For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 84. In this post, I'll paste the Psalm in the King James Version (which is in the public domain) and comment on select verses.
1To the chief Musician upon Gittith, A Psalm for the sons of Korah. How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts!
KJV translation says that this Psalm is "for" the sons of Korah, who
were Levites, but many commentators assert that Psalm 84 is for pilgrims
who are going to Zion or some other sanctuary. Perhaps, in
this scenario, the sons of Korah wrote the Psalm for those pilgrims. Or
maybe the Korahites were expressing their joy at being close to God in
the sanctuary, even as they expanded their outlook and wanted for
pilgrims to have some measure of that joy.
Others maintain that Psalm 84 is about Jews in exile yearning to return to Israel and worship God at Jerusalem.
Perhaps, in this scenario, the Korahites could have written Psalm 84 to
express their own desire for their nation's (and their own)
restoration, as well as the desire of the Jews in exile. Another
view is that Psalm 84 is more about a spiritual journey than a physical
pilgrimage. Perhaps, in this scenario, the Korahites were seeking a
deeper spiritual meaning to pilgrimage and worship in the Temple.
2 My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.
like what the Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary says about this
verse: "True fulfillment for both body and soul can be found only in the
presence of God, the constant source of life."
3 Yea, the
sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where
she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and
This is a puzzling verse because it appears to suggest that birds make a home for themselves on God's holy altars.
Many commentators do not think that's what the verse is saying,
though. Some say that the verse is expressing admiration for the birds
in the Temple courtyard, as the pilgrim himself desires to be close to
God at the sanctuary. Others maintain that the birds are symbolic for
the Levites, who are close to God because they work in the sanctuary.
This is not a far-fetched proposition, for there are Psalms that liken
human beings to birds (Psalm 11:1; 124:7). The Targum actually tries to do something with the birds being on the altars.
Edward Cook's translation of the Targum says: "Even the dove has found a
house, and the turtledove a nest that is suitable for her hatchlings to
be sacrificed on your altars, O LORD Sabaoth, my king and my God." The
Targum relates the birds to the altars by bringing up the issue of
I am not convinced by many of the interpretations that I
encountered for this verse, but I cannot at this time offer anything
better. Perhaps some words are missing from the text. I did, however,
like some points that Marvin Tate made. First, Tate quotes H.J. Kraus,
who affirmed that "The holy place is the epitome of the undisturbed,
fulfilled life." Second, Tate (who believes that the birds symbolize
the Levites) states: "The pilgrim who finds such joy in the temple
courts at festival time thinks longingly of priests and ministers who
live in the temple area all the time...The view is utopian of course;
the priests and Levites who stayed at the temple and did all the work
involved there (including, no doubt, caring for pilgrims at festival
times!) may not have always considered it so ideal." Hopefully,
people who serve God in the capacity of ministry can be refreshed by
God's love for them and the realization that their work is important
because they are working for God and are helping people. But I'm sure
that there are times when that's easier said than done!
4 Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee. Selah.
seems to coincide with Tate's view that the pilgrims, who are visiting
the sanctuary, admire those (namely, the Levites) who dwell in God's
house and have continual opportunities to praise God.
5 Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them.
second part of the verse can literally be translated as "highways in
their heart". What does that mean? An interpretation I found that
makes sense to me is that this part of the verse is saying that the
pilgrims' hearts are set on the journey (the highways) to the
sanctuary. They are really looking forward to worshiping God! This
sort of interpretation can also work if we apply Psalm 84 to the desire
of exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem: the journey back to Jerusalem is
on their heart. Perhaps this sort of interpretation can also
work if we seek a deeper spiritual meaning in Psalm 84: our spiritual
journey is on our heart, in the sense that it is important to us, and
also because we're looking forward to a greater intimacy with God.
6 Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools.
are different views about what the valley of Baca is. Josephus
mentions a place called Baca, which is in Galilee (Wars 3:39), and so
there is a view that Psalm 84 at one point concerned a sanctuary in the
North, not in Jerusalem. Others think that "Baca" means "weeping", and
they proceed to speak homiletically about God bringing happiness out of
sadness. This is a beautiful lesson, but, as Keil-Delitzsch point out,
"Baca" is never used in the Hebrew Bible for "weeping", for the Hebrew
Bible often employs bechi or other words to convey that.
