Longing for the Courts of the Lord Almighty (84:1–4)
1–4 The love for the “dwelling place” (v. 1) of the Lord is foremost in the heart of the psalmist as he exclaims, “How lovely!” He reflects on the temple proper as the place of God’s symbolic presence, together with “the courts,” where the worshipers and pilgrims assembled and spent their days (v. 2; cf. 43:3). He physically longs for the experience of God’s presence, as he “yearns/faints” with his whole being (“my soul … my heart and my flesh,” v. 2; cf. 16:9). C. S. Lewis, 51, gives fine expression to this desire for God: “I have rather—though the expression may seem harsh to some—called this the ‘appetite for God’ than ‘the love of God.’ The ‘love of God’ too easily suggests the word ‘spiritual’ in all those negative or restrictive senses which it has unhappily acquired.… [The appetite for God] has all the cheerful spontaneity of a natural, even a physical, desire.”
The psalmist’s total attention is on the “Lord Almighty” (YHWH ṣebāʾôt, vv. 1, 3, 8, 12; see Reflections, p. 263, Lord Sabaoth), the Great King (v. 2; cf. v. 3), whose blessing he seeks. The Lord Almighty has power over all forces in heaven and on earth. His presence transforms adversity into prosperity, affliction into freedom, and death into life. He is the “living God” (El, v. 2; cf. 42:2; see Reflections, p. 250, Yahweh Is El). It seems that the psalmist develops both motifs in the following strophes—the blessedness of those who experience the kingship of the Lord Almighty (vv. 3–4) and the blessedness of the strength and life of those who long for God. Having expressed the blessedness associated with the presence of the designations Lord Almighty and God, he makes a petition to the Lord Almighty and to God to bless the “anointed” (vv. 8–9). The repetition of “Lord Almighty” at the end of the psalm (v. 12) forms an inclusio with v. 1.
Reflecting on the temple courts, the psalmist pictures the birds that make their nests in the temple eaves. The “sparrow” and the “swallow” (v. 3) are common birds; yet they have their nests and raise their young close to the “altar” of the Lord Almighty. The thought of these lowly birds in such a glorious place overwhelms him and leads the psalmist to express his awe in the form of a blessing (v. 4). Since birds are greatly privileged to live in and around the temple of the Great King, whose name is “Lord Almighty” (Yahweh Sabaoth) and who is worshiped as his God (“my God”), how much more “blessed” (see 1:1) are all those who serve the Lord at his temple! The psalmist is mainly concerned about the Lord and his blessed presence. The temple was symbolic of God’s presence, but his presence was never to be limited to the temple (cf. 1 Ki 8:23–53; Isa 66:1–2).
Characteristic of the wisdom psalms (cf. Ps 1), the psalmist contrasts in v. 10 “the tents of the wicked” and the blessedness of the godly in God’s courts. The reason for this blessedness lies in God’s protection, rewards, and blessing to those who are wise, “those whose walk is blameless” (v. 11). As God’s blessing was not limited to the temple courts, the blessing on those “who dwell” in the house of the Lord may well be extended to all who do the will of God. They dwell in his presence, wherever they may live.
Intense longing for worship (vv. 1–4)
In the first place, we must note his intense longing for worship (vv. 1–4). How great was this longing? The psalmist says it consumed his entire being. He says his soul ‘faints’ with this longing (v. 2). It was almost too much for him to bear.
As he thought about the house of the Lord and its worship, he found himself envying the birds that nested there (v. 3). He may have also referred to these birds to convey something of the benefits of worship. The sparrow is a common emblem for worthlessness (Matt. 10:29–31) and the swallow a common symbol for restlessness. The house of God ministers to both!
The psalmist also expressed envy of those who were always at the temple—that is, the priests.
We must make sure we do not miss the reason for such intense longing. It was because the public worship in the temple was the worship of the Lord of hosts (v. 1). The ‘hosts’ are the heavenly hosts or the heavenly powers. The Lord God is the creator of all the heavenly beings and is their ruler. As such he is worthy of our worship.
We will never feel like worshipping God until we understand something of his greatness, and we cannot help but worship once we do. In other words, there is a direct correlation between our conception of God and our desire for worship. The greater God is in our eyes, the greater will be our desire to worship him.
What can we say of ourselves on this matter of desiring public worship? The sad fact is many who profess to know the Lord have very little or no appetite at all for worship.
It is obvious that many don’t have anything near the intensity of desire this psalmist expresses. What they lack in desire they make up for in excuses, and many of these are so absurd as to be almost unbelievable.
One of my fellow-pastors had a church member who refused to attend church because he claimed to be unable to sit on a pew for any length of time. But one day this pastor passed by the pool hall and noticed this gentleman sitting there. Three hours later the pastor went by the pool hall again and noticed the man sitting in the same place. The pastor, thinking the pool hall must have had some very comfortable seats, went inside. The only seats he found were old, unpadded church pews!
84:1, 2 What place can be compared in loveliness to the dwelling place of God! It is a place of unparalleled beauty, unique splendor and unutterable glory. But let us be clear on this point. The place is used, by a figure of speech known as metonymy, for the Person who lives there. And so when the psalmist says, “My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord,” he was really yearning to be with the Lord Himself. He says as much in the next sentence, “… my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”
1–4 Longing. The soul is the essential ego, heart and flesh the inward and outward aspects of personality: thus the whole person is caught up in a consuming longing for God’s house and for God himself. The thought of the security of the birds that nest on and around the Lord’s house leads to the thought of that which secures the safety of all who dwell there (4), the altar where sinners are reconciled to the Holy God and he to them. 3–4 The sequence is: ‘The birds are safe in their house; it is the place of God’s altar; we are safe in his house.’ The altar is the key to our security.
84:1 lovely are Your dwelling places. The temple worship center was “lovely” because it enabled the OT saint to come into the presence of God (cf. Pss 27; 42:1, 2; 61:4; 63:1, 2). Lord of hosts! “Hosts” represent God’s angelic armies, thus God’s omnipotence over all powers in heaven and on earth (cf. vv. 3, 8, 12).
84:2 longed … yearned … sing for. The psalmist is consumed with his happy, but intense desire to worship God in the temple.
84:1 God’s dwelling place in the OT prefigures Christ as the dwelling place of God (John 1:14; 2:19–21), the church as dwelling place through the Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:20–22), and the new Jerusalem as final dwelling place (Rev. 21:2–3, 21:22–22:5). See notes on Ps. 23:6 and 27:4.
84:1 your dwelling place. The temple, the place which God chose to reveal His presence to the people (Deut. 12; 1 Kin. 8).
84:2 living God. The true object of the psalmist’s devotion is not the temple building itself, but the God who revealed Himself there. Israel was often tempted to forget God and rely on the external trappings of religion (Jer. 7).
 VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, pp. 633–634). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Ellsworth, R. (2006). Opening up Psalms (pp. 58–60). Leominster: Day One Publications.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 677). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Motyer, J. A. (1994). The Psalms. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 540). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ps 84:1–2). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
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 Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 811). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.