The setting of ‘Psalm 84’ is of utmost importance. The authorship of this poem has been disputed by theologians, but most have concluded that this is one of the many psalms written by King David. At the time ‘Psalm 84′ was written, David son of Jesse had been anointed king, but not yet recognized as king over Israel. In fact, his predecessor, King Saul, was in pursuit of David to take his life. David fled for his life and lived in caves in the wilderness, fully aware that he was a man being hunted by an expert hunter with his army of loyal men. David knew that he had done no wrong. He had never asked to be anointed King. Samuel the prophet claimed that God himself had chosen David, and so he anointed him. When it became clear to King Saul that David was favored by the multitudes of Israel, he began to fear him. That is when he sought to kill him, and David fled. The circumstances of David’s life at this time are significant because it is likely that he spoke these words while living in hiding. Since the Hebrew history is was mostly passed down in oral tradition through song and story, it is likely that he did not actually pen these words during this time, but that he sang them and the words of the song were then passed down through the generations (Chronological Daily Reading Plan).
Psalm 84 Analysis
How lovely are Your dwelling places,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord;
My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
These words of ‘Psalm 84′ have resonated with people of faith around the world for generations. Many people have longed to be with the Lord. Like in David’s case, it is usually a form of suffering or loss on earth that causes people to yearn for heaven. David had lost everything at this time. He had lost his wife, King Saul’s daughter, who had been given to him, he had lost contact with everyone he knew and loved, and he had lost his position as the King’s right-hand man (Chronological Daily Reading Plan). In the face of having lost everything and been driven to the wilderness to be hunted daily, David cried out to the God of his fathers, expressing his desire to be there, rather than on earth.
It is ironic, however, that David claims that his “heart and…flesh sing for joy”. His situation certainly does not seem to merit feelings of joy. However, the first few lines reveal David’s ability to find joy in his situation. He is aware that his present situation is not his forever situation. He believed that one day he would live with God forever. He believed that the pain and suffering he experienced on earth would be replaced by the joy he would know when he lived in a place where there was no pain and no suffering. This is why he longs for “the courts of the Lord” when he is living in miserable conditions on earth.
The bird also has found a house,
And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young,
Even Your altars, O Lord of hosts,
My King and my God.
How blessed are those who dwell in Your house!
They are ever praising You. [b]Selah.
Verse three seems out of place for ‘Psalm 84′ without the knowledge of David’s position during the time when he first spoke these words. He has acknowledged that God will provide him a place to stay just as he has given the “swallow a nest for herself”. Even if his resting place is a cave, he believes that his God has provided for him, just as he has provided the bird with everything it needs to make a nest to live in. He does not express resentment or hatred toward God for his present suffering. Rather, he acknowledges that even the cave he has to sleep in has been provided by God. He goes on to praise God, saying, “How blessed are those who dwell in Your house”. Again, David is longing for the house of God. This line could have a double meaning, as David could be referring to those who are already living in the presence of God in heaven as well as those on earth who have decided to live in the presence of God. Whether he is talking about earthly beings, heavenly beings, or both, we cannot confirm. Nevertheless, he does note that these are the ones who “are ever praising” God. David ends this verse with the word “Selah”, meaning “to pause”. It is likely that when David sang ‘Psalm 84′, he paused at this point and so the word “Selah” was likely added when David’s song was written down in ink. The pause here is significant because David wants those who hear and sing the song to reflect upon the last few words in which David sings praises to his God.
How blessed is the man whose strength is in You,
In [c]whose heart are the highways to Zion!
Passing through the valley of [d]Baca they make it a [e]spring;
The early rain also covers it with blessings.
With these verses, David reveals those who are blessed. Though he is living in the wilderness, he counts himself as blessed. He claims that those “whose strength is in You [God]” are the ones who are blessed. He then says, “in whose heart are the highways to Zion”. Zion is a symbolic place in the Hebrew culture and the Jewish and Christian belief systems. Zion represents the city of God, His holy place.
