How lovely is your dwelling place,
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
Devotionals such as these are not usually the place to pour out your soul and expose to the world all your failings and foibles and, fortunately, space forbids. Recently however I have had to confess to several members of the congregation that I have fallen foul of the tenth commandment. The reason being that I have been incredibly envious of their recent visit to Israel/Palestine. I would have loved to have gone with them but work commitments dictated otherwise, hence my envy!
Israel/Palestine is a stunning place to visit, even setting aside any considerations of faith. It is a beautiful country – from snow-capped Mount Hermon through the lush green of Galilee down to the rugged wilderness that surrounds the Dead Sea. Jerusalem itself is a vibrant city, abuzz with different cultures, and its people who hail from over the world make it one of the most colourful and exciting cities on earth.
The Psalmist found himself in a similar situation a long way from where he wanted to be. He knew, as we do, that the king of the universe cannot be limited or restricted to one place, but God had chosen the Temple as his dwelling place and Jerusalem was transformed and made beautiful by his presence.
The Psalmist is envious of the common sparrow that flitted around the Temple courts and the swallow that nested near the altar. He is envious of those who are able to set out on pilgrimage, even if back then they would have been walking instead of flying and even if accommodation was less luxurious than a modern hotel. Holy days were holidays, a break from the humdrum, the opportunity to do something different with friends and family – but more than that the Psalmist longs to dwell in God’s house and worship him there.
The journey to Jerusalem might have been arduous, passing through dry, arid valleys (v. 6) but the Psalmist knows that the effort would be well worth it and tired souls and bodies would be renewed as with each step weary pilgrims got closer to Mount Zion (v. 7).
Among the worshippers is the King of Israel, the anointed one (v. 9) and it is a reminder that we should pray for all who govern us and are in positions of responsibility.
The Psalmist’s final thoughts express his very personal longing to be back one day in the Temple courts in God’s presence. To be in God’s presence is to be bathed in sunlight, is to be protected from harm. To be caught up in the worship of the eternal transforms time and gives us a taste of eternity and there is nothing that can compare to it. The riches of ill-gotten gain don’t begin to compare (v. 10) with the God who is rich beyond all splendour and who withholds no good thing from those whose walk is blameless.
On that promise Tom Wright wisely comments, ‘It doesn’t say that the Lord will not withhold many things that we want, or that we think we ought to have, or that will satisfy our ambitions. He will indeed withhold many of those. But he will not withhold any good thing – “from those who walk uprightly.” It isn’t automatic. It is as Jesus says: “Make your top priority God’s kingdom and his way of life, and all these things will be given to you as well.’ (See also Matthew 6:33.)
Of course, there is no Temple in Jerusalem anymore but Jesus declared himself to be the true Temple, the true meeting place of God and humanity, to which those ancient stones once pointed (John 2:21). In Jesus, ‘the radiance of God’s glory’ (Hebrews 1:3), we see the beauty of the Lord and we know blessings that far surpass even what the Psalmist longed to experience.