Psalm 84 is the kind of psalm that makes me want to sit down and have a Bible study with a few people. It is chock-full of word pictures, any one of which invites the student to sit and ponder for a while, then be amazed at the goodness of God and a life shared with him. Let’s explore them! (Confession: I began writing this with the idea of covering briefly ALL the beautiful nuggets in Psalm 84 — but before I knew it, I had written a long blurb on just the first verse. So this “class” on Psalm 84 will have several sessions.
The writer begins:
“How lovely are your dwelling places, O Lord of Hosts.”
“Dwelling places” is the Hebrew word “mishkan.” While studying Covenant, we learned this word was the same one God used when he commanded Moses to build a tabernacle. Here is an excerpt from our Covenant seminar:
Exodus 25:8: “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.” The Hebrew word used here is “mishkan” which means “to dwell in the midst of for the purpose of revealing.” It’s like the difference between having a roomate (no intimacy) and a spouse (complete intimacy and revealing of oneself to one another).
God says, “I want to be your God. I want to live among you! I want to show myself to you, reveal myself to you.”
I love the fact that God wants to “dwell in the midst of” His people! As I often remark to my students, it could have been so very different! God could have arranged for our sin price to be paid, made it possible for us to go to heaven at our death and live eternally with him, then said, “See you when you get here!” But NO, he arranged to live right inside of us, by giving us His Holy Spirit. He wanted to share life with his beloved children in Christ, NOW.
Back to Psalm 84 and the loveliness of the dwelling place of God. Surely you’ve run ahead of me to the fact that today, the dwelling place of God is YOU and ME. If you are in Christ, God lives in you and you are now his temple, his tabernacle; you are the place from where God lives and moves and has his being. (And that is by his choice, amazingly enough!) You are “the lovely place” where God lives.
Still, the heart wants to protest, “I’m not lovely, not really. I know what I am really like, all my weaknesses, bad thoughts, inconsistencies….” Or perhaps you leaped over that to the truth that you ARE lovely because of God’s righteousness and Spirit in you. That would be right, of course. But there is more.
In fact, the Hebrew word “mishkan” also means, and has been translated as “loved” or “beloved,” such as in the CWB (Complete Jewish Bible):
How deeply loved are your dwelling places, Adonai-Tzva’ot!
Which one is more right – to say God’s dwelling place is lovely, or that God’s dwelling place is beloved? My witness from the rest of scripture itself, is that both are true.
You see, the person who originally penned these words did not have God living inside of him. He had to travel three times a year to Jerusalem where God’s temple was, in order to worship Him. The original worshipper had to travel a distance to go up to the one place that God designed as his home on earth. The worshipper had to make some effort for God, had to put his daily life on hold, perhaps pack up his family and items needed to make a journey and walk to Jerusalem. It cost him money, time and effort. Yes, he was commanded to make this journey; yet for this worshipper, his heart was there. He loved to go to God’s temple! He loved God, he loved being invited, he loved the privilege of being God’s special tribe. So for him, it was true that God’s dwelling place was beloved in his heart. AND it was lovely to him.
So what is the most important take away from this truth? That God has made me lovely by choosing to live in me? Or that I am beloved, deeply loved of God? Or that wherever God is present, is lovely and worth my effort to go to, again and again? The answer is YES! to all. This is the many variegated beauty of God’s truth, facilitated by the Hebrew language. Layers of truth, each one profound, each one beautiful. Either way, it is just like Holy Spirit to bury a treasure of truth in a place like this for centuries, until those of us who are called “beloved” in the New Covenant of Christ could discover it.
How lovely to be where God lives, and how beloved is that place!