A song of ascents.
Lord, remember David and all his self-denial. He swore an oath to the Lord, he made a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob: “I will not enter my house or go to my bed, I will allow no sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, till I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.” (Psalm 132:1-5)
Affliction and Self-Denial
In the darkest days of the Second World War, Winston Churchill supposedly observed, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Supposedly, he was referring to the new-found resolve among the Allied nations to come together against the global threat of fascism and the Axis powers. Some scholars even believe the quote was uttered in conversations that ultimately led to the formation of the United Nations in 1945. Whatever the actual context (highly disputed, of course), there is a common wisdom to the idea that even the worst crisis can serve to change things for the better.
Psalm 132, is another of the 15 “song of ascents” (Psalms 120-134) used by Jewish pilgrims to celebrate, confess, intercede or reflect as they journeyed toward the Temple and considered their calling as God’s chosen people. We do not know the author, but the song is full of familiar, historic references.
The singer begins, “Lord, remember David and all his unnow.” The Hebrew word I substituted there is either describing David’s troubles (afflictions, hardships, suffering) OR David’s response to those troubles (self-denial, endurance, mildness). There is no question David’s life was full of troubles—battles, betrayal, family problems, criticism, insurrection. And there is also no question that many of David’s troubles arose from his own sinfulness and shortcomings. But through it all, David ultimately showed himself to be a man after God’s heart (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22). He responded to every affliction and correction by seeking to serve God, to follow God, to please God.
So David, in spite of his own struggles and hardships (or perhaps because of them) made a vow to the Lord that he would not rest until he built a house for the Lord (vs. 2-5). This is the house of which the pilgrims of Psalm 132 sing; this is the Temple to which the people journey to worship.
The only problem is, David never built the Temple. The story is told in 2 Samuel 7. David wanted to do something to show his love for the Lord. He wanted to muster all of the resources at his disposal, and make a dwelling suitable for God. David wanted to respond to God’s presence in his life by doing something for God, by giving God the very best he had to offer. “I am living in a beautiful cedar palace, but the ark of God is out there in a tent!” (2 Samuel 7:2)
How did God respond to David’s offer? When David made his oath to build God’s house, God counter-offered with a promise to build David’s house instead! “I will make a house for you, a dynasty of kings.” David’s son Solomon would eventually be the one to build both houses. Solomon would be the one, at the dedication of the Temple, to declare the promise quoted here in verses 8-9, “Arise, Lord, and come to your resting place, you and the ark of your might. May your priests be clothed with your righteousness; may your faithful people sing for joy.” Solomon would be the one to claim the promise of God for his own house in verse 11, “One of your own descendants I will place on the throne” (see 2 Chronicles 6:40-42).
Through every affliction in David’s life, through every response of self-denial, confession and correction, God was building a place for himself in David’s heart. God had a purpose in every crisis, and David didn’t let any good crisis go to waste.”
As we face each new crisis in our life—problems that are thrown at us or ones we have made for ourselves—how can we respond? Do we respond by trying to do something to please or appease God, or can we respond by letting Him do something for us and in us? God is able and willing to use every circumstance, every crisis for the good of those who love Him and let Him (Romans 8:28-30). If you are getting tired of always trying to build something for Him, why not try letting God build something for Himself in you.
We are in the season of Lent. It is a time for self-denial, but denying ourselves doesn’t mean that we seek out pain and suffering and affliction. It means letting God use any and every circumstance, every crisis and every blessing, to build us into a place that is fit for Him. Let him build your house—let him build your life. Always stay thirsty, my friends.
Almighty God, enter our hearts and so fill us with Your love, that, forsaking all evil desires, we may embrace You, our only good. Enlarge the narrowness of our souls, that You may enter in. Repair the decayed mansions, that You may dwell there. Hear us, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Your only Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen. (St. Augustine)