The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Psalm 84

Psa 84:1

SUPERSCRIPTION: "OF THE SONS OF KORAH. A PSALM." This psalm is one of four Korah psalms (Psa 84, 85, 87, 88) which supplement the eight found in Book Two (Psa 42-49) -- for a total of twelve. Ref to "Korah" suggests Num 16. Evidently when Korah died because of his rebellion, his family did not perish (in ct with the family of Achan: Jos 7:15,24). Instead, they departed from his tent at the last moment (Num 16:26; 26:11). This suggests a deliberate and public disowning of their father's sin. In later times Korah's descendants became famous in Israel: Samuel was a Korahite (1Ch 6:22-28,33-38: "Shemuel" = Samuel); his grandson was Heman the singer (vv 31-48). The Korahites were keepers of the temple gates (1Ch 9:19; cp Psa 84:10) and singers (2Ch 20:19). The psalms for the sons of Korah reflect a serious interest in the affairs of God's temple and formal worship.

All the Korah psalms seem to belong to the time of Hezekiah, when estranged brethren of the northern kingdom were encouraged to renew loyalty to the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. One of the leading Levites in Hezekiah's reformation was another Korah (or Kore) (2Ch 31:14) -- and poss his name, and that of his sons, is preserved in the psalms titles. Among the Korah psalms, Psa 84 is outstanding in its title allusions (a) to the Korah rebellion (Num 16:19,21,26), and (b) to the appointment of the sons of Korah as sanctuary keepers (v 10; 1Ch 9:19).

HOW LOVELY: This Heb word is a play on the name David.

IS YOUR DWELLING PLACE: Not an allusion to the Feast of Tabernacles (the wrong word), but to the Great Tent of the Congregation which David had established on mount Zion (v 7).

(NT) Joh 7 presents an interesting picture of the tension in the mind of Jesus, between eagerness to be present at a Feast of the Lord and distaste for a sustained encounter there with his adversaries.

Psa 84:2

Cp Psa 42:1,2; 63:1. Several other psalms (Psa 3, 4, 55) stress David's eager longing to join in worship on the Day of Atonement. His flight seems to have taken place at that time of the year (2Sa 16:1; 17:28,29).

(HEZEKIAH) These words of deep yearning, for personal access to the sanctuary of the Lord, describe perfectly the king's frustrated desire for communion with God at the time of his leprosy: see Isa 38:11,19,22; cp Psa 42:1-4; 102:1-7,11).

MY SOUL YEARNS, EVEN FAINTS, FOR THE COURTS OF THE LORD: "We must supply the desire -- the intense, consuming, overwhelming desire, the desire for God that overshadows all else, that blots all else out, the recognition of need and helplessness and uselessness and insignificance, the yearning and the longing, the sense of utter natural emptiness -- and God will supply the rest: richly, abundantly, increasingly, bountifully, as we are able to receive it, as we empty ourselves and prepare ourselves for it, as we appreciate it and lay hold on it and use it" (GVG).

FAINTS: At the time of his flight David was a sick man (Psa 38n).

MY HEART AND MY FLESH CRY OUT FOR THE LIVING GOD: "Use every failure on the way of life as a tremendous incentive to get closer to God, and to deepen your love for Him, and sense of dependence upon Him. Love for Him is the only power that can possibly save us, and anything that helps us realize that, and makes us strive harder for it, is a benefit. Let failure teach you to recognize and accept that you are -- naturally speaking -- weak, stumbling, hopeless. And that -- naturally speaking -- you will never be anything but weak, stumbling and hopeless. There is only one hope: God's help. But God's help comes only on one condition: total devotion and total service. Try it any other way you wish -- but you will be wasting time you can ill afford to lose. What if no one else around you is going all the way God requires? Never measure yourself by others; it's fatally deceptive. God can destroy all mankind, and save but eight, if He sees fit. He has done it. Don't take chances with eternity. Be sure you're part of the eight: whatever others do" (GVG).

THE LIVING GOD: 'The God of the living creatures', ie the God that inhabits the cherubim (Isa 37:4,16; Psa 42:2r).

Psa 84:3

The sentimental pictures of sparrow or swallow nesting upon the altar of God is obviously wide of the mark; this could only be so if the altar were abandoned -- and that is plainly not the case here (v 4). (Of course, nothing would hinder the small birds from nesting in the confines and precincts of the temple -- in its many nooks and crannies.) But if this phrase is put in parenthesis, all is quite clear: The psalmist (David in exile? Hezekiah in illness? cp Isa 38:14!) yearns for a settled home close to the living God, in the same way as the mother bird longs for a safe nest for her young (cp Mat 10:29).

Nevertheless, in a figurative sense, this reminds us of the mother Hannah bringing her young child Samuel (a son of Korah!) (the one whom she asked of the Lord) to leave him in the Lord's house: 1Sa 1:27,28.

