1 How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts!
2 My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.
3 Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God.
4 Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee. Selah.
5 Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them.
6 Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools.
7 They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.
8 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob. Selah.
9 Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed.
10 For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to 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 them that walk uprightly.
12 O LORD of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee.
The soul of the godly man longs to be in the courts of God, ever praising Him.
This Psalm is commonly referred to as “the Pearl of Psalms.” In his writings on this psalm, the eminent commentator Charles Spurgeon described it as the very sweetest of the psalms of peace.
The human heart desires many things, including food, friendship, pleasure, entertainment, and love. But for the Christian there is no deeper desire than his desire for God. Within the deep recesses of our hearts, there is an anticipation that builds each week for that special time when God meets with His people. There is no place on earth we would rather be than in the courts of God bringing Him our worship. This is a heart that loves God, aches for God, desires God, appreciates God, blesses God, and faints for God. It is one hundred times greater than what you find in the heart of the man who has fallen for the woman he loves and cannot stand to be apart from her for a minute.
Verses 1–4. Who is this God that the psalmist desires so much? It is “Yahweh of hosts!” This speaks of God’s power, majesty, and retributive justice. It is common for people to desire a god made according to their own specifications, such as a “big teddy bear in the sky,” some cheap romantic love, or a god whose chief end is to satisfy all mankind’s desires. But we will glorify the God Who really is the sovereign over all, the King who demands our obedience, the mighty God Who commands the most powerful military forces in existence. This God Whom we love to worship is really God and truly worthy of our worship.
“I desire God.” Here are the deepest yearnings emanating from the heart of a man who was created to live in relationship with God. To love God is to love His character, His mighty works, and His worship. It is not that this man desires God just for the fulfillment and enjoyment he gets out of God. What he says is that he is drawn to God. He finds God to be awe-inspiring, impressive, and the very essence of all that is good and praiseworthy. God is eternally worthy of our deepest meditation, wonder, and admiration. The psalmist never gets tired of God’s presence. In stark contrast with the fallen man who hid from God in the garden, the psalmist rather hastens into the presence of God. He is drawn to the place where God meets with His people. He envies the sparrow that builds her nest for her young in the place of worship because she is always there in the presence of God. He would like to be as the priests who perpetually serve in the tabernacle. Clearly, the place of worship was the Old Testament tabernacle, referred to as the “house of God.” In the New Testament, we find Paul instructing young Timothy concerning how to behave himself as an elder in “the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). The house of God is where God lives and interacts with His family. The physical location of the tabernacle is now replaced with the gathering of God’s people, which happens to be wherever the people of God meet together for worship in the name of Christ. Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20).
Verses 5–8. Evidently, the psalmist has not quite made it to the worship gathering yet. He greatly desires to be there, but he has some distance to cover before he arrives at the tabernacle. There seems to be a picture in his mind’s eye of pilgrims, with hearts filled with hopeful expectation, working their way to the place where they will worship God. The way to worship is marked with trial and difficulty. They pass through the valley of tears (Baca). Nonetheless, since the object of their pilgrimage is the worship of God, even this valley is turned into a pleasant place of springs and pools. It is God that blesses us on our journey, because each week we make our way towards His worship in the company of those gathered in the name of Christ. If the object of our lives is not the worship of God, there is nothing that can turn our valley of tears into a joyful journey. If we are living for this world’s cheap thrills and pleasures, our courage will flag and our strength will languish with each weary step through that valley.
Verses 9–12. The psalmist goes on to plead for God’s special favor with these words, “Look upon the face of Thine anointed.” While the psalmist is probably referring to David, we would take that to include David’s Son as well—our Lord Jesus Christ. But why should we be desirous of God looking upon His Own Son with favor? What does this have to do with us? Consider that if Jesus is our anointed King, our Priest, and our Head, then God’s favor towards His Son is akin to God’s favor towards us as long as we are in covenant relationship with Christ. On account of the delight the Father takes in His Son, He also takes delight in the bride covenanted to His Son.
It seems this psalmist cannot find enough words to describe his appreciation for the worship of God. He continues, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere!” He would rather take the low position of a doorkeeper or a janitor in the house of God than live with the wicked. If David is the author of the psalm, the reference to “the tents of the wicked” may refer to his brief exile in the land of the Philistines. Living with unbelievers or sitting at the feet of teachers who refuse to live in the fear of God is distressing to the believer as it removes him far from the presence of God. He is refreshed when he returns to the warm atmosphere of the church, where God is not only recognized but loved and worshiped. With Christ in their midst and the Spirit of God working in their hearts, brothers and sisters enjoy a special time of communion or fellowship at the Lord’s Table. For men and women of faith, corporate worship in the presence of the true God at a true church constitutes the best moments in life.
Not everybody is as keen on worship in the tabernacle as this psalmist. The last two verses provide some insight into this man’s love for God. In a dangerous world filled with multiple layers of error and threats to life and soul, God provides light and protection, sun and shield. When we are taken by our own deceitful hearts, we can still trust in God’s truth to straighten us out. God also showers us with gifts and honor while we live. All good gifts come from above, from the Father of lights. He gives us hope that our work is not in vain. As we walk uprightly, He showers us with His good gifts. When we don’t, He chastises us back into the way. Finally, the psalm ends with another reference to the powerful, sovereign Captain over the armies in heaven. The Lord blesses those who trust in Him, but those who doubt His goodness have every reason to fear His judgment. We need not fear judgment because we trust in Him as children would trust a father. He is the terrifying Captain of the hosts of heaven. But He is also a tender Father and a powerful Savior to those humble saints who trust in His goodness and greatly desire to be in His presence.
This psalm will come across as strange or meaningless for those who are unsure of the existence of God, or for those who consider God insignificant and unimportant. In a man-centered world where children have been trained for 12–16 years in a godless, materialistic worldview, people cannot understand this yearning for something immaterial and spiritual. Why this strong desire to be in the worship of God? Why this strong desire for God? We have lived too long in the tents of the wicked if we do not desire God very much. May God help us to worship Him every day with our families and every week in the assembly of the saints. If we find worship boring and unfulfilling, then we must be finding God to be boring and unfulfilling, which means we have yet to find God. If such is the case, let us cry out to God to melt our hard hearts and show us the complete delight of knowing Him and walking with Him. As the final verse of the psalm reminds us, it is only those who trust in God who live the blessed life, even as they traverse the valley of tears.
Picture the betrothal or engagement of a man and woman. After a time apart from one another, their reunion is always a time of joy, a fulfillment of great anticipation. They only have eyes for each other. No diversion could distract them from each other in this reunion. In like manner, corporate worship with God’s people should pattern this reunion, a meeting in the presence of the living God. If God is Who we say He is, if He is our chief desire, and if He has showered us with blessings, then our worship will not be humdrum. It will be focused, fulfilling, and full of vibrant life and joy.
1. How does the psalmist refer to God in the psalm?
2. What are some of the illustrations the psalmist uses to demonstrate his longing to be in the worship of God?
3. Where are the people headed on this pilgrimage?
4. What is the valley of Baca?
5. Why do those who are traveling through this valley gain strength as they go?
6. Whom is the anointed One referred to in verse 9?
7. What does God do for His people, according to the psalm?
1. What are you living for? Are you living more for the pleasures of this world than for the worship of God? Would you rather be in a movie theater or listening to your music on an iPod than worshiping God in the congregation of the saints? Do you long to be in the worship of God? Why or why not?
2. Have you dwelt too long in the tents of the wicked? What would dwelling in these tents look like for somebody living in our day?