The homing instinct to gather together (Psalm 84)

Psalm 84:1-12 is dedicated to the Levitical family of ‘the sons of Korah’ (1 Chronicles 6:31-33) so it comes as no surprise to find it peppered with references to the temple in Jerusalem: ‘your dwelling place’ (Psalm 84:1), ‘the courts of the Lord’ (Psalm 84:2), ‘your altars’ (Psalm 84:3), ‘your house’ (Psalm 84:4), ‘your courts’ (Psalm 84:10) and ‘the house of my God’ (Psalm 84:10). And the mention of ‘your anointed’ (Psalm 84:9) indicates that the song was composed in the days of the Davidic monarchy, also based in Jerusalem prior to the Jewish exile into Babylon.

Like the Levite of Psalm 42 whose ‘tears have been my food day and night’ because of his ‘thirst … for the living God’ (Psalm 84:3,2), this psalmist also ‘longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord’; however he does so without tears, but rather his ‘heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God’ (Psalm 84:2).

The song is constructed in three stanzas of four verses each. Stanzas one (Psalm 84:1-4) and three (Psalm 84:9-12) both end with a benediction – ‘Blessed are those who …’ (Psalm 84:4), ‘blessed is the one who…’ (12), while the middle stanza (Psalm 84:5-8) begins with an utterance of blessing: ‘Blessed are those whose …’ (Psalm 84:5).

  1. ‘Blessed are those who dwell in your house’ (Psalm 84:1-4)

The first line sets the scene: ‘How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!’ The Hebrew noun for dwelling place is mishkan, and the verb ‘to dwell’ in verse 4 (in our headline) is shakan. Both mean ‘to stay, rest, remain, reside’ and derive from the unique Hebrew expression for the manifest, radiant glory of the Lord, the Shekinah. Just thinking of where God chooses to stay inspires the response: ‘How lovely!’ 

As a boy I first learned that opening line in the King James Version as: ‘How amiable are thy tabernacles…’ And the very first Latin verb I ever learned to conjugate was amo = ‘I love’. This song writer’s outburst could well be translated as: ‘How lovable is the place/people where you make your home…’ – it’s not just dazzling but cosy!

This Levite envied those priests and fellow-Levites who were currently staying in God’s ‘house, ever singing your praise’. No wonder he added a pause in the music in order to contemplate that even ‘the sparrow’ had made herself at ‘home…at your altars’: ‘Selah.’ [‘Fancy that!’] 

  1. Blessed are the pilgrims on their way there (Psalm 84:5-8)

‘Blessed are those…in whose heart are the highways to Zion…They go from strength to strength’, as yet more festival-goers join the throng on the way, until ‘each one appears before God in Zion.’ He pauses (Selah, Psalm:84:8) to pray: Lord, get us there safely! 

  1. Bless me, Lord, with all I need to get me there (Psalm 84:9-12)

For even ‘a day in your courts’ is desirable – as a ‘sojourner’ [a day visitor = French; cf. ‘journal’ = ‘The Daily News’] as Abraham day-by-day for decades lodged in ‘the promised land’ in a tent (Hebrews 11:9 KJV; Hebrews 11:13-16). As Christians we too pray: ‘Look on the face of Your Anointed’ – upon Jesus already ‘in Zion’, and worship God for his goodness. He shines on and shields us (no cancerous UV light!) and ‘bestows grace and glory’ [‘favour and honour’ seem less sharp] – blessings undeserved that cause our faces to shine (Matthew 17:2). We are called to be corporatelythe light of the world’ – by word, good deeds (Matthew 5:14-16), and glowing faces!

            *‘Blessed is the one who trusts in you’ to accomplish this through us.

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