Perfect in Beauty
“From Zion, from that which is made perfect in beauty, God shines forth.”
The majority of translations render this a little more idiomatically, “From Zion, the perfection of beauty…” and such is a perfectly legitimate way to render the phrase מִכְלַל־יֹפִי (miklal-yopiy). Clearly the psalmist is praising God and celebrating the place of worship that God had ordained (in this case, the Tabernacle as it was placed on Zion in anticipation of a Temple being built. King David had commissioned Asaph, along with others, to prepare for the Temple worship in the days of his son, Solomon.
At the same time, we must ask, what made the Tabernacle beautiful? And, we can ask by extension, what would make the Temple a beautiful building? Certainly both were works of remarkable art and craftsmanship. They were wonders of their day and era. But, was it the artwork that is really to be commended? Could we be missing something by simply viewing the Tabernacle and Temple as beautiful places — like we might view the Parthenon or the Pyramids in Egypt.
The answer to this question is bound to the reason that I opted to translate this passage more literally. The two Hebrew root-words that are brought together in the phrase in question are כלל and יפה. The verbal form of the first refers to that which is made perfect and thus the noun (as it is being used here) has to do with the perfect presentation of something. The second noun that is found in this construction refers to beauty as a whole. To preserve the idea of “being made” in this phrase, I have rendered it as “which is made perfect in beauty.”
But, why is it important to bring out the nature of “that being made perfect” in this passage? The answer lies in the question we have been asking — what made the Tabernacle and Temple perfect and beautiful? The answer is that it is the presence of God which does so. If God’s presence is not there, no matter the craftsmanship, its beauty is not perfect — it cannot be! And thus, God’s presence is what makes Zion to be “perfect in beauty” and worthy of being a place of worship. And indeed, in context, that is what the latter half of this verse communicates: God shines forth!
And so, why is the rebuilt Temple of Nehemiah never described in such terms? Why is the modified Temple of Herod never described in these terms? It is because God’s presence never manifested itself in those places — the Son was the greater Temple to come and is yet the great Temple of God (so why do so many people want to rebuild the old one?!?). And we, as the body of Christ, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, are the new Temple — perfect in beauty when we gather together as one to worship. But remember, we are not perfect in beauty because we are any way beautiful in and of ourselves. We are beautiful because God dwells in us and shines forth from us as we commit our worship and our lives to Him.