Sanctuary (Phil Johnson)

Psalm 27   |   Sunday, October 5, 2014   |   Code: 2014-10-05-PJ

This morning we're looking at Psalm 27. If this sounds

like one of the most familiar psalms in the psalter to you, it's

no wonder. Several of our best-loved anthems and choruses

are based on this psalm. We sing from this text all the time.

And yet rarely will you hear a sermon on

Psalm 27. Phrases and verses from this passage circulate in

my mind all the time, because so many of our worship songs

come from here. But I've never preached on this psalm, and I

don't think I've ever heard anyone else preach on it.

This is a psalm of David, written during one of the many

times in his life when trouble hounded him into exile. The

whole psalm is about faith in times of trouble.

There's no indication in the psalm itself as to when David

wrote it. It could pertain to almost any period of David's life

after Samuel anointed him to be king. Some think the

reference to David's father and mother in verse 10 proves

that Psalm 27 belongs to an early period in David's life. I'm

more inclined to think it comes out of his later life, because

it is so full of the kind of confidence that grows out of

experience and maturity. The Lord had delivered David out

rarely will you hear a

So this is familiar ground for most of us. Let's take a little more analytical look

at it.

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of trouble many times in the past, and this whole psalm has

the ring of seasoned reflection from someone who has

learned to wait on the Lord.

But the truth is that in a timeline of David's life, psalm 27

would pretty well describe his experience at just about any

given point. And the question of when David wrote this

psalm is not ultimately important anyway. Just know that this

is one of many psalms David wrote in times of trouble, while

he was wrestling with depression, discouragement, a deep

sense of betrayal, and fear.

In fact, if you take a big-picture look at the life of David,

it really is remarkable how much and how long he suffered.

The only really trouble-free period in David's life was his

childhood and teenage years, when he was serving as

shepherd over his father's flocks.

Then, according to 1 Samuel 16, David was suddenly

called in from the fields one day and Samuel anointed him as

king of Israel, in a private ceremony in David's father's

house. David therefore became Israel's second king. Saul was

still on the throne at the time, but Saul was not God's choice

for king in the first place. Saul was the people's choiceCand

they selected him because of his physical stature. Saul (of

course) proved to be a carnal man and an unsatisfactory king.

So after a few significant spiritual failures, the Lord rejected

Saul and sent Samuel to anoint David as his successor.

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David's life was never peaceful again after that. It was one

long chronicle of conflict, war, frustration, and struggle. Saul

was still on the throne during David's rise to prominence, and

of course he became jealous. So David spent years hiding

from Saul, who became obsessed with killing David. Then

when Saul finally died, the Hebrew nation was torn by civil

war because there was a large faction in Israel who opposed

David. David finally managed to unify all Israel, but then he

spent years at war with the Philistines, the Amorites, the

Moabites, and practically every neighboring tribe and nation.

After that, David's own son, Absalom, attempted to usurp

David's throne and drove David out of Jerusalem and into

exile again. Absalom also eventually came against David

with an army of more than twenty-thousand men. So that

kind of trouble more or less dominated David's public life

from start to finish.

It's no wonder that the psalter is full of psalms about

David's trouble. And they are great psalmsCwe tend to love

these psalmsCbecause they express David's frustration in

very human termsCbut they also point the way through

trouble to triumph.

There's a pattern David normally followed when he

poured out his frustration in the psalms. Usually, he would

begin with a very honest outpouring of his complaint to

GodCin words that are full of feeling. That's why we find it

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so easy to relate to David. That's why the psalms resonate so

powerfully in times of trouble and fear. David expresses

emotions we all know all too well. He gets frustrated with so

many trials. He grows weary of the strife. He wonders where

God is in the absurdity of human injustice. He becomes

exasperated when it seems the Lord is too slow in coming to

the defense of His people. And as David describes whatever

injustice or sorrow or other kind of affliction he was suffering,

he expresses his emotions without apology in raw and

honest language. He is never irreverent, but he is always bold

and direct.

