For Just One Day in Your Courts
Passage: Psalm 84
When you read Psalm 84, it has a strong mood doesn’t it? It has an obvious sense of joy. It’s apparent in v. 1. Verses 5–6 describe the strength and abundance that God’s people enjoy, and vv. 10–12 are overflowing with joy as the psalmist meditates on the goodness of God. There is also an obvious sense of urgency, specifically an urgency to be near to God. Urgency is apparent in v. 2. In v. 3, the psalmist envies the birds that nest in the temple courtyard, and in v. 10 he says he would rather spend one day at the temple than a 1,000 away from God’s presence. And so Psalm 84 has a joyful urgency, and it also inspires two very different reactions on our parts. On one hand this psalm is inspirational. When you listen to the psalmist’s passion and his confident assertions about the nature of God, it brings to the surface your own affection for God and fills your heart with joy. But on the other hand, the psalmist’s testimony is convicting because we oftentimes don’t share his joy and urgency because we don’t share his faith. We don’t think like v. 11; therefore, we don’t live v. 2. And so my challenge today is this. Passionately seek God’s presence because you believe he is good and gives unique grace.
Psalm 84 is a pilgrimage psalm or a song of ascents. The law prescribed that all Israel was to make three pilgrimages to the tabernacle/temple every year. Once David brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem and placed the sanctuary on Mt. Zion, Jerusalem became the focus of these pilgrimages. The songs of ascent were written to inspire the pilgrims as they sang them on their ascent up the mountains of Jerusalem. The feasts were times of celebration and joy as the people reflected on God’s goodness and enjoyed his presence. And the pilgrimage psalms helped the people anticipate the joy of the feast. They speak often of the glory of Zion, the blessedness of God’s presence, and the joy of being with God. Psalm 84 includes all of these characteristics. It reflects heavily on the temple and the blessedness of being in Zion. It describes pilgrims making the long journey to Jerusalem. It rejoices in the blessedness of being at the temple. We don’t know who the author is or exactly when he wrote. But we can surmise from the psalm, that the writer lived outside Jerusalem and had to make the pilgrimages. We also can assume that he wrote the psalm after David captured Jerusalem, since it mentions Zion (v. 7) and that he wrote during the reign of David or one of his descendants, since vv. 8–9 are a prayer for the king. And so there’s a sense in which this psalm was written for a very different time in God’s economy, but it is filled with timeless truth that is significant for us.
My outline today consists of four challenges that I pray we will all embrace. First…
We must long for God’s presence (vv. 1–4).
Verses 1–4 open the psalm by expressing the psalmist’s deep desire to be in God’s presence at the temple. Notice…
The Psalmist’s Longing (vv. 1–2):
The psalmist refers to God as the “Lord of hosts.” The Hebrew title is Yahweh Sabaoth. He also uses this name in vv. 3, 8, and 12. Sabaoth describes God as having an innumerable angelic army and thus as the sovereign Lord. God’s protection and care for his people is going to be an important theme in the psalm, and so this name fits it well. But rather than praising God directly, the psalmist instead reflects on the beauty of God’s house. The term translated “tabernacle” is a general reference to the dwelling place of God, which when this psalm was most likely written was the temple of Solomon and the surrounding courtyards where the worshippers would gather.
He says that the temple is lovely to him, and in v. 2 expresses his deep longing to be at “the courts of the Lord.” The descriptions in v. 2 are especially intense. This desire is in his soul, heart, and flesh, telling us that it penetrates to the center of his being and affects every part of him. The verbs “longs,” faints,” and “cries out” tell us that intense desire had overcome his entire person. It’s important to note that this zeal wasn’t ultimately because of the physical beauty of the temple, though we know it was impressive. Rather, he longed for the temple because that is where he met the “living God” as the end of the verse states. God had promised Israel that he would dwell in their midst in the temple. This was an incredibly significant promise of God. The nearness of God set Israel apart from every other nation in the world. Deuteronomy 4:7 asks, “What great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the Lord our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon him.” God’s presence in the tabernacle and then the temple was a great gift, and it brought tremendous grace. It brought God’s favor and protection. It brought answered prayer, and more than anything it provided forgiveness. The temple was the focal point of God’s blessing; therefore, the psalmist longed to be at the temple so that he could be near God and his grace.
