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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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Chapter 85
 
 
 
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PSALM 84

THE SUPREME PSALM OF THE SANCTUARY

The title here was given by Fleming James, as quoted by McCullough.F1 "The love of the psalmist for the temple here is not for its own sake, but for the sake of God's presence to be found there."F2

The great lesson for Christians here is: "If the ancient temple of the Hebrews inspired such loving devotion and joy as that revealed here, how much more wonderful indeed should be the joy and spiritual exultation of those who actually are in the spiritual body of the Son of God."?

This psalm is a favorite with many people; and almost everyone recalls a memory verse from it.

Due to the evident fact that the temple services were being conducted in the era when this psalm was written, and to the strong possibility that Ps. 84:9 is a reference to the "king," the psalm was composed during the monarchy, which means that the temple mentioned here was that of Solomon. The psalm is stated to be for the "Sons of Korah" in the superscription, but the actual author of it is unknown.

The psalm naturally falls into three divisions of four verses each, set apart in the text itself by the word "Selah," following Ps. 84:4,8.

We do not believe that any `pilgrimage' whatever is mentioned in the psalm, that conception having been imported into the psalm and supported by the RSV's butchering it with several impossible alterations and additions to the sacred text.

Ps. 84:1-4

How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Jehovah of Hosts!

My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of Jehovah;

My heart and my flesh cry out unto the living God.

Yea, the sparrow hath found her a house, where she may lay her young,

Even thine altars, O Jehovah of hosts,

My King, and my God.

Blessed are they that dwell in thy house:

They will be still praising thee.

(Selah)"


 
Verses 1-4
How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Jehovah of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of Jehovah; My heart and my flesh cry out unto the living God. Yea, the sparrow hath found her a house, And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, Even thine altars, O Jehovah of hosts, My King, and my God. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: They will be still praising thee. [Selah
(Psalms 84:1). The marginal reading here is `lovely,' which appears preferable.

My heart and my flesh cry out unto the living God
(Psalms 84:2). Our hearts, O God, were made for thee; and never shall they rest until they rest in thee. These immortal words of Augustine always come to mind in the contemplation of the thought written here. There is a deep and unquenchable thirst in the hearts of all men for the knowledge of God, and nothing on earth can satisfy it except the worship and adoration of the Creator. Those who do not worship God do not have to wait until the Judgment Day to be lost; they are lost already. Apart from the love of God, no man has any sure anchor; but those who truly seek God and faithfully strive to serve him have laid hold upon the hope `in Christ,' a hope both sure and stedfast and which enters into that which is within the veil (Hebrews 6:19).

The sparrow. and the swallow
(Psalms 84:3). Small birds had built nests in the temple area, perhaps in crevices and small niches within the temple itself; but the mention of `altars' cannot be taken as a place where such nests were built. Daily fires upon the temple altars would surely have prevented that. The peace and security which these small creatures found in their temple location suggested to the psalmist the peace and security that he himself felt in coming there to worship.

The mention of the safe nesting place of these tiny birds recalls the plaintive words of Our Savior, who said, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the heaven have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head" (Luke 9:58).

Blessed are they that dwell in thy house
(Psalms 84:4). This blessing of God's worshippers occurs in all three divisions of the psalm, in the last verse of Division No. 1, in the first verse of Division No. 2, and in the last verse of Division No. 3.

The intense longing of the psalmist for his presence in God's temple has been used by some as evidence that the psalmist was at the time of this hymn compelled to be absent from the temple, either by exile, illness, or some other hindrance. We cannot find any evidence whatever of such a thing in the psalm.

"The longing after God and the sanctuary, in the first part of this psalm, does not necessarily imply exile from its premises; because such longings for God may be felt when men are nearest to Him, and are, in fact, an element of that nearness."F3

Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee;

In whose heart are the highways to Zion.

Passing through the valley of Weeping they make it a place of springs;

Yea, the early rain covereth it with blessings.

They go from strength to strength;

Every one of them appeareth before God in Zion.

O Jehovah God of hosts, hear my prayer;

Give ear, O God of Jacob. (Selah)"


 
Verses 5-8
Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; In whose heart are the highways [to Zion]. Passing through the valley of Weeping they make it a place of springs; Yea, the early rain covereth it with blessings. They go from strength to strength; Every one of them appeareth before God in Zion. O Jehovah God of hosts, hear my prayer; Give ear, O God of Jacob. [Selah
(Psalms 84:5). This is the verse that is seized upon by some writers as an excuse for calling this psalm a pilgrimage hymn; but the translation, even in our version is strongly suspect. The words to Zion is in italics, indicating that they are not in the Bible at all but have been added by translators.

