For the director of music. According to gittith. Of the Sons of Korah. A psalm.
How lovely is your dwelling-place,
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young –
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.
Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty;
listen to me, God of Jacob.
Look on our shield, O God;
look with favour on your anointed one.
Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favour and honour;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose way of life is blameless.
Lord Almighty,(Ps. 84:1-12 NIV)
blessed is the one who trusts in you.
This is a Psalm that we can resonate with, having been in lockdown for almost four months, ‘How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty.’ The Psalmist is not just admiring the aesthetics of the building – though it was a place of aesthetic beauty – the primary meaning is that it was a place that was well loved. The temple in the Psalmist’s day represented the symbol of God’s presence. The symbol of God’s presence today is the gathering of God’s people in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. We haven’t been able to gather that way. It is not the temple that the Psalmist misses, but it is the presence of the LORD Almighty, the presence of the covenant LORD Almighty. The presence of the LORD Almighty has transformed every moment of adversity, has put joy into every hymn of praise. His soul, his heart, his body cry out to have an appearance in the courts of the LORD, his soul yearns to the point of fainting to be before the LORD God. His longing is physical, spiritual and emotional. It is positively all-consuming. The LORD is the living God, His presence transforms death into life, bondage into freedom.
For some reason (perhaps exile) the Psalmist cannot be in the presence of the Lord, and he thinks of how blessed the sparrow is compared to him. Even the tiny sparrow or the swallow has found a place, a home in the presence of the Lord to have their nests, where they may bring up their young. The Psalmist thinks of his fondest place, a place near the altar, a place where sacrifice is made, a place where blood is shed, a place where he can confess his sins and offer sacrifices of thanksgiving. The Psalmist is not comparing his life with the life of such a sparrow or swallow, but he is surmising about the wonder of the place where the God of glory dwells. This is the place of the warrior God and King. There is great blessing for all who dwell in God’s presence, they are compelled out of joy to praise the Lord.
V1-4 describe the experience of being in the presence of the Lord. V5-7 describe the journey of the pilgrims as they make their way to the presence of the Lord. This pilgrim journey is more fully explored in the Songs of Ascents (Pss. 120-134). The blessedness of the Lord is not restricted to those who are in the temple, but those whose hearts are set upon making a pilgrimage to be in the presence of the Lord, the Lord surely is their strength. This pilgrim journey can be thought of in a number of ways. The literal sense is the journey to celebrate a festival in Jerusalem. It can also be thought of as the journey through life enjoying the presence of the Lord. Finally it can be thought of as the whole of life’s journey as we live out our lives in the strength of the Lord, to be finally taken into His presence through death. When you read through Psalms 120-134 it is helpful to have those three journeys in mind. True and deep human happiness can never be fond apart from right relationship with God. The strength of the Lord is needed for the journey, and when we rest in that strength we are truly blessed. The literal reading of verse 5 is quite interesting, ‘Happy are those whose strength is in You, the highways are in their heart.’ Those who have strength of the Lord in their hearts, they are pursuing the highways of life that lead them to God. It is this idea that prompted Eugene Peterson to name his commentary on the Songs of Ascents as, ‘A long obedience in the same direction.’
V6 is difficult because no such valley can be located. It might mean a valley with a certain type of tree. Baka also sounds like the verb ‘to weep’ The New Living Translation says, ‘When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs, where pools of blessing collect after the rains!’ This would not be out of keeping with the concept of the pilgrim journey, because as we make our way along life’s journey we are not immune to trouble. Because we journey towards the Lord’s presence in the strength of the Lord, what initially is a valley of tears becomes a place of refreshing springs, where there are pools of blessing. It is a reminder of Psalm 46.
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,(Ps. 46:3-4 NIV)
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
Whether the Psalmist is in exile or literally on the journey to Jerusalem, the point is clear, whichever valley of tears or weeping you might be in, the strength of the Lord with you makes all the difference. In the strength of the Lord, the pilgrim battles on from strength to strength until each single pilgrim appears before the Lord in His presence.
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.(2 Cor. 3:18 NIV)
Today as we meditate upon the Lord’s glory, we are moving from strength to strength, in ever increasing steps of glory.
V8 The Psalmist turns to God in prayer to pray for the anointed one, who is the shield and protector for his people. The king is the anointed of the Lord, his role is to protect the Lord’s people. Since the king is dependent on the Lord’s blessing, so the Psalmist prays to the Great King that He might bless and show favour to the earthly king.
The Psalmist brings the Psalm to a conclusion with a hymn of praise. One day in the presence of the Lord is better than a thousand anywhere else. The Psalmist is not equating a day in the Lord’s presence to be close to a thousand days anywhere else. One day in God’s presence is better than a thousand times ten thousand, a number so large that you can’t even think about it. There is nothing that can compare with the presence of the Lord. The Psalmist would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord than live in the mansions of the wicked. The Lord is our sun and shield. The light and brightness of the sun brings restoration and life, the shield protects us from all harm. The Lord lavishes on His people grace and honour. He will not keep from us any good things, from those whose walk is blameless before Him.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all– how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?(Rom. 8:31-32 NIV)
Covenant LORD Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in You.
Sweet hour of prayer
Lord God it is precious to be in Your presence. We long for Your special presence when we gather with Your people, but we thank You that we may walk in life in the strength of the Lord and that this is a great blessing to us. Lord may the highways in our lives be the paths that we take, that we might live a long obedience in the one direction. Hear our prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.