Using Psalms: Psalm 84 and Jesus as Our Temple

Time for the second entry in my Using Psalms series. If you missed the first, you can find it here. Today I’ll be looking at Psalm 84, a psalm probably meant to be sung during pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem. I wanted to look at it to highlight a certain interesting theme involving Jesus and the Temple. So here’s the text:

How I love your Temple, Lord Almighty!
    How I want to be there!
    I long to be in the Lord‘s Temple.
With my whole being I sing for joy
    to the living God.
Even the sparrows have built a nest,
    and the swallows have their own home;
they keep their young near your altars,
    Lord Almighty, my king and my God.
How happy are those who live in your Temple,
    always singing praise to you.

How happy are those whose strength comes from you,
    who are eager to make the pilgrimage to Mount Zion.
As they pass through the dry valley of Baca,
    it becomes a place of springs;
    the autumn rain fills it with pools.
They grow stronger as they go;
    they will see the God of gods on Zion.

Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty.
    Listen, O God of Jacob!
Bless our king, O God,
    the king you have chosen.

One day spent in your Temple
    is better than a thousand anywhere else;
I would rather stand at the gate of the house of my God
    than live in the homes of the wicked.
The Lord is our protector and glorious king,
    blessing us with kindness and honor.
He does not refuse any good thing
    to those who do what is right.
Lord Almighty, how happy are those who trust in you!

Psalm 84

These psalm, as I just mentioned, was probably a pilgrim song. Israelites would sing it on their way to Jerusalem for the major festivals such as Passover. They all knew they were going to the Temple of their God, where they could be in His presence. Rejoicing like this was only to be expected.

The psalm begins with the psalmist wishing he could be in God’s Temple (other translations will use through the psalm “house” or “dwelling place”). He is ready to praise His God, and wants to be in God’s house to do so. Then he notes with some envy that there are even birds who make nests near the Temple and get to live there. He fantasizes about how great life is for the priests and Levites who serve in the Temple daily. If only, the psalmist feels, he could also be in God’s presence so often!

Then he moves on to celebrating the pilgrimage. After all, even though he isn’t in the Temple already, the people are all going there! Every step brings them closer to their God, which is cause for more and more celebration. He even describes their joy and blessedness poetically as refreshing the lands the pilgrims pass through. He then offers a brief prayer on behalf of the king, who represents Israel as a whole by virtue of being their leader. 

Finally, the psalmist concludes with a final praise of God and His Temple, telling of how much better it is to be in Yahweh’s presence than anywhere else on earth, because of how great He is. He is the protector, king, and refuge to all who trust in Him. Amen!

So how does this all become relevant to us? We, after all, no longer have a Temple. We do not make pilgrimages to Jerusalem to worship God, and instead find His presence through the Holy Spirit everywhere on earth. How then do we offer a pilgrim song like this to God in this era?

The key is to realize where the Temple has moved. The Temple building in Jerusalem played two major functions for Israel: it was where God’s glory and personal presence could be found, and where their covenant provided for them forgiveness of sins and atonement. If you wanted to find or worship God, you had to go to the Temple. If you wanted cleansing from sin, you had to go to the Temple. So where do we find these things now? Where does God dwell and forgive sins?

For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

Colossian 1:19-20

Jesus Himself is the replacement and fulfillment of the Temple. In Him alone can the glory of God be found (John 1:14, Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:3). In Him alone is there forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7, 4:32, Col. 1:14, 2:13). Jesus has taken over the role of the Temple for us, and therefore if we are to apply psalms about the “house of the Lord,” they must be applied to Christ.

So what do we now see for us in this psalm? I like this idea so much that I think I will simply paraphrase several verses with Jesus in mind.

How I love your Son Jesus, Lord Almighty!
    How I want to see Him!
    I long to abide in the Lord.
With my whole being I sing for joy
    to the living God…
How happy are those who are in Christ,
    always singing praise to you.

How happy are those whose strength comes from you,
    who are eager to follow the narrow road of Christ.
As they pass through the valley of the shadow of death,
    it becomes a place of springs;
    the Spirit rains down and fills it with pools.
They grow stronger as they go;
    they will see the God of gods on in His Son.

Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty.
    Listen, O God of Jacob!
Bless our Messiah, O God,
    the Lord you have chosen.

One day spent in Christ
    is better than a thousand without Him…
The Lord is our protector and glorious king,
    blessing us with kindness and honor.
He does not refuse any good thing
    to those who have been made right in Christ.
Lord Almighty, how happy are those who trust in your Son!

Using Psalms: Psalm 84 and Jesus as Our Temple

Using Psalms: Psalm 132 and God’s Promise in Christ

This is the first post in a new, ongoing series of mine, Using Psalms. The psalms have been given to us as a way of prayer and worship from God. Jesus Himself prayed, sang, and memorized these songs growing up as a Jew. They were part of God’s means of preparing Israel to give birth to its Messiah. And now they form a major component of Jesus’ own worship He offered to God in faith on our behalf.

