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August 23, 2009
Psalm 84

Psalm 84 is an obvious psalm to couple with the reading from 1 Kings 8, Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the temple in Jerusalem. It speaks of the worshipper’s complete focus on the temple. Verse 8 with its plea for the Lord to hear the prayer of the psalmist closely recalls the petitions of Solomon. The psalm is also the source of some familiar sayings: ‘a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere’ (v. 10a); and ‘I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness’ (v. 10b).

Psalm 84 is the first of a second group of psalms related to the Levitical group known as the Korahites (Psalms 84-85, 87-88). It is very similar to the opening psalm of the earlier Korah collection (Psalms 42-49).

The psalmist longs for the dwelling place of the Lord. Of course, as Solomon’s prayer made clear, God’s dwelling place is beyond the highest heavens (1 Kgs 8:27). But the psalm understands the symbolic value of the temple in Jerusalem. The affection the psalmist expresses for this earthly place, and the way in which they describe its beauty and atmosphere of protection and joy, point to a relationship that transcends the mundane, physical connection. The psalmist is talking about their relationship with the one represented by the building, the one whose presence can be felt within it.

In v. 3 the psalmist touches on the graciousness of the one whose dwelling place the temple is understood to be. The birds even have a home there. The psalmist rejoices further in the Lord’s care for those who ‘walk uprightly’ (vv. 11-12).

While the psalm could be prayed at the gates of the temple it could also be prayed by one who longs for the Lord’s dwelling from some distance, in time or in space. In this vein v. 5 speaks of those in whose hearts are ‘the paths of pilgrimage’ to Zion. This verse touches on the symbolic nature of the temple. Of course, the paths to Zion refer to the roads that lead up to Jerusalem, so important in the life of the pilgrim. But the fact that these paths are ‘in the heart’ points not only to the orientation of one’s body on a journey, but to the orientation of a way of life. Both physically and metaphorically such a person is turned toward the Lord’s dwelling place – that place where the least of creatures finds a home.

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship:

The beginning of the psalm is suitable for a call to worship:

1 How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!
2 My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
or v. 4 could also be used:
4 Happy are those who live in your house,
ever singing your praise.
The whole of verse 8 could function as a general call to prayer or it could be divided and used as a response during the prayers of the people:
8 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob!
Old Testament reading: 1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43

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