To the Chief Musician. On an instrument of Gath. A Psalm of the sons of Korah.
1 How lovely is Your tabernacle, O LORD of hosts! 2 My soul longs, yes, even faints For the courts of the LORD; My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. 3 Even the sparrow has found a home, And the swallow a nest for herself, Where she may lay her young--Even Your altars, O LORD of hosts, My King and my God. 4 Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; They will still be praising You. Selah
5 Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, Whose heart is set on pilgrimage. 6 As they pass through the Valley of Baca, They make it a spring; The rain also covers it with pools. 7 They go from strength to strength; Each one appears before God in Zion.
8 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; Give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah 9 O God, behold our shield, And look upon the face of Your anointed. 10 For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God Than dwell in the tents of wickedness. 11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD will give grace and glory; No good thing will He withhold From those who walk uprightly. 12 O LORD of hosts, Blessed is the man who trusts in You!
Suffering, pain, people's disappointments and other negatives in life are difficult subjects when discussion Christianity, and God's love and care, especially to the non-believer. I hear from the non-believer that if God so loves, why is there so much suffering? Psalm 84 offers some insight into this, as do many other verses in the Bible. (Please remember, measure everything I say, against the Word, to ensure there is no error.)
I will begin today with words from my online commentators MacDonald, and Farstad,
"There is no question as to the primary interpretation of Psalm 84. It breathes out the deep longings of exiled Jews to be back at the temple in Jerusalem once again.
It can also be applied, of course, to the Christian today who is somehow prevented from attending the meetings of the local fellowship. He eats his heart out to be back with God's people as they meet to worship the Lord.
But the application I like best is that of a godly pilgrim who is downright homesick for heaven." Today I will look more at the application for the modern day Christian, rather than the historical context of the Psalm for the Children of Israel. I was attracted to this Psalm for today's meeting in that an even older commentator, Hamilton Smith, noted that this Psalm outlines the path of suffering that people of God will encounter on their way to their heavenly reward. Therefore, today we will look at this topic, and what suffering is for the people of God. To do this I want to start with an opening verse away from the Psalm - I will be gone from this Psalm for a while to build the overview, then get back to the Psalm specifically later. To begin, I think that we need to remember Deuteronomy 32:4: "He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He." To paraphrase - God is perfect, his way is perfect, God does nothing wrong, ever! With that in mind let us move forward to the New Testament. Paul reminds us in Philippians 1:29-30 that: "29 For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30 having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me."
As I have mentioned, there have much suffering, some hidden, some open, amongst even those in our own congregation. Some people are in pain, some have children going astray, unsaved partners, and as with brother's like Terry Sharman, death faces them head on. Some suffer much, they appear to go from one pain to the next, with little 'breathing space'. Other Christians seem to sail through life, with fewer cares, fewer times of pain. Suffering need not always be physical emotion, though Paul talks of this type of suffering, and he shares, for example being shipwrecked, not once, nor twice, but three times (2 Cor 11:25). The Philippians' verse is stating however, that suffering is for His sake, that is, our pain may also include rejection, and for many in other countries, persecution, imprisonment, and even death because they are Christians, willing to speak out for the Gospel. It also touches on family who reject their upbringing, or the unsaved rejecting the newly saved brother or sister, parent, cousin etc. However, we know suffering, no matter the form, is rightfully part of our lives as Hebrews 2:10 tells us: "For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings." Sufferings bring perfection, an outcome somewhat different to the modern view of suffering and its benefits!
No matter the reason for the pain, whether it is God allowing trials, or correcting our own consequences through our own poor decision making, or just life itself - we are mortal, we do get sick, people do die, no matter the reason for the pain, we (I don't think that it is just me!) find this a difficult thing to come to grips with. This is especially so when we suffer a major loss, be it a person in our lives, especially a partner, our job, or suffer major illness or chronic disease. As weak, poor pathetic beings, we at times will echo the psalmist King David and say: 4 Return, O LORD, deliver me! Oh, save me for Your mercies' sake! 5 For in death there is no remembrance of You; In the grave who will give You thanks? 6 I am weary with my groaning; All night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with my tears. 7 My eye wastes away because of grief; It grows old because of all my enemies. (Psalm 6)
We may blame God. We may wonder where He is in our lives, we may choose to stop coming to church, to stop praying, or reading His Word as all seems so empty and futile. The best of family or friends may give us all the words of comfort and promises from the Word, and we may not hear them. This seems to be all part of the human package. In a book Suffering and the Sovereignty of God by Joni Eareckson Tada (a paraplegic from her youth, who writes some amazing insights into life) (I confess I have not read), has a quote that really brings this point out: "But I, hurting and stubborn, preferred my sins. I preferred my peevish, snide, small-minded, mean-spirited comments, grunting at people when they walked in or out, and letting food drool out of my mouth. Those were sins that I had made my own. You know what it's like when you make sin your own. You housebreak it. You domesticate it. You shield it from the Spirit's scrutiny. I did not want to let go of the sick, strange comfort of my own misery."
