Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
With Psalms 83 the Asaphite division of the Elohistic collection ends; and Psalms 84-89 form an appendix to that collection, which shews but few indications of the hand of the Elohistic editor. It can however still be traced in Psalms 84 in the phrase Jehovah Elôhîm Tsebâôth (Psalm 84:8), and in the absolute use of God (Psalm 84:9), by the side of Jehovah (Psalm 84:1-3; Psalm 84:8; Psalm 84:11-12).
Psalms 84 is a companion poem to Psalms 42-43. It is animated by the same spirit of enthusiastic devotion to the service of God and love for the worship of the Temple. It makes use of the same expressions (e.g. tabernacles, or dwelling-place, Psalm 84:1; the living God, Psalm 84:2; appear before God, Psalm 84:7); and it presents the same structure of three equal stanzas, which are divided by musical interludes, instead of by refrains as in Psalms 42-43.
These Psalms may have been written by the same poet, though under widely different circumstances. In Psalms 42-43 the leading motive is the pain of being debarred from approaching the sanctuary: in Psalms 84 it is joy at the privilege of access to it. The author’s feet seem to be already standing in the gates of Jerusalem. It is virtually a pilgrim song, though it is not included in the special collection of “Songs of Going up” (Introd. p. xxviii).
It clearly belongs to a time when the Temple was standing, and its services were regularly carried on; and if thine anointed (Psalm 84:9) refers (as it is most natural to suppose) to the king, it must be assigned to the period of the monarchy. But more than this it is impossible to say. Some attempts to fix the date of the companion Psalms 42-43 have been considered in the introduction to those Psalms, and shewn to be improbable. Certainly it cannot, as Delitzsch supposes, be so early as the time of David. The Temple is a permanent building with courts and chambers annexed to it for resident ministers; its services appear to be of long standing; and pilgrimages to it are an established part of the national religious life.
But as “the Psalter in its spiritual fulness belongs to no special time,” so “this Psalm is the hymn of the Divine life in all ages. It brings before us the grace and the glory of sacrifice, of service, of progress, where God alone, the Lord of Hosts, is the source and the strength and the end of effort.” (Bp Westcott.)
The Psalm is divided into three equal stanzas by Selah, marking a musical interlude after Psalm 84:4; Psalm 84:8. At first sight this division seems unsatisfactory, because it separates verses of similar form and meaning; and it may be thought preferable to treat the Ps. as consisting of two stanzas only: Psalm 84:1-7; Psalms 8-12. But the triple division is probably right, and corresponds to the triple division of Psalms 42-43. The second and third stanzas open with words suggested by the close of the first and second stanzas respectively, and the connexion of thought appears to be as follows:
i. The Psalmist’s eager longing for the house of God (Psalm 84:1-2); the happiness of those who dwell there (Psalm 84:3-4).
ii. Happy too are those who in the strength of God surmount all obstacles, and appearing in His Presence offer their prayers (Psalm 84:5-8).
iii. The preciousness of the privilege of access to God, Who is the unfailing source of blessing for those who trust in Him (Psalm 84:9-12).
Beside Psalms 42-43, Psalms 27, 61, 63 should be compared.
On the title, For the chief Musician; set to the Gittith. A Psalm of the sons of Korah (R.V.), see Introd. pp. xxi, xxv, and pp. 223ff.
To the chief Musician upon Gittith, A Psalm for the sons of Korah. How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts!1. How amiable are thy tabernacles) Or, How dear is thy dwelling-place. Amiable is no longer used of things, in the sense of worthy to be loved. For dwelling-place see note on Psalm 26:8. The plural of the original, as in Psalm 43:3, may be ‘amplificative,’ expressing the dignity of the house of God; or it may be used with reference to the various buildings of which the Temple was composed.
Lord of hosts] See note on Psalm 46:7.
1, 2. The Psalmist’s delight in the house of God.
