Psalm 84 A Psalm for the Sons of Korah - The Courts of the LORD
Psalm Eighty Four is one of the number of Psalms ‘for the Sons of Korah’. There are eleven Psalms bearing their name with Psalm forty three being really the second part of Psalm forty two, the title of which serves the two Psalms. Therefore the Psalms ‘for the sons of Korah’ are twelve in total with eight in the first collection and four in the second (Psalms 42-49; 84-85, 87-88). Both collections begin with the psalmist desiring to be at the temple – Psalms forty two to forty three and Psalm eighty four. As the titles of these Psalms indicate they were composed to be sung by the sons of Korah. Who exactly composed them is a debated point. Some suggest they were actually written by the Korahites themselves. Indeed, the New English Translation (NET) gives the title of Psalm 84 as: ‘For the music director; according to the gittith style; written by the Korahites, a psalm.’ Apart from one, Psalm 87, these compositions are ‘to the chief Musician’ or ‘choir Director’ or ‘choir Master’ presumably of the temple. Psalm 84 then is ‘to the chief musician upon Gittith’. Gittith being perhaps, among other suggestions, a musical style or instrument.
Korah was a Levite, a son of Izhar, who was a son of Kohath, one of the three sons of Levi (Ex 6:16-24). Sadly, Korah himself is infamous for his involvement in the rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron in the wilderness (Num 16:1-35). Thankfully though, his posterity were not wiped out in judgment (Num 26:11).
It was David who appointed ‘the service of song in the house of the LORD, after the ark had rest’. There were three song leaders appointed: Heman of the sons of the Kohathites, a descendant of Korah, Asaph of the sons of Gershom and Ethan or Jeduthun of the sons of Merari. These men led the temple worship in music and song and the choirs formed from their respective families. The sons of Korah was one of these choirs (1 Chron 6:31-47). Others of Korah’s descendants were gatekeepers (1 Chron 6:48; 9:17-19) and bakers of sacrificial cakes (1 Chron 9:31). It is recorded how the Korhites (Korahites), stood up along with other Levites of their family, the Kohathites, ‘to praise the LORD God of Israel with a loud voice’ at the celebration of Jehoshaphat’s victory over Ammon and Moab (2 Chron 20:19).
As David Kidner says ‘Longing is written all over this psalm’ and he suggests that the author is a homesick Korahite temple singer (Tyndale Old Testament Commentary – TOTC Vol 16 Psalms 73–150, An Introduction And Commentary, Derek Kidner). The Psalm reminds us of Psalm forty two and forty three and perhaps we are hearing the same voice. These two are lament Psalms expressing the discouragement and desire of a soul who is exiled from the house of God and suffering reproach, while Psalm eighty four expresses the author’s earnest longing for the courts of the LORD. Evidently though, the writer of Psalm eighty four, whether a Korahite temple singer or a Jewish pilgrim has been prevented from being where he intensely desires to be as verses one to eight suggest. However, the final section indicates that he has reached the temple, if not physically he is certainly there in heart and mind as he reflects upon the blessings of being in the house of his God. William Scroggie says: ‘The Song is in three parts which are distinguished by the occurrence of Selah after verses 4, 8. In these three stanzas a progress is discernible. In the first (1-4) The Soul's Ambition, God and His House, is the theme. In the second (5-8) The Soul's Approach is the subject. And in the third (9-12) The Soul's Arrival is celebrated’ (Guide to the Psalms, Volume 2, W Graham Scroggie).
The theme of the Psalm then is about the writers longing for, and appreciation of the courts of the LORD where the pilgrims come before God to pray. The background of the Psalm may be a time of crisis in the life of the nation, however, whatever the personal and national circumstances, the author reflects upon the age old pilgrimage made to Jerusalem and the immense blessing of being in the courts of the LORD. The Psalm moves, as already observed, through three stages marked off, as Scroggie says, by a Selah which occurs twice (vs 4 & 8). Also in each of the three sections there are three beatitudes (vs 4, 5 & 12). The following are summary titles for each section:
Vs 1-4 The Desire - Longing for the Courts of the LORD Vs 5-8 The Journey - Travelling to the Courts of the LORD Vs 9-12 The Privilege - Being in the Courts of the LORD
The temple in Jerusalem was where the LORD put His Name. It was the place of His presence, His house of prayer and praise. To the Jew, the physical house was their focus for prayer and their centre of worship. Thus the psalmist’s longing to be there. Israelites came to the house of God to meet with Him in prayer and offer to Him their worship. When Daniel prayed and gave thanks he did so toward Jerusalem no doubt with the temple in mind (Dan 6:10). The people of God in this era don’t look to or enter an earthly sanctuary, but a heavenly one. We come boldly in prayer to the throne of grace in heaven knowing our Great High Priest appears in the presence of God for us (Heb 4:14-16; 9:24) and we enter spiritually the heavenly sanctuary as worshippers because of the abiding value and unchanging merits of ‘the blood of Jesus’ (Heb 10:19-22).