The psalmist goes on to describe his longing by describing his envy of those who get to remain at the temple.
The Psalmist’s Envy (vv. 3–4):
Verse 3 gives a picturesque window into his desire. The psalmist is back home, far away from the temple, and he is thinking back on his last visit. He remembers the birds that he saw nesting in the trees in the courtyard or maybe in the eaves of the temple. He envies them because they get to live in the presence of God. Of course, the birds don’t fellowship with God as humans do, but he is simply searching for a way to describe his desire.
If theses birds are blessed, how much more does he envy the people who “dwell in Your house.” There were a number of people whose job was to attend to the temple. This would include the priests and other Levites who ministered there as well as the temple musicians. He thinks about the fact that these people live in the presence of God, and they have the privilege of praising God continuously. With the temple right before their eyes, they are always able to sense the nearness of God and to worship in his presence. They are blessed. The psalmist wishes he could enjoy the privilege of always being near God at the temple.
In vv. 1 –4 the psalmist expresses his intense longing to experience God’s presence in the temple. But what does this mean for us in the church age because we no longer worship God in a physical temple? In John 4, Jesus told the Samaritan woman that he was bringing in a new age where worship would no longer be based on a location. Rather “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” Therefore, true Christians who are indwelt by the Spirit have access to God and his grace all of the time. But the NT is also clear that when the church gathers, we are corporately God’s temple, and he is especially near in the assembly of God’s people (Ephesians 2:19–22). How incredible is it that when we gather as a church, we are a “dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” Of course, that’s only true if we are truly saved and if we worship him in sincerity and obedience to his will. But if we do so, God is in our midst, and we are meeting with God. Let that sink in for a moment. This isn’t just a social club or a political rally. We are a temple. That means that we ought to come with sincere hearts, hungry to worship. Do you long for the presence of God like the psalmist did. Do you appreciate how he ministers grace through our singing together, the teaching of the Scriptures, and the fellowship of the saints? Do you come each Sunday recognizing the grace that is available in the assembly and longing to receive that grace? Are you taking full advantage of the grace available in the church? I realize life is busy, but is your life really so hectic that you can only afford to give 75 minutes a week to the church? Yes, it takes effort to get out and be here, but the effort is worth the grace that is available in the assembly. Let’s all take a good look at the longing of the psalmist and ask ourselves, do I long for God’s presence and grace like he did? And then let’s commit ourselves to pursuing God the way he did.
The second challenge of this text is…
We must believe in God’s constant presence (vv. 5–7).
In vv. 1–4, the psalmist dreams of the temple, but in vv. 5–7 his thoughts return to his current setting, far away from Jerusalem. And he reflects on the fact that while God was especially present in the temple, he is also with his people anywhere on earth when they truly seek him.
Verse 5 describes someone, such as the psalmist, who seeks God’s strength.
The Desire for Strength (v. 5):
The psalmist speaks of someone “whose heart is set on pilgrimage.” Pilgrimage is a reference to a journey to one of the great feasts in Jerusalem. It’s good to remember that making these pilgrimages was not easy. They couldn’t hop in an air-conditioned car and get to Jerusalem in a couple of hours. These trips were long and exhausting. They took you away from work and made you vulnerable to thieves. But the man in this verse is set on going. He is committed to obeying God and he longs to experience his gracious presence in the temple. As the first line says, he seeks his strength in the Lord. Again, we ought to be challenged by this man’s commitment. When you consider the cost of a pilgrimage, this man had a whole list of reasons why he shouldn’t make the journey, but they didn’t matter to him. His heart was set on making the pilgrimage.
And because he sought strength from the Lord, the Lord blessed him.
