One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: 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 seek him in his temple.
Welcome to the study of the book of Psalms. Many describe the book of Psalms as a song book, a collection of Jewish poetry, the soul's cry for help, a diary of human struggles, or the anatomy of the human soul. Of these listed, the observation that states that the Psalms represents the anatomy of the human soul is particularly appealing. If the book of Psalms is a song book, the song is the song of the soul. If it is poetry, it is the soul that expresses its voice in poetic form. The one who cries out for help is the soul thirsting after its Creator. And it is the soul which struggles to do the will of the one who sent it.
Therefore, as we study the book of Psalms we can better understand the inner workings of the human soul. So we come to the book of Psalms with the expectation to learn how the human soul operates. The correct understanding of the way in which the human soul fares is very important because unlike the needs of human body (such as food for the stomach), the needs of a soul go largely unnoticed and unappreciated; as they go unattended, many end up crying out, not knowing why. Yet, it is the soul which constitutes the essence of a man. Man's body is merely a vessel, a housing for the soul. If a man is happy it is first the soul that is happy. If a man is downcast, it is first the soul inside that feels downcast. One of the psalmists cries out, repeatedly, "Why are you downcast, O my soul?" (42:5,11; 43:5). Furthermore, when one is saved, it is first the soul that is saved. Our body will perish, but the man in his soul survives the physical death (Job 14:10,14; John 5:25-28; 14:43). Speaking of the same truth our Lord Jesus says, "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:36). So it is imperative for us to secure a good understanding of the affairs of the human soul.
In the book of Psalms then the Lord has provided us with good resources to help us secure a better understanding of human souls - what it desires, why it suffers, how it should be nurtured, and, most importantly, what the Lord has provided for its well-being. In Psalm 27, I believe the Lord has neatly put together through King David all that are essential to the well-being of our souls in the Lord. Now let us read this chapter.
Part I. The Lord is my light, my salvation, and my stronghold.
Look at verse 1. "The LORD is my light and my salvation--whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life--of whom shall I be afraid?" In this passage the psalter says that the Lord is his light, his salvation and his stronghold. This characterization shows us that the Lord himself is the source of all one needs for the well-being of his soul. The three categories represent the steps of the Lord's provision for the human soul, that is, the light that leads man to salvation and the salvation prompting the need for its care (that is, nurturing and preserving), which results in the soul growing strong.
The author's declaration of the Lord sheds light on the characteristics of the human soul. By declaring that the Lord is his light, the author admits that there is no light within him. By the same token, by confessing that the Lord is his salvation he recognizes the reality that there is no salvation in him. He admits that he used to be lost. And it is only thanks to the Lord that he is saved, and remains saved.
Practically, then, how is one saved? What is it like to be saved? The answers to these questions rest in the Lord. Since the Lord is the light of man, in order for one to have the light that enlightens man to know the way of salvation, what one must secure is "the Lord" himself. When one does not know the Lord and have him, one does not have the light. Then, no matter how intelligent or learned a man might be, he is still in darkness.
In the same way, since the Lord is our salvation, when we do not have the Lord, we do NOT have salvation. Salvation comes and goes as the Lord comes and goes. As the sun rises and shines on us, all living beings thrive. When the sun is removed no life can grow. Without the sun it is impossible for any living creature to sustain life. So is the case with the Lord and our salvation.
What then is it like to be saved? It is like the one who "knows" the Lord and secures a meaningful relationship with him. The Apostle John expressed the same concept when he said in 1 John 5:12, "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life." For this purpose, and at the outset of his gospel, he says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Notice the word "gave". Why did God give the Son? Or "What should we do with what God has given?" The answer is this: we must "receive" him, so that we must literally "own" him. Well, the Lord is greater than the entire universe and everything in it. I am merely a speck of dust. How can I, a mere speck of dust, own the Lord? How can what is partial take possession of what is whole? Am I greater than the Lord? Well, God is spirit. He made us to be spiritual. And the spirit is not limited to space and time. The Lord designed us in such a way that we can come to the Lord and establish unity with him. In John 14:20, Jesus explained the same concept when he said, "On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you."
How can we maintain the status quo as the saved? We find the answer in what King David says of the Lord: “The Lord is my stronghold!” By confessing that the Lord is his stronghold, the psalmist testifies to the world that he is a weak person. He knows full well that the world is filled with strong enemies that war against him. And he knows that he is no match for these enemies. He is a “weak-hold,” so to speak, as compared with the Lord who is his "stronghold".
A "stronghold" reminds us of a bunker that is built securely and houses soldiers inside to protect them from on-coming assaults, such as air-raids. The protective cover made of cement or even steel will keep the ones inside safe and sound no matter how severe the attacks might be. But once the soldier abandons the stronghold, the soldier cannot "hold" himself safe. Once he gets out of the bunker, the only cover he has is his tender skin. Bombs will explode, bullets will strike, and his tender flesh will be torn into bits and pieces. Yet, for those who remain in the Lord, the Lord keeps them safe and sound. Thus, placing ourselves in the hands of the Lord is the key to maintaining salvation.
Part II. War breaks out against me.
In verses 2-13 the author shares an insight on what we ought to do in view of what the Lord has provided us with, that is,we need to be aware of the enemies and guard ourselves against them.
Regarding the enemies that war against the soul, the author adopts some vivid expressions:
"[E]vil men advance against me to devour my flesh..."
"[M]y enemies and my foes attack me..."
"[A]n army besiege me..."
