Earlier this summer, our family made a pilgrimage to the ultimate summer vacation destination, Disneyland. As we navigated the crowds, I noticed a common trait among our fellow mouse-eared tourists. With the exception of a few overstimulated toddlers and stressed-out parents, everyone around us was smiling and laughing. The strangers we met waiting in line, the families schlepping around snacks and sunscreen, the teens, newlyweds, and retirees – most people appeared to be reveling in the magic of their surroundings.
Before we left on our trip, I had decided to memorize Psalm 84. Halfway through our vacation, I realized how fitting it was to meditate on the happiest place in Israel while visiting the “happiest place on Earth.” Strolling through a joy-sparking atmosphere helped me imagine what it might have felt like stepping foot inside the tabernacle courts, except surrounded by songs of praise rather than reprises of “It’s a Small World.”
What made the tabernacle such a happy place? It didn’t boast fun rides, huggable characters, or photo opps galore. No, the greatest draw for the Israelites to visit the tabernacle was to be with the One who lived there.
Audience with the King
Psalm 84 extols the beauty of the tabernacle, the tented sanctuary God commanded Israel to build as His chosen residence in their midst. It housed the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place, where the high priest would go once a year to offer sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. Within that veiled back room, Yahweh descended to meet with His people, fulfilling His covenant promise. “I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God” (Exodus 29:45).
The author of Psalm 84 wasn’t so much enthralled by the tabernacle’s aesthetic magnificence as he was by the glory of its inhabitant. His heart cried out for the living God who enlightens like the sun and protects as a shield. In that holy tent, the God whose glory erupted on Mount Sinai like a devouring fire settled as a cloud swelling the air in the tabernacle. The experience was so astounding, it’s no wonder the psalmist yearned to go there: “My soul longs, yes, faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God” (Psalm 84:2).
This desire is what drove the Jewish pilgrims to trek through dry and mournful places like the Valley of Baca to reach the holy city of Jerusalem. God gave them the strength to endure the journey, and as a result of their perseverance, they gained audience with their true King. Those who appeared before God in Zion were blessed, or “happy,” because they’d reached their refuge and heart’s delight.
God mercifully provided a physical representation of His presence among His people by establishing the tabernacle, and later, the temple. But a tented house couldn’t provide a concrete solution to humanity’s sin problem. The annual sacrifices conducted there didn’t accomplish the full and final atonement required to make the people holy, as the author of Hebrews stated: “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). For us to be completely purified from sin, we needed God to come to Earth, live among us as a human, and die for us as a lamb.
Jesus, the Word of God, became that ultimate sacrifice by taking on flesh and dwelling among us (John 1:14). Another way of saying this is He “tabernacled” with us in the tent of His body. During His ministry on Earth, Christ declared He was the temple that would be destroyed and that He would raise in three days (John 2:19). When He surrendered his body to be nailed to the cross, He ripped the veil that separated the high priest from the Most Holy Place, and removed the barricade of sin that separated us from the Lord of hosts.
Like the author of Psalm 84, our joy isn’t fixed to a place, but to a Person. Jesus is our greatest treasure, the Messiah whom the prophets heralded, the loveliest dwelling the psalmist desired. Our Savior makes our hearts glad with his grace, wisdom, and love. Not only did Immanuel come here as the incarnate tabernacle, He also left us with his indwelling Spirit, who guides us in all truth, intercedes for us, and testifies that we’re God’s children.
Though Jesus eliminated our need to visit the tabernacle, we can still cultivate hearts that long for Him. To experience the Lord’s goodness, we can commit to God’s Word, prayer, and corporate worship.
- As we read and study Scripture, we deepen our understanding of Christ, learn how to live in a manner worthy of the gospel, and direct our minds to the ultimate source of happiness. “But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law does he meditate day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
- Through Jesus, our great high priest, we gain the privilege to approach our Father in heaven. We can beckon the God of Jacob to hear our prayers, anytime, anywhere, with the confidence that He’ll shower us with mercy and grace in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
- Christ’s promise to be present where two or three are gathered in His name offers ample motivation to show up at church on Sunday. When we worship at our Father’s house, and devote ourselves to teaching, fellowship, communion, and prayer together, we gain the joy of community: “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46).
The Best Destination
A day in the Lord’s house is lightyears better than a thousand days at Disneyland. Yet both places provide a shadow of something greater, something that fulfills a deeper need than tabernacle attendance or a meetup with Mickey.
Jesus is preparing a home for us in glory. As lovely as the tabernacle was to the Israelites, no man-made structure can compare to His heavenly palace. No happy experience on Earth will outshine the moment we see Him face-to-face.
Until that day, we can praise Him and enjoy the comfort of His Spirit. Wherever we live, we’re happiest with Him.