A Prayerful Longing for God | Psalm 84

The following sermon was originally preached in 2015.


How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise! Selah

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.

O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed!

For a day in you courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
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 bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
O LORD of hosts,
blessed is the one who trusts in you!”

Psalm 84 ESV

We have already seen that worship encompasses virtually every aspect of our lives, and even the world itself calls us to worship our God, the Creator. Last week, we saw a key component for true worship: repentance. Through the prayerful repentance of David, we saw how the follower of Christ to be broken by sin and how we ought to pray in response to our sins.

As with the psalms themselves, we turn now to a significantly brighter psalm. Written by the Sons of Korah, this psalm is entirely about desiring to be with the LORD. Their poetic longings flow through each line as they declare their love for the courts and dwelling place of God. There is such a degree of exuberance to their words that we might even say that they are desperate to be in the presence of the LORD.

Interestingly, the center of their focus though is upon the temple of the LORD, the designated house of worship for Israel. Within the temple, worship was primarily made through animal sacrifices to God. There likely should a level of shock to us of the men speaking so longingly about a place of ritual sacrifices; however, painted within this psalm is a picture of the sacrifices that the LORD desires. He wants us to come before Him in joy and delight, longing to be with our Father. Do we likewise desire to be in worship of God?

HOW LOVELY IS YOUR DWELLING PLACE // VERSES 1-4

The psalmist begins the first section of this psalm with an exclamatory cry about the beauty of God’s tabernacle or temple. If these are the same sons of Korah as mentioned in 1 Chronicles 9:17-19, they likely lived during the time of Saul or David. However, 2 Chronicles 20:19 seems to indicate that many generations of Korahites served as worshipers at the temple. Whenever this was written, the descriptions within the psalm appear to be of the temple, not the tabernacle; therefore, I will continue onward this the study under the assumption that it is about the temple.

Certainly there was great beauty to be found within the temple that Solomon built for the LORD. 1 Kings 5-8 describe in detail its construction, and it would have been a true wonder to behold. However, the psalmist is not primarily fixated upon the physical majesty of the temple but with what it housed. God established the temple (and the tabernacle before it) to be earthly houses for His presence on earth. It was the designated location where the people of God knew that He could be found.

Of course, the only person who was truly able to enter into the presence of God, which was within the Most Holy Place, was the high priest, and he would only do so once per year in order to offer sacrifice for the sins of the people of Israel. Beyond that innermost room was the Holy Place, which only the priests were able to enter. Next, the court of Israel was laid out for worshipers to come. Finally, there was the women’s court and the court of the Gentiles. Thus, when the psalmist claims that he longs for the courts of the LORD, he is referring to those general courts where men and women would bring their offerings to the LORD and hear the priests recite Scripture. In essence, the psalmist was longing to come into the temple for corporate and private worship, which is also a longing to be near God. His “heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” God Himself was the psalmist’s delight, not the temple.

Since the psalmist claims that his flesh sings for joy, let me briefly touch upon a topic that tightly involves the flesh in worship: fasting. We must be clear that this intense desire for the LORD, which would lead the worshiper to faint like a teenage girl meeting The Beatles, does not come natural to humanity. We are simply not born desiring God like this. For the same psalmist writes elsewhere: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?”[1] Fasting is one of the greatest means of fostering a thirst and fainting hunger for God. As we voluntarily forsake food for a set period of time, our bodies begin to cry out for sustenance; our stomachs beg for the food that our bodies need. In that moment, we pray for the LORD to create within us a spiritual hunger and thirst for Him. Just as our bodies need food, our entire being needs the LORD! In fact, we ought to remind ourselves that He is more necessary for us than food or drink or even the air we breath. Therefore, pray verses like Deuteronomy 8:3, “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Or pray my favorite fasting verse, Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

Interestingly, within verses 3-4, the psalmist turns his attention toward the sparrows nesting within the temple. He is considering these birds with a certain degree of envy or, perhaps better stated, a sense of wishful thinking. Because the sparrows and swallows live within the temple, they are constantly before the presence of God. What a joy that must have been for them! They were continuously near their Creator! Consider the words of David: “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.”[2] This is the heart of the psalmist here. He longs to dwell within the house of God, continuously offering up praise to the LORD.