Psalm 13 is a classic example of that style. It starts with

an expression of frustration: "How long, O LORD? Will you

forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?"

And the first two-thirds of that short psalm are a drawn-out

expression of David's dismay because it seemed the Lord

was postponing His deliverance (Psalm 13:2): "How long

must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all

the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?" Verse

4: "my enemy [will] say, 'I have prevailed over him,' . . . my foes

[will] rejoice because I am shaken." That's not what You want,

is it Lord? (I know those feelings, don't you? I have been in

that place.)

But in most of these psalms where David wrote about his

troubles, there is a turning point where David shifts his

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focus. As he pours out his heart to the Lord, He naturally

begins to focus his thoughts on the LordCand there he finds

hope in the midst of every trial, because he knows the Lord is

faithful. And Psalm after psalm that begins on a note of fear

or crushing sorrow closes with a profound expression of

hope and faith. Psalm 13, for example, starts with that cry of

anguish and frustration: "How long, O LORD?"Cbut it ends

just six verses later with this: "I will sing to the LORD, because

he has dealt bountifully with me."

Psalm 17 follows a similar pattern. It opens with a

heartfelt plea from the psalmist, who is a victim of obvious

injustice: "Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry!" Then

he pleads his case for 14 verses. He rehearses a testimony

about his own faithfulness; he recalls the Lord's faithfulness

and tenderness; and he recounts the many evil attributes of

his enemies. That makes him look at his troubles from the

perspective of eternity, and he realizes that even though it

sometimes feels like he is on the precipice of hell, the trials

of this life are as close to hell as he will ever comeCbut this

is also is as close to heaven as his wicked adversaries will

ever get. For DavidCand for all the Lord's redeemed

onesCthe troubles of this life are merely temporary. Because

David trusted the Lord for salvation, he had the guarantee of

ultimate and eternal satisfaction in the presence of the Lord.

So he closes Psalm 17 with this classic expression of

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assurance: "As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;

when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness."

Psalm 27 is similar to those psalms in one regard: It was

written while David was under siege, living in exile, troubled

on all sides, and tempted (like any of us would be) to become

discouraged, downcast, and fearful.

And yet this psalm is dramatically different from most of

the other psalms David wrote in times of trouble. It starts

where those other psalms ended. It begins on a powerful note

of triumph, and builds from there. In fact, the very first verse

gathers up all of David's troubles, looks them square in the

eye, and defies them all with a song of praise to God. It is a

celebration of light in a world of darkness. It is a song of

deliverance penned on a sea of difficulties. It is David's

recognition that God's strength is made perfect in our

weakness. And it sets forth an unassailable reason for

courage in the midst of discouragement.

That's why I'm inclined to think this psalm pertains to

David's later life. He has learned that the best answer to all

this life's darkest, most discouraging trials is simple praise

rendered to God, and that has become the starting point for

him whenever his heart is troubled.

In fact, that is the central message of this psalm. If you

wanted to sum it up in a single sentence, you could hardly do

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any better than this: The best remedy for all this life's trials

and discouragements is worship.

That's it. DavidCwho suffered more than most of us could

ever imagineClearned through his suffering that worship is

the best way through every trial. Worship is a uniquely

heavenly activity. All of heaven is consumed full time with

giving praise to God. Therefore nothing on this sin-cursed

earth could possibly get us closer to the atmosphere of

heaven than when we ourselves are engaged in worship. So if

you want to be elevated above the pain and frustration of a

cursed world and a life that's filled with difficulty, there is no

better, no more direct, and no more efficient way to get from

here to heaven than by focusing your heart on praise.

David had learned by long experience that worship

offered the best sanctuary from earthly troubleCno matter

what form his troubles took. Because worship transported

him out of the world's darkness and miseryCand into the

presence of the Lord, who is our light and our salvation.

