Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
On the meaning of the phrase in the title, "upon Gittith," see the notes at the title to Psa 8:1-9. On the meaning of the phrase "for (margin, to) the sons of Korah," see the notes at the title to Psa 42:1-11. The author of the psalm is unknown, though it bears a strong resemblance to the forty-second, and may have been composed by David himself. If so, it was dedicated, or devoted, as that was, to "the sons of Korah," to be adapted by them to music, and to be employed in public worship, and it may also have been composed on the same occasion. It is to be observed, however, that there were not only numerous occasions in the life of David, but also in the lives of other pious Hebrews, to which the sentiments in this psalm would be appropriate; and we cannot, therefore, affirm with certainty that it was composed by David. If it had been, moreover, it is difficult to account for the fact that his name is not prefixed to it. See, however, the notes at Psa 84:9.
The occasion on which the psalm was composed is apparent from the psalm itself. It was evidently when the writer was deprived, for some cause now unknown, of the privileges of the sanctuary. That cause may have been exile, or sickness, or distance, or imprisonment; but whatever it was, the psalmist expresses his own deep feelings on the subject; the sense which he has of the blessedness of an attendance on the sanctuary, and of the happiness of those who were permitted to attend - regarding it as such a privilege that even the sparrow and the swallow might be supposed to be happy in being permitted to dwell near the altar of God. He describes, also, the joy and rejoicing of those who went up in companies, or in solemn procession, to the place of public worship - a happy, triumphant group on their way to the house of God.
It is not possible, however, to ascertain the exact time, or the particular occasion, when the psalm was written. The language is such as might have been used when the public worship was conducted either in the tabernacle, or in the temple - for the words employed are such as were adapted to either. It must have been, however, before the temple was destroyed, for it is clear that the usual place of public worship was still standing, and consequently it was before the captivity. The psalm is not one indicating public calamity; it is one of private love and sorrow.
The contents of the psalm are as follows:
I. The psalmist expresses his own sense of the loveliness of the place where God is worshipped, and his earnest longing for the courts of the Lord, Psa 84:1-2.
II. He illustrates this feeling by a beautiful image drawn from the sparrow and the swallow - building their nests unobstructed and unalarmed near the very altar of God - as if they must be happy to be so near to God, and to dwell peaceably there, Psa 84:3-4.
III. He describes the happiness of those who are on the way to the place of public worship: their joy; their progress in strength of purpose as they approached the place; their happiness in appearing before God, Psa 84:5-7.
IV. He pours forth his earnest prayer that he might be permitted thus to approach God; that he might be allowed to abide in the courts of God; that he might find a home there; that he might even spend a day there - for a day there was better than a thousand elsewhere, Psa 84:8-12.
The whole psalm is a beautiful expression of love to the sanctuary, as felt by all who truly worship God.
How amiable - How much to he loved; how lovely. The word amiable is now used to denote a quality of mind or disposition - as gentle, affectionate, kind. The word used here, however in the original, means rather dear, beloved - as a token of endearment. Compare the notes at the title to Ps. 45. The idea here is, that the place of public worship is dear to the heart, as a beloved freind - a child - a wife - is. There is a strong and tender love for it.
Are thy tabernacles - Thy dwelling-places. This word might be applied either to the tabernacle or the temple, or to any place where God was supposed to reside, or where his worship was celebrated. The plural form is used here probably because the tabernacle and the temple were divided into two parts or rooms, and each might be regarded as in a proper sense the dwelling-place of God. See the notes at Mat 21:12, following.
O Lord of hosts! - Yahweh of hosts; Yahweh, controlling - ruling - guiding - marshalling - all the armies of heaven and earth: compare the notes at Isa 1:9; notes at Psa 24:10.
My soul longeth - The word used here means properly to be pale; then, to be faint or weak; and then, to pine after, to long for, to desire earnestly. It would properly denote such a longing or desire as to make one faint or exhausted; that is, it indicates intense desire. In Psa 17:12, it is applied to a hungry lion; "Like a lion that is greedy of its prey." In Gen 31:30, it conveys the idea of intense desire: "Because thou sore longedst after thy father's house." For an illustration of the sentiment here expressed, see the notes at Psa 42:1-2.
Yea, even fainteth - Is exhausted; fails of its strength. The word means properly to be completed, finished; then to be consumed, to be spent, to waste or pine away. Gen 21:15; Jer 16:4; Lam 2:11; Job 19:27.
For the courts of the Lord - The word used here refers to the different areas around the tabernacle or temple, within which many of the services of public worship were conducted, and which were frequented by different classes of persons. See the notes at Mat 21:12.
