A lesson on radiance, goodness and the glory of God from Psalm 34
In 1998, I was crowned champion of the Appalachian State Intramural Pickleball Tournament. (Trust me, that sounds way more glamorous than it actually was.) While pickleball has caught on over time and has become, as one website put it, “one of the fastest growing sports America,” (although I’m pretty sure it’s still just as much an annoyance to tennis players as snowboarders were to skiers back in the day) no one had much of a clue as to what it was 20+ years ago. The only reason I entered the tournament was because our ‘legendary’ intramural team was in pursuit of the annual points championship, which was awarded to the team that had accumulated the most points through both participation and placement throughout the year. Since I had a tennis background, pickleball came somewhat natural for me. I went on to mow-down the competition (I’d like to think there were some 20-30 participants, but 6-8 is probably more accurate), further solidifying our grasp on the points championship that year.
The Glory Never Fades…or does it?
I have a friend here in Salisbury who attended App at the same time, who will occasionally ask, “How’s the ’98 Pickleball Champion today?” I’ll respond modestly, “The glory never fades!” I haven’t played pickleball since – choosing instead to go out while I was on top! This is precisely, by the way, why Michael Jordan should have never returned with the Wizards, and perhaps why Tom Brady should not play until he’s 45!
Nobody wants to watch the glory fade, do they?
It seems inevitable that any glory we experience in life will eventually fade. However, there is a particular glory we’re invited into – unlike pickleball championships – where instead of fading, only intensifies and increases. Let me explain…
Psalm 34 and Glory
I was recently reflecting on Psalm 34 – a psalm [King] David likely wrote following one of his attempts to flee King Saul who had become consumed with both himself and jealousy over the throne. David was, of course, a threat – not simply because he had been anointed as the king in succession by God through Samuel (1 Sam. 16:1-13) as a result of God’s rejection of Saul, but also because of the rivalry that had surfaced with David’s rise to glory, captured vividly in the people’s chants of celebration following the Israelite’s recent victory over the Philistines (which David was primarily responsible for bringing about):
Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his tens of thousands. (1 Samuel 18:7b, ESV)
So, Saul goes on a campaign of fighting two fronts: On one front, he’s (rightly) defending his people from outside threats; on the other front, he’s waging an internal fight focused on eliminating David. While it is sometimes, and only temporarily, necessary to fight two fronts, doing so is not sustainable and will only weaken the one(s) doing the fighting. (one of many wise, ancient advisements from The Art of War, Sun Tzu). It is this divided-ness of Saul that serves as one of the contributing factors for his ultimate demise.
In the midst of one of these particular crusades of Saul on David’s life, David flees to Gath, one of the royal cities of the Philistines, which also happens to be where Goliath was from. Not exactly the place you’d want to run as an Israelite; however, this only demonstrates how desperate David was to escape and find refuge. He eventually realizes his mistake as we’ll see in Psalm 34 (because, besides the obvious fact that it is never a good idea to take refuge in our enemies, it is God, and God alone, Who is our refuge!). While in Gath, the Philistines saw an opportunity to take something back from the Israelites, which included perhaps taking David captive. David’s reputation had preceded him as a ‘force.’ But instead of coming across as a threat, David (out of fear) pretended to be out of his mind. And King Achish, who seemed to have enough ‘madmen’ around him at the time, didn’t have room for another, which provided an opportunity for David to escape.
Read the account in 1 Samuel 21:10-15.
This is the context for Psalm 34, which begins as an expression of praise and thanksgiving to God:
I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. 2 My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. 3 Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!
Have you ever wondered, how is it possible to ‘bless’ God? Isn’t it God who is the Giver and bestower of blessings? Isn’t it He who blesses us for the sake of blessing others? (see Genesis 22:17-18, Proverbs 11:25, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4) What do we possibly have to give that could serve to ‘bless’ God? When we sing songs like ‘bless the Lord O my soul,’ what does that actually mean?
The Hebrew word for bless here is barak, which means to kneel, praise, or to speak a good word over/about. In other words, to bless God is to essentially speak a good word about God. How does it make us feel to have a good word spoken over us, spoken about us? A word that is true, that builds us up, that calls-out (in a good way) the best of who we are amidst all the noise, confusion and deception? While I would contend that God doesn’t need blessing the same way you and I do, imagine the joy in our Father’s heart as we sing about Him the way He sings over us. Consider Zephaniah 3:17 for a moment…
The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
Perhaps this is but a glimpse of what it means for us to bless the Lord. (We’ll get to the “at all times” part of verse 1 in a moment, because if you’re like me, and if you’re willing to get honest with yourself, we don’t always have a good word to speak about God, do we?)