So this is a psalm about sanctuary. David was singing

about because He knew a place of heavenly peace and safety

he could retreat to in any kind of earthly trouble. That place

of sanctuary is the main theme of this psalm.

There are three parts to the psalm. Verses 1-6 are a

testimony to the whole world about David's unshakable

confidence in the Lord. Verses 7-12 are a prayer to God,

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seeking immediate deliverance from whatever evil his

enemies wanted to do to him. And verses 13-14 are a sermon

David preaches to himself, reminding himself of the main

lesson he has learned through a lifetime of suffering. So you

have a testimony, a prayer, and a sermon, in that order. And

we'll let that outline be the framework for our understanding

of this psalm.

Now with that as an introduction, I'm going to read the

psalm. Watch for that central theme, and we'll look at how it

runs through each of the three parts of this psalm and ties

them together. Here's the psalm:

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?

The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be


2 When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my

adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall.

3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not

fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.

4 One thing have I asked 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 gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and

to inquire in his temple.

5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble;

he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift

me high upon a rock.

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6 And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies

all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with

shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.

7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and

answer me!

8 You have said, "Seek my face." My heart says to you,

"Your face, LORD, do I seek."

9 Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant

away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not

off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation!

10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but

the LORD will take me in.

11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level

path because of my enemies.

12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries; for false

witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out


13 I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the

LORD in the land of the living!

14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take

courage; wait for the LORD!

One of the commentaries I read said this psalm is a psalm

about "balanc[ing] the ups and downs of real life." That

seems an awfully trivial way of putting it, and I hope you can

see that. The "ups and downs" of David's life were hardly

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trifling things. When he speaks in verse 3 about "an army

encamp[ing] against [him]," that was exactly the kind of trial

he faced in the most literal sense. His enemies were more

numerous and more powerful than most of the problems you

and I will ever face. His life was quite literally in mortal

jeopardy virtually all the time; the times he had to spend in

exile were truly costly in almost every conceivable sense.

These were real, imminent dangers that he facedCand yet he

found the Lord a sufficient shelter in the very worst of

timesC"our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,"

to borrow words from Psalm 46:1. Or verse 11 of that psalm:

"The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our


That's the same message featured in our psalm. Here in

Psalm 27, David gives us a threefold reminder that the Lord

Himself is the best place for the believer to find true

sanctuaryCno matter how fiercely the storms of life may

blow. The first part isC

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The psalm opens with a trumpet-blast of faith and

assurance: "The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall

I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be

afraid?" If that verse were all we hadCif we stopped without

reading the rest of the psalmCwe might ever know that this

is the expression of a troubled heart. It is a declaration of


David was a naturally courageous personality-type. even

in his adolescent years, he was generally fearless. You see

that clearly in 1 Samuel 17, where David first encounters

Goliath. Everyone else was cowering in terror at the sight of

a giant. David comes alongCstill basically an

adolescentCand he is amazed that no one else had struck

Goliath dead yet. His reaction was (1 Samuel 17:26), "Who is

this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of

the living God?" And then David recounted how while

working as a shepherd he had killed both lions and bears, and

he told Saul, "this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of

them, for he has defied the armies of the living God."

Here in our psalm, David gives a testimony that explains

such courage. It is not the carnal courage of an impetuous

person who trusts in his own strength. It is a different kind of

courage; it arises from faith in God. David doesn't trust his

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own skill. He trusts the Lord, who is his light and salvation

and stronghold.

And notice he doesn't say that the Lord brings salvation,

or that he gives light. David's point is that the Lord is those

things, so that the one who lays hold of God by faith has

everything necessary to answer the darkness and trouble of

this life, because God is our light, salvation, strength, and

protection. That is exactly what the apostle Paul said about

Christ in 1 Corinthians 1:30Cthat Christ is "wisdom from

God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption." He is

our salvation, and sanctification, and wisdom. He is our

righteousness. That is even one of the names of God.

