Click to donate today!
Superscription.—“To the chief Musician upon Gittith.” (See Introduction to Psalms 81:0) “A Psalm for the sons of Korah.” (See Introduction to Psalms 42:0)
Occasion.—The Psalm was evidently composed when the writer was exiled from the sanctuary. It was probably written by David when he was compelled to flee from Jerusalem by reason of the rebellion of Absalom. He laments this chiefly because it separated him from “the courts of the Lord.” Homiletically, the Psalm sets forth, The exile’s longing for the house of God, Psalms 84:1-4; Religious progress, Psalms 84:5-7; and The exile’s prayer, Psalms 84:8-12.
THE EXILE’S LONGING FOR THE HOUSE OF GOD
The Psalmist was banished from his capital and from the tabernacle of the Most High by the wicked rebellion of his son Absalom. This exile must have been one of the most painful experiences in the life of the royal bard. When he left the holy city he did not conceal his sorrow, but “went up by the ascent of Olivet, and wept as he went up, and had his head covered, and he went barefoot: and all the people that were with him covered every man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went up.” A sadly pathetic sight this—the noble king in his old age driven forth by the rebellion of his own son from the city which he had founded or ornamented, the abode, for many years, of all his power, his glory, and his happiness, perhaps never more to return to it. But his great and pious soul was great and pious then as ever. And in his exile his greatest grief arose from the fact that he was sundered from the worship of the tabernacle of God, and his most ardent desire for himself was to return to an enjoyment of its privileges. The exile’s longing for the house of God—
I. Arose from his love for the house of God. “How beloved are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts!” “Amiable” or lovely does not express the meaning of the word used by the Psalmist; but dear, beloved. The plural, “tabernacles,” is used in reference to the divisions of the sanctuary, each part being regarded by the poet as the abode of God. The tabernacle was dear to David. “Lord, I have loved the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thine honour dwelleth.” Every godly soul loves the house of God, and delights in His worship. The Psalmist doubtless had excellent reasons for his love to the house of God. And so have we. We love it because—
1. It is the place of holy fellowship. In its sacred engagements the holiest and bravest souls unite. The communion of saints in divine and blessed exercises and experiences—in penitence, prayer, praise, aspiration, adoration—is enjoyed in the sanctuary.
2. It is the place of social prayer and praise. There the glad and grateful heart pours out its joy and thankfulness to Him in hymns of praise consecrated by a thousand precious memories. And sincere, humble, devout praise is a foretaste of heaven. And there the anxious, troubled spirit can cast its burden in prayer upon the heart of the loving Father, or its sin upon the Saviour, and find rest.
3. It is the place of instruction and exhortation. The teachings of the living and abiding Word of God are here set forth. The teachings of a godly and enlightened ministry cannot be too highly estimated. And its warnings and exhortations are often of unspeakable importance and value.
4. It is the place of Divine communion. “There,” said the Lord, “I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy-seat.” To the godly soul the presence of God is the great attraction in the sanctuary. When His presence is blessedly realised, the grand object of worship is attained. But if His presence is not realised, no matter whosoever or whatsoever else may be present, the one essential thing is lacking. “In His presence is fulness of joy.” Adoration, in the consciousness of His presence and approval, is the heaven of the soul. For all these reasons the godly soul loves the house of God.
II. Was a longing for conscious fellowship with God. “My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.” It was not so much the courts of the Lord’s house that he longed for as the living God Himself. Religious ordinances are lifeless, useless things, mere formalities, if they do not help us consciously to realise the presence of the living God. The soul which is alive and healthful cannot bear the sense of distance from God. He is its life, its health, its inspiration, its joy, its crown, its supreme and essential good; and in His absence it languishes and is cast down. Moreover, the Psalmist addresses God as One in whom he confided and with whom he was accustomed to hold converse—“My King and my God.” Though exiled from His courts he still loves the King. Though far from the tabernacle he still claims God as his portion. The repeated “my” is precious and suggestive. It shows his holy intimacy with, and strong confidence in, and deep affection for, God. God is all in all to the godly soul.
