Home – A Portrait of God (10)

I have been working on a new book project for a while, God Is: Portraits of the King. It consists of short expositions of Scripture portraying the character of Yahweh, our God. This and related posts are chapters from this book.

How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise! Selah

Psalm 84:1-4 (ESV)

Have you ever felt at home? For me, home has been elusive; there have been times when I have felt the peace of being with those I love in my own space, yet it has always felt incomplete. It is difficult to count how many times I have moved in the last 34 years, but it is upwards of 24 times, including across Canadian provinces (from British Columbia to Alberta and back) and across continents (from Canada to Australia). Moving so often, I have learned to associate “home” not so much with a physical space but with my biological and church family. I know I am home when I am with my wife and kids, and our current church is home for us. However, I describe this as elusive because though it is real in one sense, it is also apparently deficient. We will soon move again, so our present neighbourhood and house will not last; we cannot make ourselves too comfortable, knowing that we will soon have an exiting inspection. We are limited in how much we can decorate, and barely seem to have a place feeling homey before we have to tear it all down and begin again. My life—and for the last 9 years, my wife Nicole has joined me in this—has felt much like the biblical concept of a “sojourner.”

This was Abraham’s life, and the author of Hebrews describes it like this,

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. … These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Heb 11:8-10, 13-16)

I yearn for a “homeland,” for a place to call home; though I have never been without a roof over my head, I nevertheless feel the force of Jesus words to the would-be disciple, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt 8:20). What does this all have to with the character of God, you may be asking? It has everything to do with his character!

In the beginning, when God made Adam and Eve, they may not have had a physical roof over their head, but they were at home; they lived in a perfect world, with all their needs met, walking with God himself. However, as a result of their sin, they were made homeless, sojourners in a hostile land awaiting the time when they could come back home, return to the presence of God and rest in the “shadow of your wings” (Ps 17:8, cf. 91:4), as David puts it. The discomfort of being dis-located and without a home is not part of God’s good creation but a result of the Fall, one of many aspects of this creation groaning under the weight of the curse. How I long, with the Psalmists and the Patriarchs, for a home with God, with peace on all sides (2 Sam 7:11), where righteousness dwells (2 Pet 3:13); how I long with all creation for the “revealing of the sons of God” (Rom 8:19) when the new creation will overtake the old.

In the temple, ancient Israel had a small taste of this future peace, of a home with God. As they journeyed to Jerusalem to be with God, they lived out in symbol the journey of all of God’s people, sojourning through a hostile land under the loving, protecting hand of God, until they reach the place where he dwells,

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.
O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah (Ps 84:5-8)

When they arrived, they entered into the beauty of his presence; the temple was decorated especially with imagery of the Garden, simultaneously looking back on what was lost and anticipating its restoration. The Psalmist describes his longing on this journey, to taste and see the goodness of his God,

How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God. (Ps 84:1-2)

Here is a home, not only for God’s people eager to sing his praise, but even the lowliest of birds also finds peace here. Even the birds find a home at the altar of God, peace where they can make their nest and raise their young. How much more shall we, whom Jesus reassures are worth much more than sparrows (Matt 10:31), find home and peace in the presence of God. So, the psalmists declare, “Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! Selah” (Ps 84:4)

These was the eager expectation of the people of God, but it was never fully realised. God promised he would be in the temple if Solomon would honour God, but Solomon did not do so (e.g. 1 Kgs 6:11-13, 9:4-5; 1 Kgs 11:1-8). God’s glory eventually departs (Ezekiel 10), and never returns, even when the temple is rebuilt (Ezra 3:12-13; notice nothing like 2 Chron 5:13-14). God’s presence is peace, joy, and shelter; but where is it be found? The Church, the Body of Christ, is God’s temple now, as are we who believe (1 Cor 3:16-17, 6:19; 1 Pet 2:4-8), so we find some sense of this home in the church (Mark 10:29-31), yet we await its fulfillment. We are still sojourners (1 Pet 1:1, 2:11); surely we can feel what the Psalmist felt when he sang, “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD.” We long to be with the Lord for the very reason that he is peace, he is righteousness, he is joy. In his presence these are found in abundance, and only in his presence are these truly experienced. God himself is the yearning of the human heart; all our earthly longings that are twisted by sin or remain unfulfilled in this life find their resolution in Christ. In his presence is joy forevermore (Ps 16:11), perfect peace (Ps 37:10-11, Isa 9:6-7; Isa 54:13; Ezek 34:25-31), justice and righteousness (Isa 9:6-7), and the perfected relationship marriage is intended to symbolise (Eph 5:32; Rev 9:6-10). God is our peace, and we ought to yearn to be with him in his holy place, in the New Heavens and New Earth, where we will dwell with him, “ever singing [his] praise” (Ps 84:4).

Portrait 1 – (God is) The Beginning

Portrait 2 – (God is) Unpredictably Gracious

Portrait 3 – (God is) The Self-Revealing One

Portrait 4 – (God is) Great in Mercy

Portrait 5 – (God is) The Sovereign Saviour

Portait 6 – (God is) High and Lifted Up

Portrait 7 – (God is) Incomparable

Portrait 8 – (God is) Among the Exiles

Portrait 9 – (God is) The Unbelievable Saviour

Portrait 10 – (God is) Home

Portait 11 – (God is) The One Who Provides

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