by Phil Johnson
"One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple."—Psalm 27:4
hat did David have in mind when he spoke of "gaz[ing] upon the beauty of the Lord" in the Lord's Temple? Surely it was not any physical beauty embodied in the Tabernacle itself or its furnishings. Nor is it likely that David saw much loveliness in the Temple liturgy, which featured nonstop animal sacrifices that were anything but beautiful.
As a matter of fact, the Tabernacle where David worshiped was a temporary, makeshift arrangement on mount Moriah. In 2 Chronicles 1:3, we are told that the Tabernacle of Moses' time was kept at Gibeon. Presumably, most of the tabernacle's furnishings were kept in storage there, too—until a generation after David, when Solomon built a more glorious Temple. During David's reign, the tent that was situated on the future temple grounds in Jerusalem was just a temporary place David had prepared as a shelter for the ark of the covenant. There was nothing elaborate about it. In fact, David himself thought the temporary tabernacle was woefully inadequate, and he pleaded in vain with God to let him build a permanent, more elaborate, place of worship (2 Samuel 7:1-13).
So be sure you understand what David is saying in Psalm 27. The whole psalm is an expression of longing for his favorite place of sanctuary—"the house of the Lord." But it was not the structure, or the location per se, that gave him a place of sanctuary. And "the beauty of the Lord" that he wrote about could not have had anything to do with the tabernacle itself, its furnishings, or the bloody rituals involved in the offering of sacrifices.
But when David speaks of "the beauty of the Lord" in verse 4, he is talking about the glories of divine truth. That's obvious from the parallel phrases: "To behold the beauty of the Lord / And to meditate in His temple."
David's profound love for the beauty of revealed truth is evident everywhere in his poetry. In fact, the psalms themselves were inspired verses—God's Word in written form, reciting His attributes, rehearsing His faithfulness, exalting His glory. Those psalms constituted the music of Israel's worship. The very essence of worship for them was (and still ought to be for us) a celebration and recitation of God's truth. True worship is not the spewing forth of indiscriminate and unintelligible passion; it is and must always be anchored in truth, and a celebration of the magnificent beauty of God's self-revelation.
For all the debates and arguments about musical styles in our corporate worship today, we should not lose sight of the fact that the real beauty of Israel's corporate worship was embodied in the truth the psalms conveyed, not in the musical style or the tunes.
In fact, in Hebrew poetry, it's the ideas that rhyme, not the sound of the words. That's why Hebrew poetry is full of parallelisms. The true beauty of the poetry is unveiled in the ideas the words express.
And Scripture was always at the heart of corporate worship in Israel. My favorite picture of Old Testament worship is Nehemiah 8, where the people of Jerusalem simply stood for hours as the priests read the Word of God. They weren't singing, swaying to the choir and orchestra, or indulging in any kind of pageantry. They were listening to (and being profoundly moved by) the Word of God as it was read and explained to them.
That is the same "beauty" David spoke of in this psalm. When in the final phrase of verse 4 he mentions "meditat[ing] in" (or, as some versions have it, "inquir[ing] at") the Lord's Temple, that is the clear implication. We see David's passion for the truth expressed again in the prayer section of the psalmespecially verse 11, where he prays, "Teach me Your way, O Lord." He wanted to learn more about God and immerse himself in the truth of God's Word.
That, after all, is where the beauty and glory of the Lord are most clearly unveiled for us.