Yet we do well to remember that God still has a sanctuary, a temple on earth. It is His people gathered in assembly testimony to the Name of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor 3:16; 1 Tim 3:14-15). His ‘temple’ today still ought to be a ‘house of prayer’ and a place where praise is offered (Heb 13:15). What a blessing and privilege it is to be among those who tread His ‘courts.’ We, like the author of this psalm, should ever long for the place where God dwells and never lose our appreciation of what it means to be in His presence.
Vs 1-4 The Desire - Longing for the Courts of the LORD
The Psalmist Expresses the Intensity of his Desire for the LORD’s Courts vs 1-2 The writer, away from the courts of the LORD, recalls how amiable, that is, how lovely or how pleasant are the dwellings of the LORD of hosts (v 1). The amiability of His tabernacles no doubt included the visible temple and its buildings, but the particular draw to the LORD’s courts was that He was there. It was the LORD’s place for which the psalmist deeply longed and even fainted or pined because it was where his God dwelt for whom he cried out (v 2). He was all consumed in his soul, he could think of nothing else, but the courts of the LORD. We sense the intensity of his affection and desire heightened probably because some circumstance had either taken him away from the courts of the LORD, or was keeping him from coming to them. He really wanted to be in the presence of God. Do I? Consider the magnitude of what captures the psalmist’s heart and thinking. It is the dwellings of Jehovah of hosts! H. C. Leupold says ‘that the divine name used … suggests that He who is the Lord of the whole host of things that fill God’s creation in the heavens and on the earth deigns to dwell in a particular earthly habitation, which indwelling is the chief glory of the otherwise already beautiful sanctuary’ (Leupold Old Testament Commentaries, Exposition of the Psalms, H. C. Leupold, D.D.).
The Psalmist Reflects on the Safety of Dwelling in the LORD’s Courts vs 3-4
Divine Hospitality to the Lowliest of Guests v 3 Some suggest that the sparrow and swallow are only mentioned by way of comparison in the sense that even they find a home in which to dwell and somewhere to nest and so, just like them, the author desires that his home and resting place will be the altars of the LORD of hosts. However, reasonable as such a view is, it is more probable that as the psalmist continues to dwell on the blessedness of the Lord’s courts he reflects on how even the little sparrow and the agile swallow find shelter and safety there. The courts were an open invitation to these creatures of the sky. There, near the altars of the LORD, the very birds were welcome in the courts of Him who made them. It is an obvious observation, but birds are timid creatures and soon fly away from disturbance or danger. The picture here is that in the LORD’s courts there is room and safety even for the insignificant and weak. The place of sacrifice is never a place of cruelty to animals. Where God dwells even the sparrow finds a home. The sparrow probably refers to any sparrow like bird in general. The swallow lays her eggs to hatch her young. She feels safe near the altars of the LORD. The temple precincts offer a secure environment in which to bring forth her chicks. The writer is really paying tribute to the divine hospitality of his king and God (v 3). The presence of the birds in the courts of the LORD demonstrate His gracious care toward His creatures and shows that not only are they welcome, but like the psalmist, they want to be there.
Divine Favour on those who Dwell with God v 4 What a blessed lot was that of the priests, Levites and attendants who dwelt in God’s house as they served Him. Who else could be more blessed than those living in the sanctuary of the LORD? ‘They will be still praising Thee’ (v 4). Such a privilege and blessing surely brought forth daily praise to the LORD’s Name. If the psalmist was a temple singer of the sons of Korah, he intimately knew whereof he speaks. Praise was the continual ministry of the Levitical singers. It’s beautiful to read that when Hezekiah restored the temple worship he and ‘the princes commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the LORD with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshipped’ (2 Chron 20:30).
