Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Psalm 122 Celebration of Joy in Worship

KEY TEXT: Psalms 122:1-4 I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the Lord!" Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem! Jerusalem— built as a city that is bound firmly together, to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord.

KEY THOT: When David writes this psalm, there is no physical temple in Jerusalem. Solomon’s temple has yet to be built. So what David calls the “house of the Lord!” is just a tent with the ark of the covenant placed inside it: “And they brought in the ark of the Lord and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it. And David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts” (2 Samuel 6:17-18). To David, the “house of the Lord” was just a tent structure made of overlapping linen cloths and wooden poles, without a single brick. The ark of the covenant housed inside the tent represents the very presence of God in Israel. 

When the ark was first brought into Jerusalem, David was ecstatic and was leaping and dancing before the ark with joy: “As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David (Jerusalem), Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, and she despised him in her heart” (2 Samuel 6:16-17). Michal, David’s wife, despised his uninhibited and enthusiastic expression of worship. And the Lord showed his displeasure over Michal’s attitude at the final verse of the same chapter: “And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death” (2 Samuel 6:23). What God delights we must not despise. 

David explained to Michal: "It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord's people Israel — I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor" (2 Samuel 6:21-22, NIV). That is why David is called the “sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Sam 23:1) and a man after God’s heart (Acts 13:22).

So when David writes, “I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord!” he was not expressing a kind of dutiful drag-your-feet-to-church attitude; instead he was expressing his great anticipation and delight in coming before the presence of the Lord. In fact, the word for “glad” in Hebrew is samach, which means “to rejoice, be joyful”. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words gives us this further insight: 
  • Samach usually refers to a spontaneous emotion or extreme happiness which is expressed in some visible and or external manner. It does not normally represent an abiding state of wellbeing or feeling. This emotion arises at festivals, circumcision feasts, wedding feasts, harvest feasts, the overthrow of one's enemies, and other such events.
The better word to express “gladness” would be the word “celebration”. Praise and worship in the OT was loud and even raucous. In fact, the most common Hebrew word (more than 160 times) for praise is halal, from which we get the word hallelujah. It means literally to “boast” and often associated with shouting with jubilation. It's an appropriate response to the coming of the King of kings in our midst to speak and to bless His people. It’s His presence alone that we seek and it is His presence alone that will attract true worshipers of God—nothing more and nothing else.

When PM Lee came into the National Stadium to join the crowds at last year's NDP Prayer Rally in August, there was a spontaneous standing ovation of applause and flag-waving. Should not the coming of the King of glory into our congregations at our Sunday services elicit the same or even more enthusiastic response from us? 

Father, give us the same attitude of celebration and enthusiasm as we come into your presence as Your people together in worship. May Your presence be the only reason we are there—to offer to You the thanksgiving of praise and worship that You alone deserve and delight. Amen.

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