However, all is not lost. God never gives up on us if we are His. Sometimes He allows us to walk in the deepest of valleys of misery, He knows that He is right beside us, He knows that at some stage we will look sideways and see Him and reach out our hand. Life may not be joy from then onwards, as we being human will from time to time let go and head back towards despair, but, as Psalm 84 tells us, if we choose to walk with God, then no matter the problem, grief or woe, we can find a cushion of joy in our hearts, that of His comfort, drying our tears, and blessing us with His presence. This promise is also found in 1 Peter 1 6-9: In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honour, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ 8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 receiving the end of your faith--the salvation of your souls.
A thought came to me the other day, which I wrote down for someone, and as I write this, the thought still rings true. I was looking for some bulbs to buy and plant- this time round - pink rain lilies. These lilies are quite remarkable, as they lie dormant during the hot and dry summer, so long as they are cool enough in the dry earth, then comes the first big autumn rain, and they come up and flower and brighten the autumn garden. That wasn't the thought, but that in itself talks of prayer - lying dormant in the ground waiting for rain, then blessing as the rain comes, and the flowers springs forth. However, back to the thought, still in the garden. We created a garden, it was once a paddock where sheep roamed freely. Now a housing estate, we had this empty space. We dug, we sprayed the weeds, and we changed the shape of the land, and added soil and fertilizer. This may equate to the pain of life - for the soil, the block of land we were changing. Then came the planting, the watering, the care, and along with this comes insects and fungus, heat, frost and wind. But with careful tending, the garden grows and thrives, and learns to cope with heat, frost and other struggles, though at times needs upkeep, pruning and other assistance from the owner. So we too are like this with God. Some of us are completely ripped out and a new garden started, whilst others just have some year to year attacks. No matter what, the gardener, God Himself is there to tend. This of course ties in with John 15:1 "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.2 "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit."
An interesting insight into pruning, suffering, and growth comes in the following quote by Mary Craig: ...the value of suffering does not lie in the pain of it...but in what the sufferer makes of it...It is in sorrow that we discover the things which really matter; in sorrow that we discover ourselves. (Blessings, 2000). This insight makes the verse "in all things God works for the good of those who love him" (Romans 8:28) very real. Or, to go into another writer - James 1:2-4 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
John Piper (Desiring God, 2003) states, "If there were no afflictions and difficulties and troubles and pain, our fallen hearts would fall ever more deeply in love with the comforts and securities and pleasures of this world instead of falling more deeply in love with our inheritance beyond this world, namely, God himself. Suffering is appointed for us in this life as a great mercy to keep us from loving this world more than we should and to make us rely on God who raises the dead." Many are ready and willing to share in the "power of his resurrection" who are unwilling to "share his sufferings."
Let us now return to the psalm at hand. 30 minutes is not enough time to do the subject justice. I trust you find what has preceded this point will help in understanding the sentiments of the Psalmist. Hamilton Smith notes that the Psalm has three parts, the first refers to the house of the Lord, the second, the path that leads to God's house, and the final section the prayer of the man who takes this journey.
Part one therefore reads: How lovely is Your tabernacle, O LORD of hosts! 2 My soul longs, yes, even faints For the courts of the LORD; My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. 3 Even the sparrow has found a home, And the swallow a nest for herself, Where she may lay her young--Even Your altars, O LORD of hosts, My King and my God. 4 Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; They will still be praising You. Selah
The Psalmist is starting of with a compliment. "How lovely is your tabernacle". How often do we approach God with a compliment first up? His grumble is next, but he first acknowledges the work of the Lord, and so should we whenever we communicate with God. Very hard when we are feeling down, but as you see here the Psalmist is noting that even the sparrow has found a home, whilst his heart cries out for the living God. He cries out because he is longing to dwell there himself, He notes the blessing that comes from dwelling with God. It is interesting to note Psalmist use of the phrase 'Courts of the Lord' and his context, especially when tied with the later phrase doorpost. I note that some in the congregation welcome folks to the 'house of the Lord', where our building, as with all church buildings have no significant value at all in God's eyes. We could be, and many do on this day, be sitting under a tree and still be congregated together. The tree does not become the tree of the Lord! However we have two promises regarding this, one is that we are being built a mansion beyond any of our expectations, and we will dwell with God in His Court's. The second is that we, the person, are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit whilst on this earthly sojourn. We are the building blocks for the house of the Lord. I am, of course thinking of the verses in 1 Peter 2:4 "Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious,5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." Our longing should be for the permanent home, that with Christ, our life here on earth is that of a spiritual house, therefore, the greeting should be, welcome, house of God, fellow living stones, and temple of the Holy Spirit. An amazing thought indeed.
The altar in this Psalm is based on the old altar of the Old Testament, however, we have a greater insight into the altar that the Psalmist ever had, that of our Lord, crucified on that altar, the final sacrifice, the blood that was shed for our redemption for all time. If the swallow feels safe to rest and raise young in the vicinity of the altar, how much more secure should we feel, as to the resting place we have through the sacrifice of our Lord for us on the cross? For us we can rely on God's promises as in, 1 Peter, chapter 1 verses 3-6 "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time."