Jeremiah 23:6: "This is the name by which he will be called:

'The LORD is our righteousness.'" He is the only real

righteousness we possess. His righteousness, imputed to

those who trust Him, provides everything we need for a right

standing before God.

David, of course, looked forward to a redemption he

could not possibly understand completely. He didn't know

God would come to earth in human form, in the person of

Jesus Christ, David's promised Son. He had no way of

knowing Christ Himself would be the perfect sacrifice to

take away the sin of the world. But he got the gist of it.

That's exactly what David means when he says, "The

LORD is my light and my salvation." That is the gospel,

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summarized superbly in the opening phrase of David's

testimony. It's not about David, it's about his God. David

says nothing about his own strength or skill or sanctification.

His confidence in no sense rested in his own abilities. David

was celebrating the greatness of God, not boasting about his

own valor. This is a psalm of praise to God, not a celebration

of David's superiority.

And yet notice that it is personal: "The LORD is my light

and my salvation." David's faith in God was personal, and

therefore his assurance was personal. David could be

confident that the Lord was on his side, because he had laid

hold of the Lord by faith, entrusted himself to the Lord's

care. Verse 1: "The LORD is the stronghold of my life." The

Lord Himself was David's only sanctuary.

And the Lord had fought for David repeatedly. Although

David's life had been a long chronicle of conflict, it was also

the story of triumph over every foe. David's only failures

were his own personal moral lapsesCsuch as his sin with

Bath-Sheba. But his conflicts with earthly enemies always

ended with victory for David. Verses 2-3 testify to that fact:

"When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries

and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army

encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise

against me, yet I will be confident." The fierceness of David's

adversaries is captured perfectly in verse 2, which pictures

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them as cannibals or wild beastsChungry for violence out of

sheer, evil bloodlust. But no matter how evil or how

determined they were, God always preserved David, and it

was his enemies who stumbled and fellCstarting with

Goliath, all the way through to Absalom, who was defeated

because his long hair got caught in an oak tree.

It also never mattered how large and powerful David's

adversaries were. David managed to elude Saul and all his

armies with just a few hundred men who lived in caves like

outlawsCuntil Saul actually fell on his own sword in a

disastrous battle against the Philistines. On the day

Absalom's rebellion was overthrown, 2 Samuel 18:7 says

twenty thousand men in Absalom's army were killed on that

one day.

So neither the size nor the ferocity of David's enemies

were any reason for him to fear. The Lord had delivered him

again and again from every earthly enemy. That was literally

the story of David's life.

Notice, too, that he speaks of the Lord's deliverance as a

present-tense reality. "The LORD is my light and my salvation

. . . The LORD is the stronghold of my life . . . " And as he

rehearses the way the Lord always delivers him, he keeps his

testimony in the present tense (verse 2): "When evildoers

assail me . . . it is they who stumble and fall"Cas if to say,

"That's how it always happens. It's happening even now to

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the current cast of enemies." Verse 3: "Though war arise

against me, yet I will be confident." Again, his hope is in the

Lord, not in his own strength. This is the furthest thing from

carnal confidence.

But here's another remarkable thing about this psalm. In

the whole psalm, there is not a single imprecatory plea

against his enemies. When we get to the prayer section in

verses 7-12, you'll see that David's prayer is full of petitions

for himself. He acknowledges his need for the Lord's grace

and mercy. He praises the Lord for His faithfulness. He

pleads for the Lord to teach him, and lead him, and keep him

safe. But there's not a word about the destruction of his


That's because in this psalm, David treats that as a given.

It's not that David was showing some kind of post-modern

charity towards the evildoers, pretending that he could win

them over by being nice to them. God would cause David's

enemies to stumble and be destroyed, just as He always had.

David had already expressed his absolute confidence in that


Elsewhere, David did pray imprecatory prayers, calling

for the downfall of his adversaries. And there was nothing

wrong with that, because they were truly evil men with evil

agendas. But that wasn't the point of this psalm. This is a

psalm about a higher principle.

