Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Longing for the House of God, and for the Happiness of Dwelling There
With Ps 83 the circle of the Asaphic songs is closed (twelve Psalms, viz., one in the Second Book and eleven in the Third), and with Psa 84:1-12 begins the other half of the Korahitic circle of songs, opened by the last of the Korahitic Elohim-Psalms. True, Hengstenberg (transl. vol. iii. Appendix. p. xlv) says that no one would, with my Symbolae, p. 22, regard this Psa 84:1-12 as an Elohimic Psalm; but the marks of the Elohimic style are obvious. Not only that the poet uses Elohim twice, and that in Psa 84:8, where a non-Elohimic Psalm ought to have said Jahve; it also delights in compound names of God, which are so heaped up that Jahve Tsebaoth occurs three times, and the specifically Elohimic Jahve Elohim Tsebaoth once. The origin of this Psalm has been treated of already in connection with its counterpart, Psa 42:1. It is a thoroughly heartfelt and intelligent expression of the love to the sanctuary of Jahve which years towards it out of the distance, and calls all those happy who have the like good fortune to have their home there. The prayer takes the form of an intercession for God's anointed; for the poet is among the followers of David, the banished one.
(Note: Nic. Nonnen takes a different view in his Dissertatio de Tzippor et Deror, etc., 1741. He considers one of the Ephraimites who were brought back to the fellowship of the true worship of God in the reign of Jehoshaphat (Ch2 19:4) to be the subject of the Psalm.)
He does not pray, as it were, out of his soul (Hengstenberg, Tholuck, von Gerlach), but for him; for loving Jahve of Hosts, the heavenly King, he also loves His inviolably chosen one. And wherefore should he not do so, since with him a new era for the neglected sanctuary had dawned, and the delightful services of the Lord had taken a new start, and one so rich in song? With him he shares both joy and brief. With his future he indissolubly unites his own.
To the Precentor upon the Gittith, the inscription runs, by Ben-Korah, a Psalm. Concerning על־הגּתּית, vid., on Psa 8:1. The structure of the Psalm is artistic. It consists of two halves with a distichic ashr-conclusion. The schema is 3. 5. 2 5. 5. 5. 3. 2.
How loved and lovely (ידידות) is the sacred dwelling-place (plur. as in Psa 43:3) of the all-commanding, redemptive God, viz., His dwelling-place here below upon Zion! Thither the poet is drawn by the deeply inward yearning of love, which makes him pale (נכסף from כּסף, to grow pale, Psa 17:12) and consumes him (כּלה as in Job 19:27). His heart and flesh joyfully salute the living God dwelling there, who, as a never-failing spring, quenches the thirst of the soul (Psa 42:3); the joy that he feels when he throws himself back in spirit into the long-denied delight takes possession even of his bodily nature, the bitter-sweet pain of longing completely fills him (Psa 63:2). The mention of the "courts" (with the exception of the Davidic Psa 65:5, occurring only in the anonymous Psalms) does not preclude the reference of the Psalm to the tent-temple on Zion. The Tabernacle certainly had only one חצר; the arrangement of the Davidic tent-temple, however, is indeed unknown to us, and, according to reliable traces,
(Note: Vid., Knobel on Exodus, S. 253-257, especially S. 255.)
it may be well assumed that it was more gorgeous and more spacious than the old Tabernacle which remained in Gibeon. In Psa 84:4 the preference must be given to that explanation which makes את־מזבּחותיך dependent upon מצאה, without being obliged to supply an intermediate thought like בּית (with hardening Dagesh like בּן, Gen 19:38, vid., the rule at Psa 52:5) and קן as a more definite statement of the object which the poet has in view. The altars, therefore, or (what this is meant to say without any need for taking את as a preposition) the realm, province of the altars of Jahve - this is the house, this the nest which sparrow and swallow have found for themselves and their young. The poet thereby only indirectly says, that birds have built themselves nests on the Temple-house, without giving any occasion for the discussion whether this has taken place in reality. By the bird that has found a comfortable snug home on the place of the altars of Jahve in the Temple-court and in the Temple-house, he means himself. צפּור (from צפר) is a general name for whistling, twittering birds, like the finch
(Note: Vid., Tobler, Denkbltter aus Jerusalem, 1853, S. 117.)