The Psalmist continues with the second part of this Psalm at verse 5 Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, Whose heart is set on pilgrimage. 6 As they pass through the Valley of Baca, They make it a spring; The rain also covers it with pools. 7 They go from strength to strength; Each one appears before God in Zion.
These verses show us the pilgrimage we are on. The Psalmist notes that the pilgrim will pass through the Valley of Bacca, that is, the valley of weeping. Some stay in this spot for a long time, clearly exampled if we look around us at the sufferings of our fellow man. The Christian who is suffering though, in the place of weeping, with the strength afforded to them from God, will be blessed. The Psalmist lets you know this with the statement, "They make it a spring; The rain also covers it with pools. 7 They go from strength to strength". Despite the desert, the ugly way of Bacca, the toughness of a our pilgrimage, we can still find springs, springs that will bless and increase our spiritual strength. However, to see such things, one cannot keep ones feet dragging, the head bowed down, the blinkering the eyes. Blessings may be just there for us to grasp, the same as if you see a pool of water, you are thirsty, the two will remain separate unless you go to the pool, and physically acquire the water to drink. We have to take some actions as well. Of course we can refer to the famous verses of John chapter 4, reading from verse 13: "Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, "but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life." Here we see that no matter the route, God will provide water, we just need to drink. For us today, that water is in the Word, and with the Holy Spirit dwelling within, prayer and meditation; we to may never need to thirst, despite the heat and dust of life.
The Psalmist also notes that to take such a pilgrimage we need to have strength, and the source can only be from one place, that of God. Why is the person blessed if they have strength in the Lord? Needing strength indicates trials and suffering. If we have trials and sufferings without strength from God, what a misery we will have and be. I think here I can safely quote one of my most favourite verses, that of Isaiah 40:30,31 "Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint." Fainting, weariness, falling - this is a long and at times difficult pilgrimage, but the Lord will renew our strength.
Moving in the last section of the Psalm we see this need for prayer to gain complete blessing on the rough road. Reading again from Psalm 84, verse 8-12 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; Give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah O God, behold our shield, And look upon the face of Your anointed. For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God Than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD will give grace and glory; No good thing will He withhold From those who walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, Blessed is the man who trusts in You!
The psalmist turns to prayer. 'Give ear' & 'hear my prayer' are the words of the opening line. We acknowledge our place and our need for God, humbly asking Him to listen. The psalmist also places God in His place in our life at this point - troublesome times, the valley of weeping, so what do we need? A shield, with the psalmist telling as that 'God is our shield'. This is repeated twice for emphasis. We cannot go past Ephesians at this point, as God promises us more than a shield here, rather the whole armour of His making: Ephesians 6:13-18 reads: "Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit." Hear the points of that last verse - prayer, prayer, and supplication.
The psalmist then notes that the Lord is our sun as well. What do we know about the sun? It rises in the morning, sets at night, travels across the sky, and moves north and south to produce seasons. I was reading about this and the comparison of God to the sun. Look past the sun's puny size compared to God, and the fact that He made it at this point. Look at what it actually does. For a start it warms the planet, not carbon dioxide as one seems to hear so often these days, it is the sun that provides warmth. The warmth heats portions of the ocean and with the spin of the earth create warm and cold currents, these providing the food for the fish of the sea - and whales. It allows plants to grow - we then have food, both plant and animal. It creates rain, melts the snow and allows the rivers to run, creates solar winds, and the wind we know, swirling hot and cold, rain and warmth in a constant motion around the globe. Nothing would be there if the sun was not where God put it. God can be our personal sun, in much the same way, if we look to Him. Psalm 19's opening gives us God's Word on the subject: "The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. 2 Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge. 3 There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard. 4 Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world. In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun, 5 Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, And rejoices like a strong man to run its race. 6 Its rising is from one end of heaven, And its circuit to the other end; And there is nothing hidden from its heat."
Finally, there is the statement "I'd rather be a door keeper". Some translations put it 'a door post' in the house of my God. A basic function, but without one there is no door, and instead of a house you have picnic shade. Who is the Bibles best example of this statement? Maybe the Psalmist was thinking of him. Exodus 33:11 states (in the latter part of the verse): "but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle." And where did that lead Joshua - to the leadership of the nation of Israel, and the bringing of that nation into the Promised Land. Can this be you on your pilgrimage? No matter the suffering, we should be as close to God as a person staying at the tabernacle, with God in the most intimate way possible, serving Him in all things. If this is the case, we too can grasp the blessings promised by God, "The LORD will give grace and glory; No good thing will He withhold."
So to conclude, life is full of suffering and pain. God knows this, and has His purpose in the suffering, whether to correct, or hopefully more likely, to refine the gold he wants in us to be. Two verses seem to spell out the conclusion that comes from this sermon:
The first from Philippians 2:13-17 "for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain. Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.
And the final, in the same vein as we began: Isaiah 55: 8 "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," says the LORD."
 MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. 1997, c1995. Believer's Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments . Thomas Nelson: Nashville