My heart and my flesh - My whole nature; my body and my soul; all my desires and aspirations - all the longings of my heart are there. The body - the flesh - cries out for rest; the heart - the soul - for communion with God. Our whole nature demands the benefits which spring from the worship of God. Body and soul were made for his service, and the necessities of neither can be satisfied without religion.
Crieth out - The word used here - רנן rânan - means properly to give forth a tremulous sound; then, to give forth the voice in vibrations, or in a tremulous manner; and thence it may mean either to utter cries of joy, Lev 9:24; Job 38:7; Isa 12:6, or to utter a loud wail Lam 2:19. Its common application is to joy Psa 98:4; Psa 132:16; Psa 65:8; and it might be rendered here, "Sing unto the Lord," or "Rejoice unto the Lord." The connection, however, seems to demand that it be understood as the cry of earnest longing or desire.
For the living God - God, the true God, considered as living, in contradistinction from idols, always spoken of as dead. Compare Psa 63:1.
Yea, the sparrow hath found an house - A home; a place where she may abide, and build her nest, and rear her young. The word here used - צפור tsippôr - is a name given to a bird from its chirping or twittering. It is rendered sparrow in Lev 14:4 (margin); Psa 102:7; and is often rendered bird (Gen 7:14; Gen 15:10, et al.), and fowl, Deu 4:17; Neh 5:18; et al. It may denote a bird of any kind, but is properly applied here to a sparrow, a species of bird very common and abundant in Palestine; a bird that finds its home especially about houses, barns, etc. That sparrows would be likely to gather around the tabernacle and even the altar, will appear not improbable from their well-known habits. "The sparrows which flutter and twitter about dilapidated buildings at Jerusalem, and crevices of the city walls, are very numerous. In some of the more lonely streets they are so noisy as almost to overpower every other sound. Their chirping is almost an articulate utterance of the Hebrew term (צפור tsippôr), which was employed to designate that class of birds. It may be taken for granted that the sparrows are not less numerous in other places where they have similar means for obtaining shelter and building their nests. The sparrows, in their resort to houses and other such places, appear to be a privileged bird. Encouraged by such indulgence, they are not timid - they frequent boldly the haunts of people. The sight of this familiarity reminded me again and again of the passage in the Psalms Psa 84:3, where the pious Israelite, debarred from the privileges of the sanctuary, felt as if he could envy the lot of the birds, so much more favored than himself." - Professor Hackett, "Illustrations of Scripture," pp. 94, 95.
And the swallow a nest for herself - A place where it may make its nest. The word used here - דרור derôr - denotes properly, swift flight, a wheeling or gyration; and it is applied to birds which fly in circles or gyrations, and the name is thus appropriately given to the swallow. It occurs in this sense only here and in Pro 26:2.
Where she may lay her young - Where she may place her young. The wordplay here is not used in the sense in which we now apply it when we speak of "laying" eggs. It means to place them; to make a home for them; to dispose and arrange them.
Even thine altars ... - The altars where thou art worshipped. The idea here is, that the sparrows and the swallows seemed to have a happy lot; to be in a condition to be envied. Even they might come freely to the place where God was worshipped - to the very altars - and make their home there undisturbed. How strongly in contrast with this was the condition of the wandering - the exiled - author of the psalm!
Blessed are they that dwell in thy house - Who are constantly there; whose permanent abode is there. The reference is to the priests and Levites - the ministers of religion - who had their permanent abode near the tabernacle and the temple, and who were wholly devoted to the sacred duties of religion. Their lot is here spoken of as a blessed, or as a happy lot, in contradistinction from those who had only the opportunity of occasionally going up to worship. Compare the notes at Psa 65:4.
They will be still praising thee - They will do it constantly, as their daily employment. It will not be worship begun and ended, but worship continued - the regular business from day to day. Such will heaven be; and this will constitute its glory. There will be
(a) a permanent residence there: "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out," Rev 3:12; and
(b) there will be the constant service of God; such a service that it may be described as perpetual praise.
The Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate render this, "They will praise thee for ages of ages;" that is, forever.
Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee - Not merely are they blessed who dwell there permanently, but the man also whose heart is there; who feels that his strength is in God alone who loves to go there when opportunity is afforded him, treading his way to Zion. The idea is, that all strength must come from God; that this Strength is to be obtained by waiting on him (compare the notes at Isa 40:31), and that, therefore, it is a privilege thus to wait on God. Compare Psa 84:7.
