I’ve always been a “word guy”. I love words. I love the interplay of words and the nuances of meaning between closely related words. For example, there is a difference between a bracket and a brace. A bracket holds something up while a brace provides stability and strength. A table may have a brace to keep each leg from moving while a bracket holds up a shelf. Aren’t words amazing? That may not be the most amazing example, but it’s something that fascinates me. This is one reason I love the apostle John’s writings so much. I enjoyed studying and preaching through both Revelation and John’s Gospel because John often uses wordplay to make a point. He is not the only writer to do this! Consider the opening verses of Psalm 84:
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.Psalm 84:1–4 ESV
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! Selah
The psalmist declares that God’s dwelling place—the temple in Jerusalem—is lovely, or beloved. It is a place that is greatly desired. Not only does the psalmist’s soul long for it, his heart and flesh sing for joy for it. Every fiber of his being loves the temple, where God is. So desirable is God’s dwelling place that even sparrows and swallows nest in it. This psalm was written during the time of Solomon’s temple, which included the temple proper as well as the walls and buildings that made up the outer and inner courts. Birds can nest in nearly any nook and cranny and the psalm says they nested in and among God’s temple. Hear the psalm’s point: even birds want to be near God! This is why the psalm declares that those who dwell in God’s house are blessed, or happy. There is joy and delight in being near God. This happiness flows from the experience of God’s goodness.
This is an amazing image the psalm gives us. It is good to be near God! Notice how the psalm begins, however: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!” The name “LORD of hosts” means “LORD of armies”—the Warrior God who commands a limitless army of soldiers! Think of what the psalm is saying! The place where the Warrior God who commands unstoppable armies dwells is lovely. This reminds me of one of my favorite Douglas Adams quotes:
It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression “as pretty as an airport”.Douglas Adams, “The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul”
If the Lord is the Warrior King who leads a vast army, then his dwelling place is a barracks. I think Adams’ quote would just as easily apply to a barracks as it does to an airport. How could such a place be described as lovely, yet alone be desired? The psalmist answers this very question:
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!Psalm 84:10–12 ESV
The Lord God bestows favor and honor upon his people. His grace is poured out on them. While a barracks may represent danger and even death to his enemies, the presence of God represents life and blessing. The place that is the most dangerous place for an enemy of God to be is the place that is safest place for God’s people to be: in his presence.
As we saw in our sermon last Sunday (you may listen or watch here), Jesus is the one who can transform the danger of God’s presence into the blessing of God’s presence. Because of what Jesus did in his life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, we experience the fullness of God’s never-ending presence in our lives. It is in his presence through Jesus by the power of his Spirit that we find his dwelling place to be our dwelling place. It is in his presence that we find our eternal protection. While this life may wound us, and it often does, these wounds are temporary. Through it all we may rest under the protection of the LORD God of hosts. While you’re there, take a look around. It’s lovely.