Still, the Jewish commentator Rashi managed to base some profound points
on the "weeping" interpretation, as he painted a picture of
transgressors (another way to understand the Hebrew word ovrei,
which the KJV translates as "Who passing through") weeping for their
sins in Gehinnom, as they acknowledge God's justice and regret that they
disobeyed the teacher who blessed them and taught them the way that is
good. Personally, I'd hope that there would be a possibility of
redemption even for them. Could that be what the Targum is getting at
when it says regarding this verse: "The wicked who cross over the
valleys of Gehenna, weeping he will make their weeping like a fountain;
also those who return to the teaching of his Torah he will cover with
blessings" (again, Cook's translation)? Or is the Targum merely saying
that the transgressors in Gehinnom are weeping, whereas the people who
are still alive and return to the Torah will be blessed?
third view is that the Baca was a balsam tree, which would indicate
that the valley of Baca was dry. The lesson, in this scenario, is that
God enlivens arid regions by bringing forth rain. This interpretation
could apply to pilgrimage, or it could relate to return from exile, for
Second Isaiah (which is about return from exile) presents God making
barren lands fruitful. Some believe that the "balsam tree"
interpretation places the valley of Baca closer to Jerusalem, meaning
that Psalm 84 is about a pilgrimage to Zion rather than to a northern
sanctuary. The reason is that II Samuel 5:23 mentions a place where
there are bechaim, which many regard as balsam trees, and that story is set near Jerusalem.
On what basis is the Baca considered to be a balsam tree? Keil-Delitzsch refer to the Arabic, baka'un,
which they say concerns something like a balsam tree. Tate says that
Baka could be talking about a tree that weeps sap. I could not,
however, find strong evidence that Baca concerns a balsam tree. When I
looked at the Septuagint and Brenton's translation, I saw that the LXX
interpreted bechaim in II Samuel 5:23 in light of weeping, but it interpreted bechaim in I Chronicles 14:14 as pear trees (or so says Brenton, and so the lexicon on my BibleWorks understands the Greek word apios). From
an online search, I learned that there are pears that grow in arid
regions, and so perhaps the view that God in Psalm 84:6 is enlivening a
barren region stands.
The Septuagint understands the
second part of the verse, which the KJV translates as "the rain also
filleth the pools", to be about the teacher (presumably God) giving
blessings. Its justification is probably that the word that the KJV
translates as "rain", moreh, can also mean "teacher" or pertain
to teaching (i.e., Isaiah 9:14; II Chronicles 15:3). It's from the
Hebrew root y-r-h, from which the word "Torah" comes. And the word that
the KJV translates as "pools", berachot, often means "blessings" (Genesis 28:4; 33:11). The
Septuagint's interpretation adds a personal dimension to the
fruitfulness that God brings to the valley of Baca (which the LXX sees
as the valley of weeping), for God is the one who brings it as a
teacher. That coincides with what Psalm 84:11 says: that God gives good
things to those who walk uprightly. In a sense, heeding and trying to
walk according to God's teachings can bring about healing and happiness
(or so one would hope).
7 They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.
8 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob. Selah.
9 Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed.
anointed one could be the king or the priest. The pilgrim is not just
rooting for God, but for God's servants, for their decisions and work
can bring peace and prosperity to the people. From a Christian
standpoint, v 9 could encourage me to root for God's anointed, Jesus
Christ, who currently rules his church and will one day bring
benevolence, justice, and righteousness to the earth.
10 For a
day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a
doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of
This verse is the inspiration for the Christian praise song, Better Is One Day. The reason that the KJV has "doorkeeper" is probably that it relates the word histopheph to the Hebrew word saph,
which means "treshhold". But, as Tate points out, "doorkeeper" is a
problematic translation because the point of the verse is that the
Psalmist would rather be in a lowly position than to be in tents of
wickedness, and doorkeepers to the Temple held a high status (Tate cites
I Samuel 1:9; II Kings 12:9; 22:4; 25:18; Jeremiah 35:4; 52:24; Esther
2:21; 6:2; I Chronicles 9:19, 22; II Chronicles 23:4). For
Tate, the verse could be saying that the Psalmist would rather be a
beggar standing at the threshhold of the Temple than to be in tents of
wickedness. That would coincide with the Septuagint, which uses a word
that can mean "rejected" for histopheph.
I'd like to note one more thing. This
is a Psalm by Korahites, and v 10 exalts humility. But Korah in
Numbers 16 was not humble but rather sought to exalt his own status.
Perhaps the Korahites learned their lesson, or Psalm 84 was seeking to
refute the notion that the Korahites were proud people seeking to usurp
authority. In any case, it's interesting to read Psalm 84:10 in
juxtaposition with Numbers 16.
11 For the LORD God
is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing
will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.
12 O LORD of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee.
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