In whose heart are the ways of them - literally, "The ways in their heart." DeWette renders this, "Who thinketh on the ways, or paths, to Jerusalem." The word "ways" may refer either to the ways or paths that lead to the place of worship, or the ways to God and to heaven. As the allusion, however, is evidently to those who were accustomed to go up to the place of public worship, the meaning is, that the man is blessed or happy whose heart is on those ways; who thinks on them; who makes preparation for going up; who purposes thus to go up to worship. The sense is enfeebled in our translation by the insertion of the words "of them." The literal translation is better: "The ways, that is, the paths, the going up, the journey, to the place of public worship, are in their heart." Their affections; their thoughts are there. The word rendered ways, means commonly a raised way, a highway, but it may refer to any public path. It would be applicable to what we call a turnpike (road), as a way thrown up for public use. The allusion is to the ways or paths by which the people commonly went up to the place of public worship; and the idea may be well expressed in the language of Watts:
"I love her gates, I love the road."
The sentiment thus expressed finds a response in thousands of hearts: in the happiness - the peace - the joy - with which true worshippers go to the house of God. In the mind of the writer of the psalm this would have an additional beauty and attractiveness as being associated with the thought of the multitudes thronging that path - the groups - the companies - the families - that crowded the way to the place of public worship on their great festal occasions.
Who passing through the valley of Baca - This is one of the most difficult verses in the Book of Psalms, and has been, of course, very variously interpreted. The Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, Luther, and Professor Alexander, render it a valley of tears. The word "Baca" (בכא bâkâ') means properly weeping, lamentation; and then it is given to a certain tree - not probably a mulberry tree, but some species of balsam - from its weeping; that is, because it seemed to distil tears, or drops of balsam resembling tears in size and appearance. It is translated mulberry trees in Sa2 5:23-24; Ch1 14:14-15; and so in the margin here, "mulberry trees make him a well." There is no reason, however, to think that it has that meaning here. The true rendering is, "valley of lamentation," or weeping; and it may have reference to some lonely valley in Palestine - where there was no water - a gloomy way - through which those commonly passed who went up to the place of worship. It would be vain, however, to attempt now to determine the locality of the valley referred to, as the name, if ever given to it, seems long since to have passed away. It may, however, be used as emblematic of human life - "a vale of tears;" and the passage may be employed as an illustration of the effect of religion in diffusing happiness and comfort where there was trouble and sorrow - as if fountains should be made to flow in a sterile and desolate valley.
Make it a well - Or, a fountain. That is, It becomes to the pilgrims as a sacred fountain. They "make" such a gloomy valley like a fountain, or like a road where fountains - full, free, refreshing - break forth everywhere to invigorate the traveler. Religious worship - the going up to the house of God - turns that in the journey of life which would otherwise be gloomy and sad into joy; makes a world of tears a world of comfort; has an effect like that of changing a gloomy path into one of pleasantness and beauty. The idea here is the same which occurs in Isa 35:7, "And the parched ground shall become a pool" (see the notes at that passage); and in Job 35:10, "Who giveth songs in the night" (see the notes at that passage); an idea which was so beautifully illustrated in the case of Paul and Silas in the jail at Philippi, when, at midnight they "sang praises to God" Act 16:25, and which is so often illustrated in the midst of affliction and trouble. By the power of religion, by the presence of the Saviour, by the influence of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, such times become seasons of purest joy - times remembered ever afterward with most fervent gratitude, as among the happiest periods of life. For religion can diffuse smiles over faces darkened by care; can light up the eye sunk in despondency; can change tears of sorrow into tears of joy; can impart peace in scenes of deepest sorrow; and make the most gloomy vales of life like green pastures illuminated by the brightness of noonday.
The rain also filleth the pools - Margin, "covereth." This is a still more difficult expression than the former. The Septuagint and the Vulgate render it, "The teacher - the lawgiver - ὁ νομοθετῶν ho nomothetōn - "legislator" - gives blessings." Luther, "The teachers shall be adorned with many blessings." Gesenius, "Yea, with blessings the autumnal rain doth cover it." DeWette, "And with blessing the harvest-rain covers it," which he explains as meaning," Where they come, though it would be sorrow and tears, yet they are attended with prosperity and blessing." Professor Alexander, "Also with blessings is the teacher clothed." The word rendered "rain" - מורה môreh - is from ירה yârâh, to throw, to cast, to place, to sprinkle, and may denote
(1) an archer;
(2) the early rain
(3) teaching, Isa 9:15; Kg2 17:28; or a teacher, Isa 30:20; Job 36:22.
