THE SONG OF GOD’S HOUSE
July 29, 2007
Songs do have a unique way of teaching and admonishing, encouraging and strengthening. I read the story of a little boy named Grant. Grant’s mother had been trying to teach him to spell his name, and she was becoming worried about his seeming inability to get it. One afternoon her brother came to visit. Grant’s mother explained to Uncle Chad the concerns that she had over their progress in spelling the name. Uncle Chad spent a little time with Grant and in ten minutes he had used the song, “BINGO, Bingo was his name,” to have Grant spelling GRANT. A song has the ability to help us learn and remember things that we might otherwise not be able to keep in mind.
Psalm 84 is the song of God’s house. It is a song which has to do with a heart that wants above all to enjoy the privilege of worshiping the God of gods. Spurgeon called this little song “the pearl of the Psalms,” and pointed out that it has as important an application to the worship and work of the New Testament church as any of the 150 psalms of the Old Testament.
Think about that as I read Psalm 84, the song of God’s house. The singer says, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion. O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed! For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!”
Delight In The Worship of God
Let’s think through that wonderful song this morning. Maybe a beginning place would be to point out that this is really not a song about the physical house, but a song of delight in the One whose house it is. This is really a psalm that is about the joy of appearing before God in worship to recognize him and to commune with him and to enjoy his glory.
It is true that the temple in Jerusalem was the most sacred place to any faithful Israelite. They made trips there at least three times a year – the Passover, the Feast of Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles – to appear before God and to worship him together. The journeys on the way to the temple were a high point in the lives of the people which those who loved the Lord enjoyed greatly. But it wasn’t because of the place. It was because God had chosen to put his name there. It was the place where the glory of God abode above the mercy seat, in the midst of the people he claimed as his own, where they renewed their relationship with him. Solomon himself, the builder of the Old Testament temple, recognized that heaven and earth couldn’t contain God, how much less any temple that he might have built (I Kings 8:27).
Yet, knowing all of that, when these people thought of being in God’s presence, they took on such a sense of joy and privilege. You can see the point if you just watch the way the singer here refers to God. You notice first off in verse 1 he is “O LORD of hosts.” Sometimes that is translated “Lord Almighty” or “God Almighty” meaning that he rules over all things, physical or spiritual. Notice that he is referred to at the end of verse 2 as “the living God,” not a dead idol made by the hands of man but the living God. And then notice at the end of verse 3, he is “O LORD of hosts, my God and my King.” That twice repeated “my” is really an important feature of this passage. This God, who is the living God who rules over all, is my God and my King, and that is why I take such delight in appearing before him to worship him.
A Value Statement
If you wonder why he feels this way, the Psalm helps us out by giving us a very clear statement of his values, or of any lover of God’s values. Verse 10 is one of the most wonderful statements in the Bible. Here is the way this lover of God thinks. First he says, “I would rather be there in the house of my God for only a day than to have a thousand days spent anywhere else on the face of the earth.” Think about that statement. Isn’t that something? I would rather be with my God and with people who also love him than anywhere else a thousand times over.
Then he says, “I’d rather be only a door keeper than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” To translate that into our language, I would say “rather than the owner of a great home anywhere else.” You notice that this is a psalm which is said to have been for the sons Korah. I Chron. 26:19 tells us that these sons of Korah were the gatekeeper. They were the ones who remained at the threshold of the courts of the temple. And this fellow says, “I’d rather just sit at the door of God’s house than I would to lean back and recline in all of the luxury that this world might have to offer if it was obtained by wickedness or godliness.”
That’s quite a statement of values, isn’t it? I know where this fellow stands when I hear this song. I know what’s important to him and what comes first with him. He seeks first God’s presence. He is unequivocal about it. Just one day and just to be a door keeper! That’s what he is after.
The question comes to my mind, “Why would anybody feel that way?” How can that statement of values make sense? Well, he offers his reasons for his thinking in verse 11. First he says, “God is a sun and a shield.” That is a beautiful statement. God bathes the way of his people with the light of life. He becomes to them the source of the guidance and of the hope and of the joy that they must have in order to live in this world. In Isaiah 60:19-20, God pictures himself this way so as to say that he is the end of the mourning of his people. He knows that they deal with heartbreaks, but he provides light. He is the sun who rises. They look forward to the time of Christ as the arising of the sun with healing in its wings, according to Malachi 4:2.