David, the poet-psalmist, continues:
I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. 5 Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. 6 This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. 7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
Imagine the face of someone you’ve seen recently who was radiant. What was it about them that seemed to have a ‘glow?’ Almost immediately, most of us will think of an expectant mom who, despite just having thrown-up her guts earlier in the day, radiates with joy because of the new life within her. Of course, this particular week with Valentine’s Day coming up, may remind us of the face of a love-stricken boy or girl. While at the gym recently, I noticed this sweet girl whose face absolutely lit-up every time one particular boy walked by. What was even more precious about the moment was that she didn’t seem to have a care in the world about who might notice the big, cheesy grin on her face; she was unashamed!
When I think of someone whose face is radiant, I also think about a person who has just experienced a moment of worship that has left an ‘afterglow’ of sorts – where it is apparent the person has been in the presence of God. (Think of the disciples, Peter and John, in Acts 4:13: Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. Common here is translated from the Greek, idiōtēs, which is also where we get our English word idiot from. I love it! They were recognized as being idiots for Jesus!)
A Gracious Distance
This image of radiance reminds me of several details recorded in Exodus 33-34 involving Moses and the glory of God. In Exodus 33:7 (through 11), we’re introduced to this “tent” that Moses would go into regularly to meet with God, known as the Tent of Meeting. This tent was different from the Tabernacle, which would be constructed and set-up later right in the midst of the people, representing and hosting the Presence of God in their midst. One of the details that made the Tent of Meeting distinct is that this particular tent was set-up outside the Israelite camp, and this was for good reason. Because if you give a quick glance over Exodus 32, you’ll read the account of the idolatry and rebellion that broke out in the Israelite camp while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the tablets of testimony (10 Commandments) and the laws that would serve to govern the people. A significant part of the rebellion involved the people ‘pressure’ Aaron to make them an image of a god from the treasures of gold that had been given them by the Egyptians on their way out of captivity. Ironically, in just a few chapters following the people’s confirmation and acceptance of God’s covenant with them (Exodus 24), which included having no other gods before God and having no images of God in the form of idols, the people had already breached the covenant, resulting in God breaking out against them in chapter 32.
The Tent of Meeting was outside the camp for a reason. Think about it this way: Have you ever needed to put some distance in between you and another person, because if you stayed in their presence or they in yours, you were pretty sure you might kill them? Maybe not literally, but figuratively. You see, God had to place a distance between Himself, Moses and the people, because if God were to remain in their midst, he’d likely kill them…not because God was bloodthirsty, but because of His holiness (Ex. 33:3, 5). You see, the holiness of God doesn’t mix well with the unholiness of people. So God creates a distance, and it’s actually a gracious and merciful distance.
Starting in verse 12 of Exodus 33, we come across an interesting exchange between Moses and God, a conversation that is in response to God’s refusal to travel among this stiff-necked people (again, see Exodus 33:3,5). Moses is pleading with God to relent because in Moses’ mind, it would be better to remain in the wilderness with God than to go to the promised land without Him.
It’s better to be in the wilderness WITH GodTweet
than in the Promised Land WITHOUT God.
I Want More!
Moses presses further in verse 18:
Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”
As I’ve studied this passage over the years, I have found this request of Moses initially confusing, but quite profound. Think about all that Moses has seen up to this point: the burning bush, the signs, plagues, miracles, including the parting of the Red Sea, water from the rock, the bread of heaven in the form of manna, the theophany of God on the mountain, including being on the mountain with God, in the very presence of God for 40 days and 40 nights. What more could Moses ask for that he hasn’t already seen and experienced?
Besides Moses sounding a little spoiled, and obviously being a bit ‘needy’ here (neediness, by the way, is okay when it comes to God!), Moses is expressing a deep truth for you and I to ponder – that the more of God we see, the more of God we want. Moses is saying: God, I want more of you! And that’s a good thing!
The more of God we see,Tweet
the more of God we want.
(If you think we’ve wandered from and forgotten about where we started from in Psalm 34, hang in there…this is going somewhere.)
GLORY = Goodness
Check out God’s response to Moses, starting in verse 19:
Now, there’s obviously so much here, but consider something that God says in verse 19 in response to Moses’ request. He says, “I will make all my goodness pass before you…” He doesn’t say His glory; He says His goodness.
This is what I want us to see. The goodness of God in the glory of God. Or to put it another way: The glory of God is the goodness of God. In Exodus 34:6-7, God carries out this plan to reveal His glory/goodness to Moses.
Skipping forward to Exodus 34:29ff, we come back to the Tent of Meeting. Moses has returned from being on the mountain another 40 days/nights to receive the new tablets of testimony. But this time, as Moses returns to the camp, his face and skin are actually glowing! This would have been a little freaky I’m sure. But Moses does something a bit interesting: Moses put a veil over his face. Whenever he went back into the Tent to speak with the Lord, he would remove the veil, his skin literally soaking-up the glory of God. When he spoke with the people, they would see (in fear and amazement) the glow coming from Moses’ skin, indicating he had been with the Lord. But during the moments in between, he would put a veil over his face.
