Jesus in the Old Testament is a sermon series on finding Jesus in the whole Bible. The Tabernacle — The story of the Tabernacle shows that God wants to dwell with us. But how can sinful human beings stand in the presence of a holy God? Jesus allows us to fully experience the presence of God. Recorded on June 27, 2021, on Psalm 84, by Pastor David Parks. (Sorry, but a technical glitch cut off the end of the recording).
So for the past year, we’ve been focusing on the Person and Work of Jesus. Almost a year ago, we looked at the relationships of Jesus and then we unpacked the salvation of Jesus. At Christmas, we looked at the dual nature of Jesus as fully God and fully man. And in 20212, we looked at the teachings/miracles of Jesus, and finally, for the last few weeks, we’ve been working through our final sermon series under this annual theme called Jesus in the Old Testament. And in this series, we’ve said that certain people/places/things in the OT, prefigure/foreshadow the person/work of Jesus. Not only is God clearly at work in the OT, but he does so in such a way that’s like a big sign pointing forward to the coming of Christ. And that’s what this series is all about: finding Jesus in the OT. If you missed any of the messages of this series, you can always go back to watch on YouTube or listen to the audio podcast. But today, we’re going to land the plane of this annual theme by considering one of the threads that run throughout the Bible, that of the tabernacle. And the story of the tabernacle is amazing, because, in it, we see God’s heart of love, that God wants to dwell with us, his people. But only in Jesus, are we able to fully experience the presence of God. If you have a Bible/app, please open it to Ps 84.
Psalm 84:1-12, “For the director of music. According to gittith. Of the Sons of Korah. A psalm. 1 How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! 2 My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. 3 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, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. 4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. 5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. 6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. 7 They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. 8 Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty; listen to me, God of Jacob. 9 Look on our shield, O God; look with favor on your anointed one. 10 Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. 11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. 12 Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.”
So starting next week, we’ll start a new annual theme, focused on the greatness of God. And we’ll start this theme with a sermon series from the Psalms called Songs of Greatness. So last week and this week, I’m getting a little jump-start on this series in working from the Psalms. The Psalms are the worship music of the Bible And have been used by God’s people for worship for thousands of years. Let’s start back at the beginning and work through this together. v.1.
Psalm 84:1-4, “How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living 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, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.” So here, the writer is in a place of longing. My soul yearns, even faints, for what? For the courts of the Lord, for the dwelling place of the Lord Almighty. The word translated as a dwelling place is more often translated in the Bible as tabernacle or tent. How lovely is your tabernacle, God. What does that mean? Well, before king Solomon, the son of David, built a temple for God in Jerusalem, God had provided detailed instructions for the building of a tent/tabernacle. This was to be a mobile structure because the people of Israel were not settled yet in the promised land. This was during the exodus period of history where God led the people and Moses through the wilderness after freeing them from captivity in Egypt. And in that day, everyone lived in a tent. So the building where people would offer sacrifices and songs and other acts of worship to God was a tent as well. This wasn’t thought of as just a church building as we think of our building today, or probably more accurately, as we thought of the YMCA when we too were a mobile church. The tabernacle was thought of as the dwelling place of God, as God’s house. And this is really interesting because ancient Israel definitely believed that God was omnipresent, meaning, God is everywhere all the time. So how could God dwell in one place? Even though God is omnipresent, God chose to have a special manifestation of his presence/power/glory/himself among the people of Israel. Where they would go, he would go. Or more accurately, where he would go, they would go. So this is what the tabernacle represented: the dwelling place of God, like a little heaven on earth, right in the midst of his people. When the people of God traveled during the Exodus, 6 tribes would go before the tabernacle and 6 would follow behind it. The Psalmist writes, even the sparrow has found a home, the swallow a nest, near your altar, God. And, I think this detail likely means they had personally been in the tabernacle and had seen birds making their nests in the folds of this great tent. This points to God’s provision and desire for a flourishing life. Blessed/happy are those who dwell in your house. Where God dwells, goodness is found, joy is found. His home is a place of life and peace. The psalmist longs to get back to the courts of that place. And why the courtyard? The answer is that unless you were a priest, the courtyard of the tabernacle was the closest a normal person in ancient Israel could go to get into the presence of God. There’s more to be said about this, but for now, we see that the psalmist longs to be back in God’s presence and worship him there. The people there are ever praising God. Let’s cont. v. 5.
Psalm 84:5-7, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. 6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.” The NIV translates a difficult Hebrew phrase as people “whose hearts are set on pilgrimage” Literally, the phrase is “The highways are in their hearts.” Which could mean their hearts were set on their journey. Or perhaps the highways refer to the ascents, meaning the songs of ascents that the pilgrims would sing as they made their journey up in elevation to Jerusalem. Though the tabernacle was built during the time of the Exodus, this song was clearly written later in the history of Israel, after the exodus, after they were living in the promised land. This was when the nation would make their journey/pilgrimage 3 times a year to Jerusalem, to gather at the tabernacle of God and worship together as a people. Now, the Valley of Baca sounds like the Hebrew word for Balsam trees but has also been translated as the Valley of Tears. Either way, the Middle East is a very hot and dry place, and usually not very comfortable for a journey. But the psalmist says that this place, this valley, springs to life as the people of God pass through. Now, perhaps it was during the rainy season that the pilgrims made their journey, which would’ve been a time of life and growth. But it also seems like a poetic picture of creation itself responding with life and beauty to the faithfulness and obedience of the children of God on their way to the temple of God. v. 8.
