A Psalm of Exile
Psalm 84:1-12
How amiable are your tabernacles, O LORD of hosts!…

We seem to see here a spirit chastened by grief, taught by suffering to sing and to pray and to hope. And such is the general tone of the psalms of the dispersion. They remind us of the old and deep lesson, that the chastisements which seem not to be joyous but grievous in the present, will yield hereafter the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby. The psalm falls naturally into strophes.

1. In the first of these, containing the first four verses, he calls to mind and enthusiastically describes his feelings in thinking of the Temple. Nothing is left to the exile but the solace of memory, faith and hope. And memory and imagination, acting by the law of association, call up the details of the scene. He dwells fondly upon the birds nestling as they have been from time immemorial permitted to nestle in the Temple. This thought, that the God of the Temple afforded shelter to the birds of the precincts, swallows, doves, storks, etc., was held by Gentiles no less than Jews. Men of Kyme, says Herodotus, went to the Temple of Apollo, near Miletus, to inquire concerning one who had taken refuge with them from the Persians what they should do, and the oracle replied that he was to be given up to the Persians. One of the men of Kyme ventured to treat the oracle as false, and himself made renewed inquiry. But the same answer was returned. He then went round the Temple, and disturbed the sparrows and other birds who had built their nests in the Temple. Meanwhile there came a voice from the sanctuary to Aristodikos, saying, "Most profane of men, how durst thou do these things? Dost thou overthrow my suppliants from the Temple?" "O King," was the retort, "it is thus that thou succourest thy suppliants, for thou biddest the men of Kyme give up a suppliant." There is something very beautiful in the idea of the Divine Being as the protector of small, helpless creatures like the house-haunting birds, and we at once remember the words of Jesus, "Not a sparrow falls to the ground without your Father." If God takes thought for sparrows, much more does He for men.

2. From the birds his thoughts glances to the worshippers, who are still able to frequent the Temple; and he recalls the pilgrim throngs on their way thither. "Blessings on those who dwell in Thy house; still will they praise Thee. Blessings on the men whose strength is in Thee, who love to think of the pilgrim way." Those whom he mentions as dwelling in Jehovah's house — i.e. in the Holy City — are under the yoke of a foreign conqueror in these last years of Judah, and in a very depressed condition. Yet the psalmist anticipates that they will still be able joyfully to sing of the Divine victory. And then, as to the believers scattered about in foreign lands, and who will travel up to Zion by the pilgrim caravans, they will have manifold hardships by the way; but confidence in Jehovah will give them strength, and they will overcome them all. With lively sympathy he thus depicts them — "They passing through the Baca valley," etc. We may compare the imagery with that in Isaiah where he depicts the desert solitudes as bursting out into rose blossoms, and being filled with songs; the parched land transformed into a pool; its thirst satisfied with springs of water; the haunts of dragons becoming green with reeds and rushes. Upon a great highway the ransomed people of Jehovah are seen returning, and coming to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads (Isaiah 35.). And the thought and the imagery are very similar when the prophet Hosea speaks of the Valley of Achor (woe) being transformed into a Door of Hope, and the people singing there as they did in the days of yore when they came up out of the land of Egypt. These things are for us allegories or parables of the soul. It is in the soul, and the soul alone, that we are to look for these wondrous transformations of deserts into gardens, and parched valleys into springs of living water. It is through undying trust and hope and love, cherished in the midst of every suffering scene of life's pilgrimage, that these marvels must be wrought.

3. And now, from these soothing exercises of memory and imagination, the royal poet turns to himself, and composes his spirit in an attitude of deep humility and holy prayer. "O Jehovah, God of Hosts, hear my prayer: attend, O Jacob's God. O God, our shield, behold, look upon thine anointed's face!" This, then, is the language of a king. In virtue of his high office and dignity he would have enjoyed in former days a place of high honour in the Temple. But rather, he says, he would be as the humblest menial in a great house, and, after the Oriental custom, prostrate himself in the dust in the presence of his Master, than dwell, as he is dwelling now, possibly in circumstances of comfort or even of luxury, among the heathen. For supposing this psalm to have been composed by King Jeconiah, while he was in honour and esteem at the Court of Babylon, the language is peculiarly impressive as an evidence of the piety of his spirit. "Sun," he proceeds, "and shield is the eternal God! Grace, glory will Jehovah give; will not refuse happiness to those who walk in innocency." And then the psalm ends, as it were, with a sigh of relief and repose, betokening that the flow of feeling has found its true outlet and rest. "O Jehovah of Hosts, blessings on the men who trust in Thee!" We may draw a few simple lessons from the beautiful psalm. We need to see the blessings and the privileges of our life in perspective, at a distance, before we can truly realize their worth. The youth knows not how happy he has been at home, feels not in all its preciousness the blessing of a mother's love, till he looks back upon the early scene from some distant place, and from amidst scenes that are strange to his heart. And so of those scenes of worship in which our spirit was educated for eternity. The afterglow of Sundays, the reflection amidst busy hours on songs and sermons that have been listened to not always with interest at the time — these are experiences often the most enriching. It follows, that all our diligence in attending to spiritual things now must secure for us a far-off interest of good — memories of sweetness and refreshment, it may be, in some distant land or scene of suffering, like that of the psalmist in exile. But there are other lessons. The soul deprived of its wonted props, its associations of place and circumstance, is taught more entirely to throw itself upon the spiritual resources. His soul was east down within him at the hill Mizar, and it is cast down in Babylon. Yet why so? He knows that God is to be sought and found there no less than in the Temple. What are space and time to the worship of the Spirit? And what is the use of the glorious faculty of imagination but that we may, in a sense, cancel time, and live in fellowship with the great and good of the past — that we may break down the bounds of space and pass to our friends across seas and deserts, and join with all saints in that worship which is invisible and unending, and is fixed to no particular spot of earth? As Fenelon says, "We may be very near to one another without meeting, or be far apart while occupying the same room." God unites all and obliterates the greatest distance where hearts united in Him are concerned. In that Centre be who is in China or Japan and those in France meet one another. But perhaps the thought that most naturally offers itself from the study of the psalm is the blessedness of religious memories.

(E. Johnson, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: {To the chief Musician upon Gittith, A Psalm for the sons of Korah.} How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts!

WEB: How lovely are your dwellings, Yahweh of Armies!

A Good Man in Relation to the Scenes of Public Worship
Top of Page
Top of Page