III. Was the longing of his entire being. “My soul longeth, … my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.” The Psalmist was not conscious of any thought or feeling opposed to this strong desire. His whole being concurred in it. He says that his “flesh” even, which we so frequently find lusting against the spirit, cried out for God. All the desires and aspirations of his nature were for communion with God. The whole man, with every faculty and affection, thirsted for the sacred engagements and Divine communion of the tabernacles of the Lord. The Psalmist seems to have attained that state for which the apostle, ages after, prayed on behalf of the Thessalonians. “The very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless.” Brethren, blessed will it be for us when our whole being is thus athirst for God. In response to such desires God will give fullest and divinest satisfactions.
IV. Was a longing of great intensity. “My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.” The word translated “longeth” by itself denotes an intense desire, a pining after a thing. “It means literally,” says Perowne, “ ‘hath grown pale,’ as with the intensity of the feeling.” Then there are the other words. “Fainteth” is spent, faileth of strength, is exhausted. “Crieth out” in earnest importance desire. It would be difficult to express in intensity of desire more strongly than it is here expressed. It was, in its intensity, that kind of longing which God never denies, when it seeks for that which is in accordance with His will. In our day the evidence of such ardent desire for the means of grace is conspicuous chiefly by its absence. In religious services to a painful extent the outward show and glitter of ritualistic ornament, or the fine musical performances of professional choirs, or the gifts of some popular preacher, are the things desired rather than the presence and fellowship of God. Oh, for more of the holy longing of David!
V. Led him to extol the blessedness of those who were constantly engaged in God’s house. To David the lot of the little birds who had their nests in the vicinity of the tabernacle seemed enviable as compared with his own. They in perfect safety could place their dearest possession, their young, in their nests about the tabernacles; but he was an exile far away from the tabernacle, and exposed to constant and great perils. And as he thought of the priests and levites who ministered in the sanctuary, and who were entirely devoted to its sacred services, and had their dwelling near to it, he said, “Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house: they will be still praising Thee.” So David desired to live all his life in conscious and blessed fellowship with God, to walk with God every day and in all things, and never to be separated from the opportunities of social worship. He esteemed the life of those who ministered in the sanctuary a life of praise. And it is certain that a holy life, a life of communion with God, is a life of praise. Whatever may be its occupations, whatever its circumstances and outward conditions, praise will be its spiritual mood. They who have attained the blessedness of the “Father’s house” above, have reached the fulness of that the foretaste of which David here speaks of. They “dwell” in God’s house. They are made “pillars in the temple of God, and go no more out.” In that high world every place is consecrated by the presence and smile of God. There all service is blessedness; activity is ecstasy; work is worship.
CONCLUSION.—True social worship is indeed a precious and blessed thing. It is now essentially a spiritual thing, and is independent of any special locality.
“From every place below the skies,
The grateful song, the fervent prayer,
The incense of the heart, may rise
To heaven, and find acceptance there.”
Let us seek to live a life of communion with God and praise to Him. Let our life be worship.
“My will be swallowed up in Thee;
Light in Thy light still may I see,
Beholding Thee with open face;
Call’d the full power of faith to prove,
Let all my hallow’d heart be love,
And all my spotless life be praise.”
Religions progress is here represented—
I. As deriving its support from God. “Blessed is the man whose strength is in Thee.” Spiritual life flows from God. He starts the soul in its upward course. All true religious progress may be traced back to Him. All spiritual vitality and strength come to men by reason of their connection with Him. The explanation of this is not difficult. Well-grounded faith is a strengthening thing. “All things are possible to him that believeth.” Columbus with invincible faith is mightier than mutinous crews, conqueror of coward fears, and, despite his frail vessels and opposing winds and waves, he accomplishes what the world had pronounced impossible. In the spiritual life faith brings over the all-sufficiency of God to replenish the exhausted moral powers of our being. God is the only true ground and object of faith. “He that believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.” Well-centred affection is a strengthening thing. There are no difficulties which love will not encounter, no labours which it cannot endure, no perils which it cannot brave. Supreme love to God fills the soul with invincible energy. Only as our love is fixed on Him shall we find complete satisfaction and full spiritual power. Well assured hope is a strengthening thing. It has been well said that “Hope is the companion of power, and the mother of success; for whoso hopes strongly has within him the gift of miracles.” While a man retains hope, however adverse his circumstances may be, he may yet conquer. Hope imparts one of the most powerful of inspirations. But in the spiritual life God is the only object or person in whom we can safely place our hope. In every way the strength of the godly man is in God.