Because of all this, when we engage the Psalms we can participate in the life Jesus lived for us, and share in His justifying faith. When we make the Psalms part of our devotions, we find ourselves miraculously joining in through the Holy Spirit with the devotions Jesus did in His earthly life. Since this is such a grand privilege, I wanted to start this series to look at how we can best read the Psalms and apply them to our own life and worship.

So for this first post, I’m doing Psalm 132. Here’s the text in the HCSB:

Lord, remember David
and all the hardships he endured,
and how he swore an oath to the Lord,
making a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob:
“I will not enter my house
or get into my bed,
I will not allow my eyes to sleep
or my eyelids to slumber
until I find a place for the Lord,
a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.”

We heard of the ark in Ephrathah;
we found it in the fields of Jaar.
Let us go to His dwelling place;
let us worship at His footstool.
Rise up, Lord, come to Your resting place,
You and Your powerful ark.
May Your priests be clothed with righteousness,
and may Your godly people shout for joy.
Because of Your servant David,
do not reject Your anointed one.

The Lord swore an oath to David,
a promise He will not abandon:
“I will set one of your descendants
on your throne.
If your sons keep My covenant
and My decrees that I will teach them,
their sons will also sit on your throne forever.”

For the Lord has chosen Zion;
He has desired it for His home:
“This is My resting place forever;
I will make My home here
because I have desired it.
I will abundantly bless its food;
I will satisfy its needy with bread.
I will clothe its priests with salvation,
and its godly people will shout for joy.
There I will make a horn grow for David;
I have prepared a lamp for My anointed one.
I will clothe his enemies with shame,
but the crown he wears will be glorious.”

How can we best understand and apply this song? Let’s take a look. I see two important themes: God’s election of David as king and Israel as His people. Verse 11 recalls God’s promise to David and his royal descendants, and verse 13 starts telling of God’s plan for His chosen people, Israel. Both of these pick up what verses 1-10 were already assuming.

The basic aim of this psalm is prayer and hope. Israel is calling upon her God to remember His promises to vindicate and prosper them. The vision here is eschatological: they are awaiting the great Day when God will finally place all of Israel and the king’s enemies under their feet and give His people eternal glory.

Of course, we live in the AD, the year old our Lord. We’ve seen God’s final act for us accomplished in Jesus, the one to whom all of the Old Testament hopes and prophecies, including what we find here, were pointing1. So how does He affect this text?

First we find that in Christ God’s promise to David for an eternal kingdom is fulfilled. Jesus was descended from David according to the flesh2, and crowned the Son of God in power3. He reigns forever! Yet this promise of God to David said “if your sons keep My covenant.” So to truly keep His word God did not only enthrone the Son of David, but in fact He Himself descended into David’s line and became the heir who would keep God’s covenant and decrees, and so earn an eternal kingdom.

We also find that in Christ the desire and promise for God’s presence was fulfilled. In this psalm David sought to build a temple for Yahweh, and the people rejoiced in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant. Yet now Jesus Himself has become the Temple4, the place where “the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily”5. Those looking for the Father no longer should seek an Ark or a building; He is visible in the human Jesus of Nazareth6 and, secondarily, in His church who through His Spirit is His body7.

This all means that the day the psalmist was looking for, the Day of Yahweh, has actually already begun, dawning in the life of Jesus. The Davidic King has been enthroned forever, and God’s presence has come to His people in Christ. This psalm of prayer can be for us a psalm of praise. Glory to God!

But, the sun hasn’t quite set on God’s day. God’s permanent restoration and victory for Israel is still hidden. Jesus has recreated Israel around Himself through faith by the Spirit, uniting Jew and Gentile alike in His church. But this Israel remains, like the Israel of old, constantly attacked by foes both spiritual and physical, not to mention the flesh of us all. We long for the day when Christ returns to “clothe His enemies with shame” and clothe us “with salvation.”

So we find a future hope and prayer left for us in this psalm. We can ask God to remember what His Son has done, “all the hardships He endured,” in His faithful human life. He was a temple, and built us up as one, too. Now God has fulfilled His promise and exalted His Son as King of Israel and Lord of all. Now we wait patiently for Him to unveil Jesus again before the entire world, so that He can both judge and give us the salvation and vindication we hope for. Israel and David, God’s gracious election, will be utterly fulfilled for all the world in Jesus. Perhaps, in light of all this, an accompanying prayer of application is in order.

Heavenly Father, exalt Your name. Glorify Your Son with the glory He had before the world began, and with the glory of His kingdom that He won by His faithfulness to You. You have glorified it, and You promised to glorify it again. We wait for that Day, and for Your salvation. Come, Lord Jesus, and bring us safely home. Amen!

Using Psalms: Psalm 132 and God’s Promise in Christ