The Blessing of Strength (vv. 6–7):
What is especially significant about this blessing is that God is with this man and gives strength even while he is far from the temple. After v. 5 says this man is set on pilgrimage, vv. 6–7 describe him as receiving strength for the journey. There’s some debate regarding how to understand v. 6. We don’t know of a “Valley of Baca,” and so scholars have wondered whether the psalmist is talking about a literal valley on the way to Jerusalem or if this is just a figure. Baca probably means “weeping or tears,” so it may just be a figure for the difficulty of the trip. Most commentators seem to think this is a reference to an actual valley on the way to Jerusalem. Based on the reference to refreshing rains at the end of the verse, many believe that the psalmist is specifically thinking of a pilgrimage to the feast of Booths. This feast occurred in the fall after the hot, dry summer and just before the rainy season began. The land would be withered and dry, and this was an especially hot and difficult trip. But as they go, through this valley, the psalmist says the pilgrims bring the blessing of water with them. The picture is of abundance. There is so much rain that it creates pools of water. Again there is debate over whether this is actual water or the joy God gives the pilgrims during their difficult journey. Since the rains would not typically come until after the Feast of Booths, this is probably a reference to the joy that God gives the pilgrims even as they trudge through a harsh region that is literally known as the “valley of weeping.”
God sustains them, and v. 7 says they “go from strength to strength.” God gives them endurance for the journey and a spirit of joy. He watches over them until they “appear before God in Zion.” In other words, God’s grace enables them to complete the journey.
The point of vv. 5–7 is to say that God’s presence and grace are not just available at the temple. Psalm 139:7–12 say that there is nowhere we can go from God’s presence. He is always with his people, not just when they are at the temple. Now, of course, that didn’t mean that the pilgrims didn’t need to make their pilgrimage. Verse 5 says that God gives them strength because their “heart is set on pilgrimage.” The same is true for us. The Scriptures never condone using the fact that God is always with us as a reason to willfully neglect the church. That being said, it is a great blessing to know that when we seek God’s grace it is always available. And so is your heart set on seeking God? This has been a convicting thought for me to consider this week because sometimes when I read my Bible and pray my mind is distracted and my focus is dull because I don’t always sense my need for grace. Every day, we must consciously recognize that we need grace. Our hearts must be set on pursuing grace, and we must go after it. Read your Bible, pray, listen to sermons, and seek out Christian fellowship like someone who needs grace. And praise the Lord that when you do so, God will be with you, and he will give strength.
The third challenge of this psalm is that…
We must pray for God’s presence with our leaders (vv. 8–9).
The Subject of the Prayer:
Verses 8–9 are a prayer for the king. We know that because the king was the “anointed” one in Israel. The king would also be considered the nation’s “shield” since he was responsible to defend and protect the nation from its enemies.
The Content of the Prayer:
The prayer is rather vague and brief. Verse 8 appeals to the Lord to hear this prayer, and the only two request are to “behold” and “look” on the king. He is asking God to look favorably on the king and to grant him grace to lead the nation well. But why are vv. 8–9 included in the psalm? Obviously, praying for political leaders is a good and biblical practice, but it doesn’t seem to fit in this psalm. The king would have been highly involved in the festival activities, and so maybe once the pilgrim reaches the feast and observes his leadership, it inspires him to pray for him. The fact that he describes the king as a “shield” indicates that his main concern is that the Lord would help the king fulfill his role as Israel’s defender. Verse 11 also describes God as a “shield”; therefore, the idea seems to be that as God protected the king, he would ultimately protect the nation. And so ultimately, this is a prayer for God’s favor and protection over the nation through the king. It again demonstrates the psalmist’s urgent longing for God’s gracious help. He understood that it wasn’t ultimately the king’s military skill or weaponry that would keep them safe; it was the Lord. With all of the impressive weaponry that our nation possesses, it’s easy for us to forget this fact. Our nation needs the favor of God if we are to remain safe. We ought to pray that God would give wisdom and strength to our leaders because they desperately need his help.
The fourth challenge of this psalm is that…
We must believe that God is truly good (vv. 10–12).
