Threads of Scripture - Mount Zion
This is the seventh part of a multi-part series looking at creation and re-creation through the lens of mountains in the Bible.
Last week, we saw that the tabernacle was the moveable mini-mountain of God. Its design and materials evoke thoughts of ascending from earth to heaven as one moved from the court to the holy of holies. At the pinnacle, God would meet with the high priest one time every year, on the Day of Atonement, to effect a re-creation of Israel, so to speak, by means of that sacrifice. The fact that the beginning of the Jubilee year (a festival in Leviticus 25 commanded by God to be celebrated every 50 years) was marked on the Day of Atonement reinforces this ides of a mini-re-creation. During the Jubilee year, land inheritance was returned to the original owner and those sold into slavery were freed. Thus, the tabernacle, as the mini-mountain of God, was also associated with re-recreation and renewal of God’s people.
But the Tabernacle, as it was designed and built, was not the end state of Israel’s communion with God. In Deuteronomy, God tells his people that when they enter into the promised land, he will designate a place at which Israel will serve him. As we fast forward in the history of Israel, we come to Jerusalem and Mount Zion, the next mountain of God.
Early in Scripture, a specific portion of Jerusalem is described as Zion. In 2 Samuel 5, David (re-)conquers Jerusalem and takes “the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David” (v7). Until Solomon completes the Temple, the tabernacle remains in the city of David. Then, the emphasis in Scripture changes from Zion to Mount Zion. King Hezekiah equates Jerusalem in general with Mount Zion (2 Kgs 19:31) as do some psalms (e.g., Ps 48:11, 74:2, 78:68) and the prophets (e.g., Isa 10:12; Joel 2:32).
Moreover, Mount Zion takes on significance as the dwelling place of God. “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” (Ps 2:6). “Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deeds!” (Ps 9:11). And this is so in part because the Temple is there: “May he send you help from the sanctuary and give you support from Zion!” (Ps 20:2). Thus, Mount Zion supersedes Eden, Ararat, and Sinai as the mountain of God.
And, importantly, this designation endures even through the exile. Looking to the future, Isaiah prophesies, “At that time tribute will be brought to the LORD of hosts from a people tall and smooth, from a people feared near and far, a nation mighty and conquering, whose land the rivers divide, to Mount Zion, the place of the name of the LORD of hosts” (Isa 18:7). Joel, too, prophesies this: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls” (Joel 2:32).
Even in the New Testament, the association of God with Mount Zion remains, even as Mount Zion takes on eschatological significance. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering” (Heb 12:22). “Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads” (Rev 14:1).
But implicit in this enduring designation is the idea of re-creation. Though Solomon’s building of the Temple marks a high point in Israel’s history, 1 Kings quickly checks any optimism. The heart of man is still corrupt, even the heart of a great man like Solomon, and paradise has not been regained. Thus, the exile inevitably comes; Israel is de-created through the destruction of Jerusalem and exile into foreign lands. But, in God’s providence, Israel is re-created and returned to the promised land, just as the prophets foresaw.
In a similar way, the true significance of Mount Zion is only understood after God’s final judgment, which is described in the book of Revelation as a great judgment couched in the terms of de-creation and re-creation. The final destination will be the mountain of God upon which the Lamb who was slain will stand along with the redeemed of the Lord. And so, we see that Mount Zion is intimately tied to creation and re-creation as the mountain of God upon which God’s people will commune with him.
But before God’s people can ascend Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, of the books of Hebrews and of Revelation, one more mountain must be ascended, Mount Calvary. To that mountain we will turn next.