A Bible Lesson on Psalm 84

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This is a Bible lesson on a passage outside the current ISSL schedule, Psalm 84.  This is a Psalm about how blessed it is to worship in God’s temple.  The leading theory concerning its origin is that it was either 1) the composition of a pilgrim to Jerusalem, describing his anticipation of joining the worship there, or 2) the composition of a Levite unable (perhaps because of a time of war/siege) to make his regular trip to Jerusalem and perform his duties in the temple.  In either case, it speaks clearly of the writer’s longing to be near to God, to worship at the place He has appointed.

Psalm 84:1  To the choirmaster: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah. How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!

The word “gittith” is apparently obscure.  Some believe that it amounts to some kind of direction for the musicians (like “on the organ”).  The “Sons of Korah” refers to one of the Levite clans whose temple duties included music, and the keeping of the gates, and baking.

How lovely is your “dwelling place.”  Clearly, God doesn’t live in the temple or the tabernacle.   The psalmist is speaking here in the sense that Jerusalem is the central, God-appointed place for the people of Israel to meet and worship God.

“O LORD of hosts!” says the psalmist.  This can refer to human armies, the celestial bodies, or heavenly creatures.  In using this title, the psalmist is conveying God’s complete sovereignty over all the powers of the universe, over all that is.

2 My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.

The psalmist has a bumper sticker on his donkey that reads “I’d rather be in church!”  All of this guy’s being cries out for God.  He’s nearly faint from deprivation of being able to worship in Jerusalem.

In mentioning soul, heart, and flesh, the psalmist is not making distinction between parts of himself.  (He is no dichotomist or trichotomist.)  When Hebrew says “soul” it is not referring to a “spiritual” aspect of a person in distinction from the physical, nor is it referring to an “inner” self as opposed to a person’s “outer” being.  It is talking about a whole living self, as a living, conscious, personal being.  The “heart” and “flesh” are simply poetic restatements of the fact that the psalmist’s whole being longs for God.

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.

The psalmist is almost jealous of the birds of the air, in that they have easy access to the temple.  They can live right on the grounds!  If this is a song of a pilgrim, the contrast is that to get to Jerusalem means a difficult journey of perhaps many days.  If it is the song of a Levite unable to reach the temple because of war, there is great anguish in his heart at being separated from the appointed place of worship, while simple birds can fly right in!

4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! Selah

Blessed are those “who dwell in your house.”   If this is meant to be literal, it might refer to priests/Levites that were staying on the temple grounds.  If it is figurative, it could refer to those who would be there, not as priests, but as God’s guests.  See Psalm 15, referring to those who are in God’s presence through moral righteousness.  In any case, those who are in the presence of God will praise Him for who He is.

Selah … think about that one.  This is possibly a musical instruction (marking the end of the first third of the Psalm).

5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

Those who will be blessed are those who do not trust in themselves, but rather rely upon/trust in/cleave to God, who have real faith in God.

The latter part of this verse is apparently somewhat obscure in the Hebrew.  The way the ESV translators have rendered it, it seems to refer to those who make their way to Jerusalem to worship.  They are “blessed.”  This word is sometimes also translated “happy,” but is no shallow happiness that depends upon circumstances.  It is an overriding sense of joy regardless of circumstances.

Remember that all devout Jewish males were to appear before God at the temple 3 times a year: at Passover, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles.  (Exodus 23:14-17)

6 As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.

As far as scholars can tell, the Valley of Baca doesn’t refer to a specific place.  The word “Baca” means “weeping,” or it is the name of a balsam tree that only grows in arid, desert-like circumstances.  The point is that those who rely upon God instead of themselves find that as they make their way to worship God, arid valleys turn out to be places of refreshment, watered by God.

7 They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.

They go from strength to strength.  That is, instead of wearing down as they push on to the temple, those who are going to worship God actually gather strength along the way.  They wind up, not down as they headed to Zion/Jerusalem, to corporate worship.

8 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah

Now the psalmist interrupts describing his love for the temple of God (as the appointed place of worship and the joy of pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem) to offer a prayer.  He addresses the “God of Jacob.”  This is not only the God who is all-powerful, but the God who chose the Children of Israel for His own, the God who is a covenant-keeping God, the One who will indeed listen!

9 Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed!

Once again the Hebrew here is apparently somewhat ambiguous.  It is not completely clear who is being referred to as the psalmist’s shield.  Some translations render this verse in such a way that the shield refers to God himself.  Others renders it in such a way that the reference is to the king, God’s anointed ruler over the people.  In any case, the last part of the verse clearly refers to the king, and the psalmist is praying for his welfare.  The welfare of a civil ruler has to do with the joy of having access to Jerusalem and the temple in that without sensible civil authority, there is no domestic tranquility and conditions that allow travel to worship at the temple.  The New Testament tells Christians to pray for those in authority so that there would sane just conditions and circumstances in which the Gospel can be preached openly.

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.

How prestigious is the job of a doorkeeper?  This may well be the Psalmist’s standard, humble place of service.  He’d rather do his humble job in the temple than share the life of those who don’t honor God.  Better a day at the temple than 3 years anyplace else.  Better be a homeless person and stand in the back of the church during worship than to own a beautiful estate in a place where there is no worship of God.

How real does this sound?  “Better a Sunday at church than 3 years of vacation in the Key West”?  If  not, what’s the problem with us?  The psalmist’s consistent focus here is God’s presence.  Most of what would influence us differently is our own crass selfishness or petty things between people that give us excuse stay away from corporate worship.  There’s none of that here.

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.

Here is the climax of the whole Psalm, and the psalmist makes it clear that it is not the house of God but rather its occupant that is his delight.  He delights in the LORD.  What the psalmist understood is that God is our only source of satisfaction.  God is a sun, giving light, warmth, and ultimately life.  He’s a shield, our only true protection from the things that would destroy us.  He is gracious, giving all good things to us for eternity.  Indeed, if this is true (and we ought to decide whether we really believe that it is), there is no sensible reason for preferring to be anyplace else besides in His presence, in the gathering of those who honor God.

12 O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!

Genuinely deep-down  happy, in a way that doesn’t depend upon circumstances, is the man who trusts in, relies upon, believes in God.

Indeed, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him eternally.”

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

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