Let me turn for a moment to that final thought: “ever singing your praise!” It occurs to me how I have often thought, especially when I was younger, that heaven may be far more boring than it first appears. I mean, if heaven is primarily about us praising God throughout eternity, surely we will find ourselves growing bored and weary at some point, right? This thought, though common, is fundamentally flawed. First, we must understand that praise is something that can never be truly forced out of anyone. We might verbally praise something under compulsion, but the mere words of it are not truly praise. Rather, praise comes naturally from delight. After watching an exciting film, no one forces us to encourage others to see it as well. We praise what we enjoy. The psalmist, therefore, is teaching us that we will be able to sing praises to God for eternity because God will delight us for eternity. A. W. Tozer say it best: “To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love.”[3]

BLESSED ARE THOSE // VERSES 5-9

I often enjoy the ESV’s paragraph separations; however, for this psalm, I have divided the study by the usage of Selah. We know not what the term meant, so most scholars assume that it was a musical term, giving some sort of separation to the piece of music. This is the usage that I am employing here.

The pronouncement of blessing at the close of verse four leads into the one here in verse five. Just as it is blessed to dwell in God’s presence, it is also blessed to journey toward the temple. The phrases of these verses all describe a person’s pilgrimage toward the temple in Jerusalem: “in whose heart are the highways to Zion”, “they go through the Valley of Baca”, and “each one appears before God in Zion.” Because the temple was the dwelling place of God, it was a joyous journey for Israelites to travel to Jerusalem in order to stand in God’s house. In fact, Psalms 120-134 are called the Songs of Ascents, meaning that they were traditionally sung by the Israelites on their way to Jerusalem. In fact, this psalm was also frequently used for the pilgrimage as well. The journey, though difficult, was a labor of love. All the way, the pilgrim would think upon the privilege of getting to be near his God. For this kind of man, his heart was always upon the roads toward Jerusalem because he wanted be near the temple.

Notice that the pilgrim is strengthened from the journey, not weakened. As he continues onward, though his body might grow weak, his spirit is refreshed and renewed by the thought of standing before his God. Where the Valley of Baca was located, we do not know. We do know, however, that apparently this was a bitter part of the journey. If the traveler must make the valley into a spring (or a well), it was then not likely to have been a spring of water to begin with. John Calvin writes about this: “the meaning of the Psalmist is, that no impediments can prevent the enlightened and courageous worshippers of God from making conscience of waiting upon the sanctuary.”[4]

How different, I might add, is this mentality from the normative mindset of the stereotypical North American Christian! While the psalmist is boldly proclaiming that nothing can keep him from the house of God or dampen his spirits for traveling there, the same cannot be said of many in our churches today. Though the psalmist appears to be unstoppable in his goal, most of us are very stoppable. For a thousand and one reasons (some of them prepared beforehand), we are ready to skip gathering together for corporate worship on Sundays. Of course, there are significant differences between the psalmist then and us today, namely, that we are able to worship God anywhere, since we are now the temples of the Holy Spirit. The point is in the heart of the matter. Gathering together for corporate worship as the body of Christ is a beautiful thing for a Christian. There is much we can learn from the passion of the psalmist for being delighted in corporate worship.

This section closes out with a cry for the LORD to hear his prayer. It is best to understand this as a cry of confidence, given the rest of the psalm, rather than one of lament. The psalmist knows, as has been his experience, that God does hear prayer. How often do we take this grace for granted! We are able to come before the LORD in prayer at any time. We also have a special privilege that the psalmist did not have: we are able to come before God as His children. Prayer ought to be, for the Christian, a duty of great delight, not one of wearisome burden.

NO GOOD THING DOES HE WITHHOLD // VERSES 9-12

The psalmist now offers up a prayer for the king. The meaning is twofold. First, the king was the shield of Israel. He was the appointed one of God to lead and guide them. Thus, the psalmist is praying that God would show love a favor to the king. Second, this verse is able to take on a second meaning today. Just as the kings were anointed by God, the Messiah means the Anointed One. We can, therefore, understand that the verse speaks toward our King, Jesus Christ. For us, Christ most certainly is our shield. We are only spared from the wrath of God because the Father chose to look upon the face of Christ, rather than upon us.

There is almost a child-like exuberance to verse 10. The psalmist is boldly declaring that there is nowhere he would rather be than in the temple of God. One day as a doorkeeper of the temple is better than a thousand anywhere else. Many commentators have wondered whether the sons of Korah were in fact doorkeepers of the temple, since 1 Chronicles 26:19 seems to suggest as much. Regardless, the doorkeeper was far from being a gloriously esteemed profession. The psalmist would still rather be the lowliest one in the house of God than to be anywhere else in the world.

