character of the Assembly which has been described with the words ‘The Church … a lowly, heavenly body, … has no position on earth at all, … an unearthly witness of heavenly things on earth’, J. N. D. The appreciation of the Lord where He is now is Zion indeed. But this is no mere doctrine; it is a practical position for the saints, as the following thoughts show.
The Tabernacle on Zion
The tent that David erected on Zion to be the dwelling place of the ark corresponds to something essentially spiritual, yet the service that was associated with the tent corresponds to something essentially practical in the believer’s experience.
The service of God before the ark on Zion was one of in-telligent song, 1 Chron. 16. 4-37. In this respect it differed from the tabernacle service in the wilderness, with which was associated no service of song at all. In the wilderness, the service had been one of sacrifice, but God now used the sweet psalmist of Israel to introduce this new feature. In order to understand the New Testament counterpart, we must beware of thinking merely of vocal efforts in the singing of hymns. It ill-becomes the inexhaustible subject of typology to interpret the anti-type under grace as identical with the type under law. The New Testament always demands a spiritual counterpart to a material type. The house corresponds to a ‘spiritual house’ made of living stones, 1 Pet. 2. 5, the Assembly itself. The song corresponds to the song of the heart, which indeed may be vocal, but is usually expressed verbally or even in silence rather than in song, Eph. 5. 19-20; Col. 3. 16-17. The song is indeed ‘the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name’, Heb. 13. 15. The over-indulgent use of the hymn book can stifle rather than render spontaneous the worship of the Father in spirit and in truth.
Moreover, the song is not a hastily conceived composition, but the fruit of experience. This is clearly demonstrated in the song that David gave to Asaph, with which the Lord God of Israel was to be praised. The interested reader may observe that the song recorded in 1 Chronicles 16. 8-36 consists of a blending of parts of various Psalms. Verses 8-22 are taken from Psalm 105. 1-15, verses 16-45 being omitted. Verses 23-33 repeat Psalm 96, which may therefore be called the ‘ascension Psalm’. Finally, verses 34-36 are taken from the first and last two verses of Psalm 106. It is therefore apparent that Psalm 105. 16 to Psalm 106. 46 are almost wholly omitted and that Psalm 96 is substituted in their place. The reason is obvious; David knew what subject matter was suitable for praise on Zion. The trials and judgments in Egypt and the waywardness of the people in the wilderness were not suitable subjects for the song of the Lord on Zion. Hence, our song is a song of our own experience of Christ Himself, with no reference to the trials and failures of this life. Ephesians 1 may well be regarded as the song in the heavenlies now, while Revelation 5, sung in the heavens, centres around Himself in a coming day.
But sacrifice and song go together on Zion. Hebrews 13. 15 ‘the sacrifice of praise to God … the fruit of our lips’ links the two thoughts together. The ‘spiritual sacrifice’ of 1 Peter 2. 5 refers to what is suitable in the ‘spiritual house’ on Zion. Even in the Old Testament, the praise of the mouth was an acceptable substitute for material sacrifice when offered from a broken and contrite heart, Ps. 51. 15, 16. But in the type, it was left to Solomon when the temple was dedicated to bring together the song and the altar. Certainly in David’s day, the song took place before the ark, but offerings were still offered on the altar of burnt offering before the old tabernacle at Gibeon, 1 Chron. 16. 39, 40; the service of God was thereby divided. Today the purpose of God is that the Assembly should be fully engaged in its proper heavenly sphere, and that it should not be subdivided in its most holy functions. Gibeon could but speak of the traditional religion of the natural man, since the tabernacle had been forsaken by God, Ps. 78. 60, and was not recognized again. Zion should be a position enjoyed by the saints where all is owned and put into practice according to the Word of God, with no subdivisions of interest between the spiritual and the worldly.
The service just described is service God-ward, but Zion also speaks of a service man-ward – both saint-ward and sinner-ward. For, as we have already seen, Psalm 68. 18 is quoted in Ephesians 4. 8, the words being changed slightly to read: He ‘gave gifts unto men’. In Ephesians 4, Paul develops the thought of service amongst the saints and in the Gospel for the ultimate growth of the Assembly ‘unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’. Since spiritual gifts originate from the Lord ascended on high, their whole outworking should also partake of the heavenly atmosphere of Zion. Nothing should be allowed in our service here that is out of keeping with the highest priestly functioning God-ward. The atmosphere of the gathering for the Lord’s supper should also be the atmosphere of all service, since this originates from the same Source, the risen Lord. The realization of this would preserve believers from being ‘children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they he in wait to deceive’, Eph. 4. 14. May we therefore know the ascended Lord on Zion better than to allow such dishonouring weaknesses in our hearts.
Opposition to Zion
Saints who appreciate the heavenly position of Zion in near-ness to the Lord will meet with opposition from others who mind earthly things.
In Numbers 32. 33, Moses gave to Gad, Reuben and Manasseh the kingdom of Bashan, and this possession was taken up in Joshua 22.1-9; these tribes failed to attain the land where ‘the Lord’s tabernacle dwelleth’, v. 19. But what was the character of this land on the cast of Jordan? It was dominated by the hill of Bashan, 5,700 feet high, made of volcanic basalt with sharp pillars and pinnacles, and vast compared with the limestone hills of Palestine and Zion. Volcanic rock originates from the lower regions of the earth, being forced upwards in liquid form under great pressure; limestone, however, is the product of death, the shells of living creatures falling to the bottom of the sea ultimately to rise again under the action of earth movements to an elevated position above the surface of the earth. Basalt speaks of the product of the natural man, earthly, temporal, ‘from beneath’, John 8. 23; Zion speaks of a heavenly position attained through death and resurrection. Now Psalm 68. 15-16 contrasts Bashan and Zion. The higher hills exulted over the apparently more lowly Zion, but as for Zion, ‘this is the hill which God desireth to dwell in; yea, the Lord will dwell in it for ever’. Scripture visualizes the people of God gathering on the one ground where the Lord is, with Himself in their midst. The many-peaked systems of men appear large, organized, lasting, appealing to the taste, with no time for the smaller appearance of Zion manifested in this scene. But a show of bigness is not God’s ideal in this world. Ultimately all this will disappear, leaving only the eternal realities which cannot be shaken. The Lord would have the delights of this blessed reality enjoyed by believers today, both in heart and in practice, both in worship and in service, for could there be any more happy position for the people of God now than where His purpose and joy are to be found?