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David himself spells out that principle for us in verse 4:

"One thing have I asked 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

gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple."

That is this psalm's key verse, and it's a perfect summary of

the whole message.

In the midst of so much trouble, David desired only one

kind of sanctuary: He wanted to be in the Lord's house with

the Lord's people, beholding the beauty of the Lord in

worship in that corporate setting. It was the best preview of

heaven available to David and therefore it was the one thing

that could lift him above the troubles of this life and into the

heavenly realm.

Now that says a lot about the importance of worship, and

I want you to notice, first of all, that this is not a truth that

David isolates to this one psalm. The psalms are full of

similar expressions. One of the first verses of Scripture I ever

memorized as a child was Psalm 122:1: "I was glad when they

said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the LORD!'" It's the whole

theme of Psalm 84. Verse 1: "My soul longs, yes, faints for the

courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living

God." Verse 4: "Blessed are those who dwell in your house,

ever singing your praise!" And verse 10: "For a day in your

courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a

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doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of


David loved to be in the Temple, praising God. It was the

purest joy he knew on earth. In the midst of so many wars

and so much conflict, this was the one form of sanctuary

David craved most of all.

Verse 5: "For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His

pavilion; In the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me;

He shall set me high upon a rock." The word pavilion evokes

the imagery of a military encampment. Pavilion is derived

from the French word for "butterfly," because the king's

pavilion was naturally the most colorful, ornate tent in the

camp, and it had a peaked top that gave the impression of

butterfly wings. The king's pavilion would always be at the

center of the camp, because if any enemy wanted to infiltrate,

he would first have to get past rank after rank of armed men.

So the king's pavilion was the safest place in camp.

It was a high privilege to be allowed entry there. To dwell

there permanently was in effect to share the king's own

privileges. So this is a bold request that David makes. But he

craves that place of sanctuaryCa place of relief from the

troubles heaped on him by his enemies. He has always found

the best sanctuary from those trials in the place of worship.

Therefore this is the "one thing" he has desired from the

Lord. "One thing" (v. 4).

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When I was thinking about that expression, it reminded

me of that moment in Luke 10 where Jesus is in Bethany at

the home of Mary and Martha. And Martha was fussing

around with all the details of being a good hostess. She was

collecting dishes, and serving refills, and tidying up the

kitchen, and whatever it is that hostesses do for their

guestsCwhile Mary just sat at Jesus' feet and worshiped Him.

Martha gets frustrated with Mary and actually makes a kind

of backhanded rebuke at Jesus for not encouraging Mary to

get busy serving. Luke 10:40: "Martha was distracted with

much serving, and she approached Him and said, 'Lord, do You

not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell

her to help me.'" The next two verses say, "And Jesus

answered and said to her, 'Martha, Martha, you are worried and

troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary

has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from

her.'" One thing is necessary: worship. David understood

that. It's the "one thing" he seeks in Psalm 27.

Notice the setting of this psalm in the canon. It comes

right between two other Psalms that also celebrate the joy of

seeking the Lord in His holy tabernacle: Psalm 26:6 says: "I

hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the

wicked"; but verse 8 says: "O LORD, I love the habitation of

your house and the place where your glory dwells." Verse 12:

"In the great assembly I will bless the LORD."

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Then in Psalm 28:2-3, we read: "I lift up my hands toward

your most holy sanctuary. Do not drag me off with the wicked,

with the workers of evil."

That was David's perspective. He hated nothing more than

the assembly of evildoers. That's the starting point of Psalm

1, isn't it? "Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of

the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the

seat of the scornful." And conversely, he loved nothing more

than worshiping the Lord in the beauty of holiness with

people who shared his love for the Lord.