It is rendered rain, in the place before us; and former rain twice in Joe 2:23 (margin, a teacher). The word rendered "filleth" means properly to cover, and would be fitly so translated here. Compare Lev 13:45; Eze 24:17, Eze 24:22. The word has not naturally the idea of filling. The word rendered "pools" - ברכות berâkôth - if pointed in one manner - ברכה berêkâh (in the singular) - denotes a pond, pool, or basin of water; if pointed in another manner - ברכה berâkâh - it means blessing, benediction, and is often so used in the Scriptures, Gen 27:12; Gen 28:4; Gen 33:11; Pro 11:11,...The rendering of Gesenius, as above, "Yea, with blessings the autumnal rain doth cover it," (that is, the valley so desolate in the heat of summer - the valley of weeping), would perhaps be the most natural, though it is not easy to see the connection according to this interpretation, or according to any other proposed.
Least of all is it easy to see the connection according to the translation of the Septuagint, the Vulgate, Luther, and Prof. Alexander. Perhaps the connection in the mind of the author of the psalm may have been this. He sees the sterile and desolate valley through which the pilgrims are passing made joyous by the cheerfulness - the happiness - the songs - of those who are on their way to the house of God. This fact - this image - suggests to him the idea that this is similar to the effect which is produced in that valley when copious rains descend upon it, and when, though commonly desolate, it is covered with grass and flowers, or is "blessed" by the rain. This latter image is to his mind an illustration of the happy scene now before him in the cheerful and exulting movements of the pilgrims on their way to the house of God. The one suggests the other; and the psalmist has a combined image before his mind, the one illustrating the other, and both showing how a vale naturally desolate and sterile may be made cheerful and joyous.
They go from strength to strength ... - Margin," company to company." The Septuagint and Vulgate, "They go from strength to strength; the God of gods is seen in Zion." Luther, "They obtain one victory after another, that one must see that there is a righteous God in Zion." DeWette, "Going they increase in strength, until they appear before God in Zion." This last is doubtless the true idea. As they pass along, as they come nearer and nearer to the end of their journey, their strength, their ardor, their firmness of purpose increases. By their conversation; by their songs; by encouraging one another; by seeing one difficulty overcome after another; by the fact kept before their minds, and increasingly apparent, that they are constantly approaching the end of their journey - that the distance to be traveled is constantly diminishing - that the difficulties become less and less, and that they will soon see the towers and walls of the desired city - they are invigorated, cheered, comforted. What a beautiful illustration of the life of Christian pilgrims - of the bands of the redeemed - as they journey on toward the end of their course - the Mount Zion above! By prayer and praise and mutual counsel, by their songs, by the fact that difficulties are surmounted, leaving fewer to be overcome, and that the journey to be traveled is diminishing constantly - by the feeling that they are ever drawing nearer to the Zion of their home, until the light is seen to glitter and play on its towers and walls - they increase in strength, they become more confirmed in their purposes, they bear trials better, they overcome difficulties more easily, they walk more firmly, they tread their way more cheerfully and triumphantly.
Every one of them in Zion appeareth before God - literally, "He shall appear to God in Zion." The meaning evidently is, that they who are referred to in the previous verses as going up to Zion will be seen there, or will come before God, in the place of worship. There is a change of number here, from the plural to the singular - as, in Psa 84:5, there is a change from the singular to the plural. Such changes are frequent in the Scriptures as in other writings, and the one here can be accounted for on the supposition that the author of the psalm, in looking upon the moving procession, at one moment may be supposed to have looked upon them as a procession - a moving mass - and then that he looked upon them as individuals, and spake of them as such. The idea here is, that they would not falter and fall by the way; that the cheerful, joyous procession would come to the desired place; that their wishes would be gratified, and that their joy would be full when they came to the end of their journey - to Zion. So it is of all Christian pilgrims. Every true believer - everyone that truly loves God - will appear before him in the upper Zion - in heaven. There their joy will be complete; there the long-cherished desires of their hearts will be fully gratified; there all that they ever hoped for, and more, will be realized.
O Lord God of hosts - See the notes at Psa 84:1. God is appealed to here as a God of power; as a God who is able to accomplish all his purposes, and to impart every needed blessing.
Hear my prayer - A prayer of the psalmist that he might also have a place among the servants of God in their worship, Psa 84:2. To this earnestness of prayer he is excited by the view which he had of the blessedness of those who went with songs up to Zion. His soul longs to be among them; from the sight of them his prayer is the more fervent that he may partake of their blessedness and joy.
Give ear, O God of Jacob - With whom Jacob wrestled in prayer, and prevailed. Gen 32:24-30. On the phrase, "give ear," see the notes at Psa 5:1.