Being conscience that I am where God is, surely makes me aware of how blessed I am and should cause deepest gratitude in my heart that expresses itself in praise to Him who is worthy of it. Do we value the immense privilege and blessing of being in the presence of the Lord Jesus as we gather in assembly fellowship? He promised: “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20). May we never lose sight of the Lord in our midst and the sense of His presence among us. The privilege of coming to God’s house and meeting with the Lord Jesus absolutely ought to be my greatest desire. Why would I stay away from such a privilege? Moreover, being in the presence of God must also affect both my attitude and deportment. In everything we want to honour Him in whose grace we rejoice.
Vs 5-8 The Journey - Travelling to the Courts of the LORD
The Pilgrim’s Way vs 5-7 The mind of the author now turns to think of the pilgrims on the way to Zion. They are in contrast to those of verse four who dwell continually in the house of God. He probably has before his mind the pilgrims as they make their way to Jerusalem for the appointed feasts of the LORD. Some think that he is really viewing the journey of the pilgrims to Zion as an illustration of the pilgrim life with its sorrow and joy. Certainly that would be a valid application, but it seems more probable that in his heart he is following the footsteps of Zion’s pilgrims on the way to the holy city and the courts of the LORD. He highlights how the LORD sustains and refreshes them on what was an arduous journey through arid regions. Finally by God’s grace they arrive in Zion to appear ‘before God’ (v 7).
Again he pronounces blessing, this time on those whose strength is the LORD and ‘in whose heart are the highways to Zion!’ (v 5 NASB). This describes the pilgrim who depends upon God for the strength required for the journey to Zion. They desire to travel the highways to Zion for they want to come before the LORD at His house. This is the draw. It won’t be easy, many will be the difficulties and wearisome the journey, but meeting with God is everything and they know they follow a well-trodden way for many pilgrim feet have been there before.
The valley of Baca (v 6) is translated as a proper name in the New English Translation – ‘the Baca Valley’. This takes it to refer to an ‘otherwise unknown arid valley through which pilgrims to Jerusalem passed’ (NET Translation Notes). The name Baca is possibly derived from the name of a shrub or tree which grew in this valley. Indeed, the same word is found in second Samuel chapter five verses twenty three and twenty four where we read of the ‘mulberry or balsam trees’. These apparently grew and flourished in dry regions. On the other hand the meaning of the word may be understood metaphorically as ‘the valley of weeping’ or ‘lamentation’, a ‘vale of sorrow’. The literal valley and the metaphorical meaning are hardly disconnected. It is the hardship of the journey as it goes through this valley which is the mind of the psalmist. The pilgrims have to pass through this dry and difficult region, but for them, what would naturally cause tears of sorrow, becomes instead, a well or spring of joy (v 6). It’s the joy of the LORD which is their strength (Neh 8:10). The anticipation at the end of their journey and the ‘smile’ of God on the way change everything for the pilgrim. Moreover, the LORD sends rain which causes pools of water to form (v 6). Thus, a barren region becomes a blessing, a place of refreshment and so, going from strength to strength the pilgrims arrive in Zion to appear before God (v 7). The rain may be the early or autumn rain and this would indicate that these were pilgrims journeying to Zion for the Festival of Tabernacles. On the other hand if this was a journey taken at a time other than the feasts, the rain could be ‘showers of blessing’ specially sent by God for the benefit and refreshment of His pilgrims as they go on the way to Zion in a particular set of circumstances for the purpose, as we shall see, of praying for the LORD’s anointed.
We are reminded of our own pilgrimage with its hardships and trials as we journey a well-trodden path through this world. Trials in God’s mercy can be made into triumphs. Tears can be turned into springs of joy. It is by keeping our ‘eye’ on the Father’s house (John 14:2-3), our ultimate destination, that encourages and ‘spurs’ us on and it is by depending on God and knowing His joy in our hearts that we are strengthened by His grace and power to keep going. Moreover, on the pilgrim journey to the Father’s house, His abundant mercies sustain us. Passing through the barrenness of this wretched world we can find refreshment in the ‘showers of blessings’ which He sends from above. John Nelson Darby penned the beautiful hymn:
This world is a wilderness wide; We have nothing to seek or to choose; We've no thought in the waste to abide; We've nought to regret nor to lose.
The Lord is Himself gone before, He has marked out the path that we tread; It's as sure as the love we adore, We have nothing to fear nor to dread.
For the path where our Saviour is gone Has led up to His Father and God, To the place where He's now on the throne; And His strength shall be ours on the road.
And with Him shall our rest be on high, When in holiness bright we sit down, In the joy of His love ever nigh, In the peace that His presence shall crown.