My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.2. My soul hath pined, yea, even fainted. The verbs are perfects, and it seems best to suppose that he is recalling the earnest longings which are even now finding satisfaction, as his feet stand in the Temple courts, and his heart and flesh sing for joy unto the living God. The latter verb denotes joyous singing, such as that with which pilgrims enlivened their journey. Cp. Jeremiah 31:12; and the cognate substantive in Psalm 42:4. Soul, heart, and flesh, the emotions, the reason and the will, with the living organism of the body through which they act, make up the whole man. See Psalm 16:9; Psalm 73:26; and cp. 1 Thessalonians 5:23.
the living God] The same phrase (El chay) as in Psalm 42:2. God Himself is the final object of desire: the Temple is only the means of realising His Presence.
Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God.3. The Psalmist envies the privilege of the birds which build their nests within the precincts of the Temple. If even they are allowed to find a home there, surely he may expect a welcome. As at an earlier time the surrounding scenery was eloquent to the poet of his own misfortunes (Psalm 42:7), so now a feature in the Temple courts expresses the longing of his heart. No doubt the figure is abruptly introduced. The picture is painted, and left to the reader to interpret. But it is unnecessary to suppose that the text is defective, and must be emended by the insertion of words to give the sense: ‘Birds have their nests, and so have I found (or rather, would I fain find) a home by thine altars.’ The direct address to God is not out of place, because though the Psalmist does not directly mean himself by the sparrow and swallow, his own longing breaks through the figure and moulds the language.
sparrow … swallow] Cp. Proverbs 26:2. Tsippôr, rendered sparrow, is a generic term for small birds: drôr is rendered dove by the LXX, Targ., and Syr., but probably means swallow. In ancient Greece as in the East the birds which nested in temples were accounted sacred. Comp. the story of Aristodicus at the temple of Branchidae (Herodotus i. 159); and “still the swallow seeks the temple enclosure at Jerusalem, and the mosque of Omar, as a secure and safe nesting-place.” (Tristram, Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 206.)
may lay] Rather, hath laid.
even thine altars] Not of course the actual altar but its neighbour hood. Or we may render, by thine altars.
my King and my God] See Psalm 5:2; cp. Psalm 44:4.
3, 4. The happiness of those who find a home in the Temple.
Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee. Selah.4. Blessed] Or, happy, as in Psalm 1:1; and so in Psalm 84:5; Psalm 84:12. Not those who are “of the household of God” in the wider sense (Psalm 23:6; Psalm 27:4; cp. Ephesians 2:19), but the actual ministers of the Temple appear to be meant. They can be still, i.e. again and again, raising their Hallelujahs.
Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them.5. Happy are the men whose strength is in thee;
In whose hearts are the highways (to Zion).
Happy are those whose minds are wholly set on pilgrimage to Zion. The phrase is peculiar and to Zion must be supplied; but this is preferable to rendering highways are in their hearts, and explaining highways as a metaphor for right ways of life. The Targ., in whose hearts is confidence, is probably only a free paraphrase. Wellhausen would follow the LXX, and read goings up, i.e. pilgrimages. See Introd. p. xxix.
5–8. Yet not only those are happy, who reside within the precincts of the Temple, but those who in the strength of God surmounting every obstacle appear in His Presence and offer their prayers.
Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools.6. Passing through the vale of Baca they make it a place of springs,
Yea, the early rain clotheth it with blessings.
The word Baca is derived from the root which means to weep, but it nowhere means weeping, for which words of a different form are used. Here, as in 2 Samuel 5:23, it probably denotes some kind of balsam-tree, so called from the ‘tears’ of gum which it exudes. The vale of Baca or the balsam-trees was some vale which, like the vale of Elah or the terebinth (1 Samuel 17:2), and the vale of Shittim or acacias, took its name from the trees which grew there. Balsam-trees are said to love dry situations, growing plentifully for example in the arid valley of Mecca; and this is clearly the point of the reference. The vale of Baca was some waterless and barren valley through which pilgrims passed on their way to Jerusalem; but faith turns it into a place of springs, finding refreshment under the most untoward circumstances, while God refreshes them with showers of blessing from above, as the autumnal rains clothe the dry plains with grass and flowers. Cp. Isaiah 35:1 ff., Isaiah 35:6 ff.; Isaiah 41:18 ff.; and see Tristram’s Natural Hist. of the Bible, pp. 30, 455, for a graphic description of the marvellous way in which the rains in Palestine transform the country from a brown and dusty desert to a lovely garden. Once more we have to note the singularly bold use of metaphor which is characteristic of this poet.