Life is to be estimated, not according to its length, but according to the richness of its contents. Time is elastic. One crowded moment is better than a millennium of languid years. And nothing fills life so full or stretches the hours to hold so much of real living as communion with God, which works, on those who have plunged into its depths, some assimilation to the timeless life of Him with whom “one day is as a thousand years.[5]

Fittingly, the psalmist turns now his attention from the house of God to the LORD Himself. He gives to God the titles of being a sun and shield for His people. Let us think upon for a moment what those metaphors might imply. The sun, of course, the source of light for the earth, and by it, we are able to see all things. The sun also provides for us warmth and heat. Without the sun’s warmth, we would be frozen where we stand. God is likewise for us. Without God’s illumination, we are in nothing but spiritual darkness with frozen souls. But God is also called a shield. Just as a shield protects a soldier from weapons, God also protects His people. Job provides a wondrous view of this principle. When the LORD boasts about Job to Satan, Satan responds by saying: “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.”[6] Satan was acutely aware that until that point God forbade any harm to come to Job. God was Job’s shield. Even when God permitted Satan to strike Job, He did so knowing that it was for His glory and Job’s good.

Next, we are told that God bestows favor and honor. These could easily be translated as grace and glory as well. Spurgeon sees these two things as grace for today and the glory of ultimately being with Christ for eternity.[7] Most certainly we are in need to grace for today. Day after day, we wrestle with sins, and without the grace of God, we will certainly drift away. It is also important to remember that, as Christians, we will not forever struggle with sin. One day, we will be free from sin, dwelling physically with Christ.

Finally, this verse promises that God will withhold nothing good “from those who walk uprightly.” First, we can understand that, while no one walks perfectly with the LORD, our confidence is not upon our own ability to walk uprightly, but upon Christ. Thus, this promise speaks to all followers of Christ. Second, does this mean then that we can claim material blessings as some prosperity teachers might understand this verse? The short answer is no. God never promises material blessings to His followers. How then do we reconcile this clear promise of blessing with the fact that material blessings are never promised generically to all believers? We must simply understand that God is able to provide abundant spiritual blessings.

Consider this psalm for a moment. The psalmist is enraptured in thinking about the temple of the LORD, the house of God. He is longing to be in the temple because that is where God dwells, and his utmost delight to be near God. For the present-day Christian, this psalm is not merely the wishful thinking that it was to the psalmist; it is glorious reality. Being cleansed with the sacrificial blood of Christ, we are now the temples of the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” Similarly, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 reads: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” Though in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit was only given to certain prophets, priests, and kings, today the Holy Spirit is what makes a Christian a Christian. The Holy Spirit “is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”[8] Until the day that we are finally and fully glorified with Christ, the Holy Spirit is our seal and guarantee that God will fulfill His promise. This is also why there is no temple in Christianity. We are ourselves the temple of God. By the sacrificial blood of Christ, we are the dwelling place of God. We are the house of God. Thus, the desperate longing and desire of the psalmist to be near God is fully realized in us today. We do not need to go anywhere to be near God because God dwells within us. If this is not a blessing and a provision of God, what else should we desire? The God Whom the psalmist thirsts for like a deer for water lives within each of us. The LORD has not withheld from us any good thing; in fact, He has given to us the supremely good Thing, which is Himself!

As if in response to the truths presented in verse eleven, the psalmist declares that blessed is the person who trusts in the LORD. Trusting is one of the elemental aspects of faith. By trusting in God, we place a faith in God, our confidence in Him. We recognize that our only hope is within the LORD and His gracious love towards us. How blessed indeed are we who know Jesus and the forgiveness of sins that is found in Him!


[1] Psalm 42:1-2

[2] Psalm 27:4

[3] Tozer, 12.

[4] Calvin, John. Parallel Classic Commentary on the Psalms. P.407

[5] Nicoll, William R. Expositor’s Bible Commentary. “Commentary on Psalm 84”

[6] Job 1:9-10

[7] Spurgeon, Charles H. “Commentary on Psalms 84:1“. “C.H. Spurgeons’s The Treasury of David”. “http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tod/view.cgi?bk=18&ch=84”. 1865-1885

[8] Ephesians 1:14

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