Approaching God – Psalm 84

Read the Passage: Psalm 84

God’s Sanctuary (84:1–4)

The superscription to this psalm says that it was written by the sons of Korah. This group of men wrote eleven of the psalms (cf. Pss. 42, 44–49, 84–85, 87–88). Korah, a descendant of Levi through Kohath, is most well-known for participating in a rebellion against the Lord and Moses in Numbers 16. While God killed Korah on account of his sin, as well as some of his family members, many of his descendants later became gatekeepers and musicians in God’s sanctuary (cf. 1 Chron. 9:17–32). Like psalms 8 and 81, the title of this psalm records that it was to be played on “an instrument of Gath,” which was likely a type of harp crafted by the Philistines. Note how the author describes his desire to be in God’s presence. He seems lovesick, even fainting with desire as he writes of the beauty of God’s dwelling place, and his own longing, fainting, and crying out for God.

It is unclear exactly when this psalm was written. While the first verse mentions the tabernacle, the term used here could also be translated “sanctuary” or “Temple.” Yet, the physical structure of the place of worship was largely irrelevant, as the author just desired to be in God’s presence. In Ps. 84:3 the psalmist envies the birds who make their nests in and near the sanctuary complex. These sparrows and swallows enjoyed continual and unhindered access to God and His people. Coming from the sons or Korah, envy about longing to be near the sanctuary may seem surprising, for 1 Chron. 9:27 reports that these Levites “lodged all around the house of God because they had the responsibility, and they were in charge of opening it every morning.” Clearly these men reveled in being in close proximity to God. Note the queen of Sheba’s similar statements about those who dwelt in Solomon’s presence (cf. 1 Kings 10:8; Prov. 8:34).

God’s Pilgrims (84:5–8)

While the psalmist had been writing in the first person in the opening lines of this pslam, in Ps. 84:5–8 he describes the blessedness of others who sought the Lord’s presence. At Ps. 84:5 the author describes God’s pilgrims as “blessed,” a term he uses three times in this short psalm to characterize those who know the Lord (cf. Ps. 84:4, 5, 12). Observe that “The Valley of Baca” (Ps. 84:6) was an arid region outside of Jerusalem. “Baca” can also be translated as “weeping,” “tears,” or even “misery.” The idea presented here is that those who approach God will turn undesirable arid regions into places of festive joy. Note, however, that it is not enough to participate in the externals of religion; rather, one must have an internal desire for God with a “heart set on pilgrimage” (Ps. 84:5). At Ps. 84:8 we learn that the preceding verses are not just a record of the psalmist’s thoughts, but constitute a heart-felt prayer to God.

God’s Presence (84:9–12)

In Ps. 84:9 the psalmist prays for the king of Israel, referring to him as “our shield” and “Your anointed.” Kings are referred to as shields elsewhere in the psalms (cf. Ps. 47:9), as well as God’s anointed (cf. Ps. 18:50). The psalmist is also looking forward to the arrival of the Messiah, the King of Israel, whom Scripture describes as our shield and God’s anointed (cf. Ps. 2:2; 27:8). Observe that it is a good thing to pray for secular leaders. Note Paul’s instructions to the Christians in Rome, as he wrote, “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Rom. 13:3–4; cf. 1 Tim. 2:1–4).

In the last three verses of Psalm 84 the author returns to several of the same themes he wrote about in the first three verses, as he expresses his desire to be in God’s presence and extols the benefits thereof. The world has much to offer by way of wealth, sex, and power. Yet, ultimately, as the paradigmatic example of the rich, young, ruler demonstrates (cf. Matt. 19:16–26), all that the world offers cannot fulfill mankind. This is because man was not created to worship the idols of this world, but to be in an intimate relationship with God (cf. Isa. 43:7). The psalmist is not writing with hyperbole when he concludes that one day in God’s presence is better than a thousand days elsewhere. Indeed, the least of the benefits of God are better than the best of the benefits of this world. God gives his followers all that they need, including light, protection, grace, and every good thing.

Application Questions:

  1. Whether it be in a daily prayer time or the weekly gathering of God’s people, do you get excited about coming into God’s presence? Do you long to be with God’s people?
  2. How can we renew our desire to be in God’s presence and to fellowship with God’s people (cf. Ps. 51:10–11; Heb. 10:19–25)?
  3. What might a lack of a desire to be in God’s presence indicate? Is it okay for parents to force their children to attend church?
  4. What are some positive effects Christians can have on those around them, even when others don’t accept the gospel?
  5. If the world is ultimately unfulfilling, why does it prove to be so attractive for so many people, including (at times) believers?