and the sparrow, just as the lxx here renders it. דּרור is not the turtle-dove (lxx, Targum, and Syriac), but the swallow, which is frequently called even in the Talmud צפור דרור (= סנוּנית), and appears to take its name from its straightforward darting, as it were, radiating flight (cf. Arabic jadurru of the horse: it darts straight forward). Saadia renders dûrı̂je, which is the name of the sparrow in Palestine and Syria (vid., Wetzstein's Excursus I). After the poet has said that his whole longing goes forth towards the sanctuary, he adds that it could not possibly be otherwise (גּם standing at the head of the clause and belonging to the whole sentence, as e.g., in Isa 30:33; Ewald, 352, b): he, the sparrow, the swallow, has found a house, a nest, viz., the altars of Jahve of Hosts, his King and his God (Psa 44:5; Psa 45:7), who gloriously and inaccessibly protects him, and to whom he unites himself with most heartfelt and believing love. The addition "where (אשׁר as in Psa 95:9; Num 20:13) she layeth her young," is not without its significance. One is here reminded of the fact, that at the time of the second Temple the sons of the priests were called פּרחי כהנּה, and the Levite poet means himself together with his family; God's altars secure to them shelter and sustenance. How happy, blessed, therefore, are those who enjoy this good fortune, which he now longs for again with pain in a strange country, viz., to be able to make his home in the house of such an adorable and gracious God! עוד here signifies, not "constantly" (Gen 46:29), for which תּמיד would have been used, but "yet," as in Psa 42:6. The relation of Psa 84:5 to Psa 84:5 is therefore like Psa 41:2. The present is dark, but it will come to pass even yet that the inmates of God's house (οἰκεῖοι τοῦ Θεοῦ, Eph 2:10) will praise Him as their Helper. The music here strikes in, anticipating this praise.
This second half takes up the "blessed" of the distichic epode (epoodo's) of the first, and consequently joins member to member chain-like on to it. Many hindrances must be cleared away if the poet is to get back to Zion, his true home; but his longing carries the surety within itself of its fulfilment: blessed, yea in himself blessed, is the man, who has his strength (עוז only here plene) in God, so that, consequently, the strength of Him to whom all things are possible is mighty in his weakness. What is said in Psa 84:6 is less adapted to be the object of the being called blessed than the result of that blessed relationship to God. What follows shows that the "high-roads" are not to be understood according to Isa 40:3., or any other passage, as an ethical, notional figure (Venema, Hengstenberg, Hitzig, and others), but according to Isa 33:8 (cf. Jer 31:21), with Aben-Ezra, Vatablus, and the majority of expositors, of the roads leading towards Zion; not, however, as referring to the return from the Exile, but to the going up to a festival: the pilgrim-high-roads with their separate halting-places (stations) were constantly present to the mind of such persons. And though they may be driven never so far away from them, they will nevertheless reach the goal of their longing. The most gloomy present becomes bright to them: passing through even a terrible wilderness, they turn it (ישׁיתהו) into a place of springs, their joyous hope and the infinite beauty of the goal, which is worth any amount of toil and trouble, afford them enlivening comfort, refreshing strengthening in the midst of the arid steppe. עמק הבּכא does not signify the "Valley of weeping," as Hupfeld at last renders it (lxx κοιλάδα τοῦ κλαυθμῶνος), although Burckhardt found a [Arab.] wâdı̂ 'l-bk' (Valley of weeping) in the neighbourhood of Sinai. In Hebrew "weeping" is בּכי, בּכה, בּכוּת, not בּכא, Rnan, in the fourth chapter of his Vie de Jsus, understands the expression to mean the last station of those who journey from northern Palestine on this side of the Jordan towards Jerusalem, viz., Ain el-Haramı̂je, in a narrow and gloomy valley where a black stream of water flows out of the rocks in which graves are dug, so that consequently עמק הככא signifies Valley of tears or of trickling waters. But such trickling out of the rock is also called בּכי, Job 28:11, and not בּכא. This latter is the singular to בּכאים in Sa2 5:24 (cf. נכאים, צבאים, Psa 103:21), the name of a tree, and, according to the old Jewish lexicographers, of the mulberry-tree (Talmudic תּוּת, Arab. tût); but according to the designation, of a tree from which some kind of fluid flows, and such a tree is the Arab. baka'un, resembling the balsam-tree, which is very common in the arid valley of Mecca, and therefore might also have given its name to some arid valley of the Holy Land (vid., Winer's Realwrterbuch, s.v. Bacha), and, according to Sa2 5:22-25, to one belonging, as it would appear, to the line of valley which leads from the coasts of the Philistines to Jerusalem. What is spoken of in passages like Isa 35:7; Isa 41:18, as being wrought by the omnipotence of God, who brings His people home to Zion, appears here as the result of the power of faith in those who, keeping the same end of their journeyings in view, pass through the unfruitful sterile valley. That other side, however, also does not remain unexpressed. Not only does their faith bring forth water out of the sand and rock of the desert, but God also on His part lovingly anticipates their love, and rewardingly anticipates their faithfulness: a gentle rain, like that which refreshes the sown fields in the autumn, descends from above and enwraps it (viz., the Valley of Baca) in a fulness of blessing (יעטּה, Hiphil with two accusatives, of which one is to be supplied: cf. on the figure, Ps 65:14). The arid steppe becomes resplendent with a flowery festive garment (Isa 35:1.), not to outward appearance, but to them spiritually, in a manner none the less true and real. And whereas under ordinary circumstances the strength of the traveller diminishes in proportion as he has traversed more and more of his toilsome road, with them it is the very reverse; they go from strength to strength (cf. on the expression, Jer 9:2; Jer 12:2), i.e., they receive strength for strength (cf. on the subject-matter, Isa 40:31; Joh 1:16), and that an ever increasing strength, the nearer they come to the desired goal, which also they cannot fail to reach. The pilgrim-band (this is the subject to יראה), going on from strength to (אל) strength, at last reaches, attains to (אל instead of the אל־פּני used in other instances) Elohim in Zion. Having reached this final goal, the pilgrim-band pours forth its heart in the language of prayer such as we have in Psa 84:9, and the music here strikes up and blends its sympathetic tones with this converse of the church with its God.
The poet, however, who in spirit accompanies them on their pilgrimage, is now all the more painfully conscious of being at the present time far removed from this goal, and in the next strophe prays for relief. He calls God מגנּנוּ (as in Psa 59:12), for without His protection David's cause is lost. May He then behold (ראה, used just as absolutely as in Ch2 24:22, cf. Lam 3:50), and look upon the face of His anointed, which looks up to Him out of the depth of its reproach. The position of the words shows that מגנּנוּ is not to be regarded as the object to ראה, according to Psa 89:19 (cf. Ps 47:10) and in opposition to the accentuation, for why should it not then have been אלהים ראה מגננו? The confirmation (Psa 84:11) puts the fact that we have before us a Psalm belonging to the time of David's persecution by Absalom beyond all doubt. Manifestly, when his king prevails, the poet will at the same time (cf. David's language, Sa2 15:25) be restored to the sanctuary. A single day of his life in the courts of God is accounted by him as better than a thousand other days (מאלף with Olewejored and preceded by Rebia parvum). He would rather lie down on the threshold (concerning the significance of this הסתּופף in the mouth of a Korahite, vid., supra, p. 311) in the house of his God than dwell within in the tents of ungodliness (not "palaces," as one might have expected, if the house of God had at that time been a palace). For how worthless is the pleasure and concealment to be had there, when compared with the salvation and protection which Jahve Elohim affords to His saints! This is the only instance in which God is directly called a sun (שׁמשׁ) in the sacred writings (cf. Sir. 42:16). He is called a shield as protecting those who flee to Him and rendering them inaccessible to their foes, and a sun as the Being who dwells in an unapproachable light, which, going forth from Him in love towards men, is particularized as חן and כבוד, as the gentle and overpowering light of the grace and glory (χάρις and δόξα) of the Father of Lights. The highest good is self-communicative (communicativum sui). The God of salvation does not refuse any good thing to those who walk בּתמים (בּדרך תמים, Psa 101:6; cf. on Psa 15:2). Upon all receptive ones, i.e., all those who are desirous and capable of receiving His blessings, He freely bestows them out of the abundance of His good things. Strophe and anti-strophe are doubled in this second half of the song. The epode closely resembles that which follows the first half. And this closing ashrê is not followed by any Sela. The music is hushed. The song dies away with an iambic cadence into a waiting expectant stillness.