29 November 2010

The Beauty of Truth

. . . and a lesson about true worship

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.

True worship is not the spewing forth of indiscriminate and unintelligible passion; it is and must always be anchored in truth.
Israel's worship was so much focused on truth revealed in verbal form that the important thing about the psalms themselves is not whatever musical accompaniment they were sung to, but the truth they conveyed. We know that the psalms were sung with great passion; after all, Psalm 150 outlines a whole orchestra of musical and percussion instruments that accompanied them. But it's significant that the tunes were not preserved for us. The words were.

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 psalm—especially 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.

Phil's signature


Thomas Louw said...

God glorious beauty is Himself, revealed to us in the all sufficient scripture.
This is the scripture that revealed Him to me today.
2 Cor 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

J♥Yce Burrows said...

Beautiful, Phil ~ ♥ it!

Dovetails with my yesterday/today searching/reading the libretto for Handel's Messiah and Israel in Egypt ~ therein stands Real Beauty when all else withereth and fadeth.

donsands said...

Thanks for a good post to begin my morning.

"O Taste and see the Lord is good!"

God is with us, and in us, and He fills His Temple with Himself. And as we gather together as His temple, we are blessed as we sing praises to our Lord, and He blesses us, and He speaks to us, through His gifts (Eph. 4) through His Word, which is truth.

We sang this song in church, and it came to mind as I read your good words here:


DJP said...

I love it when you post.

Does it seem to you, Phil, that to the degree that a person or group pursues formal beauty as a goal in itself, to that degree truth seems to be abandoned?

I'm trying to be focused. I'm not saying that beauty in worship is bad, and I don't think you're saying that. I'm targeting the restless discontent that's bored with plain old preaching and singing, and wants to interject (or find) more art and culture and "beauty" in worship. Then they either head off to Rome, or to Broadway, if you know what I mean.

What thinkest?

Robert said...

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-24)

It is pretty clear that the building is not important, but the fact that the worship comes from the spirit and from truth. The truth is the Word of God and our hearts need to be focused on Him so that we can worship Him all the time, not just on Sunday mornings. I'm saying this for my benefit because I need to keep myself focused on Him more throughout my day. I need to be reading the Word more because that leads me to better and more consistent worship of Him.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...


My two cents: there is beauty in worshiping the true and living God in truth because He is majestic and full of splendor; He is beauty!

Such beauty can only be known as we know, submit, and revel in the objective truth of revealed Scripture. Without truth you do lose the knowledge of the beauty of Christ.

Thus, when people abandon truth for forms or traditions, the full display of God's magnificence is shadowed by our own likeness; and, then to the 'worshipper' he must add more form and tradition or emotions/experience to make up for the lost majestic beauty of God in Christ.

May we search the whole counsel of God know the extent of His beauty as revealed in Scripture.

donsands said...

"It is pretty clear that the building is not important,.." -Robert

What ever we do for the Lord is important.
If we build a chapel, or have a church building, or simply have a cinder-block structure built for the Lord it is important.

God had the Tabernacle built for Himself; for His glory.

And there certainly are extreme views to this subject.

Solameanie said...

This post is a keeper!

Kent Brandenburg said...

I'm not fully certain that David wasn't seeing the Divinely inspired representations of God Himself in the house of the Lord as a source of His meditations. The construction was completed according to God revealed plan with a symmetry and order and color and unity and purity that manifested God. The truths of Scripture would parallel with or conform to what He saw in that place. The house of the Lord was not the only place that David meditated on God's Word, so there must have been something signficant to that setting in those meditations. I write this not to devalue the importance of thinking on God's Word (Joshua 1:8).

Isaiah's reaction to what he saw in Is 6 was pivotal to an understanding of that prophetic book. What David saw in the tabernacle was a physical representation of what Isaiah would have seen.

We are to think (meditate) on whatsoever is true, but also on what is lovely, those two differentiated from one another (Philippians 4:8), assuming that we can know what is lovely upon which to think. An objective truth necessitates an objective beauty in a consistent Christian worldview.

Scripture does not prohibit lewd hand gestures or hip-thrusting, but we still judge their meaning based upon Divine truth.

Rachael Starke said...

I agree with the premise that true beauty has true truth at its heart.

And yet -

David's response wasn't confined to to beholding and meditating. At some point, he picked up up a pen (stylus? stick?) and a stringed instrument and sought to communicate the beauty of the truth he beheld as eloquently as he could. And that, for him, involved poetry and music.

Not to camp on the music aspect too much, but I think that's what separate the Gettys from the Tomlins in the world of worship. Like David's psalms, there's a theological and structural richness to the Gettys work that few others are matching.

So perhaps the key is preaching and worship on Sunday that better and more richly conveys the beautiful truth of the glory of God, that then leads artists to better depict that truth in their work Monday through Saturday.

Robert said...


If I go and preach the Word of God in a park is it more effective than if I did so in the Crystal Cathedral? Or how about if I did so in the Crystal Cathedral instead of say, Grace Community Church (in California) or Bethlehem Baptist Church? Which setting makes preaching the Word of God a better act of worship? in that context, the building does not matter. We don't have to go to the Temple Mount to worship God...in fact, if we aren't doing so in our homes, cars, workplaces, restaurants, movie theaters, etc., then SHAME ON US. (I am looking at myself in the mirror on this one, too) Thus, again I say, the building is not important.

donsands said...


I get whwre you're coming from.

I'm simply saying there's something for tradition.

Why does a local congregation build thier building? Why does the pastor preach from the pulpit? Why do some preach without a pulpit?

There's a balance.

And there are extremes.

Dave .... said...

Your comments on parallelism in Hebrew poetry are spot on (and somewhat overlooked in this meta). The point is that truth is a necessary and indispensable element of "beauty" in David's Psalm 27 economy. The right-brained inclination is to major on "beauty" (and make it completely subjective) without due attention to "truth" (which would suddenly make it more objective than many find comfortable). Hence, the "worship industry". Nicely cut, Phil.

(The soap box is getting a little wobbly - time descend gracefully.)

Robert said...


I'm with you on that...we should pay attention to how we build a place where we come to worship and show reverence towards God in how we choose to construct such a place. I am saddened when I hear of people thinking they need to include shopping mall type amenities into their places of worship. I think in some cases, this actually shows that they have come to worship themselves.

Cathy M. said...

This post speaks to the last great frontier of my doctrinal uncertainty. Experience has taught me NOT to raise questions about style/content unless I want to get a beat-down. However, I hope someday to find a firm footing. This little post may be a stone in that footing.

Unknown said...

It seems to me the church in America doesn't want to see the beauty of the LORD - in His fullness. ALL the truth. Not pick and choose truth. The modern day LACK of "tough truth" - of "battle truth" of "tough love truth" of, whatever, in our "beholding" God in corporate worship - and concentration on praise or celebration reflects this reality. The beauty of the Lord then is the fullness of the God of truth (on Whom we are meditating) made manifest in our worship - not pick and choose truth because we like certain "topics" in regards to God. Modern day worship and "beholding" God together is reflective of what our hearts are truly set upon. We are seeing what we believe about the God who we "see" - and - as far as I can tell - often it is familiarity/sappiness and not the living God. Why have we moved from "majestic" places of worship with large, solid, centrally placed pulpits to "coffee, and donut, and entertainment stages??? (The external is only seen as reflective, not the reality - mind you.) The lack of the centrality of Scriptural truth is reflected perfectly - and most unfortunately. Has "beauty" of the Lord become equated with our own personal fulfillment and satisfaction??? Sad if true. Because that is idolatry.