Behold, O God our shield - Our defense, as a shield is a defense in the day of battle. Compare Psa 5:12, note; Psa 18:2, note; Psa 33:20, note. It is an appeal to God as a protector. The psalmist was an exile - a wanderer - and he looked to God as his defense.
And look upon the face of thine anointed - Look favorably upon; look with benignity and kindness. The word anointed here is the word "Messiah" - משׁיח mâshı̂yach (Greek, Χριστός Christos, "Christ"; see the notes at Mat 1:1). Compare the notes at Psa 2:2. It here refers, however, evidently to the author of the psalm; and the word used is evidence that the author was David, as the anointed of the Lord, or someone set apart to the kingly office. It is true that this word was applicable to other kings, and also to priests and prophets, but the circumstances in the case concur best on the supposition that David is referred to. The allusion here is not to Christ; and the language does not suggest or justify the use which is often made of it when prayer is offered, that "God would look upon us in the face of his anointed" - whatever may, or may not be, the propriety of that prayer on other, grounds.
For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand - Better - happier - more profitable - more to be desired - than a thousand days spent elsewhere. That is, I should find more happiness - more true joy - in one day spent in the house of God, in his worship, in the exercises of true religion - more that will be satisfactory to the soul, and that will be dwelt on with pleasure in the memory when life is coming to a close - than I could in a thousand days spent in any other manner. This was much for a man like David - or a man who had been encompassed with all the splendor of royalty - to say; it is much for any man to say. And yet it could be said with truth by him; it can be said with equal truth by others; and when we come to the end of life - to the time when we shall review the past, and ask where we have found most true happiness, most that was satisfactory to the soul, most that we shall delight then to dwell on and to remember, most that we should be glad to have repeated and perpetuated, most that would be free from the remembrance of disappointment, chagrin, and care - it will not be the banqueting hall - the scenes of gaiety - the honors, the praises, the flatteries of people - or even the delights of literature and of the social circle - but it will be the happy times which we shall have spent in communion with God - the times when in the closet we poured out our hearts to Him - when we bowed before him at the family altar, when we approached him in the sanctuary. The sweetest remembrances of life will be the sabbath and the exercises of religion.
I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God - Margin," I would choose rather to sit at the threshold." The verb used here is derived from a noun signifying sill or threshold, and it would seem to mean here to stand on the threshold; to be at the door or the entrance, even without the privilege of entering the house: I would prefer that humble place to a residence within the abodes of the wicked. The verb here used occurs nowhere else in the Scriptures. The exact idea is not, as would seem from our translation, to keep the door, as in the capacity of a sexton or servant, but that of occupying the sill - the threshold - the privilege of standing there, and looking in, even if he was not permitted to enter. It would be an honor and a privilege to be anywhere about the place of public worship, rather than to be the occupant of a dwelling-place of sin.
Than to dwell in the tents of wickedness - The word "tents" here is equivalent to dwellings. It is used because it was so common in early periods to dwell in tents; and hence, the word was employed to denote a dwelling in general. The emphasis here is very much on the word "in:" - he would prefer standing at the door of the house of worship to dwelling within the abodes of the wicked - that is, to being admitted to intimacy with those who occupy such dwellings - however splendid, rich, and gorgeous, those abodes might be.
For the Lord God is a sun - The Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate render this, "For the Lord loveth mercy and truth." Our translation, however, is the correct one. The sun gives light, warmth, beauty, to the creation; so God is the source of light, joy, happiness, to the soul. Compare Isa 60:19; Rev 21:23; Rev 22:5.
And shield - See Psa 84:9.
The Lord will give grace and glory - Grace, or favor, here; glory, or honor, in the world to come. He will bestow all needful favor on his people in this life; he will admit them to glory in the world to come. Grace and glory are connected. The bestowment of the one will be followed by the other. Rom 8:29-30. He that partakes of the grace of God on earth will partake of glory in heaven. Grace comes before glory; glory always follows where grace is given.
No good thing will he withhold ... - Nothing really good; nothing that man really needs; nothing pertaining to this life, nothing necessary to prepare for the life to come. Compare Ti1 4:8; Phi 4:19.
O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee - Blessed in every respect. His lot is a happy one; happy in thy friendship; happy in being permitted to worship thee; happy in the blessings which religion scatters along his path here; happy in thy sustaining grace in times of trial; happy in the support given in the hour of death; happy in the eternity to which he is going. Oh that all men would try it, and experience in their own souls the happiness - the real, genuine, deep, permanent joy - of trusting in God; of believing that there is a God; of confiding in his character; of leaning on him in every situation in life; of relying on his mercy, his grace, and his faithfulness, in the hour of death!