“And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (Psalm 23:6 NASB)
According to the Mosaic Law, a slave – often a person who had lost all his wealth through misfortune or mismanagement, and was forced to sell himself or rather his services to a rich man, in exchange for food, shelter and protection – had to be set free with generous compensation, at the end of seven years. The money would enable him to make his own way in the world. This compassionate treatment of the poor set the Israelites apart from the nations around them. Even so, this servitude was demeaning in many respects; and the slave became an object of pity, if not ridicule, among his neighbours. His only light at the end of the tunnel, was, the day of freedom guaranteed to him under God’s law.
Yet, Moses realised that there were some very kind masters. So, if a servant was treated with great love, kindness and respect in his master’s house; and he reckoned that this was indeed the happiest and best place on earth for him, then he could choose to live permanently with his masters family. He was never to be asked to leave, but had to be welcomed and given a place in the Master’s home, after a minor, but rather painful ceremony. “It shall come about if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you,’ because he loves you and your household, since he fares well with you; then you shall take an awl and pierce it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your servant forever.” (Deuteronomy 15:16-17 NASB). The slave then became a permanent member of the master’s household.
‘Since he fares well’ or ‘is better off’ with you…” Now consider a situation, where the servant is an old man, who has no means of financial support, and whose days of useful service have ended. A modern company would be happy to see the last of such an employee. All the advantages under the Mosaic system, would then accrue to the ‘poor’ servant. The master was left with a raw deal, unless he truly cared for this servant, and valued his friendship or loyalty as being equal to productive work. To put it differently, for the master to be happy with this bargain, he had to view the servant as one whose worth went beyond his labour, so that he was willing to provide for him as long as he lived. Happy was the servant who had such a master.
How blessed we are, therefore, that we do have such a Master in our heavenly Shepherd. He has welcomed us into His household, not for the value of our gifts or service, but because he considers a relationship with us – our company and fellowship – as being of infinite value to Him. Our Shepherd is glad to give us good gifts even when we do so little in return. Just like the freed slave under the Mosaic Law, we also have a choice – to become His love-slaves and dwell forever with Him, or to make our own way in the world. David, who wrote this psalm, like the wise slave knew where his happiness lay – “For one thing I have requested from Lord Jehovah and to him I pray, that I may dwell in the House of Lord Jehovah all the days of my life, to see the sweetness of Lord Jehovah and to order his temple” (Psalm 27:4 Aramaic in Plain English).
What is it that makes the house of the Lord so special? It is, from the first to last, the presence of God Himself. Being close to Him brings a quality of excellence to the most mundane of life’s experiences. One could be bedridden like Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, or engaged in the lowliest of occupations, like Brother Lawrence in his monastery, yet enjoy interior delights that others can only dream of. Let us look to the scripture and learn from the experiences of others, what makes dwelling in God’s house special.
First, the holiness of God. We often experience a sense of inadequacy, awe or even fear when we read of His holiness. While these are perfectly normal human reactions, it is God’s desire that we draw near to Him, and actually share in His holiness. Grace is the route that God has provided for us to meet Him in His holiness; therefore, Paul describes us who believe in Christ, as ‘partakers of grace’. The cherubim, who stand before God’s throne, are so consumed by the beauty of His holiness, that they never stop singing – Holy, holy, holy’. They have sung this same song for a thousand years, yet they never tire of singing it. And, through grace, we are made holy as He is holy.
Second, and closely linked to holiness is the glory of God. “LORD, I love the house where you live, the place where your glory dwells” (Psalm 26:8 NIV). God is the King of glory (Psalm 24:7). There is very little on earth to rival the beauty that a soul experiences when worshipping God, and being touched by His glory. When the pagan Russians, under Vladimir the Great, were led into the worship service in Hagia Sophia at Constantinople, this is how they described it – “We were led into a place where they serve their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendour or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you: only this we know, that God dwells there among men… For we cannot forget that beauty… we cannot remain any more in paganism.” Yet, all this is a poor foretaste of the beautiful worship that we will enjoy in heaven.
Third, is the sweetness of presence – here we have One who is full of abiding love, forgiveness, mercy, kindness, concern and loyalty towards all His creation and especially towards us who have sought refuge in His house. “For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things” (Psalm 107:9 ESV). His presence fills us with joy; there is a sense of complete fulfilment and well-being when we dwell with Him. “You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine (Psalm 4:7 NLT). The NLT puts David’s words in a modern language – “…The one thing I seek most, is to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, delighting in the LORD’s perfections and meditating in his Temple”.
Fourth, the house of God is a fortress of safety. Someone once remarked, “Anything can happen to anybody, anytime”. Such is the unpredictability of life, and the insecurity that we face in this world. The Titanic sank. The Twin Towers collapsed. World leaders with top security protection have been assassinated. People die everyday in traffic accidents. Businesses are destroyed, and families are torn apart. Until Christ returns in glory, the dangers we face are seemingly endless. But, God assures us of His infinite care and protection, in the midst of great turmoil. Psalm 91 and Psalm 27 describe the security, that we enjoy in Christ – “No harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:10-11 NIV). When things appear dark and frightening, these promises of God, are our rock, to which we must cling on till the storm passes away, as it inevitably will.
Finally, we have the promise and the certainty of a victorious end. Many people will work hard, endure pain and hardship to achieve a positive end. In Christ, a good finish is the guaranteed outcome. Every setback or disappointment is a prelude to the better things which He has in store for us. “Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame” (Isaiah 50:7 NIV). We Christians already live under a new dispensation, where everything – even apparently flawed circumstances, people and events – works together for our good. The dull colours in the tapestry of our lives enhance the beauty of the bright floral patterns. “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere” (2 Corinthians 2:14 ESV).
Hallelujah! Come Jesus.
Father, thank You for the wonderful hope of dwelling with You eternally. Even now, as we live in Your house, and enjoy all the good things that comes from being near You, we realise that these are only shadows of the eternal glories that are ours in Jesus. For this we give You thanks, now and always. Amen.