Blog Archives

Perfect in Beauty

“From Zion, from that which is made perfect in beauty, God shines forth.”

(Psalm 50:2)

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. 

A Proverb in a Song: part 9

“Their graves are their everlasting homes—

tabernacles from generation to generation;

they proclaim loudly by their own name over the land.”

(Psalm 49:12 {Psalm 49:11 in English})

 

Not only will all face death—both the wise and the foolish, great and small, but apart from God, there is none who can escape the grave.  No matter who you are or what you have done, the grave awaits all as a final home.  There are none—save Jesus—who have entered the grave and risen from it, thus where else but Jesus can one find hope?  You would not trust your car to a mechanic who had never lifted the hood; you would not trust yourself to a heart surgeon who had never performed a successful operation; why would you trust your eternal soul to one who never left the grave?  Jesus left the grave and promised his followers that he would bring us through the grave as well—that sounds like a pretty safe bet, but oh, how many would deny Him and seek their own pathway only to their own destruction.

There is some discussion as to the meaning of the final clause in this verse.  It is a Hebrew idiom that is often translated as speaking of how people name lands after themselves in their vanity, yet still find themselves buried in those same lands.  Regardless of how you understand the idiom, there certainly is an ironic link here between these lands and the graves wherein the people will make their final homes.  Yet, I think that there may be something more going on with this verse.  The language of proclaiming (or speaking boldly) in one’s own name is also used of the activity of God (Exodus 34:5-7).  In this passage, God is essentially invoking his own name to give force to what it is that he is going to say next—specifically in context, it is a statement about his sovereignty.  God does not proclaim by his name very often, but when he does, we should take notice, because it is adding force to what he is about to say next.  It is as if God is couching the force of the next statement in the very nature of his being.  If we take this, then and apply it back to our verse, we may also interpret this, then, as the unbeliever essentially seeking to make a bad imitation of God.  They seek to pronounce their authority by their own name upon the land, yet the land will still consume them in the end.

How easy it is to become arrogant and to begin to think of ourselves in terms of our own authority, power and might.  But, beloved, how short-lived our influence is.  In the scope of eternity, only one person has made a difference, and that person is Jesus Christ.  How silly and foolish it is for us to seek to pronounce things by our own names when we cannot order the events of today, let alone, tomorrow.  How foolish and arrogant we become before the eyes of God when we trust in our own might and not in the might of Him who formed us and who called us from before the creation of the world.