Saturday, December 31, 2005

Entering the New Year with Psalm 84 (part one)

For the director of music. According to gittith. Of the Sons of Korah. A psalm.

1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
LORD Almighty!

2 My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.

3 Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
LORD Almighty, my King and my God.

4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.

5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.

6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.

7 They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.

8 Hear my prayer, LORD God Almighty;
listen to me, God of Jacob.

9 Look on our shield, O God;
look with favor on your anointed one.

10 Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
the LORD bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless.

12 LORD Almighty,
blessed are those who trust in you.


As verse 1 in the Hebrew text indicates, this was a song to be sung so as to become a part of the heart and faith of the people of Israel.

Psalm 84 is a psalm of pilgrimage. "Zion appears only once in the Psalm..., but it reflects a longing for festival worship in Jerusalem...and the pilgrimage of worshipers to the autumn festival (Tabernacles)." (Marvin E. Tate, Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100).

Pilgrimages going up (in elevation) to Jerusalem were difficult. (Tate) They surely were challenging in the time and effort that was necessary, not to mention the dangers present. Such pilgrimages were done in community. There were not isolated holy people doing amazingly difficult ascetic feats in their devotion to God (as a rule, Elijah one exception but lived in an exceptional time). Rather it was done by those who could make it, together, in families, as community. "Others who could not go found that the psalms revived their memories and kindled their imaginations, either from their own experiences or from the stories of those who had been to Zion." (Tate)

Verses 1-4 speak of the anticipation which helped those pilgrims embark and have strength for the journey to Jerusalem. (Tate) They were looking forward to a kind of encounter with God, being in the presence of God. The picture here seems idealized. The priests and levites (described as "blessed" in verse 4) surely tired of their labors (Tate) as we all do, and surely often took more for granted a place in which they lived. Priests and pilgrims were real down-to-earth people like you and I. They carried problems with them. Yet the reality of what Zion (Jerusalem) and the Temple were, and what that was to mean for all the people of Israel as depicted in this psalm was to bring nothing less than joy and delight. (Tate) This would help them through all their difficulties to press on and even be "light of foot" at times.

Especially for you bird lovers verse 3 is interesting. The birds residing "in the confines of the temple" (Tate) are considered privileged. This thought goes well with verses 1-2 in which the vision of YHWH's dwelling place ravishes the hearts of the pilgrims with its beauty. And leads them to long for a meeting with "the living God" there.

This psalm, and particularly verses 1-4, our focus for today, is meant to help bring up in us, in our hearts, a longing to meet with God, separately and especially in view of this pilgrimage- together, as the community of Jesus.


Susan said...

These are wonderful images.

I can relate to the birds!
"One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle
and set me high upon a rock." Ps. 27:4-5

Ted Gossard said...


Thanks for sharing that. That's a wonderful psalm and certainly reminds one of the birds that resided there, when you think about it.

blessings to you in the new year,