The title of this psalm is To the Chief Musician. On an instrument of Gath. A Psalm of the sons of Korah. These sons of Korah were Levites, from the family of Kohath. By David’s time it seems they served in the musical aspect of the temple worship (2 Chronicles 20:19).
Korah led a rebellion of 250 community leaders against Moses during the wilderness days of the Exodus (Numbers 16). God judged Korah and his leaders and they all died, but the sons of Korah remained (Numbers 26:9-11). Perhaps they were so grateful for this mercy that they became notable in Israel for praising God.
Charles Spurgeon said Psalm 84 was entitled “to be called The Pearl of Psalms. If the twenty-third be the most popular, the one-hundred-and-third the most joyful, the one-hundred-and-nineteenth the most deeply experiential, the fifty-first the most plaintive, this is one of the most sweet of the Psalms of Peace.”
A. Longing for the House of God.
1. (1-2) Longing for God and His house.
How lovely is Your tabernacle,
O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, even faints
For the courts of the LORD;
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
a. How lovely is Your tabernacle: One or more of the sons of Korah composed this psalm in the days of the tabernacle. It is also possible that the author referred to the temple in a historic, quaint way. The affection is clear; he loved the house of God, whether it was in a tent or a permanent building. He considered it beautiful, lovely.
i. “How lovely is more exactly ‘How dear’ or ‘How beloved’; it is the language of love poetry.” (Kidner)
ii. “He does not tell us how lovely they were, because he could not. His expressions show us that his feelings were inexpressible.” (Spurgeon)
b. My soul longs: The psalmist’s appreciation for God’s house wasn’t simply because it was beautiful. His soul longed for God’s house, and even faints when denied the privilege of meeting with God among His people.
i. This was deep feeling. Not every love is so great as to make a longing. Not every longing is so great as to make a fainting.
ii. “I have rather – though the expression may seem harsh to some – called this the ‘appetite for God’ than ‘the love of God’…. [The appetite for God] has all the cheerful spontaneity of a natural, even a physical, desire.” (Lewis, cited in VanGemeren)
c. My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God: The house of God was dear and desired by the psalmist because it was where he met God. Everything within him – heart and flesh – longed for God and His house.
i. Cry out: “The word in question indicates a loud cry, not necessarily a joyful one (cf. Psalm 17:1; Lamentations 2:19).” (Kidner)
ii. “Crieth aloud, as a child when hungry crieth every whit of him, hands feet, face, all cry; and then the mother flings by all, then she flies and outruns herself; so here.” (Trapp)
iii. This speaks to those who are leaders in God’s house today. More than offering programs, social connections, entertainment, excitement, or self-improvement, they must make places and meetings in which people meet the living God.
iv. This speaks to all who come to the house of God today. They must come without primary focus upon programs, social connections, entertainment, excitement, or self-improvement; they must come with the primary focus and expectation of meeting with the living God.
v. The emphasis on meeting the living God prevents regarding the tabernacle or temple in the wrong way. The temple as a place could be viewed incorrectly (as in Acts 7:48, 7:54). The psalmist considers it here in its best sense: the place to meet with the living God.
vi. “There was no superstition in this love. He loved the house of God because he loved the God of the house. His heart and flesh cried out, not for the altar and the candlestick, but for his God.” (Spurgeon)
vii. The living God: “That Name is more than a contrast with the gods of the heathen. It lays bare the reason for the psalmist’s longings.” (Maclaren)
2. (3-4) Satisfaction in the house of God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
And the swallow a nest for herself,
Where she may lay her young—
Even Your altars, O LORD of hosts,
My King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in Your house;
They will still be praising You. Selah
a. Even the sparrow has found a home: Perhaps the psalmist saw birds – the sparrow and the swallow – that had made a nest, living at the house of God, in view of the altar itself. He considered those birds blessed, living at the tabernacle.
i. “The writer of this Psalm had peculiar familiarity with the Temple. He had watched it with loving eyes, and seen the birds finding rest and refuge there.” (Morgan)
ii. Boice offered that the sparrow is an example of a bird of small significance and the swallow is a picture of restlessness. Likewise, the insignificant can find his place in the house of God, and the restless man can find his rest (nest) there – near God’s altar.