2 Corinthians 3:12-18 gives us a pretty solid explanation:
Since we have such a hope (read verses 7-18 together for a more full context), we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
You see, the reason Moses covered up his face was to hide the fading glory that would inevitably occur in-between his moments of being in the presence of God.
Isn’t this what happens each week for so many of us? We show up ‘to church’ each week to fill-up on God, sometimes walking away with our faces ‘glowing,’ radiant with the glory of God. But what immediately begins to happen is that the glory fades, whether we choose to veil it or not.
While there is something good and necessary about our need to be together regularly in a place, among a people who are worshipping and blessing God together, collectively and corporately, it is this ‘fading glory’ that is precisely behind why I have encouraged folks for years to STOP ‘attending‘ church, quit ‘going‘ to church, and instead to ‘be‘ church while learning how to keep our gaze fixed on Jesus constantly during the in-between. You see, our worship and blessing of God reorients us to what is true, good, and right while fixing our gaze on the One who alone is worthy of our worship. And as a result, we radiate with the glory of God.
The Ever-Increasing Glory
The NIV translates verse 18 this way: And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
In other words, instead of a glory that fades, the Spirit of God sees to it that the glory of God reflected in us is one that will not fade but actually ever-increase.
So, the question that leaves us with in which we’ll wrap up here is this: How is it possible for me to radiate the glory of God in an ever-increasing way?
Isn’t this the challenge of the in-between moments of being in a places where we seem to be in the undeniable presence of God, wanting so desperately to stay and bask in the glow, knowing good and well that the moment we walk out of the door, it’ll inevitably begin to fade?
While I don’t presume to have a profoundly easy answer to such a question, what I would like to propose is actually quite simple. (Interesting how easy and simple are not always the same!)
1. Focus on the Gospel.
We begin by coming back to the simplicity of the Gospel, the price of which was anything but easy. The Gospel is that we do not have to remain distanced from God because of our sin. Instead of God putting a safe distance between Himself, God has come into the camp with us. By sending Jesus, God came near. He remained holy and undefiled while living among the unholy and defiled, eventually offering Himself as the once-and-for-all sacrifice on the Cross to redeem us from our sinfulness, thus making a way for us to come near to God. By putting our faith in Him by confessing Jesus is Lord and believing that God raised Him from the dead, God replaces our unrighteousness with His righteousness, justifying and making us ‘right’ before Himself. No longer are we defined by sin before God. And while we will continue to struggle with, and even at times become entangled in sin, through faith in Jesus, we are NO LONGER ‘sinners saved by grace’ before God, but now therefore the ‘righteousness of Christ.’
Therefore, we have been given a NEW Spirit, one that has taken down the walls, demolished the barriers between us and God. No longer do we have to go to ‘a place’ to soak in the glory of God, for now God is dwelling within us.
2. Find Your ‘Tent of Meeting‘
And yet, while we are no longer in need of places to go as ‘mobile Temples’ of God in whom His Spirit now dwells with ever-increasing glory, physical places will always serve some valuable purpose for re-centering us on the Spirit within.
Let me conclude by asking: Where is your Tent of Meeting? The place you go to sit and still yourself in the glory of God? A place where more often than not, you find yourself walking away radiating the ever-increasing glory of God?
As you ponder that question, let me take us back (as promised) one more time to Psalm 34. Notice how many times in the following verses you find the word ‘good.’
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! 9 Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! 10 The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. 11 Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. 12 What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? 13 Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. 14 Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
How is it that the psalmist can begin by saying: “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.”? Because of the goodness of God. You see, Moses asked to see the glory of God. And what did God cause to pass before him? All His (God’s) goodness (Exodus 33:19). The glory of God is evident in the goodness of God. And oftentimes it takes a Tent of Meeting to keep focused on the good, especially while we sojourn in a world filled with darkness and despair that will inevitably disorient us from ourselves and the Spirit of God within and among us. To lose our focus of Him will lead us to pull a figurative veil over our face, creating an unfortunate distance between the glory of God within us and the world around us that is in such desperate need of the radiant hope of the Gospel.
- Find your Tent of Meeting and go there often.
- As you do, bless the Lord by meditating, singing and proclaiming the good word He has spoken over you.
- Experience what the psalmist writes in verse 8:
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
And as you savor His goodness, know that you are as the one described in verse 5, whose face is radiant because you have looked (and are looking) to Him, with faces unashamed and guarded against disappointment.
Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. -Psalm 34:5 ESV