The current popular opinion that makes this psalm a pilgrimage song is founded upon a single word in Ps. 84:5 ("ways") which never means pilgrimage but is constantly treated as if it did.

Highways
(Psalms 84:5). These are not roads, in the ordinary sense; they are in the hearts of those who love God; These `ways' are being pondered (in men's hearts); and they refer to `directions,' or `courses of action' that should be followed in specific situations.F4

Passing through the valley of Weeping
(Psalms 84:6). Of course, this passage also is alleged to refer to some actual valley on one of the `roads' to Zion, but we cannot believe there ever was such a literal valley. We appreciate the great big if that appears in Addis' comment in speaking of it. He wrote: Possibly there was such a valley.F5 Maybe so; but there is no such valley on any of the maps of ancient Palestine that are available to us.

The truth is, this is not a reference to any kind of literal valley. "The valley of Weeping" is any period of loss, sorrow, grief, deprivation, or disaster through which God's child must pass during his earthly sojourn; and the glory of God's service is that it enables the worshipper to change even sorrows into springs of praise and thanksgiving. The rains mentioned in the same context are a reference to God's blessing upon those who suffer.

They go from strength to strength
(Psalms 84:7). The faithful worshipper of God finds his faith strengthened and increased day by day.

Hear my prayer, O God of Jacob
(Psalms 84:8). Constant prayer is an element in the life of every faithful soul. Prayer has been called the breath of the saints; and when one stops praying, he is either spiritually dead, or soon will be.

Rejoice, O God our shield,

And look upon the face of thine anointed.

For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand.

I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God,

Than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.

For Jehovah God is a sun and a shield:

Jehovah will give grace and glory;

No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.

O Jehovah of hosts,

Blessed is the man that trusteth in thee."


 
Verses 9-12
Behold, O God our shield, And look upon the face of thine anointed. 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 wickedness. For Jehovah God is a sun and a shield: Jehovah will give grace and glory; No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O Jehovah of hosts, Blessed is the man that trusteth in thee.
(Psalms 84:9). Dummelow explained that the word `shield' in this passage could apply either to God or to the `anointed.'F6 And, of course, in that spirit which seems so generally characteristic of modern translators of the Bible, such versions as the Good News Bible and the RSV make the word apply to Israel's king, despite the fact that older versions properly refer it to God. The notion that any of that long line of David's successors were in any sense a shield of the people is ridiculous; and besides that, verse 11 makes it absolutely certain that our shield is not some wicked king of Israel but God Himself.

And look upon the face of thine anointed
(Psalms 84:9). Many of the writers accept this as a reference to the king of Israel, more likely, of the Southern Israel.

"In the life of the true Israelite who was acquainted with the promises of God to David, prayer for the royal house would have occupied a place of unusual prominence."F7

One day in thy courts is better than a thousand
(Psalms 84:10). This being true, Christians should not have any trouble in seeing that one day in worship is better than a thousand on the beach!

I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness
(Psalms 84:10). Being doorkeepers in the house of God was the special duty of the sons of Korah, who are mentioned in the title of the Psalm (1 Chronicles 9:19).F8 This has been a memory verse for thousands of Christians.

Than to dwell in the tents of wickedness
(Psalms 84:10). In ancient times, especially among the Hebrews, the common dwelling places were indeed `tents'; and the reference here is actually to any `dwelling places' of the wicked, however magnificent.

One should not miss the implication here that non-worshippers of God are assumed to be "wicked." It is also still true that the wicked, generally speaking, are the people who don't worship God; and the righteous people are those who do. Men may cite exceptions, but the rule is still true.

Jehovah will give grace and glory
(Psalms 84:11). J. S. Norris' famous hymn, Where He Leads Me I will Follow (words by E. W. Blandly) devotes almost all of verse 2 to these words.

"He will give me grace and glory,

He will give me grace and glory,

He will give me grace and glory,

And go with me, with me, all the way."F9

Blessed is the man that trusteth in thee
(Psalms 84:12). Indeed, indeed! Here is a beatitude fully qualified to rank among the glorious beatitude spoken by the Son of God in the Sermon on the Mount. This is the third time that a blessing is pronounced in this marvelous psalm.

Blessed are they that dwell in thy house (Psalms 84:4).

Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee (Psalms 84:5).

Blessed is the man that trusteth in thee (Psalms 84:12).


Footnotes for Psalms 84
1: The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. IV, p. 452.
2: Ibid., p. 453.
3: Alexander Maclaren, Vol. II, p. 441.
4: H. C. Leupold, p. 605.
5: W. E. Addis, p. 388.
6: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 362.
7: H. C. Leupold, p. 607.
8: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 362.
9: Great Songs of the Church, No. 76.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalm 84". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=ps&chapter=084>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  


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