The worldly church of our generation has it exactly

backward. In fact, it's hard sometimes nowadays to

differentiate between the church and the assembly of

evildoers. And it's rare to find Christians who truly love the

worship of the Lord as much as they love worldly recreation.

In fact, some churches have actually cultivated an appetite

for entertainment and fostered an atmosphere of amusement

rather than authentic worship.

So it's no wonder if this psalm sounds a little bit odd to

postmodern ears. Our minds are full of worldly distractions.

Our eyes are assaulted almost nonstop every day with

advertizing and entertainment that is designed to appeal to

the basest kinds of carnal lust. We frankly have a hard time

understanding what David meant when he talked about

beholding the beauty of the Lord. The Tabernacle of David's

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time was a temporary, makeshift arrangement on mount

Moriah. In 2 Chronicles 1:3, we are told that the Tabernacle

Moses built, which the Israelites carried through the

wilderness, was being kept at Gibeon. Presumably, most of

the tabernacle's furnishings were kept at Gibeon, too, until

Solomon brought everything to the temple. During David's

reign, the tent that was situated on the future temple grounds

in Jerusalem was just a temporary place David had prepared

as a shelter for the ark of the covenant. There was nothing

elaborate about it. In fact, David himself did not think the

temporary tabernacle was even adequate, and he pleaded

with God to let him build a permanent, more elaborate,


So understand what David is saying in our psalm. It was

not the structure, or the location per se, that gave him a place

of sanctuary. And the beauty of the Lord He wanted to

behold had nothing to do with the temple itself or its

furnishings. It was not about the rituals involved in the

sacrifice, because those rituals were deliberately bloody, and

anything but beautiful.

But when David speaks of "the beauty of the Lord" in verse

4, he is talking about the glories of divine truthCthe truth as

revealed in God's Word, which is the truth on which Israel's

worship was based.

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That is reflected in these very psalms. This was the music

of Israel's worship: revealed truth. Scripture. God's Word in

written form, celebrating His attributes, rehearsing His

faithfulness, exalting His glory, just the way this psalm does.

And Israel's worship was so much focused on the truth

revealed in verbal form that the important thing about the

psalms themselves was not the musical accompaniment they

were sung to, but the truth they conveyed. We know that the

psalms were sung, and Psalm 150 outlines a whole orchestra

of musical and percussion instruments that accompanied

them. But the tunes were not preserved for us. The words


For all the debates and arguments about musical styles in

church worship today, we should not lose sight of the fact

that the real beauty of Israel's corporate worship was

embodied in the truth the psalms conveyed, not in the

musical style or the tunes. In Hebrew poetry, it's the ideas

that rhyme, not the sound of the words. That's why Hebrew

poetry is full of parallelisms. The "beauty" was unveiled in

the truth the words expressed. That's why Scripture was at

the heart of all true corporate worship in Israel. You see that

clearly in Nehemiah 8, where the people of Jerusalem stood

for hours as the priests read the word of God.

That, I believe, is the "beauty" David wrote about in this

psalm. When he speaks in verse 4 about "inquir[ing]" at the

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Temple, that is the implication. He wanted to learn more

about God and immerse himself in the truth of God's Word,

which is where the beauty and glory of the Lord are most

clearly unveiled for us.

You'll see David's passion for the truth expressed again in

the prayer section of the psalmCespecially verse 11, where

he prays, "Teach me Your way, O LORD."

But before we leave this first point, let me point out a

couple more features of David's testimony to a hostile world.

Don't miss the tone of unshakable confidence that runs

throughout these first six verses. The first verse twice raises

the question of whom David has to fear with the Lord as his

fortress. It's the very same note of confidence the Apostle

Paul sounds in Romans 8:31: "If God is for us, who can be

against us?" Verses 2-3; he rehearses the fact that his

enemies always meet their downfall. Verse 4, he testifies that

he desires this one thing from the Lord: a permanent place of

habitation and sanctuary and worship in the Lord's own

house. And then in verses 5-6, he expresses confidence that

the Lord will grant that one request. "In the secret place of His

tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock.