Psalm 84:8-9, “Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty; listen to me, God of Jacob. Look on our shield, O God; look with favor on your anointed one.” In the flow of this psalm, these two verses almost seem like an interruption. Because v. 10 picks up the theme of the goodness of the dwelling place of God, the goodness/blessing/strength of being in God’s presence. But here, he cries out, hear my prayer! Listen to me! Look upon our shield and have favor on your anointed one. What’s going on here? This seems to be a prayer for someone in the midst of this meditation on the dwelling place of God — someone called a shield and an anointed one, the king maybe? Or someone else? As is often the case, understanding this little confusing middle section will unlock our interpretation of this psalm. But, we have to come back to this at the end. v. 10.
Psalm 84:10-12, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.” This is such a great statement of faith. It would be better to be a doorkeeper/servant in the house of my God than to dwell/live in the tents of the wicked. Why? Because God is so good. For the Lord God is a sun and shield. He provides light and life and truth. He protects/provides/guides his people. He bestows favor and honor. His attention is the only attention that matters. His approval is the only approval that matters. No good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. Isn’t that true? Blessed is the one who trusts in you, oh God. It’s this belief in the good character of God that causes the longing in the psalmist’s heart to get back to the tabernacle. To get back into the presence of God. There is goodness and life there. There is a blessing there. There is strength there. I’d rather spend one day there than a thousand anywhere else. But I have to ask: is this how you feel today? Does this psalm resonate with you? When you’re at work or at home or at the grocery store, do you long to be back here? With the people of God worshipping the Lord together? Experiencing the presence of God together? I think the reason that so many Christians see worship as an optional experience and not one of absolute necessity, something their souls need and long for, is that they don’t fully appreciate, or they’ve forgotten, the character of God, the goodness of God. Because when you realize who God is, and how beautiful he is, your heart is consumed with worship. You can’t help it! Well, how do we know who God is? We have to examine what God says and what God does. Let’s take the theme of this psalm, the tabernacle, as just one facet among 10,000 of the goodness of the character of God in the Scriptures. And what does the tabernacle teach us about the character or the desire of God?
The Tabernacle shows that God wants to dwell with us. The tabernacle was to be a symbol of God’s powerful presence among his people. God wanted to dwell with his people, to be their God, and for them to be his people. That is a statement that is repeated again and again in the Bible. God is constantly, faithfully working so that he can be with us and we can be with him. Isn’t that amazing? The one who formed the stars, wants me to be in his house. The one who is infinitely wise and powerful and good, the one who knows me through and through, every thought of my heart, isn’t far off and removed from my life, he wants me to know him, too. Isn’t that crazy? Isn’t that unexpectedly good? Imagine if you got a call one day and the operator said, “Hello, is this David Parks? Um, yes it is. Ok, well, Mr. Parks, I have the president on the line, he would like to talk with you and get to know you. The president of…the United States?!?” No matter who you voted for, you would take that call. Right? And the whole time you’d be thinking, why in the world would the president care about me? Why would he, with everyone in the world he could be talking to, spend his time talking with me? But in the Bible, we find out that someone so much greater and higher and more glorious wants not only to talk with us but to dwell with us. The Lord God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. So the tabernacle shows that God wants to dwell with us. Now, it was to be a holy place, a sanctuary that was not to be entered thoughtlessly or carelessly. And it was to be a place of worship, of sacrifice and offering, of singing/serving/prayer/praise. And it was to be a place of God’s word, where the Word of God was revealed, where the tablets of the 10 Commandments were contained, and where the Scriptures were to be taught and obeyed. But at the end of the day, the tabernacle could’ve been all those things without the presence of God. But God wanted to be with his people.
But herein lies the great problem of the Scriptures and of humanity in general. How can imperfect people stand in the presence of God? How can people, who sometimes share the desire of the psalmist, and long to be in the presence of God, but also, at the very same time, desire all sorts of things that are unholy, immoral, and wicked, stand in the presence of God? It reminds me of a conversation I had one time with a church member. And I mentioned that the house next door to ours was probably going to be for sale soon. And they laughed and said, can you imagine, living next to your pastor? No thanks! I was thinking, what in the world do you think I would do to you?? I would be nice. But imagine living next to God! Who could stand? And God was certainly aware of this problem. In the law of Moses, there were regulations for the priests on how and when they could enter the holy place of the tabernacle. And at the heart of the tabernacle, separated from the courtyard and holy place by two curtains was the holy of holies, where the ark of the covenant was. Only the high priest and only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, could enter the holy of holies. In fact, there’s a tradition that the high priest would tie a scarlet rope to their ankle, that if they entered the holy of holies and died in the presence of God, another priest standing outside could pull their body back out. So the tabernacle represented both God’s desire to dwell with us and the scary reality of our inability, because of our sin, to fully experience his presence. So what would God do about this? What would the solution be? The verses at the heart of this psalm give us a clue. We needed someone who would be a shield for us. One anointed by God to finally deal with this separation between God and human beings. This leads me to my big idea:
Jesus allows us to fully experience the presence of God. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ, the son of God, was Immanuel, God with us. When we couldn’t be with God, God himself came to take care of the problem of our sin and our separation from him. So today, it is by faith in his life, death, and resurrection from the dead that we can find forgiveness for our sins and a new relationship with God. But not just as God as our king and savior, but God as our Father. And again, no longer is God’s presence found in the tabernacle, but each believer in Christ becomes a little miniature tabernacle by the Holy Spirit. Jesus allows us to fully experience the presence of God. All his goodness and power and love. All of who God is. Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that crazy? But it’s true. It’s the great beautiful truth at the heart of the gospel. May our hearts be transformed by that truth. By the knowledge of the love of God for us in Christ. Let us pray.