The familiar phrase ‘the vale of tears’ comes from the Vulg. vallis lacrimarum, and it is possible that such an allusion to the derivation of the word is intended. It is natural to regard the pilgrim’s experience as a parable of the pilgrimage of life, but this secondary application must not be allowed to supersede the original meaning.
This verse has suffered a strange fate in translation. The English Versions follow Jewish authorities in taking berâchôth as the plural of berçchâh, ‘a pool,’ not, as it must be, of berâchâh, ‘blessing.’ The LXX renders. The lawgiver shall give blessings, taking môreh to be connected with tôrâh, law: and similarly Jerome, The teacher shall be clothed with blessing, a rendering followed by Luther.
They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.7. They go from strength to strength] Instead of fainting on their toilsome journey they gain fresh strength as they advance. Cp. Isaiah 40:31, and for the form of expression, John 1:16; 2 Corinthians 3:18.
every one of them in Zion] Better as R.V., every one of them appeareth before God in Zion. The words every one of them are not in the original, but may legitimately be supplied, the use of the verb in the singular individualising the different members of the company.
The LXX read El Elôhîm, ‘God of Gods,’ for ĕl Elôhîm, ‘unto God,’ and thence, through the Vulg., came Coverdale’s rendering, And so the God of Gods apeareth unto thç in Sion. The P.B.V., while giving the right construction to the Heb. sentence, has retained God of Gods.
appeareth before God] The technical term for visiting the sanctuary at the great Festivals. Cp. Psalm 42:2, note.
O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob. Selah.8. A prayer for favourable audience, uttered apparently by the Psalmist as the leader of the pilgrims on their arrival in the Temple.
Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed.9. The Psalmist’s prayer for favourable audience in Psalm 84:8 is succeeded, after a musical interlude (selah), by a prayer offered by all the pilgrims together. Contrast ‘our shield’ with ‘my prayer’ (Psalm 84:8), and the singular which recurs in Psalm 84:10.
The first line admits of two renderings. (1) As in the A.V., ‘our shield’ may be taken as a vocative in apposition to God, Who is styled a shield in Psalm 84:11, and frequently elsewhere, e.g. Psalm 3:3; Psalm 28:7; Psalm 59:11; Genesis 15:1. (2) As in R.V. marg., Behold our shield, O God, ‘our shield’ may be taken as the object of the verb, in parallelism with and referring to ‘thine anointed’ in the next line. This rendering is commended by the parallelism, and not excluded by the order of the words in the original: the king is styled ‘our shield’ in Psalm 89:18 (R.V.), and there is nothing unnatural in the application in the same context of the same epithet to the king and to God, Whose representative the king was acknowledged to be.
look upon the face of thine anointed] Graciously accept him. But who is meant by thine anointed? Is it the king, the high-priest, or the people? Those who maintain that the Psalm is post-exilic suppose that the high-priest or the people is thus designated. But though the high-priest is called the anointed priest (Leviticus 4:3; Leviticus 4:5; Leviticus 4:16; Leviticus 6:22), he is never called the anointed of Jehovah: and it is very doubtful whether this title is ever applied to the people. Psalm 89:38 and Habakkuk 3:13 are quoted, but do not establish the usage. The most natural explanation is that the king is meant. Nor is the prayer out of place. The welfare of the nation was bound up with the welfare of the king. And if the king was one who like Hezekiah or Josiah had effected a great reformation, the Psalmist might well feel that the religious privileges which he prized depended upon the continuance of the king’s life. It certainly cannot be inferred from the words that the Psalmist was himself a king, but rather the reverse.