And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around

me; Therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle; I will

sing, yes, I will sing praises to the LORD."

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Here's a geographical fact: the place where David brought

the ark of the covenant to rest was the highest point in the

ancient city of Jerusalem. Even today, there is a rock that

protrudes from the top of the Temple mount. I've seen it.

Today it's inside the mosque known as the Dome of the

Rock, which derives its name from that high outcropping of

rock. David pictures himself situated on a high rock like that,

safely inside the Lord's own pavilion, lifted up far above his

enemies. It's an image of the victor's positionCand to David,

this would be the very pinnacle of earthly victory: to "offer

sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle [and] sing praises to the


That requires most of us to adjust our thinking a bit,

doesn't it? Think about this: The one thing David desired

more than anything else in life is something you and I can do

freely, any time we like. We can enjoy the fellowship of

God's people in unbridled worship together right here. We

get to behold the beauty of the Lord and hear His truth taught

clearly and in-depth all the timeCand if the weekly corporate

gatherings of the church are not enough, we can listen to

recorded sermons again and again. We're not being pursued

by armies or hounded by evildoers who want to kill us.

And yet sometimes we act as if there is more pleasure to

be found in worldly diversions than in heavenly worship.

Sometimes we act as if the assembly of evildoers has more to

Psalm 27 24

offer than the congregation of the Lord. If that's the true

measure of where our hearts are, then a lot of us need to

repent. David's prayer needs to be our prayer.

So look at the second section of this psalm. It'sC

2. A PRAYER (TO GOD) VV. 7-12

We can't spend a lot of time in this section. I've already

pointed out a few things about it. But the thing to notice, first

of all, is that there is a distinct change in tone starting with

verse 7. Up to that point, David is confident; resolute;

fearless. But starting in verse 7, he is pleading with God for


The shift is so dramatic that some commentators have

suggested that perhaps these are really two different psalms,

written by different authors. Of course, that's rubbish. There's

no incompatibility between the faith David expresses in the

first six verses and the plea for divine grace he makes in the

next six verses. In fact, David's prayer for grace and mercy

simply underscores what we already said about the tone of

the opening verse: this is not a carnal self-confidence. It is an

expression of trust from someone who knows his only hope

is in the Lord and who has cast himself on God alone for

redemption from the guilt of sin and deliverance from the

evil consequences of sin.

Sanctuary 25

This prayer is, first of all, the cry of a penitent heart.

David begins the prayer section with an explicit plea for

grace and mercy. "Be gracious to me" (verse 7); and (verse 9)

"Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in

anger." Implicit in those expressions is David's own

recognition that he has sinned. He is not worthy of the Lord's

goodness to him, but he recognizes his profound need for

divine grace, and he has both the faith and the courage to

plead for it.

That highlights the difference between worldly anxiety

and godly fear. David detested one kind of fear and

cultivated the other. When it came to his enemies, he was

heroic, refusing to waste energy worrying about what they

might do to him. When it came to the Lord, David knew that

the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. So after

declaring that he is unafraid, even when surrounded by

whole armies of human adversaries, He pleads with God for

mercy and grace.

I pointed out that David's prayer is devoid of any pleas for

the destruction of his enemies. What he does pray for is a

clearer vision of God. This is a perfect parallel and really just

a further elaboration on the "one thing" he said he desires: "to

gaze upon the beauty of the LORD." He wants that

unobstructed vision of God's glory. Verse 9: "Hide not your

face from me."

Psalm 27 26

That's poetic language, of course. He does not literally

expect to look into the face of God. In Exodus 33:20, God

said to Moses, "You cannot see my face, for man shall not see

me and live." But remember that David is acknowledging his

sinfulness and his need of divine grace. "Hide not your face

from me" is simply another plea for mercy. It's a parallel of

the next expression: "Turn not your servant away in anger." In

other words, "Don't turn away from me, and don't turn me

away from You."