The Psalmist’s Longing (v. 10):
Verse 10 closely parallels the intense longing of vv. 1–4. The sense behind the first line is that one day in God’s presence at the temple is worth more that 1,000 regular days away from the God’s presence. Again, we already established that God’s grace is always available to his people, so why does he make such a strong statement? The point is that the psalmist is doing the best he can to express his deep longing to be near God and near his grace. We need to feel his urgency and be challenged by it.
There’s some question about the specifics of the second statement of v. 10, though it is clearly a contrast between a position of worldly humility and one of comfort. The doorkeeper of the temple was actually a rather prestigious position and doesn’t seem to fit the humility the psalmist is trying to describe; therefore, the psalmist may be thinking of simply standing or lying at the edge of the temple complex. He would rather be on the outskirts of the temple than to dwell inside the tents of the wicked. To be in the tent indicates that you are at the center of activity, maybe even in a position of prestige. But while the tents of the wicked might bring him near to human honor; it would move the psalmist far from God’s honor and care. And no human honor can compare to even the slightest experience of God’s presence and grace. Again, this statement reflects the psalmist’s urgent desire to be near to God.
But why does he have such an urgent desire? Frankly, this is a question that the psalmist has yet to answer adequately. He has gone on and on about his desire to be near the Lord, but he hasn’t really established why this is so great. But he does so for us in the final verses of the psalm. Notice…
The Psalmist’s Confidence in God’s Goodness (vv. 11–12):
Verse 11 paints a beautiful picture of why we should seek God diligently. First, it describes God as a “sun and shield.” The light of the sun is the source of life and energy. It gives direction and warmth. This picture is a statement of the fact that God provides for every physical and spiritual need. Of course a shield represents protection from enemies. God protects his people from the evils of the world, Satan, and our flesh. He is a refuge and fortress, as other psalms say. The Lord provides for our needs and he protects us from our enemies.
Next he adds that the Lord “gives grace and glory.” Again the Lord gives abundant grace in so many ways. He provides for our physical needs, he strengthens our hearts, he forgives our sins, and he teaches us about himself. And the end of God’s grace is glory. He makes us into his image, and we will be honored at the judgment. This glory won’t be ultimately because of how great we are. No God gives glory. Again, the psalmist describes God as abundantly good. We ought to rejoice today in the grace God gives, and we ought to be humbled by the glory an infinite God would grant to humble sinners like us.
But the psalmist isn’t done. He adds, “No good…” We don’t want to skip over the qualifier here. This abundance is only for those who obey God’s will. But for those who honor God with their lives, God will not withhold any good thing. This is an incredible statement. No one wants to work for a greedy employer who doesn’t pass along profits to its employees. We want our government to invest its income back into us. Israel wouldn’t have wanted a king who hoarded the nation’s wealth. Praise the Lord that he doesn’t hold any good thing back from his people. He is generous. What a blessing it is to know that this generosity is also combined with wisdom. It’s not just that God loves to give; he knows what we need. Based on that knowledge, he gives the best things. He doesn’t withhold anything that is good. Do you believe that? Maybe there is something in your life today that you can’t see how it could be a good thing. Or maybe there is something you really want to have. You are convinced it is good, but God is withholding it from you. We need to always remember that God is good, and he never withholds what is good. Praise the Lord for that, and then lean on this truth through the dark times of life.
The psalmist then closes by speaking directly to God, just as he does in v. 1. With a strong air of confidence in his voice he says to God, “Blessed…” There is grace and blessing awaiting all who look to the Lord.
My challenge today is this. Passionately seek God’s presence because you believe he is good and gives unique grace. Don’t lose faith in the goodness of God and the richness of his grace. Don’t ever buy the lie that you can fix your problems better than he or the lie that there is more joy and blessing in going your own way than in obedience to God’s will. God is good and full of grace; therefore seek him passionately. Embrace the urgency of the psalmist. Run to the spiritual temple, which is the church even when it’s hard and it feels like a pilgrimage. And run to God every day through his Word, prayer and obedience. “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give…”
More in Psalms
March 22, 2020The Shadow the Almighty: Pestilence and Protection in Psalm 91
March 17, 2019Disciples Live in the Word
December 30, 2018Portraits of the King