One Thing, Once More (Psalm 27:4)
I’ve always been intrigued by Psalm 27:4, if for no other reason than that it is the last thing one would expect from David, at least when looked at from a purely human perspective. Given his circumstances, this single-minded, undistracted commitment to gaze on God’s beauty seems out of place.
I can’t believe I just wrote that! It shows how little I know of God’s beauty that I should think, if only even for a moment, that anything could justify turning away one’s gaze from the glory and grandeur of God!
There are probably a few (many?) reading this who think I’m being unrealistic. Finding time to meditate on God’s majesty, much less making it the “one thing” to which all else is subordinated, seems almost unimaginable when one’s life is falling apart. I know. Truly, I know. But let me be so bold to suggest that it’s precisely when life is at its worst that riveting our hearts on him is far and away the most reasonable thing to do.
If you think David can say what he does in v. 4 because, as King over Israel, he’s out of touch with the pains and problems of everyday life, look closely at vv. 1-3. What we discover there, in conjunction with what we know elsewhere concerning David’s experience, indicates that he didn’t lead an easy life. Being King of Israel wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. David didn’t make it any easier with his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and his complicity in the murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite. The shattering consequences it brought on him and the nation as a whole can hardly be imagined. That is why his resolution in v. 4 is so stunning.
In view of David's circumstances, one might have excused him had he opted for a little peace and quiet, or perhaps a permanent and safe home away from his enemies, or at least a month’s paid vacation! With all the struggles he faced and the heartache he endured, most of us would be willing to cut the King a little slack.
Look with me at vv. 1-3 to get a sense for what David faced on a daily basis.
“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? 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” (Ps. 27:1-3).
He speaks of “evildoers” who “assail” him (v. 2). Their ravenous desire is to “eat up” his flesh (v. 2), a vivid metaphor of their murderous intent. He speaks of “adversaries and foes” (v. 2) who sought every opportunity to destroy his reputation. He envisions an “army” (v. 3) of enemies encamped around him and “war” (v. 3) rising up to undermine his achievements. This reference to an “army” and “war” need not be taken literally but is designed to convey the truth that no matter how great or threatening the danger may be, his “confidence” (v. 3) never cratered.
Notwithstanding these factors, he declares: “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 distress and trouble are as darkness, the Lord is his light! If trial and tribulation are as an army, the Lord is an impenetrable fortress!
Greater still is his undying aspiration to see and savor the beauty of God! “One thing have I asked of the LORD,” said David; “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” (v. 4).
Who or what had the capacity to elicit such dedication from a man who had every reason, humanly speaking, to look elsewhere for comfort and relief? Tempted, no doubt, to numb his aching soul with some worldly narcotic, David fixed the focus of his faith on God: his uncreated beauty, his indescribable splendor, his glorious majesty, his unfathomable, ultimately incomprehensible grandeur.
David’s identity wasn’t wrapped up in his calling as King. He didn’t wake up each day with a political agenda on his mind or a scheme for expanding the boundaries of his empire. David thought of one thing: to find a way to break free of routine entanglements that he might dwell in the presence of God; to avoid trivial activities that might divert his eyes from beholding God; to clear his mind of extraneous details that he might meditate upon the beauty and splendor of God; to set aside less important tasks that he might bask in the invigorating light and glory of everything that makes God an object of our affection and delight and adoration.
David makes the same point in Psalm 145:5, declaring: “On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.” I long for this unitary, single-minded resolve. Be it noted that this is no passing glance in God’s direction. This is no token acknowledgment of God’s glory at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning. Note in v. 4 how the future tense ("I shall seek") is combined with the past tense ("I have asked") to express an ardent longing which extends out of the past and into the future and therefore runs through his whole life.
How utterly, absolutely, and incomparably practical this is! Nothing brings greater peace to the troubled soul than meditating on the majesty of God! Nothing puts life and its competing pleasures in greater spiritual perspective than a knowledge of the surpassing greatness of God as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ! Nothing empowers the will to make hard choices, often painful choices, to forego the passing pleasures of sin than does a view of the superior reward of knowing and savoring and relishing the splendor of God!
Oh, Father of glory, make us a people of one thing! Give us one heart, one mind, one all-consuming passion for your name! May we, with David, find you to be life-giving light in the midst of today’s darkness. May we, with David, find strength in you as our impenetrable stronghold, the place of peace, where fear cannot flourish.