In his slim commentary, Reflections on the Psalms, C.S. Lewis characterizes King David’s passionate worship in Psalm 27 with words like “gusto,” “rowdiness,” and a particular “Hebraic delight” expressed (for example) in verse 4,
One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.
Here is David coming to the very center of his desire, to what he longs for above all else…all while his enemies are pressing in on him and the refrain of war echos in his ear. It is in this terrifying moment that David writes of his eagerness to cross the threshold and enter into the courts of Yahweh. For David the Israelite, to experience God was to be in the Temple, on God’s holy and divinely-established ground.
But glancing back at Ps. 27:4 (above), we might naturally ask questions like, Who is this Lord? And why does David get so excited in his worship?
Reaching back to David’s moment in history, Lewis reflects,
These poets knew far less reason than we for loving God. They did not know that He offered them eternal joy; still less that He would die to win it for them. Yet they express a longing for Him, for His mere presence…they long to live all their days in the Temple so that they may constantly see ‘the fair beauty of the Lord.’Reflections, p 50
I hear what Lewis is saying—that the faith of those who lived in pre-incarnate times (basically, the Old Testament) was beautiful in its simplicity of wanting God, that they could not know of the fullness to come. But I must disagree on one small point.
Lewis writes that the devoted Hebrew (and especially the author of the Psalms) “did not know that He offered them eternal joy.” My suspicion, though, is that through a specific and personal (pre-incarnation) revelation of Christ, David would have “tasted” (Ps. 34:7-8) of the eternal promise of the Lord…and that revelatory taste would become the nucleus of his hope. David would have meditated on God’s promise to the father of the Hebraic faith (Abraham) since he was a child, and as Paul later explained, Abraham’s seed of hope would eventually find its full incarnation in the God-man of Jesus of Nazareth.
Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say ‘and to seeds,’ as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed, who is Christ.Gal. 3:16
David writes consistently of the rescuing, saving, and redeeming move of God throughout the Psalms and, at times, his hope is not merely an emotional expression or a subjective experience (say, the hope that arises while singing a song in the Temple), it is personified (“the angel of the Lord,” Ps. 34:7; see also Gen. 16:10, Ex. 23:20-21). David is describing his joy in worshipping God as God has come to him. And the joy that David experienced in this intimate relationship is “sweeter than honey” (Ps. 119:102-103).
Lewis’ next phrase, “still less that He would die to win it for them,” gets closer to the exact expression of Jesus, the Christ, and God incarnate, coming to live and die (and live again) on our terra firma. And, of course, David could not foresee the exact unfolding of these future events.
But David did taste and receive something that could be understood as a deposit of what was to come…something like a pre-echo of Paul’s indwelling deposit of hope (2 Tim. 1:14). When David sought God on God’s ground, he not only experienced the beauty of the Lord (Ps. 27:4) but encountered the power and glory of God in such a way that forever altered his worship:
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;Ps. 63:1-2
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Lewis’ summary of what David is describing in this handful of Psalms is “an experience fully God-centered, asking of God no gift more urgently than His presence, the gift of Himself, joyous to the highest degree, and unmistakably real.” (p 52)
This isn’t man reaching for God, but man’s response in the presence of the Most High. If it were only an emotional experience to go to the Temple for worship, I don’t think David would have staked his life on it (he was King, after all, and had a kingdom’s worth of pleasure to lose); no, the tenor of his writing expresses an encounter that was truly life-altering. David longed to be near God again.
As Lewis wrote, we have an even greater reason to love God—not because the former poets experienced anything less of God, but because we have the benefit of a historical perspective and the wonderful account of God’s incarnation through Jesus in scripture. Our faith is aided by the outward expression of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection…like young children learning to read, we have been given the flannelgraph demonstration of God’s love and desire for us.
But even more importantly, we are living on the near side of the torn veil. As one scholar explains,
This singular cultic artefact is now irreparably damaged — it can no longer perform the function for which it was intended. This means that there is no longer a physical barrier to God, suggesting that the theological necessity of it is thereby removed. The angelic guardians are disarmed, and reentry into the Edenic presence of God is again permitted for the first time since the fall.“The Veil Was Torn in Two,” Gurtner
And here is the good news: God has made a way to deeply, personally, and intimately commune with us again!
Since the beginning of time, it has been God’s original plan and design to dwell within us. To spiritually plant the seed of Christ -His son- in us, the height of His creation and bearers of His image. Men and women, boys and girls, of every nation, tongue, and tribe, worshipping the person of God in Spirit and truth…because they have met Him and welcomed Him to be Lord of their lives.
This is the grand vision, the new kingdom reality, and this is what I believe David had a glimpse of and yearned for as he went to the temple to worship. The seed of faith that Abraham received, that David tasted, and Paul exhorted is Christ, “the fullness of God” who came to “reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross,” (Col. 1:19-20).
This isn’t something we can manufacture on our own, with effort and good intention. No, we must only receive. And perhaps this is why David, the shepherd King, concludes his exuberant song with this final charge,
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!Psalm 27:14 ESV