I vaguely recall reading “The Pilgrim’s Progress” in high school. Nevertheless, that very story came to mind as I was preparing for an exhortation on Psalm 84.
John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” is an allegory about the Christian religion. It allegorizes the journey of a Christian into “the Celestial City”, which represents heaven.
How thankful we are that, having been delivered from past superstitions (as expressed in Bunyan’s work), and having embraced the true gospel, we can understand the “journey” described in Psalm 84. Brief as Psalm 84 is, it beautifully captures the innermost feelings of the follower of Christ. Each of us passes through his or her own “valley of Baca (i.e., tears)”, but all the while we see the blessedness (“oh, the happiness”) in store for us, if we will only stay the course.
(Alternate renderings are from the RSV or Young’s Literal Translation.)
From the beginning of the psalm, we notice how the psalmist maintains his focus:
- “How amiable are thy Tabernacles [‘How lovely is thy dwelling place’], O LORD of Hosts!” (v 1).
- “My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out [‘sing for joy’] for the living God” (v 2).
- “Yea [‘Even’] the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even [‘at’] thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God” (v 3).
- “Blessed are [‘Oh, the happiness of’] they that dwell in thy house; they will be still praising thee [‘ever singing thy praise’]. Selah” (v 4).
- “For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand [thousand elsewhere’]. I had rather be a doorkeeper [‘I have chosen rather to be at the threshold’] in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness” (v 10).
The focus of the psalmist is the House of God and the peace, joy and acceptance that can only be realized therein.
“Oh, the happiness of they that dwell in thy house; they will be ever singing they praise.”
This prophetic statement of a truly “final” contentment echoed the work of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun (a.k.a. Ethan), “whom David set over the service of song in the house of the LORD, after the ark had rest” (1Chron 6:31).
Compare what is said of these three men in 2 Chronicles 5:12-14, and see if the “picture” set forth doesn’t convey to you what is envisioned by the psalmist:
“Also the Levites which were the singers, all of them of Asaph, of Heman, of Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, being arrayed in white linen, having cymbals and psalteries and harps, stood at the east end of the altar, and with them an hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets: It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD; So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God.”
We recall the incident when God struck down Nadab and Abihu at His tabernacle, because their worship was unacceptable to Him. They approached Him in the ways that suited them, but not as He had directed.
Against that backdrop, we consider the names of the three men, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun (or Ethan). Using the alternate name of Ethan, their names convey this message: “An assembly of the faithful singing praise to Yahweh forever”! Could there have possibly been a clearer foreshadowing (in our Father’s divine design) the hope that awaits the faithful, “arrayed in white… making one sound to be heard in praising and thanking” our heavenly Father?
“Even” the sparrow hath found a house (v 3). The usage of that word can convey the thought of something “insignificant” (or rather, seemingly “of less significance”). The picture is that of one of the smallest of Yahweh’s creation finding rest, and nesting her young at the altar of God. The altar was His place of acceptance. Doesn’t this picture perfectly blend in with the overall aspect of the Psalm? A picture of final rest, and acceptance in the eternal household of God.
The psalmist brings to our minds the joy of dwelling in the house (household) of our heavenly Father (vv 1-4). Then, in verses 5-9, he takes us through the developmental stages of our lives. Finally, he brings us forward once again to that final realization of our heart’s desire!
“Oh, the happiness of the man whose strength is in thee… They shall go from strength to strength… Who passing through the valley of weeping make it a place of springs…” (vv 5,6). How often do we find ourselves in that “valley of weeping”? The varied trials that we each face, the underlying burden of this mortality. Do we find ourselves resorting to our only source of comforting “water”; or do we resign ourselves to other sources? Our thirst can only be quenched, and final contentment can only be found, from one source.
Spiritual development and progress are brought to the mind’s eye, in complete harmony with Paul’s guidance to the brethren at Ephesus:
“But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him, in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Eph 4:15).
“Behold, our shield, oh God, and look upon the face of thine anointed” (v 9). As if to ask, ‘Who is our shield? You, O Yahweh, are the defense, the refuge that we have chosen! Look upon our countenance, for it must surely tell you of these thoughts, our struggles and our desire!’
“For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I have chosen rather to be at thy threshold in the house of my God” (v 10). Yes, we each determine our course in this life. As followers of our Savior we have each determined what we want more that anything, to experience true happiness, true contentment; and that can only be found in the “house of our God” (both now, and in eternity).
The “threshold” was directly associated with “worship” (Ezek 46:2), the “glory of God” (Ezek 9:3; 10:4, 18) and the place of “healing waters” (Ezek 47:1). The “doorkeeper” was positioned at the “threshold”, as a guardian! Haven’t we, as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, been entrusted with our heavenly Father’s word? Aren’t we “guardians” of such, in the house (household) of our Father even now? We are preparing, now, for what we will be doing for our Father as immortals. Oh, to be unburdened of this mortality!
“O LORD, of hosts, O the happiness of the man that trusteth in thee” (v 12). As “pilgrims” in our journey through life and toward “Life”, let us hold fast. Let us endure, and we will most certainly experience those things that we recognize will truly cause us to be among that blessed “assembly of the faithful singing praise to Yahweh forever”!