The Psalms do not drop out of the sky. They come with a context. They are written amid life’s trials and joy; amid life’s victories and defeats. As one commentator has noted, they contain the full range of human experience and are therefore a valuable source of encouragement and direction for God’s people.
Often times in scripture a man’s longing for God is pictured as a pilgrimage. A journey towards a final resting place. A journey home. The Psalmist, God’s anointed, a Royal figure, sings as he travels with his people along a highway. It is a song reminiscent of Israel’s wilderness journey and of their journeys to the annual Temple feats.
In Numbers 20 and 21 Israel had walked along the Kings Highway in order to get to the place of rest – the Promised Land. Coming to Edom, they offered to pay for water, if only they were allowed to pass. But they were turned away. And so God led them further along until back on the Kings Highway, where, this time, they came into the territory of the Amorites, where again they were turned away. This time, God unleashed His anger at those who would resist the passage of His people. He overcame them and gave the land to the Israelites. He made springs of water come forth from out of the dry ground and Israel was strengthened and enabled to continue their journey along the Kings Highway.
The Psalm is a beautiful picture of such a journey. Here is a man who longs to be in God’s house. But he is not there yet, and so, as he walks, he reminds himself of: Why he is on this journey; The ups and downs of the road he must travel and; The blessings that await him when he finally arrives on God’s doorstep.
“How lovely is Your Dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts”
The Psalmist does not tell us how lovely it is to come into God’s house because he can not. There are no words that can properly describe what it means for a child of God to be where God is. To be home. There is a kind of bitter-sweet longing that makes you weak yet motivates you to keep on. It is a sad and sorry saint who does not long to be in the house of the Lord among God’s people. And it is no saint at all who doesn’t long to be where God is.
The Courts of the Lord are not only a place of rejoicing, but also a place of rest. Here, even the weakest, the most frail, the most needy, find a place of safety. The House of God is a place where a mother will find a welcome for her little ones and where the orphan and the widow will find comfort. We are not heading towards the palace of an impersonal God, but we are heading toward “My King and My God”, one whom we can know personally and intimately.
And so, even in our darkest days, somehow the veil is lifted when we step into our Father’s House. And there will be dark days…
“As they go through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of Springs.”
The Highway that leads to Zion often takes us down into a Valley of tears. Have you noticed that there is a kind of weeping that takes you down deeper into despair and then there is the kind of weeping that actually makes you feel better? What often begins as a dry and dusty desert becomes a fountain of water as God steps into our pain and our struggle and makes us strong.
God does not always promise to keep us from the pain, but He does promise to uphold us in it. To uphold those who stay on the path that God has laid upon their heart. Even in the times when we wander from the path, God, in His mercy, has brought us back and we find that our heart is enlarged. Our love for Him is rekindled and increasingly the heart of every Christian has only one road map – the one that leads to Zion, the city of God.
“Behold, our Shield o God; look upon the face of Your Anointed.”
So who is it who sings this song? Who is this shadowy figure, this Royal King? It is the Lord’s Anointed, the Lord Jesus. The very same who, Jude tells us, brought the children out of Egypt. It is the Lord’s Anointed who travels with us along the highway. And more than this, it is He who goes on ahead of us – who is Himself the Highway – the way, the truth and the life.
We are not travelling alone. We are making this journey with the best of Companions, the King’s Son. He walks beside us as a shield and He walks ahead of us, making a way for Himself and His people in the wilderness (Isa 40:3).
“A day in Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere… I would rather be a door keeper in the House of of my God, than dwell in the tents of wickedness…”
There is no amount of time spent anywhere that compares with one day with this King. So enlarged is the affection of the one who travels this road, that he would willing take the lowliest place of a door keeper – or perhaps more literally – be nailed to the door post – if it meant being nearer his God.
There are many joyful moments in this life. They are a gift of God. And yet, they are soon quenched. And so, the tents of the wicked begin to lose their grip. For here is a moment that no man can snatch away. The moment we come into His temple, that is, come to Christ, the dwelling place of God. The traveller who walks humbly along the path set by God cannot be deterred since he knows that once in the house, Jehovah will withhold no good thing. Every blessing, every grace, so richly undeserved will be given to His children. Nothing will be withheld, not even the life of His own Son.
One hundred years from now, it is unlikely that any one living will remember that we ever existed. But we won’t be forgotten and those who have gone on ahead of us won’t be forgotten either. We are walking toward a place where the only thing that is forgotten is our sin. And this is the ultimate appeal of this Temple-City: undeserved Grace given by the hand of a truly great Father.
God lead us there.