Psalm 84: An exposition
In the rule of the old dispensation, God's dwelling place, his choice of manifestation was in the tabernacle, in the temple built by human hands. The psalmist fathomed that the LORD of host was to be found there, therefore this whole Psalm consists of his longing and praises for those whose dwellings are in the house of Yahweh.
My prayer for the church under the new covenant, where the temple has been violently rend asunder and God may now be found in their midst wherever and whenever the sheep gathers, is that such longings and obsession be established for Yahweh’s presence may exhaust their souls.
How exceedingly the psalmist loved the dwelling place of Yahweh is a love which we must all admire. Vs. 1 How lovely is your dwelling place. The word lovely signifies that the psalmist views God's dwelling place as a place of beauty that appeals to the heart and mind as well as to the eye. Where God dwells expresses the psalmist elsewhere is a most lovely and refreshing of all places. There my heart is glad and comforted and God gives them drink from the river of his delights. The location of worship, namely God’s dwelling place, which is the abode where God decided to make his earthly footstool is the best place for this psalmist to abide. He longs for this habitation so much so that Vs. 2 his soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD. Here we are witnessing a heart that truly seeks the presence. The psalmist wants God so immeasurably that he begins to faint because he is exhausted with delay. He mourns his lot that he must wait until the day of worship, that he must wait until the Sabbath or for the appointed feast, and for the end of his miserable exile. But his reverent soul is thirsty now, his eyes are ravenously eager to feast upon the beauty of the Lord. His desires are deep and insatiable that his heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.
That my dear reader is the psalmist whole nature. His body and spirit sing exceedingly, they sing delightfully in a harmonious chorus, they sing excitedly for joy in the living God. Communion my dear mortal with the LORD of host is the psalmist source of pleasure. A reflection on Yahweh sends his soul into a universe of delight. Will you not too dear Christian bring your soul and flesh to sing for joy to the living God? Have you no comprehension on how awesome he is and how incalculably majestic? How beautiful? How holy and how lovely? One does not anticipate one who was born blind to marvel at the harmony of the colours of the rainbow, but one does expect poets to make the rainbow their choice of discourse when discussing signs of heavenly beauty. They ought to be quick and can never be swift enough to praise the colourful beauty of the rainbow. Likewise, the saint can never arise early enough or sleep late enough to praise the colours of God’s surpassing beauty and excellencies.
Vs. 3 Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God. Our God's holiness is not the kind that will not allow nature to lodge in his dwelling place. For such is the loveliness of God's courts and welcoming aroma that the sparrow and the swallow find it a safe place to dwell and lay their young. These animals know instinctively that this is the warmest place for their children to hatch and grow. Under this divine light thinks the swallow that her young will receive the comforting love of the divine being, who clothes them and grants them their daily food. The psalmist fantasises that his lot was like the sparrow, namely to make his home there in God’s dwelling place undisturbed. But his worship has been tampered with because he is a wandering exile. The psalmist longs, yea eagerly desires to be reunited to the courts of Yahweh.
Vs. 4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! The psalmist here had in mind those blessed priests and Levites whose occupation was forever to sing praises to Yahweh. We are told in 2Ch 5:11-14 that the priests came out of the Holy Place (for all the priests who were present had consecrated themselves, without regard to their divisions, and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kinsmen, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with 120 priests who were trumpeters; and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the LORD), and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the LORD, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever," the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God.
Can you see why the psalmist observed them blessed? Who would not be blessed if the presence of God was their daily sight as he does his work? O God let the church be filled with your glory; bring the cloud so that the minister may not be able to stand to minister and your people will be awed by your presence.
In the rule of the old covenant, the privileges of those who may constantly dwell in the house of God were limited to a few. All of Israel could not enjoy such daily felicity. But there was another way where the same blessedness (in regards to being considered blessed) as the priest and Levites enjoyed was open equally to all, namely those who put their strength in God; whose hearts are the highway to Zion. Isaiah tells us that those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. This is indeed a blessed disposition! It is these who shall descend the hills of Zion without feeling the weariness of the journey. Their joy shall rise from one degree to another. As the Psalmist will later write, they go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion. Their hearts are the highways to Zion, namely that in their souls is contained great affections, exceeding merriment, vivid remembrance of the path to Zion. No man who have not this desire, this aptitude for worship can in no degree know the way to Zion, nay he shall have no desire to tread upon the holy hill. But those whose hearts have longed, and fainted, who are in desperate need to have their zeal for worship quenched, recognize and remember the paths in which they must take to Zion, God's tabernacle.
This pilgrim's walk towards their beloved destination and the journey is sweetened by company. A man may go alone to worship God but when it is accompanied with brothers and sisters who share the same desire for worship, it is doubly sweetened. There is a holiness in their journey, a shifting of atmosphere in their treading. Vs. 6 For as they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs. This is to purport that as they journey through the valley of Baca they make it a most lovely habitat. It is as if they bid farewell to death and usher in life. Dead flowers begin to rise, dry grounds begin to overflow with water. Birds who have longed abandoned this valley return; and the sky which has permanently judged it unworthy of its rain and sunshine commence to smile upon it once again. All this occurs because those who have embalmed the gospel on their feet and the praises of God in their hearts have walked by it and brought life to it. Such is the life given Spirit of Jehovah. Hence the saying of our Lord, ‘You are the light of the world.’