iii. “It is evidently the design of this passage to intimate to us, that in the house, and at the altar of God, a faithful soul findeth freedom from care and sorrow, quiet of mind, and gladness of spirit; like a bird that had secured a little mansion for the reception and education of her young.” (Horne)
iv. “You and I, dear friends, will be wise if we do as this sparrow did; for she found a house for herself because she looked for it, she found it because it was there all ready for her, and she found it by appropriating it so that it became her very own. Thus may we appropriate the Lord Jesus Christ, by an act of faith, and so make him our very own!” (Spurgeon)
v. My King and my God: “The double ‘my’ is very precious; he lays hold upon his God with both his hands, as one resolved not to let him go till the favour requested be at length accorded.” (Spurgeon)
b. Blessed are those who dwell in Your house: The psalmist went from envying the birds living at the tabernacle to envying the priests who had rooms at the house of God. He felt they could live a life of constant praise (they will still be praising You).
i. Still be praising: “It is not enough to praise him, it must be a praising him still, before it will make a blessedness; and though to praise God be an easy matter, yet to praise him still, will be found a busy work.” (Baker, cited in Spurgeon)
B. Finding strength for the pilgrim’s journey.
1. (5-7) Strength for the one away from the house of God.
Blessed is the man whose strength is in You,
Whose heart is set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
They make it a spring;
The rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
Each one appears before God in Zion.
a. Blessed is the man whose strength is in You: The man who finds his strength in God is also the one whose heart is set on pilgrimage. He does not rely on self or the world for strength, but considers himself a visitor, a traveler, a pilgrim in this world. His true strength and treasure are in the world to come.
i. This strength and heart of a pilgrim are displayed by the love for the house of God. There he meets with God, along with other pilgrims, and they gain strength in God together as they meet.
ii. The love and longing for the house of God are not meant as an escape from the world, but as a preparation for life in the world.
iii. Strength is in You: “If he cannot be at Zion, he can be with God; if he cannot enjoy sweetness he can find strength.” (Kidner)
b. As they pass through the Valley of Baca: The heart for God’s house provided wisdom and strength for the life lived away from God’s house. A difficult place (such as the Valley of Baca) was transformed into a spring, complete with rain and pools of water.
i. The sense or meaning of the Valley of Baca is uncertain. Commentators usually suggest that Baca speaks of tears and weeping, or of drought and dryness. Thoughts of difficulty and trouble are present in either.
ii. Baca is a “noun derived from a verb which signifies to ‘weep’.” (Horne) Horne went on to explain, “This present world is to us this valley of weeping; in our passage through it we are refreshed by the streams of divine grace, flowing down from the great fountain of consolation.”
iii. Kidner gives the other sense: “Baca…is thought to indicate a tree or shrub which grows in arid places; hence New English Bible, ‘the thirsty valley’.”
iv. “The valley of tears, as this valley might be called, for the trouble or vexation which travellers found there by reason of drought, or otherwise.” (Poole)
c. They go from strength to strength: With the blessedness expressed by plenty of water in an otherwise dry place, the pilgrim lives in strength and goes to more strength. The rich relationship with God is a never-ending supply of strength for the journey, even in difficult seasons.
i. On a normal journey (especially a difficult one), the usual pattern is to go from strength to weakness or fatigue. Not so with those whose strength is in God – they go from strength to strength.
ii. “The farther they travel onward in that way, instead of being faint and weary, as travellers in such cases [should] be, they grow stronger and stronger.” (Poole)
iii. “They proceed from one degree of grace to another, gaining Divine virtue through all the steps of their probation.” (Clarke)
d. Each one appears before God in Zion: The journey has a destination – Zion, the city of God. The love and longing for the house of God will bring each one to his destination, appearing before God in Zion.
i. “Not merely to be in the assembly, but to appear before God was the object of each devout Israelite. Would to God it were the sincere desire of all who in these days mingle in our religious gatherings. Unless we realise the presence of God we have done nothing; the mere gathering together is nothing worth.” (Spurgeon)
2. (8) The pilgrim’s prayer.
O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;
Give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
a. God of hosts, hear my prayer: This song from the sons of Korah was more than a declaration; it was also a prayer. It was a plea for the plenty spoken of by the supply of water. It was a supplication for the strength that continues and builds.
b. Give ear, O God of Jacob: The psalmist grounded his plea in the long history of God’s dealing with His covenant people. That same God who blessed and was faithful to Jacob will also be faithful to His people today. This is worthy of meditation – thus the insertion of the psalm’s second Selah.
C. The surpassing greatness of God and His house.
1. (9) Asking for God’s attention.
