Through this series we have been looking at the idea of man seeking after God by offerings and prayers. Although there was an absence of any mention of men being given any specific instructions prior to the giving of the law of Moses at Sinai,we cannot rule out the probability of God’s instructions being given. However after Sinai there were exact and explicit commands given as to days to be observed, sacrifices to be offered and tithes to be given. Prayer, however, seemed to be largely a matter of individual practice, although on occasion public prayers were offered as also were public reading and discussion.
During the time following the exodus from Egypt there were several feasts or festivals instituted on which occasions people were to called to come together, first at the tabernacle and then later at the temple in Jerusalem. Those times of holy convocation were times to which those who loved the Lord looked forward. To “three annual feasts—the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths” – they came. And the true worshipers came eagerly, expectantly, joyfully, singing the songs of Zion. (see: Exodus 23:14, 2Chr8:13).
The assembling of God’s people at any time ought to be something in which we delight. As with the things we have already looked at, the gathering of God’s people is a matter of drawing close to him. Together we are, after all, the temple in which he dwells today! (Eph. 2:21-22). For those who love the Lord, gathering with others to remember who he is and what he has done, to join in praise to him, to call on his name is not a matter of duty, it is a joy and a privilege. To be with those with whom we share the love of the Lord makes such gatherings a double delight when we remember that today the Lord dwells in and among his people as he did in the temple of old.
This delight, this desire to be in the Lord’s presence – in his house – is something God’s people have long experienced. It is something they long for when they are not there. The 84th Psalm expresses this idea eloquently …
“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” (Psa 84:1-2).
This “Psalm of the Sons of Korah” was intended for the temple singers to perform. While it speaks of longing to be in the temple, they were among the most frequent to be there, taking part in the observances before the Lord.
The dwelling place of which this psalm speaks is the temple – the place where God chose to reveal His presence to the people (Deut. 12; 1 Kin. 8). The desire expressed is not for the temple itself, but for the Lord who revealed himself there. When the worshipers would come into that presence, so great would be their delight that they would overflow with expressions of joy in singing the praises of the living God.
The language is that of a passionate lover separated from his love and whose desire was so great that to be together again that this was all he could think about. Why should his passion for the Lord be great? It is because the Lord is passionate about us! The Lord is not an angry God to be appeased. He is a loving God whom the worshiper delights to be with.
This kind of romantic language is seen in other Psalms, also expressing the desire of people toward God. The 45th Psalm is addressed to the king (clearly prophetically of the Messiah) in such language. Then in the later verses the bride of the king is described with the kind of erotic language seen in the Song of Solomon.
“All glorious is the princess in her chamber, with robes interwoven with gold.
In many-colored robes she is led to the king,
with her virgin companions following behind her.
With joy and gladness they are led along
as they enter the palace of the king” (Psalm 45:13-15).
In the next part of the 84th Psalm the singers express envy at the sparrow and the swallow who build their nests in the sanctuary and so are always in the presence of the Lord. The little birds were able to do what they wished they could do.
“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!” (vs. 3,4).
There is in the hearts of every true believer such a passionate longing and desire. We were made to be in God’s presence – to live with him eternally. That is what God desires for us. Any time his people come into his presence it is to them a foretaste – a pledge – of what is to come.
“Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion”
The people of God had to journey to the temple at least three times a year at the time this psalm was written. Travel was not easy in those days, walking day after day in all kinds of weather over sometimes rugged terrain. They depended on the Lord for the strength to make this arduous journey. There were psalms (Songs of Ascents) sung by these travelers as they made their way to Jerusalem. As they go to worship and be refreshed, like the rain, they themselves become refreshment along the way. As springs are renewed and refreshed after a rain or as the spring rain leaves behind pools of water to renew the earth, so the people who love the Lord and delight in praising him refresh the world around them.
After a brief prayer for the king, the Lord’s anointed, we come to the climax of this wonderful Psalm.
“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!”
What a marvelous attitude there is portrayed in this part if the Psalm! What a difference between then and now – at least as far as many professed worshipers are concerned. Many people today find it too difficult or too much of an inconvenience to travel a few miles in the comfort of our comfortable air conditioned automobiles to a comfortable air conditioned building with all the conveniences of home to praise God. they take no delight in being in his presence, to be with the family of God and to share in the common life of believers. Add to that the objection of some that worship is boring, the preacher preacher preaches too long, there are hypocrites in the church, the building is too hot or cool, people are not friendly, the music too outdated or any of dozens of other objections and it becomes obvious that there is a far different concept of worship today than was true then.
Worship of God is not a matter of the performance of a set formality or ritual. It is giving honor, being with God and enjoying the time in his presence with the knowledge that God is pleased with us being there. People who assemble before God without the motivation of a passionate love for him and for one another may go through a ritual but that is a far cry from worship!
People who are in love love to be together. They make time in their busy schedules to be with each other as often as possible. When they are apart the miss one another and long for the time when they can be with each other without the cares of daily life and responsibilities interfering with their attention one to the other. They are resentful of anything that that takes them apart.
Should our passion for our Lord be anything less? If we are in love with the Lord, it will be a wonderful thing to be with his people as we together come before him to give glory to his name.