II. As advancing in conformity with God’s law. Hengstenberg’s rendering and interpretation of the last clause of the fifth verse appears to us to be correct. “In whose hearts are ways. The second condition of salvation is, that a man has ways, made roads, in his heart. By this is designated zealous, moral effort, blamelessness, and righteousness. The heart of man, in its natural condition, appears like a pathless wilderness, full of cliffs and precipices; and repentance is a levelling of the roads. The following passages are parallel: Psalms 1:6, ‘whoever prepares a way, to him will I show the salvation of God;’ Proverbs 16:7; and Isaiah 40:3-4.” Matthew Henry, in applying the words, also uses them in this sense. “If we make God’s promise our strength, we must make God’s Word our rule, and walk by it.” There can be no true religious progress except God’s will is our law of life and conduct. It is in vain that we talk of “higher life” except we are growing in hearty recognition of, and loyal obedience to, that will. The soul that is really progressing utters itself in strains like these: “Make me to understand the way of Thy precepts. I will run the way of Thy commandments, when Thou shalt enlarge my heart. I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep Thy Word. Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” True religious progress is progress in holiness of heart and life.
III. As making unfavourable circumstances conduce to its own ends. “Who passing through the Valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools.” “The Valley of Baca” is the valley of tears or of weeping. We are by no means certain that the Psalmist by the phrase referred to any particular locality. And if he did it is impossible now to determine where that valley was. The idea is that, “As the valley of weeping is an image of misery, the fountain is an image of salvation.” By their faith in God and fellowship with Him they transformed the gloomy and inhospitable valley into a valley of refreshment and joy. By the grace of God the godly soul can compel the unfavourable circumstances of his pilgrimage to help him onward in his career. In the desert of affliction the grace of God opens up a fountain of consolation and peace, and so the affliction becomes the occasion of blessing. Tennyson sings of one,
“Who breaks his birth’s invidious bar,
And grasps the skirts of happy chance,
And breasts the blows of circumstance,
And grapples with his evil star;”
and so forces his way to great eminence and influence. In like manner, by the blessing of God, the good man by resisting temptation acquires moral strength, by means of tribulation he grows patient, by means of suffering he attains unto spiritual purity, and tenderness, and beauty. “We glory in tribulations also; knowing that,” &c.
IV. As steadily advancing. “They go from strength to strength.” Progress is a great law of life. “Where there is life there is growth. The law is seen in all creation—in the tiny moss upon the wall and the lordly oak of the forest, in the insect of an hour, and the beast of the field. And the Christian is enjoined to grow in grace, not in wealth, or in power; but in that appropriation of the revealed will of God to the heart that results in satisfying, not some one faculty or passion of the soul, but the whole man.” God calls us to move onward and upward. “Leaving the principles of the doctrines of Christ, let us go on unto perfection.” “Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” “I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind,” &c. “Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance,” &c. Let us seek to advance from strength to strength, from strength of patience to strength of hope; from strength of hope to strength of faith; from strength of faith to strength of vision. Let us aim at expressing our inner life in the activities of growth and usefulness. In our career there must be no pause. The goal of yesterday must be the starting point of to-day. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles,” &c.
V. As gloriously terminating. “Every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.” Those who set forth in the various companies on their way to Jerusalem shall arrive there in safety, and join in the holy festivities. None shall perish on the way. None shall turn back without having attained the object in view. The godly soul moves onward to a glorious end. “The ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads;” &c. “When He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.” Our progress leads onward right to the palace and throne and presence of the King. Our pilgrimage ends at home, our “Father’s home.” We have spoken of our progress as gloriously terminating at the heavenly Zion; but it terminates only to begin again under higher and more blessed conditions and circumstances. The progress of the godly soul is a never-ending progress. When millenniums of growth and glory have been realised by the ransomed of the Lord, they aspire to yet higher and diviner things, crying, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.”
