27 October 2013

Psalm 84

“Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.” (v. 4)


At the heart of Psalm 84 is a deep and fervently expressed longing for the presence of God, and a trust and hope in divine protection. A passion in the heart of the psalmist for the "dwelling place" (v. 1) of the Lord causes the joyous exclamation "How lovely!". In reflecting on the temple as the place of God's symbolic presence, together with "the courts", where the worshippers and pilgrims assembled and spent their days (verse 2) the psalmist physically aches for the experience of God's presence, longing and even fainting with desire.

Reflecting on the temple courts, the psalmist pictures the sparrow and the swallow (verse 3) that make their nests in the temple eaves. The thought of these humble birds in such a glorious place is overwhelming and leads the psalmist to express awe in the form of a blessing (verse 4). Since birds are greatly privileged to live in and around the temple of the Lord Almighty, how much more blessed are all those who serve in God's presence there. The temple is symbolic of God's presence, but that presence is never to be confined there. In absence from the temple precincts, the presence of God may be experienced (verses 5-7).

The psalmist now turns to the Lord in a prayer for the king who is the anointed shield and protector of God's people (verse 9). The psalmist prays that the divine king may extend mercy and protection to the earthly ruler who, too, is dependent on the Lord's blessing. There is the possibility that some kind of national tragedy may have occasioned this psalm, which has affected both people and king. The psalmist addresses God emphatically as "O Lord God of hosts" and closes the invocation with a reference to "O God of Jacob" (v. 8). Yahweh is the glorious king who has self-identified with Jacob, ie with the descendants of Israel.

The psalmist contrasts, in verse 10, "the tents of wickedness" with the blessedness of the godly in God's courts. The reason for this blessedness lies in God's protection, rewards, and blessing to those who are wise, "those who walk is uprightly"(v. 11). As God's blessing was not limited to the temple courts, the blessing on those who dwell in the house of the Lord may well be extended to all who do the will of God. They dwell in the Lord's presence, wherever they may live.

In the beginning of the psalm, the psalmist expressed a deep desire for fellowship with the Lord Almighty (verses 1-2). The psalm ends with a encouragement to everybody whatever their status or dwelling place, to seek and to put their trust in the firm foundation of God. Here happiness and fulfilment is to be found, "trust for our trembling and hope for our fear" (O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, Singing the Faith 34).

To Ponder

  • Do you have a deep longing for the presence of God? How is this expressed in your life?
  • For the psalmist, the temple is symbolic of God's presence. Are there particular places for you that have been symbolic of an experience of a strong sense of God at a time in your life? Where are they? And what is your experience of God there?

Bible notes author

The Revd Tim Woolley