One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life…
(I.): — The learned tell us that this psalm is made up of two independent poems, the second of which begins at the seventh verse. And certainly the great difference of thought and feeling between the two parts goes far to justify the suggestion. But is not the first half also the work of two writers? Can the speaker of the first three verses be the same as the speaker of the next three? At the fourth verse the sentiment and atmosphere undergo an entire change. Before that you have represented the active, after it the contemplative life. The temperament of the earlier speaker is practical, of the later aesthetic. In the former part you are stirred by "the trumpet's loud clangour" and the defiant tones of the warrior; in the latter you are subdued to the awe and serenity of the mystic. The two types thus represented are, indeed, common. We know them both well. The strenuous, hustling man of affairs, who can't bear to be inactive, and loves the bustle of modern life. And that other we also know, "his brow sicklied o'er with the pale east of thought"; of intellectual or aesthetic bent; who is never so happy as when alone "far from the madding crowd," surrounded by his books and his pictures. And God made them both and appointed to each his part. And both find their strength and delight in Him, who is at once God of might and of wisdom, Lord of battles, and Prince of peace. What causes the surprise is that these contradictory, if complementary, temperaments are represented as being united in one and the same person. Here is the active man who loves contemplation! The warrior in the high places of the battlefield, who sighs for the solemn hush of the sanctuary! The public man who longs for the heritage of the recluse! How are we to regard such a phenomenon? Have we here a melancholy illustration of life's misfits? Is this a case of a man who has missed his calling, who, as the proverb says, is "a square peg in a round hole"? There are such cases. Men intended by nature for a contemplative life who have been forced by circumstances into the active. But the true explanation is not, I think, in that direction. The speech of a mystic, turned warrior against his will, would bewray him in his utterance of the warrior's defiance. But this challenge is beyond suspicion. It is quite evidently characteristic and sincere. This man is not seeking a way of escape from his present duties; he has no wish to obtain release from the strain upon him. On the contrary, he rather enjoys the fray. He is glad of the occasion that keeps all his powers at full stretch, and taxes his strength to the uttermost, and adds the excitement of risk and peril. He "rejoices as a strong man to run a race." But he recognizes the obvious fact that the more constant and exacting the demand upon a man's powers the greater need of time for recuperation; the more one draws on the reserves the greater the necessity of proper provision for their replenishing. On the other hand, one may use the surface water without stint, if one is sure that the deep springs are being fed. Now in the words of the text, this Samson is confessing where his great strength lies. The light by which he makes his midnight marches, the strength in which he wrestles, the confidence that nerves his arm, and braces him to engage in a fight against fearful odds and, with an exultation that has almost a boyish swagger about it, to "sing defiance to the gates of hell," comes from his God. And it is in the vision of God, and the sense of communion with Him, which he realizes in the sanctuary that he receives the retrieving and replenishing grace which "soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds, and drives away his fear." This surely is the true connection of the two parts of the psalm. The active and the contemplative lives are not so much antagonistic as complementary. The high pitch of perfection which is now expected in front rank men makes specialization a necessity, and so tends to the separation of the two. But nature is wont to wreak vengeance on such as lose sight of her great law of balance. To keep up the pace, the active, pushing man of affairs must have his period of reflection. He needs an opportunity for self-refreshment, a vantage ground from which to view the direction of his energies, and what the psalmist here avers, uttering it with the deep feeling of strong conviction and happy experience, is this: that for real change and for all recuperative purposes of body, mind, and spirit, there is no place like the house of God. Wiser than many busy men of to-day, he sees that the strenuousness of life, so far from justifying indifference to worship and absence from the house of God, constitutes the strongest argument for regular and eager attendance. In order to meet the supposed demand of exhausted nature, modern society has instituted the custom of week-ending. London, they say, is empty on the Sunday! A similar exodus takes place from the great cities of the provinces. The bustle of the town has invaded the country! Where is the rest and quiet the travellers sought? A change of air and scene without a doubt has its value. But change of sky unaccompanied by change of thoughts is only partially restorative, "The mind is its own place!" Again, we need a period of relief from the busy round of daily duties in order to gain a better view of the trend of our life. One wants a vantage ground where one can see the whole. The general must not get entangled in his fighting line. The artist steps back from his easel in order that he may see if the effect he is producing is that which he really intends. The business man needs to stop buying and selling, and to take stock, so as to see what department is remunerative and what is being run at a loss. Now it is just these needs which the psalmist says the house of God supplies. It affords that detached point of view from which the whole of life may be surveyed. Inquiry in the Lord's temple obtains the answer to many a riddle for the lack of which men live in the weakness of indecision, or receives a grace and assurance even better than the difficulty's solution. Again, is there any place in which you are so quickly conscious of a change of atmosphere affecting the whole being as the house of God affords? Just as the Embassy of another nation is considered a portion of the territory of that nation, so the house of God is a little bit of the Eternal world let down into the world of time. Pass within its doors, You have, as it were, entered the territory of another State. Here reigns another Monarch, a different language is spoken, other laws obtain, different sanctions hold sway, than those recognized by the world outside. The house of God stands for and witnesses to other thoughts and other feelings than those of the market-place, the battlefield, the law court, and the university. It is tenanted by a different spirit. It introduces to a life loftier and deeper, richer and fuller, more strenuous and more peaceful, more joyful and more sympathetic, more self-denying and more self-abandoning, than any of which the world has dreamed. From its beauteous worship a man goes forth at once softened and exhilarated, subdued and strengthened. On another occasion we must consider hew this great purpose is accomplished.
(F. L. Wiseman.)
Parallel VersesKJV: One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.