'Tis the treasure we've found in His love, That has made us now pilgrims below, And 'tis there, when we reach Him above, As we're known, all His fulness we'll know.
And, Saviour, 'tis Thee from on high, We await till the time Thou shalt come, To take those Thou hast led by Thine eye To Thyself in Thy heavenly home.
Till then 'tis the path Thou hast trod, Our delight and our comfort shall be; We're content with Thy staff and Thy rod, Till with Thee all Thy glory we see.
The Exile’s Prayer v 8 The psalmist has journeyed with the pilgrims in spirit, but how he longs to be among them as they at last come to the house of his God and so he prays: ‘O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob. Selah’ (v 8). Still, the fact that he utters his prayer shows he is not alone wherever he is and whatever his circumstances. God is never so far away from His child that He does not hear his or her prayer.
Vs 9-12 The Privilege - Being in the Courts of the LORD
A Corporate Prayer v 9 If it is the case that verses eight and nine stand together, as some suggest, then rather than the author's personal prayer, what we are reading is the prayer of God’s pilgrims which they make for the LORD’s anointed upon their arrival in Zion. This is the Davidic king or perhaps even David himself. William de Burgh thinks that David was actually the author of this Psalm and that this is his prayer as the LORD’s anointed for divine favour during the time of Absalom’s rebellion (Commentary on the Book of Psalms Vol 2). Certainly the Absalom rebellion could well be the background to this Psalm and the cause of why the psalmist, whoever he is, has been separated or prevented from coming to the courts of the LORD. This would also suggest that the pilgrims came particularly to the house of God to pray specifically for the king.
Note though, in verse eight how the appeal to be heard is followed by a Selah. The Selah seems to act as some kind of pause or distinctiveness in the singing of the Psalms. What exactly the term means is debated. That it probably is the signal for an interlude or change of musical accompaniment, David Kidner says remains the best interpretation (TOTC). Because of the placing of the Selah after the psalmist’s appeal for the LORD God, the God of Jacob to hear his prayer it seems best to understand verse eight as his personal prayer of appeal and verse nine as the intercessory prayer of the pilgrims who appear before God in Zion. This connects verse nine back with verse seven. If this is so, then verse eight is in parenthesis, being the personal interjection and appeal of the poet as he longs to be with those he has just described in verses five to seven. This means that the intercessory prayer of verse nine is the corporate petition of the pilgrims for the king who is the LORD’s anointed and the shield of His people. Again, as has already been suggested, this Psalm may have been composed at a time of crisis in the life of its author and of the nation. Therefore, while surely prayer for the king would have been normal at the festival gatherings, perhaps it was an urgent need that brought the pilgrims along the well-trodden way to Zion for this specific supplication regarding the LORD’s anointed.
At any rate, whatever way we understand verses eight and nine the primacy of the king in the life and preservation of the nation is the point. The king under God is the divine protector of the nation and in light of this the pilgrims pray that the LORD will look with favour upon Him.
Prayer for leaders, from a Christian perspective, is a central part of assembly life according to Paul (1 Tim 2:1-4) and prayer for leaders among God’s people, is equally essential for they, under the Chief Shepherd, are the shepherds of His flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:1-4). This time of national and world crisis being experienced should again remind us as believers of our responsibility to pray for those in authority. Political leaders, medical officers, doctors and many others involved in making critical decisions at such a time need, whether they realize it or not, the hand of God upon them. This world stands in need at the present hour of divine intervention. Moreover, the elders of assemblies need prayer as they watch an unfolding situation that has basically closed the saints in their homes, separating us from one another and keeping us from gathering in assembly testimony. Wisdom and courage is needed and will be needed in the days ahead for apart from anything else, all of this will have both a spiritual and emotional impact on the people of God.
A Personal Reflection vs 10-12
The Best of Days v 10 The Psalmist now meditates on the blessing of being in the courts of the LORD. Whether this is his reflection after having actually come to the temple as he so earnestly desired or, as is more likely, he is now expressing his appreciation for the courts of the LORD as he thinks about what it means to be there from past experience. His words so eloquently sum up his appreciation:
'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'. A day in God’s courts was better than a thousand anywhere else! The sons of Korah, as previously noted, were indeed gatekeepers in the courts of the LORD (1 Chron 9:17-19); such was a privileged work and service, but probably the author here has in mind that he would rather stand at the threshold of the house of God, that is at its entrance because it far excelled being among the wicked in their apparent prosperity and security. Among such people the LORD and His house are lightly esteemed. To the godless nothing is sacred. The New English Translation puts it this way: ‘I would rather stand at the entrance to the temple of my God than live in the tents of the wicked’. It was Asaph who was envious of the prosperity of the wicked until he came before God in the sanctuary and got the right perspective on their seeming prosperity and ease in life which had caused him to stumble (Psalm 73:3, 17-26).