O God, behold our shield,
And look upon the face of Your anointed.
a. O God, behold our shield: We take shield here as a reference to a literal shield, which was the main means of defense for Israel. The psalmist asked God to behold what Israel wisely did to defend itself.
b. Look upon the face of Your anointed: We take Your anointed as a reference to the King of Israel, who was specially anointed for his office. Though the psalmist had first in mind David (or possibly Solomon), it also points toward the Messiah, the ultimate anointed One.
2. (10-12) The greatness of God and His house.
For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
Than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
The LORD will give grace and glory;
No good thing will He withhold
From those who walk uprightly.
O LORD of hosts,
Blessed is the man who trusts in You!
a. A day in Your courts is better than a thousand: The psalmist began with love and longing for the house of God, and now he returns to the thought. Time spent at God’s house was better and more valuable than time spent elsewhere.
i. “A declaration comparable to Paul’s ‘all things but loss’ (Phil. 3:8, King James Version), or to Asaph’s ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee?’ (Ps. 73:25).” (Kidner)
b. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God: This was another expression of the psalmist’s love and longing regarding the house of God. Living a luxurious life in the fancy tents of wickedness meant nothing to him; he would rather humbly serve in God’s house.
i. “We sometimes read this as though there were something heroic about the choice, some touch of sacrifice in the decision. There is nothing of the kind. The singer was a man of profoundest commonsense.” (Morgan)
ii. “To bear burdens and open doors for the Lord is more honour than to reign among the wicked. Every man has his choice, and this is ours. God’s worst is better than the devil’s best.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Doorkeeper: “As the Korahites were, to whom this psalm was committed; and for whose encouragement this might be spoken. A doorkeeper is first in, last out.” (Trapp)
iv. “There may be a reference to the Korahites’ function of door keepers, in that touchingly beautiful choice of the psalmist’s, rather to lie on the threshold of the Temple than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” (Maclaren)
v. “Who now prefers the worship of God to genteel, gay, honourable, and noble company, to mirthful feasts, public entertainments, the stage, the oratorio, or the ball! Reader, wouldst thou rather be in thy closet, wrestling in prayer, or reading the Scriptures on thy knees, than be at any of the above places?” (Clarke)
c. For the LORD God is a sun and shield: The psalmist explains the goodness and blessing that come to those pilgrims who love and long for the house of God. They enjoy God as the source of blessing (sun) and defense (shield). They receive His generous grace and glory.
i. “This is the only place in the Bible where God is explicitly called ‘a sun.’ It is because he shines on us and is the brightness of our days.” (Boice)
ii. “A sun for happy days and a shield for dangerous ones. A sun above, a shield around. A light to show the way and a shield to ward off its perils.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “How God suits Himself to our need! In darkness, He is a Sun; in the sultry noon, a Shield; in our earthly pilgrimage He gives grace; when the morning of heaven breaks, He will give glory. He suits Himself to every varying circumstance in life. He becomes what the exigency of the moment requires.” (Meyer)
d. The LORD will give grace and glory: The connection between God’s grace and His glory was later on the mind of the Apostle Paul: We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:1-2).
i. To say, will give grace puts it in the future tense. It means that there is more grace for God to give and more grace for us to receive. It also means that grace is something that God will give, and not sell.
ii. Grace is God’s first gift, and glory is His last gift. “Glory never comes without grace coming first, but grace never comes without glory coming last; the two are bound together, and ‘what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.’” (Spurgeon)
e. No good thing will He withhold: A promise is made to those who walk uprightly – they will receive every good thing God has for them. The nature of this promise is appropriate under the Old Covenant, where God promised direct blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. Under the New Covenant, the believer receives God’s good things on the basis of Jesus’ goodness, and then goes on to walk uprightly.
i. “What does the text say? It does not say, ‘I will force all my children to enjoy every good thing.’ No, but, ‘No good thing will he withhold.’ There are thousands of mercies that we do not enjoy, not because they are withheld, but because we do not take them.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “Because God is what He is, and gives what He gives, it is the highest wisdom to take Him for our true good, and never to let Him go.” (Maclaren)
f. Blessed is the man who trusts in You: God’s greatness and goodness lead the psalmist to experience and declare the blessedness of trusting in God.
i. “The essence of godliness is in submissiveness to the Great King, who will grant his blessings to those who find their refuge in him.” (VanGemeren)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org