Today we have come to the last phrase of Psalm 23: "And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever." And it stands in parallel with the first phrase of the Psalm, "The LORD is my shepherd." That first phrase shows relationship with the LORD, but since He is a shepherd it also implies relationship with other sheep. The last phrase emphasizes where the locus of God shepherding care takes place — in His house, and it again speaks of a relationship with His people. Commentaries point out that this word "house" never refers to heaven. It always refers to the temple. Of course, the earthly temple is patterned after the heavenly one, and so I believe that it continues on into heaven.
Hebrew = "Return" to the house of the Lord
But the first word in the Hebrew phrase is not "dwell" but return. If you look in the margin you will see that the Hebrew says, "I will return to the house of the LORD." Every one of my commentaries points out that the Hebrew does not support dwell, and this is one of the rare occasions where the KJV and the New King James Version follows the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew. And you know my views on that. It is the Hebrew that is inspired, not the Septuagint. And God has promised to preserve every Hebrew word in every age.
But whether you think of the house of the Lord as the building or the gathering of God's people (which is the church), David wants to return there time and time again. It's in the midst of Zion that God's blessings are bestowed. And when we alienate ourselves from Zion, we alienate ourselves from many of the blessings that we have been seeing in this Psalm. It's only when we are willing to come to the Lord's Table in relationship with His people that our cup is filled to overflowing, and green pastures are opened to us, and joy, and peace, and other blessings are continually bestowed. It's not the wandering sheep, but the gathered sheep that is blessed. In fact, the book of Hebrews says that it is only when we are in right relationship with the church and under its authority that we find blessing, and when we drift away from the church, like an ember taken out of the fire, the glow of our life begins to turn dark and cold and eventually be completely extinguished. Of course Hebrews hastens to say that we are convinced of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation. In other words, if you truly are saved, you won't forever bail. Hebrews 10:25 talks about not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, but the verses immediately after verse 25 show the results of not assembling together; the results of not returning to the house of God — it's the danger of drawing back to perdition. In a day when homeschoolers increasingly reject the institutionalized church, I think it is critical to remind ourselves that God has ordained most of His blessings to flow from the midst of Zion. And its no wonder that David longs to return there.
It is in the sacramental worship that Hebrews 12 says that the heavenly temple and the earthly temple are united, and he says to the church:
Heb. 12:22 You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels,
Heb. 12:23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect.
They are all around us right now. It's in this assembly of the entire household of God, past and present, that incredible blessings flow from His throne. So that first word "return" shows the importance of regularly realigning our lives by returning from the battlefield and finding healing, encouragement, challenge, and help in the church.
But return also implies that we can't stay in the house of the Lord. We have a job to do. We must invade the world. And so that word "return" shows a balance. We are not pietists who do nothing but worship, and we are not so intent on dominion that we neglect worship. We go out, and we return to the house of God. We go out, and we return once again to the house of the Lord. That's what the phrase implies. We are constantly returning from the battlefield to report in to the Captain of our Salvation.
For length of days / forever
The last part of the phrase, "forever" is literally, "for length of days," and most commentators believe that it means while here on earth. But length of days can refer to length of days in eternity as well. So I don't see any reason why it cannot encompass both time and eternity.
If you have done any study of heaven and the eventual new heavens and new earth, you know that we will be taking joyful, creative, ever increasing dominion for the rest of eternity. We are not going to be strumming on harps 24 hours a day in the temple. There will be dominion in heaven, but there will be this recurring return to the house of the Lord to worship. Our worship in our work is no substitute for sacramental worship. And this sacramental worship is no substitute for dominion. If He is your shepherd, you will delight in dominion, and if He is your shepherd, you will delight in entering His gates with praise and into His courts with thanksgiving. Public, corporate worship with the saints will be the constant pull on your heart and you will return to the house of the Lord forever.
As we come to the Lord's Table, let's ask God to make this table and this corporate worship to have a stronger and stronger hold upon our heart. May we value the blessings that flow from this Table, and may we be strengthened at this Table for dominion and penetrating the world for King Jesus in this coming week. Amen.