But God not only is the sun who provides light. He is the shield who defends his people from evil. In Psalm 119:114, the shield is the one to whom someone turns for help or for refuge. This writer says, “I believe your words so strongly that you are my shield.” In Prov. 18:20, the same idea, “Your word proves true. You are my shield,” he says. You and I don’t think of shields because we are not familiar with soldiers and all that kind of thing. So if we were to try to draw a parallel, maybe you consumers present could think of a warranty. That would be an illustration of the kind of protection that we are offered here. Sometimes people live with security services. There are alarms that go off in your houses if someone tampers with anything there. That would an illustration of a shield. Sometimes we have people who actually watch over us or take care of us. Counselors at camp are like a shield in this way. You begin to see what God wants to be to his people.
Then the singer says “he bestows favor and honor.” You think of grace and goodness. You get the idea. God bestows. That means that he gives freely, that he gives abundantly, that he makes it available for all of us.
And then, no good thing does he withhold from those who walk in integrity before him. “Good” has to be defined God’s way here. It surely doesn’t mean that nothing bad will happen to us or that we consider bad. But for example, if we read James in the New Testament, James says in 1:17 that God is not the source of the trials and temptations that come, but instead that he is the giver of every good gift and every perfect gift and that they come down from above from the father of lights in whom there is no variation due to change. In James 1:5-6, he has made the point that we ask God for wisdom. He gives liberally; he is not stingy about it; he doesn’t try to withhold it. A God like this is one in whose presence a right-thinking person will delight to be and will want to be.
Illustrations Of The Truth
Now, as if to drive the point home, Psalm 84, the song of God’s house, offers three illustrations of the point the singer is making. The first illustration would be the birds who fly around the temple complex and who may, in any nook or cranny they can find, build a nest within easy sight of the altars of God where communion and fellowship with him took place. There they are secure as they raise their young.
Down at Green Valley, one night during our worship time, I’m sitting in my customary spot on the right hand side, and the speaker is presenting a really good lesson. I hear this noise. First, I think it is one of the fans, and I’m ready to get up and turn it off. And then I think that one of the kids is moving back and forth in a chair that is not quite stable, and they are causing noise. How can I put a stop to that? And then I notice over in the far corner of the pavilion there was a bird who had constructed her nest there, raising her young ones. The noise was from the young. That bird gets to be there in that pavilion and enjoy that singing all summer long. Man, what a privilege! That’s how he is thinking about the temple. He enjoys it so much that he is envious of the birds who are there.
Next he thinks in verse 4 about the priests who live there around the temple and who dwell and serve at God’s house. He says that they are ever singing your praise, they cry out with praise to God, and he sees it - this gets down to you and me here – not as a wearisome duty at all (I could really do some sleeping in today if I just didn’t have to get up and go to church) -- but he says those fellows have the highest blessing of all. They get not just to go to God’s house and offer sacrifice and listen to the praise offered, but they get to be there – that’s their life, that’s their portion. How fortunate can you be?
And third, he thinks of the travelers who come to worship at the temple in verses 5-7. He says these are people in whose hearts are the highways. They think of the way to Jerusalem and of the opportunity that is going to come for them to make a trip there and to worship at the temple. They think of the crowd they are going to go with. They think of what it will be like when they get there. They think of what a blessing it will be. The ways are in their hearts!
And since the ways are in their hearts, when they come to a dry, arid valley like the Valley of Baca (v. 6), it seems to them like an oasis. They are thinking so much of what it is going to be like when they scale all these hills up to the temple in Jerusalem, that that dry rough place seems to them like it is a vacation spot. They are thinking of what is ahead of them. And so thinking that way, their strength is renewed for every hill they have to climb. You remember the story of the trip from Jericho up to Jerusalem involved climbing several hundred feet at sea level for a distance of about 17 miles. It was hard. How do you make a journey like that? You think of your hope of what’s there.