In verse six, David explains that even the people who are “passing through the valley of Baca” or the valley of weeping, are also blessed because they are the ones who will find a “spring”. The spring of freshwater represents the hope and life that can be found even when going through the valley of weeping. David has clearly found this source of life and joy in the midst of his own intense trial.
They go from strength to strength,
Every one of them appears before God in Zion.
O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
Give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah.
With these verses, David reflects upon those who rely on the Lord, and he cries out to God and begs that God would hear him. He claims that those whose hope is in God will one day appear before Him in that holy city of Zion. Then, he asks the Lord to hear his cry. There is another pause in the song at this point. Again, the pause is significant here. David wants his hearers to reflect upon the request that God would hear him. He clearly believes that God will honor that request and hear the words that he speaks in praise and request.
The phrase “God of Jacob” reveals that David is choosing to worship the same God that his fathers before him worshiped. The book of Genesis and Exodus tells the story of all that the God of Israel did for David’s forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. At one point, Jacob was given a second name. That name was Israel. All of his descendants were called the Israelites. Thus, this specification of “the God of Jacob” simply reveals that David has not strayed from the beliefs of his ancestors (The Chronological Daily Plan).
Behold our shield, O God,
And look upon the face of Your anointed.
For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside.
I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God
Than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
David refers to God as a “shield”, implying that God is his protection in the face of war. Because David was being hunted by some of the best warriors in the land, he believes that God has been his shield and that had God been protecting him and shielding him from his enemies, he would not still be alive. David then addresses his God, and beseeches Him to “look upon the face of [His] anointed”. He is asking God to look at Him. These are bold words because, in the Hebrew Tradition, the people did not dare to look upon the face of God. The only person ever said to have seen God was Moses, and his face shone so brightly that the rest of the Israelites could not look at him (Exodus). And yet, here, David is begging the Lord to look upon his face. He then says, “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside”. Again, David is expounding upon his belief in a better life after the life that he has here on earth. He believes that one day with God would be worth more than a thousand days on earth.
He ends verse ten by claiming, “I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness”. This reveals that David is not impressed with the riches of the wicked. He does not live for earthly pleasures. Rather, he would rather spend his life among the caves if it means that he would one day be in the house of his God forever.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
The Lord gives grace and glory;
No good thing does He withhold [g]from those who walk[h]uprightly.
O Lord of hosts,
How blessed is the man who trusts in You!
In verse eleven of ‘Psalm 84′, David again refers to his God as a shield, but this time he also refers to him as “a sun”. Not only is God his protector, but he is also his source of light, warmth, and life. There is no life apart from the sun, and David compares his God to a sun, thus implying that all would be darkness without Him. David then ends this song by briefly explaining why he wishes to be in the house of the Lord. It is not only because of his exile or daily tribulations but also because he believes that his God is good. He claims that his God “gives grace and glory” and that he does not withhold anything good “from those who walk uprightly”. This is a strong statement coming from someone who experienced a life of exile. Yet, he believed that God had not withheld anything good from him.
David ends ‘Psalm 84′ by praising his God yet again, saying, “How blessed is the man who trusts in You [God]”. David ends this song with praise to God because he has been able to live above his circumstances. Although he is still in the wilderness by the end of this song, he chooses to continue to offer praise to the God he worships. He counts himself as a blessed man because he trusts in his God. It does not seem to matter to David that he does not know where he will get his next meal, or that he has no bed to sleep in at night. He does not even count himself as cursed after his wife was taken from him and he was driven by his own people. Rather, he says that he is a blessed man because he trusts in God. He believes that he will one day be with God for all of eternity.
This is the same promise that many people still hold on to today. Though life can bring valleys of weeping and times of distress, many people still believe that there is a better place with God. This is why ‘Psalm 84′ has stood the test of time and been read and repeated by thousands at celebrations as well as funerals. Many people hold to the same belief system as King David, claiming that no matter what trials and suffering life may bring, they will look ahead to the eternity that awaits.