Today’s reading brings us to the end of Book 3. In Psalm 84 the psalmist expresses his deep spiritual longing for God’s presence while the psalmist in 85 leads the post explicit community in a lament and prayer for full redemption. Psalm 86 begins as a lament as well and 87 pictures Jerusalem as the city of God where all nations are citizens. Psalm 88 is the lament of one cast out of God’s presence and 89 is a mix of praise for the Lord and the exalted throne of David plus a lament from the psalmist about the Lord’s apparent rejection of His covenant with David.
Psalm 84 is classified as a psalm of Zion, a psalm that celebrates God’s presence in Jerusalem, the city where His temple was built. For us, today, it is not necessary to go to the temple or to Jerusalem to draw near to God because God is near to those who trust in His Son. This psalm was composed by the sons of Korah. Not only does the psalmist express his longing for God’s presence but he fainted with longing as he reflects on the temple and on the pilgrims who make the journey to Jerusalem. He prays for himself and for the community, and the conclusion of this psalm clarifies that the temple represents God. The psalmist knows that God’s goodness is greater than life and that only God can give His people favor and honor. Some suggest this was written by a Jewish man who could not make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate one of three annual feasts. This psalm is divided by the interludes or ‘selah’.
For whatever reason it appears the psalmist is far from the temple, and he turns towards it in hopeful reflection. The psalmist tells us two major things here in the opening sentences. First, he tells us that the temple or dwelling place of the Lord is beautiful, and second, he reminds us that the Lord’s dwelling place is beloved by all who love the Lord. It is the dwelling place of the Lord, His house, and the place where His glory dwelt. While we can worship God anywhere today, it is important to remember that it is important to have a heart that is devoted to the Lord and a spiritual appetite that can only be fed by fellowship with the Lord. Notice too that the psalmist cries out to the living God. All other gods are really nonentities. It is the Lord who has created the heavens and the earth, who chose Israel as His people, and who provided salvation for the whole world. This is God who lives forever in great glory. The psalmist is envious of the birds who have built nests in the temple because they are near to the Lord all the time. He compares his joy at entering into the temple with the birds who come and go at will. Included in this envy are the priests who go to the temple daily to work in the house of the Lord.
The second thing the psalmist focuses on is having the strength of the Lord with him. The phrase ‘those whose heart is set on pilgrimage’ refers to those who make their way to the temple not out of duty but out of great joy. The pilgrimage to Jerusalem re-enacted the Exodus, when God miraculously provided for His people, and the psalmist pictures the pains of travel turning into the joys of arrival at the temple. It seems that the psalmist had to stay home even though his heart was set on the pilgrimage. But he also indicated that his love for God and His house helped him to make the right decisions for his life and kept him from going astray. Travelers needed strength to meet the challenges of pilgrimage by foot along unpaved, rocky paths in all kinds of weather and always facing the dangers of bandits and robbers who might assault them.
There is no actual place recorded as the Valley of Baca. Many translate this as the Valley of weeping and instead of being an actual place, it may signify the various difficulties that people faced on pilgrimages. It may also refer to the anguish lonely travelers experienced. Baca in Hebrew means ‘balsam tree’ and the sap of this tree oozes and looks like tears. Really the Valley of Baca is a name for any difficult and painful place in life, where everything seems hopeless, and people feel helpless…like the pit of despair. People who love God expect to find themselves there on occasion. These are the times we either grow closer to God or we back away from Him. The person on a pilgrimage might find that the once dark valley is filled with springs, rain, or pools of water…all blessings to travelers. What the psalmist is really saying is that even when pilgrims feel exhausted, the prospect of drawing near to the Lord renews their spirits. And as one nears the temple the rigors of travel become tolerable because of the joy of nearing of the temple and the arrival strengthens the soul. Once again, the psalmist asked that the Lord hear his prayer. Verse eight contains several names for the Lord. The Lord God of hosts, literally the God of the armies, speaks of God’s transcendence. The hosts are the angelic armies of the heavens. This title is balanced by the title God of Jacob. This title refers to the covenant relationship God established with the patriarchs of Israel…Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Both kings and priests were anointed to dedicate them for service, and the phrases our shield and Your Anointed point to the same person, the king of Israel. Each person in the Old Testament who was anointed foreshadowed the coming of God’s Anointed One, the Messiah. Why pray for the king? Because the future of the Messianic promise rested with the line of King David, and the psalmist wanted the Messiah to come. Nothing in the pilgrim’s daily experience can be compared to a day spent in the worship of God in the holy temple. And the psalmist viewed being in God’s presence as much better than being anyplace else. A doorkeeper or gatekeeper, to the psalmist, though it wasn’t a high position, was much better than anything grand and glorious the wicked might come up with. Menial servitude was much more preferable than a life of luxury with those who practiced wickedness. He didn’t aspire to high office. It was enough just to be close to the Lord in any role or capacity. Even today, to men and women of faith, the Lord is all they really need. He is to us as the sun is to the universe…a source of life and light. Some people worshiped the sun as a god, but the one true God provides all that anyone needs.
Whereas the anointed king was a shield, the greater Shield is God himself. He gives grace and glory, grace for the journey and glory at the end of the journey. And if we walk by faith, then whatever begins with grace will ultimately end with glory for us as well. The psalmist is confident that for those who are faithful, God will not withhold anything good. He ends with the reminder to all who read this psalm that the Lord has great joy in store for those who trust in Him. That was good news then, and it is good news now.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W