I ran across in “Power for Today” this story: “Every summer my family would travel back to Western Kentucky to see our relatives. My aunt and uncle lived on a large farm off the main highway which was only accessible by a long gravel drive shrouded by giant oaks and waving fields of corn. The trees blotted out the sun and always gave me an eerie feeling when we went down the drive. I can still remember my anticipation as we would turn onto that dark, shadowed drive. It made me nervous, but I knew all the joys of fishing ponds, go carts and a summer of youthful bliss awaited me at the end of that short, winding road.” Then the writer, Kerry Williams, observed, “Anticipation is what causes us to brave the winding road of life with its turns and shadows. And as we look forward to the good things that await us at the end of the road, it causes us to take our eyes off the dangers and to focus on the goal.” I think that is what you see in this great passage of scripture. There is a sense of security like the birds; there is a sense of privilege like the priests, and there is a sense of strength – from strength to strength – of those who are on their way to be in God’s presence.
Beatitudes Of The Worshipper
Now, that picture leads to three beatitudes expressed in this psalm. Here are the beatitudes of the worshipper. Here are the ways of thinking that we cannot provide for you nor create for you. We cannot plan a worship service that will do these things for you. No matter how talented the song leader, or if I were ever able to prepare and present an inspiring, powerful lesson, if someone led the prayer just as you would have lead it, here are the things you have got to bring from your house in your heart in order for worship to mean to you what it ought to mean.
The first beatitude of the worshipper, the real worshipper is verse 4, “Blessed are those who dwell in your house.” They are the ones who are fortunate; they are the ones who are truly honored with the best life has to offer.
Second, verse 5, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you.” Blessed are those who move through life with such an anticipation of your presence that it strengthens them for whatever they face.
And third, verse 12, “Blessed is the one who trust in you!” Jeremiah 17:7 says, “Blessed is the one who trusts in you and whose trust you are.” That attitude is a great one. The beatitudes of the worshipper – are they a part of your thinking today?
The Singer MUST Have
And having said that, let’s apply it for just a moment to each one of us. The singer of this song, the song of God’s house, must have (and I am using “must” here not in the sense of meeting a command or something – it is not “must” in that sense but in the same sense that I “must” have supper tonight, or in the same sense as when Kay was gone to Kari’s house, I had to call Andy and say “we must go to Steak & Shake tonight!”) Here is what the singer of this song MUST have.
He must have first a devotion to God that consumes every part of his being. You can’t sing the song of the Lord’s house while your soul and your flesh and your heart are crying out for something else. There is a devotion that prays, “Please keep giving me the privilege of appearing before God.” The only part of this song that is a prayer is really in verses 8 and 9 where he is asking that the King be blessed so that we can continue to have the privilege of going to your house.
The singer of this song must have presence with the church. This song describes the kind of heart which thinks to himself, not “how man times a week do I have to go,” but “when my brothers and sisters meet, I have to be with them. They mean so much to me, being before God with them is so important to us.” Nothing can take the place of me being with them. The church in the New Testament is, of course, the temple of the Lord, the spiritual house in which he lives. God dwells in his people, and where two or three of them meet together the Lord is in the midst of them (Matt. 18:20).
And third, the singer of this song must have his hope set in heaven. In Rev. 21:22, 3, there is this statement. Verse 22 says, “And I saw no temple in the city for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” Verse 3 says, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place (temple or habitation) of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” Jesus taught, “Let not your hearts be troubled. In my Father’s house are many rooms.” A beautiful statement of the Psalms says in Psalm 23, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Remember, my brothers and sister, this statement from the Hebrew writer, Heb. 3:6. Having spoken of Christ being faithful over God’s house as a Son, he says, “And we are his house, (or as this says, “Whose house we are”) if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope firm to the end.”
Place your hope in the God who is a sun and a shield. Through his Son, let your faith in what God has done be made clear by confessing it and being baptized into him. Continue in that all the way to the end. Let’s be people who are on our way to the house of the Lord. If you need to come this morning, would you do it while we stand and sing together?