And in like manner also, we see another "sparrow" (Luk 12:6), the young mother Mary, bringing her young Jesus to lay him in the arms of the priest in the Lord's house (Luk 2:21,22).

Psa 84:4

David sent the high priests and the ark of the covenant back into Jerusalem (2Sa 15:24-29), and rightly so. It was a fine act of faith: "If I find favor in the LORD's eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again."

See Lesson, Selah.

Psa 84:5

BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE STRENGTH IS IN YOU: An expression of the (almost justified?) envy which David felt for those able to make a Day of Atonement / Feast of Tabernacles pilgrimage to Zion.

WHO HAVE SET THEIR HEARTS ON PILGRIMAGE: That is, who is always thinking of a pilgrimage to Zion. "In whose heart are the highways to Zion" (RSV).

Psa 84:6

The Jordan valley was now for David a vale of tears, yet in due time it would become the scene of great blessing. Baca (tears) would become Berachah (blessing)! The baca was a balsam tree; its name ("the weeping one") was prob derived from the "tears" of gum or resin which it exuded. The valley of Rephaim, where David defeated the Philistines with the help of God's "army" (2Sa 5:22-25), was filled with mulberry, or balsam, trees (sw baca), in which David heard a "marching" as a signal to go forth himself. It was in this same place that the thirsty and dispirited David was refreshed by the devotion and love of his friends, who broke through the line of the enemy to secure him water from the well of Bethlehem (2Sa 23:13-17)!

Comfort does not come to the light-hearted and the merry. We must go down into the "depths" if we would experience this most precious of God's gifts -- comfort, and thus be prepared to be co-workers together with Him. When, in the night, "night" gathers over the garden of our souls, when the leaves close up and the flowers no longer hold any sunshine within their folded petals, comfort shall never be wanting, even in the thickest darkness, because of the drops of heavenly dew -- dew which falls only when the sun has gone.

(HEZEKIAH) The valley of Baca suggests the Beqah valley in modern Lebanon/Syria, by which Sennacherib's 200,000 Jewish prisoners would be marched away from their homeland. So it was for them a valley of tears. But in their unexpected return along the "highways of Zion" (cp v 5 here; ct Isa 33:7,8), after the destruction of the Assyrian army, they would find it a valley of rain and pools because, in this special Year of Jubilee, God "opened the windows of heaven" and gave lavish blessing on the Land (cp Isa 35:8,9; 40:3; 2Ch 32:27-29).

"I have been through the valley of weeping,
The valley of sorrow and pain;
But the God of all comfort was with me,
At hand to uphold and sustain.

"As the earth needs the clouds and sunshine,
Our souls need both sorrow and joy;
So he places us oft in the furnace,
The dross from the gold to destroy.

"When he leads through some valley of trouble,
His omnipotent hand we trace;
For the trials and sorrows He sends to us,
Are part of His lessons in grace.

"Oft we shrink from the purging and the pruning,
Forgetting the Husbandman knows
That the deeper the cutting and paring,
The richer the cluster that grows.

"Well He knows the affliction is needed;
He has a wise purpose in view,
And in the dark valley He whispers,
'Hereafter you'll know what I do.'

"As we travel through life's shadow'd valley,
Fresh springs of His love ever rise;
And we learn that our sorrows and losses
Are blessings just sent in disguise.

"So we'll follow wherever He leadeth,
Let the path be dreary or bright;
For we've proved that our God can give comfort --
Our God can give songs in the night!"

(NT) Baca (sig weeping). Gethsemane was a place of tears for Jesus: "strong crying and tears" (Heb 5:7). Yet that same experience became a well, with rain and pools -- that is, a source of indomitable strength (v 5; Luk 22:43; cp Psa 42:5,11; Isa 35:10; Jer 31:9).

"Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools" (AV). "This teaches us that the comfort obtained by one may often prove serviceable to another; just as wells would be used by the company who came after... Travellers have been delighted to see the footprint of man on a barren shore, and we love to see the waymarks of pilgrims while passing through the vale of tears.

"The pilgrims dig the well, but, strange enough, it fills from the top instead of the bottom. We use the means, but the blessing does not spring from the means. We dig a well, but heaven fills it with rain. The horse is prepared against the day of battle, but safety is of the Lord. The means are connected with the end, but they do not of themselves produce it. See here the rain fills the pools, so that the wells become useful as reservoirs for the water; labour is not lost, but yet it does not supersede divine help.

"Grace may well be compared to rain for its purity, for its refreshing and vivifying influence, for its coming alone from above, and for the sovereignty with which it is given or withheld" (CHS).

Psa 84:7

THEY GO FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH: They renew their own strength (Isa 40:31), because they are transformed from depending on their own strength to depending on God's. This was the lesson learned by Paul: see 2Co 12:9,10; cp Isa 40:29.