Also, when you read it in light of verse 8, it underscores

the fact that what David really sought was truthCspecifically,

truth about God. A clearer understanding of God's

self-revelation. Verse 8: " You have said, 'Seek my face.' My

heart says to you, 'Your face, LORD, do I seek.'" David declares

his obedience to the Word of God by echoing what God said

and owning the Lord's command as the desire of his own

heart. The command in this case was to seek the Lord's

faceCto pursue a knowledge of God as He has revealed

Himself. And in David's own words, he had already declared

that this was his heart's deepest desire: "to gaze upon the

beauty of the LORD."

Therefore he says (verse 11), "Teach me your way, O

LORD." That is a prayer the Lord will always answer, because

it is in perfect accord with his will for us.

Sanctuary 27

Before we move on, notice verse 10: "For my father and my

mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in." We're

not to imagine that David's mother and father literally turned

against him. Nothing in Scripture ever suggests that David's

relationship with his parents was strained. In fact, when he

was still a fairly young man, hiding in a cave from Saul, 1

Samuel 22:1 says David's parents came to be with him. He

was so concerned for their welfare that 1 Samuel 22:3 says

he traveled to Moab and made a treaty with the Moabite king

to provide his parents a place of refuge.

Verse 10 probably suggests that by the time David wrote

this psalm his parents were dead, so they could no longer

stand with him against his enemies. But David recognized

that the Lord would be with him forever.

The prayer section closes with this (verse 11): "lead me on

a level path because of my enemies." In other words, smooth

out the bumps in the road of my life that my enemies place

there, so that I can more easily devote myself to the duty of

seeking your face. Verse 12: "Give me not up to the will of my

adversaries; for false witnesses have risen against me, and they

breathe out violence." Hide me; hold me; keep me safe; grant

me sanctuary in your pavilion. RememberCthat is the theme

that ties the whole psalm together.

It's still the one thing that David has asked of the Lord.

That is the whole essence of his prayer here. It is a prayer for

Psalm 27 28

sanctuary in the Lord's own presenceCa prayer that is every

bit as bold as the testimony David began the psalm with.

So we have heard David's testimony and listened in on his

prayer. The last, brief section of the psalm isC


Two short verses constitute the sermon at the end of this

psalm. Verse 13 is another affirmation of David's conviction

that the Lord is on his side. It is an emphatic statement of his

trust in the Lord: "I believe that I shall look upon the goodness

of the LORD in the land of the living!" The grammatical

construction in the Hebrew reads like a conditional

statement: "Unless I believed . . . " Most modern translations

supply words to fill in what the Hebrew merely implies. So if

you are reading the New American Standard Bible, it says

this: "I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would

see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living."

That, in David's mind, is the singular answer to utter

despair in a sin-cursed world: to "look upon the goodness of

the LORD in the land of the living." It is what he has been

saying from the beginning: if you want an answer to this

life's troubles, you'll never find a satisfactory answer apart

from a clear vision of the beauty of the Lord. So if you

struggle under a heavy load of trials, as David did, set your

heart on worship, and wait on the Lord.

Sanctuary 29

This is not only a powerful expression of David's faith; it

is also a practical reminder to himself that "th[ose] who wait

for the LORD shall renew their strength."

David's prayer in verse 11 was, "Teach me your way, O

LORD." Lesson number one, Isaiah 55:8: "My thoughts are not

your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the

LORD." God's timing is rarely in sync with our expectations,

either. So it is crucial to wait upon Him. Run ahead, and you

are stuck with what you can do in your own strength. Wait

on Him, and both your faith and your energy will be

strengthened. That is why worship offers such a perfect place

of sanctuary in the midst of this world's troubles.

That's the very message of Isaiah 40:27-31:

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is

the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is


29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no

might he increases strength.

30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men

shall fall exhausted;

31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their

strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they

shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.