As you read through the Psalms, there is a reoccurring image that is fascinating to me when properly understood. In several different Psalms, King David (or psalms ascribed to him) writes of longingly wanting to spend time in the house of God. This is, of course, a reference to the tabernacle of God, and what would eventually become the Temple, built by his son, Solomon.
One thing I ask of Yahweh, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of Yahweh all the days of my life.
What is interesting about this image is the reasoning behind David’s desire to be near the house of God. In the Old Testament, we are taught that the presence of God dwelt in the physical tabernacle of Israel. Whether wandering through the wilderness or settling in Jerusalem, a constant sign of God’s nearness was the tabernacle. The tabernacle would eventually be replaced by a permanent structure – the Temple in Jerusalem – and this was a sign that God literally lived among His people.
Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts!
So to be in the courts of the Temple was to be close to God, to be in the inner courts was to be very close, and to be just outside the holy of holies in the inner temple (only the high priest could go this far) was to be even nearer to the presence of God. Even today, if you take the wall tunnels tour in Jerusalem, one of the most sacred spots is the part of the wall closest to where the holy of holies would have been – sacredness being determined by proximity.
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Yahweh Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of Yahweh.
So King David can write that it is better to spend one day in the courtyard of the tabernacle than to spend a lifetime in his palace room, or any other place for that matter, because the courtyard represented being in close proximity to God’s presence. To be away from the Temple was in many ways to be separated from God’s presence.
Better is one day in your courts than a thousand in my own room.
He can even write that he is jealous of birds who have made their nests in the walls of the Temple Mount or perhaps even the Temple structure itself, because of their nearness to the presence of 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.
What strikes me about this imagery of being near to the Temple and in the courtyard of God is that with the giving of the Holy Spirit, proximity to God would no longer be an issue. Through the Spirit and prayer we are able to drawn near to God without ever leaving our couch, home, office, or car. King David would be very jealous!
Yet one way we can misapply this image today is to substitute the church for the Temple. In these Psalms, when the Temple is simply swapped out for church, the implication is that we have to go to church – a physical building – in order to be near to God. A worship service may lift our spirits and help connect us to God, but a building is no longer a barrier.
So as you go throughout your day, what are you doing to stay connected to the presence of God? Where ever you find yourself throughout the day can become sacred space. Where ever you are, you can enter into the courts of God!