1. Have we entered upon this career of progress? Have we started, and started truly and well, in the religious life? Know we the blessedness of “the man whose strength is in God”?
2. Christian pilgrims, are you advancing? “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin,” &c.
THE EXILE’S PRAYER
I. The address which is presented. “O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob. Behold, O God our shield.” In this address the Psalmist reminds God of—
1. His sovereign power. “Lord God of hosts.” “He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, what doest Thou?”
2. His covenant relation to His people. “God of Jacob.” “I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye Me, in vain.” He has pledged His faithfulness and mercy to them when they call upon Him.
3. His protecting care of His people. “God our shield.” “Fear not, Abram; I am thy shield.” David could not hide himself at this time in the secret of God’s tabernacle, but he could hide himself in God Himself.
II. The object which is sought. “Behold, and look upon the face of Thine anointed.” The “anointed” is David himself, who was anointed, or set apart, to the office of king. He presents no petition except this, that God would look upon him, which is a way of asking Him to grant His favour. David’s great desire was to return to the joys and fellowships of the sanctuary, there his heart was fixed, thither his face was directed; and, having expressed his ardent affection for it, he needed not to specify his desires any further than he does here. “Hear my prayer: look upon the face of Thine anointed.” Show me Thy favour and grant me the desire of my heart.
III. The pleas which are urged. “For a day in Thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather,” &c. (Psalms 84:10-11). The Psalmist urges in these words three pleas why God should restore him to the privileges of the sanctuary—
1. His great affection for the house of God. In his estimation—
(1.) A little time there was preferable to a long season elsewhere. “A day in Thy courts is better than a thousand” elsewhere.
(2.) The lowest station there was preferable to the highest elsewhere. “I would rather sit at the threshold in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” Would not God hear his prayer, and restore him to the place he loved so well and dearly?
2. The relations which God sustains to His people.
(1.) He is a “sun.” From Him His people derive their light, and strength, and joy.
(2.) He is a “shield.” From Him His people derive protection in time of peril. As a “shield,” would He not guard His servant from the dangers to which he was at this time exposed? As a “sun,” would He not grant to His servant the light and joy of His presence in His tabernacle?
3. The gifts which God bestows upon His people.
(1.) He gives “grace.” In every time of need we may hear His voice saying unto us, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” “God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all-sufficiency in all things,” &c.
(2.) He gives “glory.” “The glory which Thou gavest Me,” said Christ, “I have given them.” The glory of moral conquest, of spiritual purity, and of unfading hope. In a word, the glory of moral resemblance to Christ. Glory in its dim beginning here, in its splendid fulness hereafter.
(3.) He withholds no good. Nothing that will really contribute to our well-being will He withhold from us if we “walk uprightly.” Surely the God who confers such gifts upon His people would grant unto David, His anointed, the desire of his heart, in bringing him back again to the courts and tabernacles of the Lord.
IV. The sublime conclusion of the whole. “O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in Thee.” This blessedness the Psalmist possessed. In the depths of his soul there was a peace which no rebellion in his kingdom, no sin and sorrow in his family, no banishment from the sanctuary, could shake, for it depended upon God alone. If God granted to him the desire of his heart, great would be his delight; but if He should not do so, still was he blessed, for be trusted in God,—God was his portion.
1. In the trials of life what is it we feel most? David’s greatest trial was the loss of his religious privileges. How different, alas! is the case of many others!
2. Is our trust reposed in the Lord of hosts? Then, whatever our circumstances may be, we are blessed.
THE LORD GOD A SUN AND SHIELD
We propose to glance at the figures, the facts, and the persons which the text presents to our attention.
I. The figures. “The Lord God is a sun and shield.”
1. The sun dispenses light. “God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night.” The moon, which is the lesser light here referred to, derives her light from the greater; and consequently the sun may properly be represented as the source of light, so far at least as we are concerned. If this glorious orb were blotted out of existence, everything around us would be involved in obscurity. And what would be the state of the human mind, especially in relation to religious subjects, if it were not for the illuminations of “the Sun of Righteousness”? Alas! all would be gloom and uncertainty.