9–12. The pilgrims’ prayer, and the ground of their confidence.
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.10. For a day &c.] The connexion of thought is obscure. For apparently introduces a reason for the foregoing prayer. A ‘good day,’ i.e. a day of festivity and rejoicing, was regarded as a propitious occasion for preferring requests (1 Samuel 25:8). A day spent in Jehovah’s courts was better than a thousand others, and therefore the most opportune occasion for this prayer. Some commentators connect this verse with Psalm 84:1-7, taking Psalm 84:8-9 as parenthetical, and regard it as giving the reason for the desire to enter the Temple which is the dominant idea of the Psalm. But neither of these explanations is quite satisfactory, and the difficulty disappears if we render, Surely a day &c. After offering the prayer of Psalm 84:9 the Psalmist returns to the thought which inspires his song, the blessedness of approach to God in His house.
‘One day’ (P.B.V.) comes from the LXX through the Vulg.
I had rather be a doorkeeper] Lit., be at the threshold. Delitzsch thinks that this is an allusion to the office of the Korahites as “keepers of the thresholds of the tent” (1 Chronicles 9:19). If so, the reference must be to some subordinate position, and not to the distinguished office of “keeper of the threshold” (2 Kings 22:4; 2 Kings 25:18); for the sense clearly is, ‘I had rather perform the humblest service at the temple of Him who tolerates no evil (Psalm 5:4) than be entertained as a guest where wickedness makes its home.’ But the meaning may simply be, I had rather stand, or, lie, at the threshold, wait humbly at the gate as a suppliant. Cp. LXX, παραριπτεῖσθαι, Vulg. abiectus esse.
The tents of wickedness probably refers to the heathen neighbours of whose scoffing this Psalmist had had such a bitter experience (Psalm 42:3; Psalm 42:10). Cp. Psalm 120:5.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.11. a sun and shield] R.V., A sun and a shield. Nowhere else in the O.T. is Jehovah directly called a sun, though the ideas conveyed by the metaphor are frequent. Cp. Psalm 27:1; Isaiah 10:17; Isaiah 60:19-20; Malachi 4:2. Perhaps the prevalence of sun-worship in the East led to the avoidance of so natural and significant a metaphor. Even here the oldest Versions either had a different reading or shrank from a literal rendering. The LXX and Theodotion have: For the Lord God loveth mercy and truth. The Targ. paraphrases, For the Lord God is like a high wall and a strong shield, reading shemesh (= sun), but taking it in the sense of battlement (R.V. pinnacles) which it has in Isaiah 54:12. The Syr. gives, our sustainer and our helper. Only the later Greek Versions and Jerome render the Massoretic text literally.
the Lord &c.] Favour (Genesis 39:21), honour (Psalm 85:9; 1 Kings 3:13) and prosperity (Psalm 85:12) are the reward of the upright. Cp. the parallel in Proverbs 3:33-35, which speaks of God’s blessing on the habitation of the righteous, of His bestowal of favour on the lowly, and of the honour which is the inheritance of the wise. Grace and glory suggest to us ideas which were hardly in the Psalmist’s mind, though his words include all divine blessings, and he would not have drawn the sharp distinction between temporal and spiritual things which we are accustomed to do. But the temporal blessings of the Old Covenant are the types of the spiritual blessings of the New; and the promise, like so many sayings in the Psalter, receives a larger sense and a spiritual meaning in the light of the Gospel. See Romans 5:2; 1 Peter 5:10.
them that walk uprightly] Making sincere devotion to God and perfect integrity in their dealings with men the rule of their lives. Cp. Psalm 15:2, note; Psalm 101:2; Psalm 101:6.
O LORD of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee.12. O Lord of hosts] The addition of God in P.B.V., as in Psalm 84:8, comes from the Roman or unrevised Latin Psalter (see p. lxxii), and is found in some MSS. of the LXX.