The joy of God in the soul wipes away all tears, likewise the light of Christ dispels all darkness. Are you currently in the Valley of Baca, a place where you have no happiness and comfort? Do you have much sorrow and troubles? Fear not little one and pace towards a minister or a brother who has much joy for worship in their soul and bid them to pray for you. Bid them to tell you about the coming sunshine of heaven which will soon guzzle the darkness of this earth away. Inform them to linger on the goodness of the gospel, communicate to them, and yea transmit to them to say much about God's love for you and how Christ will wipe away all tears. O may the early mercy of God fill your dryness with pools of joy. May you rise from your valley of Baca and rest on Christ green pasture.
The pilgrim’s journey is filled with praise; and as the days give entrance to the night of their reception, their praises rise higher and higher. Their conversation is sweetened, their hearts heightened, Vs. 7 they go from strength to strength as each one knows that soon they shall be found in the temple of God, and thus each one appears before God in Zion. O what a moment when that travelling saint arrives! He sees with eyes of faith a Father surrounded by numerous angels glad that his son his present to worship him and the believer falls flat on his face with a heart full of gladness and awe. What a ceremony takes place. Imagine the reception that awaited Christ when he anew stepped on that heavenly shore. One can see the Father sprint from his throne to embrace his resurrected Son. Christ must have been embarrassed with the many kisses that met him, nevertheless the Father rejoiced and thus called for an eternal feast. How much the Father’s eyes must had stared upon that empty throne when His Son was on earth that He who was always by his side was no longer there for a brief period. Yet the Father was glad, and that exceedingly that His precious Son was here below to do his will. And how glad ought we to be that Christ made it possible for God’s dwelling place to be in our hearts.
The Psalmist laying down his reflections and fondness of those who have the privileges to go to the LORD's dwelling place, now glanced up to the heavens to propose a petition. Vs. 8 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; give hear O God of Jacob! It is as if the psalmist is saying, look upon my miserable conditions, see how my soul faints, give ears to my petitions, let me once again go through the Valley of Baca and rest upon your alters. Please Jehovah hear my cry, feel my desperation and keep your covenant with Israel by returning them to their promised land where they can enjoy your full fellowship in the temple. This is the psalmist cry, this is what he wants the Lord of host to hear. For he himself is an exile and cannot enjoy God as those whose luxury is to remain in God's temple.
Vs. 84:9 Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed! God is the undisputed shield of Israel, he is the reason that Israel are still in existence today and he is the sole reason that they will remain so until all his promises towards that blessed race is fulfilled. Deu 33:29 says, happy are you, O Israel! who is like you, a people saved by the LORD, the shield of your help, and the sword of your triumph. And in Genesis 15:1, the LORD himself said to Abraham in a vision: "fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." God is the incontestable shield of Israel. Thus one can render this verse to say, Behold our God, O God. But some may not find this convincing and argue that the psalmist has in mind the king of Israel or perhaps Israel as a whole to mean the shield. The case for this interpretation continues on the linear road that it makes not much sense for God to behold himself. The text reads awkwardly if that is the case and besides the next words in the verse directs God's gaze at the anointed one, therefore concluding that Israel’s king or Israel in general is what the psalmist has in view. But I contest that this text could also be rendered, Behold, you are our shield, O God; therefore look on the face of your anointed. What the psalmist calls for is a favourable gaze, a sympathetic stare that arouses God to rise from his mighty throne to deliver Israel and its king.
The reason for this petition, this heartfelt cry for favour is so that God's people or rather this particular psalmist may spend a day in the courts of the lord as the psalmist himself declares Vs. 10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. The lowest job in the kingdom of our Lord is better than the grandest job outside of it. I would rather wash the feet of the saints for all eternity in that golden city than to be found the king of hell. Let me have the ugliest clothes in the Kingdom than be adorn with the finest robes of the richest earthly king. Gladly I will forsake all comforts if I can rest my head on a rock in Christ's kingdom. Such is the difference in blessedness or rather the infinite degree of betterness in Christ’s Kingdom compared to the most fashionable kingdoms elsewhere. It is why our good Lord can say, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Vs. 11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. No good things does he withhold, that is nothing which can benefit the soul of the saint to forever marvel and declare the praises of God does he withhold. God is the generous giver. He is goodness itself. No being can out-give God. And we read in the letter to the Ephesians that, blessed be the God our Father who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessings in the heavenly place. And what spiritual blessings as he not blessed you with dear saint? It is nothing at all. It is all yours in Christ Jesus. He is your sun and shield. He is your shield from sin and he is your sun of righteousness which blots out all your sins and replaces it with everlasting righteousness. He bestowed favour on you when you did not ask it. For in as much as you are a Christian, born again, it was a favour that you did not request. It was first given to you and as all good child, you only thanked him afterwards. Although we may perceive that it was our asking that made us born again, (this is a good thing to ask for) yet those who are mature in the faith upon reflection will know that their choosing, their divine election was done and sealed before the foundation of the world. If you do not agree with me then you must take your dispute with the scriptures. Ephesians 1: 4 reads, ‘even as he chose in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.’
Vs. 12 O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you! These are fitting words to end this psalm. For the psalmist has given testimony of the blessedness of those who are favoured to engage in God’s services by dwelling in his dwelling place, and also of the blessedness of those who find their strength in him and finally of the blessedness of those who trusts in him.
Let us be those who have a heart as this psalmist, who eagerly yearned to be found in the sanctuary of God so that our hearts may bath in that which it was made, namely to praise and worship God by enjoying him forever.