2. The sun imparts life. During the months of winter, an immense number of creatures either cease to exist, or remain in a state of torpidity. But in the spring of the year, when the orb of day begins to exert an increasing influence, what a remarkable change takes place! Animals and vegetables are alike the subject of a revival; and the whole face of nature is renewed. Equally remarkable, and much more important, are the effects of that Sun by the warmth and energy of whose beams life is imparted to those who were dead in sin.
3. The sun produces fruitfulness. When, during a part of the year, we are favoured with but little of his presence, barrenness and sterility are observable on every hand. But the season of promise returns at the appointed time. The sun gradually rises higher, and continues longer above the horizon. The happy results are immediately perceptible; and it is not long before we are favoured with the appointed weeks of harvest. The heart of man may, with great propriety, be compared to a soil; but, alas! it is naturally hard, and dry, and barren,—so far, at least, as spiritual things are concerned. The good seed of the kingdom may be sown thereon with a liberal hand, but until the Sun of Righteousness shines upon it in all His glory and effulgence, no signs of fruitfulness will gladden the eye.
The Psalmist tells us Jehovah “is a shield.” The shield is a piece of defensive armour used by warriors, and attached to the left arm, as a protection against the injuries to which they are exposed from the enemy. We are, therefore, reminded that the people of God are surrounded by foes, with whom it is their duty to contend; and that in the time of conflict, they may look to Him whose cause they espouse for succour and protection. In all ages, Jehovah has been the defence of His people; consequently, none of the weapons formed against them have prospered.
II. The facts. “The Lord will give grace and glory,” &c.
1. “The Lord will withhold no good from them that walk uprightly.” It is probable that the reference here is principally to temporal things; the comforts and conveniences of life. They are secured to the believer, so far as is conducive to his good, in the covenant of grace. There may also be a reference to afflictions. He, who knows us better than we know ourselves, may see that they will be good for us; and if so, they will not be withheld.
2. “The Lord will give grace.” Whatever afflictions we have to endure while upon earth, all will be well if this promise be fulfilled in our experience. The grace of God will sanctify both us and our afflictions,—us as vessels fitted for the Master’s use, and them to the advancement of our best interests. It will sustain us in the time of trial, and enable us quietly to submit to the Lord’s will. It will strengthen us in running the race that is set before us. It will give us the victory over every adversary; and at length hold out the crown of righteousness, which fadeth not away.
3. “The Lord will give glory.” This is the consummation of grace, and is reserved for the world to come. If religion afforded its professors no enjoyment whilst on earth, the glories of heaven would prove an ample reward.
III. The persons. “Them that walk uprightly.” Those walk uprightly who walk with God. And who are they that walk with God?
1. That man does so, who, in all his engagements, recognises the Divine authority, consults the Divine will, and seeks the Divine blessing.
2. That woman walks with God, who, like Mary, has chosen the good part which can never be taken from her; and delights to sit at the Saviour’s feet, to hear His words,—who, like Martha, is found diligently attending to household duties,—and, at the same time, like Dorcas, is “full of good works and alms-deeds.”
3. That child walks with God, who, like Samuel, is desirous to hear the words of Divine wisdom; and, like Timothy, has acquired a knowledge of those Scriptures which are able to make him “wise unto salvation, through faith, which is in Christ Jesus.”
1. If the Lord God be a sun, let my hearers pray that they may be enlightened, quickened, and qualified to bring forth fruit unto holiness, that the end may be everlasting life.
2. If He be a shield, let His protection be sought in every season of conflict and danger.
3. If He will withhold no temporal good from His people, let them rely on His paternal regards.
4. If He will give grace, let it be expected in every time of need.
5. If He will give glory, let it be prepared for and anticipated.
6. If those only who walk uprightly have a right to expect this blessedness, let unceasing solicitude be manifested that the character may be formed by grace Divine, so that it may be viewed with approbation by Him who will render to every man according to his works.—The Young Minister’s Companion.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 84". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13