The psalmist here had the proper perspective on what was all important in his life. He considered being in the courts of the LORD as a worshipper of God the supreme thing. Worldliness, being influenced by the ways and thinking of a ‘wicked’ world is a curse to God’s people, always. Remember the apostle John writes: ‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him’ (1 John 2:15). We do well to ever keep before us that this age is a ‘present evil age’ (Gal 1:4 NKJV). Thank God for the power of the gospel and influence of Christianity and the Bible and its effect over the centuries on society, but at its core and in its philosophy and ideas this world is evil. We don’t want to be conformed to it (Rom 12:2) nor let it cloud our appreciation of, or dim our love for God’s house today, the New Testament assembly.
The Blessing of Trust vs 11-12 This beautiful gem of a psalm ends with an assurance: ‘O LORD of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in Thee’ (v 12). Man is generic in that it is anyone, man or woman, boy or girl who trusts in the LORD is truly blessed. How could we not trust Him who is LORD of hosts? He is the Sovereign Almighty LORD who rules over all. No part of this universe is beyond or outside of His control. What a comfort to us at all times, but particularly in times of crisis, such as the present pandemic.
But the author gives three great reasons in verse eleven why God should and can be trusted. He is the ‘Sovereign Protector’ of His people. Just as the sun sovereignly rules the day (Gen 1:16) and ‘watches’ over the world so the LORD who rules over all watches over His people. He is their shield, their defence and protection. Also, the LORD is the light and life of His people. The author of the forty third Psalm said: ‘O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto Thy holy hill, and to Thy tabernacles‘ (Psa 43:3). David wrote: ‘With Thee is the fountain of life: in Thy light shall we see light’ (Psa 36:9), and in a powerful expression of his faith he said: ‘The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?’ (Psa 27:1). The Lord Jesus said: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12) and Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: ‘Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness’ (1 Thess 5:5).
Also, He will give or bestow grace and glory. This means that the LORD’s favour rests upon His people. He will both bless and honour them. He blesses them through His grace and as their Protector and Saviour owns them as His people. Like the rays of sunshine that light and warm our world, the glory of His grace shines upon those who fear Him. They are not some forgotten, weak and insignificant people abandoned by their God in fear and poverty. No they are His children and possess the dignity, assurance and the blessings of being such. David said:
'The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them. O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in Him. O fear the LORD, ye His saints: for there is no want to them that fear Him. The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the LORD shall not want any good thing' (Psa 34:7-10).
It was David who also penned: ‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever’ (Psa 23:6). Truly we, as saints in this era of full revelation, have known the blessings of divine grace (Eph 1:3-7) and the riches of divine glory through our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph 1:3-7; 2:7; 3:16-19).
Thus the LORD is revealed to those who fear, and trust in Him. Yes He will not withhold what is good from His people who walk with Godly integrity. He will give what is for their blessing. He provides for our daily needs (Phil 4:19), and supplies ‘out of His infinite riches in Jesus’ what we need to grow spiritually (Rom 8:32). Indeed, in the coming ages He will display ‘the exceeding riches of His grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus’ (Eph 2: 7). Surely it should help us to straighten our drooping shoulders and bring a joy to our melancholy countenance remembering that we are ‘the sons and daughters’ of the ‘LORD Almighty’ and are ever under His watchful care and protection (2 Cor 6:18). While you may want to dispute its spiritual depth, the sentiments of the following words are uplifting!
Once I was clothed in the rags of my sin Wretched and poor lost and lonely within But with wondrous compassion the King of all Kings In pity and love took me under his wing.
Oh yes, oh yes, I'm a child of the King His royal blood now flows in my veins And I who was wretched and poor now can sing Praise God Praise God I'm a child of the King.
Cindy Walker (1917-2006)
In conclusion, while we are ‘exiled’ from the house of God during this present pandemic may a greater longing and appreciation grow in our hearts for the assembly gatherings where the Lord Jesus is in the midst of His people. How we look forward to coming together again before God for precious times of worship, prayer and the preaching of the word of God.
David wrote: ’LORD, I have loved the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thine honour dwelleth’ (Psa 26:8).
Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from the King James Version.