"That is, they grow stronger and stronger. Usually, if we are walking, we go from strength to weakness; we start fresh and in good order for our journey, but by-and-by the road is rough, and the sun is hot, we sit down by the wayside, and then again painfully pursue our weary way. But the Christian pilgrim having obtained fresh supplies of grace, is as vigorous after years of toilsome travel and struggle as when he first set out. He may not be quite so elate and buoyant, nor perhaps quite so hot and hasty in his zeal as he once was, but he is much stronger in all that constitutes real power, and travels, if more slowly, far more surely. Some gray-haired veterans have been as firm in their grasp of truth, and as zealous in diffusing it, as they were in their younger days; but, alas, it must be confessed it is often otherwise, for the love of many waxes cold and iniquity abounds, but this is their own sin and not the fault of the promise which still holds good: 'The youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint' [Isa 40:29-31]" (CHS).

In similar fashion, "The path of the righteous is likened to the light of dawn, which goes on increasing in brightness and intensity as the day advances, until at length it reaches its full splendour" (Pro 4:18; cp 2Sa 23:4) (CPro 1:101).

And again, Paul uses similar expressions when he speaks of believers receiving the righteousness of God "from faith to faith" (Rom 1:17; cp v 12 here), and being "changed into the same image from glory to glory" (2Co 3:18; cp v 11 here).

TILL EACH APPEARS BEFORE GOD IN ZION: This might read: (1) he (the High Priest?) hath looked upon God -- Day of Atonement language; or (2) he (the Christ) hath looked unto God.

IN ZION: The ultimate experience: see Rev 14:1-4.

Psa 84:8

In this allusion David compares his own flight with that of Jacob (Gen 28). He knew that after that flight Jacob returned, blessed and prosperous; so David hoped likewise for himself.

See Lesson, Selah.

Psa 84:9

LOOK UPON OUR SHIELD, O GOD: Or, "Behold, O God our shield" (AV). It is not the beauty of the place that attracts the psalmist to Zion, but the beauty of the Person of the God who dwells there. As God was a shield to Abraham when he made an enemy of the king of Sodom (Gen 15:1), so now Hezekiah, in dire straits from the Assyrian siege, needed God as his shield. "Shield" here is Heb "magen" (translated "defence" in Psa 89:18), where // with "king" (cp NIV mg rendering of "sovereign").

Psa 84:10

ONE DAY IN YOUR COURTS: (NT) The LXX has Day One, as in Joh 20:1; consider also v 17 there: The day of Christ's resurrection was undoubtedly the day on which, as the true High Priest on the true "Day of Atonement", he ascended to heaven to present the tokens of his perfect sacrifice in the presence of his Father, from thence to return to his waiting brethren with the great blessing of the High Priest: "Peace be unto you" (Joh 20:26).

A THOUSAND: Is it significant also that Christ's total public ministry would have been just over a thousand days?

A DOORKEEPER IN THE HOUSE OF MY GOD: Not an office of humility and servitude, as some suppose -- but an office of high authority and control: The doorkeeper, at the last, will decide who shall enter the Temple of the Lord and who shall be turned aside (Mar 11:16; Mat 25:10-12; Luk 13:25; Joh 10:7,9).

THE TENTS OF THE WICKED: The rebel army of Absalom, encamped in the field in pursuit of David and his band.

(HEZEKIAH) The Assyrian encampments around the city of Jerusalem.

Psa 84:11

THE LORD GOD IS A SUN AND SHIELD: (HEZEKIAH) In Exo 14:20 the angel of the Lord was brightness and light and protection to Israel; but he was cloud and darkness and destruction to the Egyptians. And now, in a scene reminiscent of the first Passover, the same angel gives both overshadowing care to Jerusalem and judgment upon the camp of the enemy (Isa 37:36).

A SUN: (NT) (1) The transfiguration (Mat 17:1-13; Mar 9:2-13; Luk 9:28-36)? (2) The crucifixion? While darkness enshrouded Golgotha, God's Glory shown upon and encouraged Christ (see notes, Psa 22:22-31).

A SHIELD: (NT) Always protecting the Lord Jesus from his enemies and those who would kill him -- until the time when he was ready to be offered; the gospels contain numerous examples of this.

NO GOOD THING DOES HE WITHHOLD FROM THOSE WHOSE WALK IS BLAMELESS: David is withheld from the worship he yearns to express; nevertheless God's blessing and forgiveness are not withheld from him even in exile. "Here we have a most encouraging picture of the kindness of Him with whom we have to do. This character is the central glory of revelation. We fail, perhaps, at all times to remember it sufficiently. Many things help to cloud it from our view. Our weakness, our shortcomings, our preoccupations in other directions, the weariness of the constant fight of faith, and other things, prevent us from realising as constantly as we might, that the Eternal Father, who invites us to Himself by Christ, is full of tenderness and compassion, and overflowing with lovingkindness to such as keep His covenant, and even abounding in longsuffering and goodness towards those who are far from Him" (SC 20).

Psa 84:12


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