This is a psalm of pilgrimage—worshipers of God afar off are longing to be where they can worship Him at the place where He has set His name. They yearn to be at the place of worship, at his tabernacle, and the spirit of worship drives them there.
“How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God . . .” (Psalm 84:1–12).
Summary of the Text:
The tabernacles of the Lord are altogether lovely, and yet He is addressed as the Lord of hosts, the God of armies (v. 1). The worshiper, removed from the place of worship, is heartsick and faint, and yearns to be in the courts of God. He is truly homesick (v. 2). Even the lowly sparrows and swallows are privileged to dwell in the tabernacles of God (v. 3). Everyone who dwells there is blessed (v. 4). For verse five, consider the rendering of the ESV. “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion” (Ps. 84:5, ESV). Blessed is the pilgrim who is on his way to Zion. The valley of Baca was apparently a desolate place, but it was on the way to Zion, and generations of pilgrims had dug wells for themselves (v. 6). As they approach Zion, they are moving from strength to strength (v. 7). Their strength grows as they approach their goal. Lord God, hear. God of Jacob, listen (v. 8). God is invited to look upon the face of His anointed (lit. Messiah) (v. 9). One day in the courts of God is to be preferred to thousands outside (v. 10). And a lowly place with God is superior to the grandest heights the world could bestow on you (v. 10). The Lord God is both grace and glory, sun and shield (v. 11). No good thing is withheld from those who walk uprightly (v. 11). The man who trusts in God is truly blessed (v. 12).
After his expulsion from Heaven, Milton’s Satan famously says that he would rather “reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” This is the photo negative of the sentiment expressed here in this psalm. The psalmist would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness—no matter how grand those tents of wickedness might be. This is striking, because this psalm comes from the sons of Korah, who were lowly porters in the house of God, and whose fathers had rebelled against Moses in the wilderness (1 Chron. 9:17-19). They had been humbled, and here is a glorious redemption. They now yearned for the lowest place—and were given the highest place of contributing to the praises of God’s people for virtually the entire history of redemption.
And returning for a moment to Milton’s Satan, we need to remember that his destiny is actually not to rule anything, not even in Hell. The devil is not the king of Hell—the Lord Jesus is the king of Hell. “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). Hell is not the devil’s domain or realm; it is his punishment.
The Humility of the Small Birds:
Going lower than the sons of Korah, we find small birds in the tabernacle. The psalmist here notices sparrows and swallows nesting there. What can we gather from this? “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father” (Matt 10:29). The Lord assures us that we are worth more than many sparrows. And so what does that mean when we come to dwell in the presence of God? We are welcome there, just as the birds are welcome. The birds are not just privileged to be there—they are welcome to be there. And you are worth more than many of them. And also keep in mind that these lowly birds are welcome to bring up their young there. Are they to be allowed to nest in the tabernacles of God and you not be allowed to do so?
Sun and Shield:
God is our shield, which means that He is our protection (v. 9). But not only is He our protection, He is also our provision. He is our sun and shield (v. 11). What will He give you? He will give you grace and glory. It is not difficult to associate the grace with the shield of protection, the protection we did not deserve, and the glory with the sun of provision. All your strength derives from the sun. Every bit of energy you have has been poured out upon you from 93 million miles away. What a wonderful picture of the one in whom we live and move and have our being.
No Good Thing:
Now the promise near the end of this psalm is quite a striking one. “No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11). We have some trouble navigating this concept when it comes to answered prayer. This is because Scripture gives us two models for prayer, and they seem quite distinct. First, in the Garden, the Lord Jesus prayed that the cup of suffering would pass from Him, but He uttered this with a caveat. If it be your will . . . So obviously this is a lawful way to pray. But how many of us rush to this pattern because we want to use it as the all-purpose escape clause? Why do we use this to dispense with the other pattern for prayer? “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13–14).
As we meditate on this—and it calls for real meditation—we have to remember the central context of all this. That context is that God has determined that no good thing, as God defines “good thing,” will be withheld from the one who walks uprightly. And of course, the only way to walk uprightly is to walk in the Upright One. And that is done by faith alone.