Sacred Space – From Bamah to David’s Psalms
For several centuries after the Israelites settled in Israel, the Tabernacle of Moses was the premier location for worshiping God. Given the distance to travel to the Tabernacle, other altars were established to Jehovah in high places. These high places (Hebrew: bamoth (pl), bamah (s)) were special altars set up by prophets and priests, such as Samuel, in order to worship the Lord as was done prior to the days of the Tabernacle. In later years, kings Hezekiah and Josiah would remove the altars and cause all animal sacrifice to be done only at the temple, concentrating more power under the temple priests, and showing the importance of that one sacred space.
King David saw the hand of God in his life, as the Lord protected him from his enemies and delivered him time and again. David sought to make God’s presence and holiness apparent to the people of Jerusalem, Israel, and the world, by certain actions. First, David brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. While the Tabernacle itself remained in Shiloh, the presence of the Lord (the Ark of the Covenant), would be brought to the king’s city, where a special and sacred place was created for it.
Second, David planned on building a temple. The Lord commanded David not to do so, as he was a man of war. The Lord would have Solomon build the temple as a man of peace and wisdom.
Finally, David wrote the Psalms. In Hebrew, Psalms is: Th’hilliym or Tehillim, תְהִלִּים, meaning, “Praises.” When reading Psalms, it is important to focus on the location where these were anciently sung: in front of the Tabernacle and in holy settings. There are 150 songs or hymns in Psalms. Some are long, and often may be combined chants. The Psalms were meant to be sung or chanted, and some even have instrumentation and note the tune to be played. However, since none come with musical annotation, we do not know what the original music was like. The Psalms praise the Lord through the Tabernacle itself. For example, in Psalms 15, we read,
Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour (Psalms 15:1-3)
Here we find two sacred spaces, the Tabernacle and the “holy hill” or the mount of Zion. For God, his people were to be holy and above all others as to righteousness. Mountains, such as Sinai, represented an intermediate place between earth and heaven, where man and God could commune face to face. As noted in part one, Moses sought to take Israel to the top of Sinai, so they could commune directly with God. In the end, he succeeded in taking only the leaders of the people. In the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle, those few who were able to enter therein were entering into God’s presence.
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the gods, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet (Psalm 8:3-6).
The Tabernacle represents the cosmos, the Creation, and the divine council. Early Israel believed that God held council with his divine children. These divine beings include the seraphim, cherubim, and archangels such as Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. In LDS belief, we are the spirit children of God, and were in his presence prior to this mortal life. God made us a “little lower than the gods” in sending us to earth. Adam was given dominion over all things on earth, with the promise of great glory from God. Of course, the Psalm also has definite reference to Jesus Christ as the “Son of Man,” who emptied himself of his glory that he could come to earth, and in accomplishing his atoning work, has been crowned “with glory and honour.”
How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts! My soul longeth , yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God. Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee. Selah. Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them. Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools. They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God. O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear , O God of Jacob. Selah. Behold , O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed. For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness (Psalms 84:1-10).
This talks of the pilgrimage to the Tabernacle (and future temple) of the people. They struggle through the wilderness (Baca), until they reach the blessed land of Zion, where they sing praise to God. The “anointed” may mean the priest, the pilgrim, or even Jesus Christ. It is a participatory experience, where all are engaged. The doorkeeper is the special guard or sentinel at the entrance of the tabernacle or temple. The doorkeeper would ensure that the person entering was an initiate, or in the case of the ancient temple, circumcised and worthy. The word “Selah” asks the hearer to pause and ponder what has been said.
“In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears” (Psalms 18:6). David’s rescue is described as the Lord descends and the whole earth reels and shakes, as it did in the Creation itself. David sees himself as with God in the creation of the world.
The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods. Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah (Psalms 24:1-10).
Here we find that the Tabernacle teaches us of God’s glory, the cosmos and the Creation. We learn that those who ascend to the tabernacle, or holy hill, are first those with clean hands and a pure heart. As Jesus would later teach, “ Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8), clearly a reference to Psalms 24, the Tabernacle/Temple, and seeing God.
The Lord comes suddenly to his temple (Malachi 3:1), and all will worship Him. Not only will the people lift up their heads to see God, but the holy “everlasting doors” (made from veils in the Tabernacle) will be lifted up or opened, so all can see God sitting on his mercy seat.
So is the importance of this sacred space, the Tabernacle/Temple. It is God’s house, where we may be again in His presence, and where we may see his great work of creation go on. It is the place where we may worship Him, be with Him, and learn to be like Him. Selah.
By Gerald Smith