"[W]ar breaks out against me."
Advance, devour, attack, besiege and war! At the outset of the book The Art of War, Sun Tzu says, "War is a matter of the gravest importance of a nation: it is the way of existence and extinction; one cannot afford to not investigate it." So let us stop for a moment and think about the solemn reality called "war". In the case of David, he understood what life in Canaan was like. The land of Canaan was the land of idolatry. Tons of enemies were entrenched in the land. And he went through battle after battle against idol worshiping nations. Eventually, through David, the Lord established the rule of God amidst idol worshiping nations.
But all the psalms, especially the ones penned by David, clearly testify that the war that rages inside of a man is by far harder to win. We all know the story of David's affair with Bathsheba. We know the murder he committed. We know of all of the problems he had to go through within his family and nation, such as rape among his children, Absalom's rebellion, and civil war rocking the nation all stemmed from David losing the inner war - the war against sinful desires that in turn war against the soul. Therefore, in regard to the inner war, the Apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 2:11, "Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul." After winning so many battles, King David lost control over sinful desires, which warred against his soul and sustained so many damages. Through tears of repentance crying out many nights he was able to win the inner war. In many of the 73 psalms penned by him, we can find how he waged the battle against his sinful nature.
By the time King Solomon came to power, the kingdom seemed to be enjoying solidarity, on the surface. But sinful desires warring against his soul persisted and eventually took control over Solomon. Eventually, he turned the royal palace into the new IHOP - the International House of Prostitution. Soon the kingdom was divided into two. And after some time the Lord kicked the Israelites out of the Promised Land. The Lord sent them into exile in Babylon.
The Bible is replete with war stories. The first war story is in Genesis 3. And we have all other wars recorded in the Bible, such as the wars David underwent. In our generation the war continues.
It is one thing to say, "The Lord is my stronghold," and it is another to intentionally expose oneself into harm's way. When one lowers his guard and indulges himself in what seems good for food, pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom (Gen 2:9), the Lord will not protect the man as his stronghold. So we need to understand the reality, and guard ourselves against the enemies. Since each person is his worst enemy, Moses had to warn his flock saying, "Watch yourselves very carefully" (Deuteronomy 4:15).
Part III. One thing I ask of the Lord.
Guarding ourselves against enemies, however, is only half the battle. In order for the soul to thrive it must feed itself from the house of the Lord. Look at v. 4. "One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: 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 seek him in his temple." Two words stand out and demand our attention: "one" and "all".
"One thing I ask of the Lord." The word "one" tells us that for its well being the soul needs only one thing, and that is to seek the Lord.
And it needs to seek the Lord not one or two days but "all" the days of his life. The expression, "dwell in the house of the Lord," also alludes to the soul's need for a life-long commitment, for dwelling infers establishing a permanent address so one could live there for good.
The house of the Lord refers to the Lord's temple. In our generation the Lord himself established his temple inside of a believer. So the author's prayer to dwell in the house of the Lord exhorts us to secure the fellowship with the Lord all the days of our life. Humanly speaking, this commitment is like a husband and wife living together under the same roof, sharing everything together - home phone number, bank account, eating table, living-room, everything.
The fellowship with the Lord should not be superficial; it should not be half-hearted, for of all the persons the Lord himself is the only one who is truly beautiful altogether. His beauty is perfection itself. Let us think about what he did and how he did what he did, while he walked on the planet earth: the miracles he performed attest to the true beauty of the Lord. When a man covered with leprosy came to him, asking for Jesus' mercy, Jesus reached out his hand, and touched him. Then he said, "I am willing. Be clean." What happened? Immediately, the leprosy left. It was a complete miracle. The Lord whose beauty is perfection made an ugly sinner into a beautiful child of God. This Lord went to the cross, shed his blood, and died for the sins of the world. The Lord then rose again from the dead. After rising from the dead, he works with his disciples, confirming his word by the signs that accompany it.
Look at verses 5-6. "For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the LORD." Even today this is how the Lord blesses those who come to him. For those who choose to come to live under his wings, the Lord becomes their stronghold. Even though war rages outside, as the Lord rules within, peace within will roll like a river. Then God's children will shout for the joy of salvation.
But after gaining some victories one might become proud and commit sins. Then the Lord disciplines his children by hiding his face. Thus, the author prays, "Hear my voice when I call, O LORD; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, 'Seek his face!' Your face, LORD, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Savior. Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me." With a repentant heart, he comes back to Bible studies asking the Lord to teach him the way of the Lord (11). He even asks the Lord not to turn him over to enemies, such as false witnesses (12). Although he went astray for a while, as he comes back to the Lord he is still confident of this: “I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living” (13).
In conclusion, we learn that the soul needs the Lord as the source of provision, protection, and prosperity. When one seeks the Lord, the soul thrives so that shouts of joy arise within him. Then he can sing praises of the Lord. He can write many songs of praises, like the great psalmists, such as King David.
One word: The beauty of the Lord
1. The book of Psalms has __________ Psalms.
2. In the book of Psalms the word "soul" is repeated _______ times.
3. In the book of Psalms the phrase, "O my soul," is repeated ______ times.
4. Who wrote the most number of Psalms? ____________
5. The longest psalm is _____ and it has ______ verses.
6. Which psalm prophesies about people dividing the garments of Jesus (on the cross) by casting lots? _________
7.Which psalm foresees the members of the church (Christian soldiers) surrounded by enemies willing to fight for the Lord's battle? _______