Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Worshiping in the House of God

GOING TO THE TEMPLE
  Psalm 84 [Sermon]

pdf
Dr. Paul Manuel—2010

When you are traveling, it is important to keep your destination in sight. Some people, preoccupied with where they have been, repeatedly look back.
A SS teacher was describing how Lot's wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt, when little Jason interrupted, "My mom looked back once while she was driving...and she turned into a telephone pole!"
When you are traveling, it is important to keep your destination in sight. That is easy if where you are going is attractive or if what you will do when you arrive is exciting, like Going to the Temple.

Our text is Psalm 84, which is a pilgrim psalm, probably sung by those who traveled to the temple in Jerusalem.1 God commanded that all adult males in Israel appear before Him three times a year—during the feasts of Unleavened Bread (Passover), Weeks (Pentecost), and Tabernacles.2 We do not talk much about what went on at these festivals; even less do we consider the difficulty they must have posed.
  • People had to arrange their schedules around these holidays.
  • Some men probably took their families with them, but others had to leave their wives and children behind to tend the farms and livestock or to keep the business going.
  • In addition to the social and economic difficulties these holidays entailed, the depletion of manpower from the outlying regions left the countryside vulnerable to foreign invasion?3
Despite these hardships, however, the prospect of going to the temple was exciting, because it reaffirmed the people's relationship with God and reminded them of the blessings they enjoyed as a result of that relationship.

The psalmist is one of those who makes the journey, and he writes about it here.
  • In Psalm 84:1-4, he extols the wonder of God's house, explaining what it is that attracts people to Zion.
  • In Psalm 84:5-8, he recounts the way to God's house, testifying about the Lord's care as they travel.
  • In Psalm 84:9-12, he describes the worship in God's house, what it means for the author to be in the divine presence.
As we move through the psalm together, try to picture what it must have been like to be part of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and consider how this writer's journey to fellowship with God relates to your journey here. He begins with...


I. The Wonder of God's House (vv. 1-4)

The temple at this time is a magnificent structure, and the ceremony, with its offerings and music, is doubtless an impressive event. Yet the splendor of the temple complex and its service showcases the importance of one unique feature:

A. His presence abides there.

Unlike the temples of other nations, Israel's sanctuary has no idol to represent its God. Israel has the real thing: a living manifestation of the LORD Himself, the shekinah, a shining and living appearance of divine glory. Consequently, those who go to God's house in Jerusalem are visiting Him in a physical way that is simply not possible for their pagan neighbors. This is indeed a thrilling opportunity, and the psalmist conveys his excitement to those on the journey with him (and to us) as they make their way to Zion.4
Ps 84:1 How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty! 2 My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
The psalmist observes in v. 3 that he and his companions are not the only ones who want to be near to God.
Ps 84:3 Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God.
What is the attraction that draws people? Is it the same thing that draws them today to appearances of the President or the pope, so they can tell their friends and family how they saw or even met some famous individual? ...It is because...

B. His praise abounds there.

As the psalmist tells us in v. 4.
Ps 84:4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.
You may recognize the form of this statement as being similar to a series of statements Jesus uses in his Sermon on the Mount. This is a beatitude (macarism), a kind of congratulations for some good fortune.5 This is not the same word used to bless God.6 In fact, it is never used of God because it always describes some advantage of a relationship with God,7 and we could translate it that way: "O the advantage of those who dwell in God's house."

What are the things people commonly associate with advantage in life?
  • Health versus sickness
  • Prosperity versus poverty
  • (Perhaps) Education versus ignorance
The psalmist mentions none of these. Instead, he cites one that would probably not make most people's list of top ten reasons: "O the advantage of those who dwell in your house, [for] they are ever praising you."
  • We understand the advantage of health.
  • We understand the advantage of wealth.
  • We may even understand the advantage of education.
But of what advantage is praise? ...The advantage of praise is that it directs you away from what is temporary and toward what is permanent. When struggles and striving distort your view of life, making you worry and fret, praise refocuses your attention by reminding you who it is that holds your life and cares for you. The psalmist is exclaiming what a real advantage it would be to remain in the temple praising God and to have that clarity of perspective all the time.8

You cannot go to the temple in Jerusalem for the festivals, but you have set aside a time and place to praise God, which means that you too can enjoy the advantage that praise brings. Some people view praise as just an emotional expression of devotion of God—and praise can certainly be an emotional experience—but if you leave here with only a good feeling, you have missed one of the most important benefits of praise, which is the renewed perspective on life that a clear view of God brings. So when you come here, use the music and readings to sweep away the clutter of the week and to refresh your vision of the One you serve.9

From extolling the wonder of God's house, the psalmist recounts...

II. The Way to God's House (vv. 5-8)

and he begins this second section with another beatitude.
Ps 84:5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. 6 As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. 7 They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.
I mentioned earlier the social and economic difficulties people faced when they obeyed God's command to go to Jerusalem. Another hardship is the journey itself. Some may travel as far as 100 miles (approximate distance from Dan)10 on foot over rough terrain and through dry regions with few natural water sources. Nevertheless, God sustains these pilgrims by scheduling their journey to coincide with seasonal periods of rain11 and by filling what may have been a frequently traveled route, the Valley of Baca, with many springs (see Kraus 1989 3:169).12

A. His provision accompanies there.

...to the temple and prevents the travelers from growing more and more weary as the journey progresses. Instead, they go "from strength to strength"; that is, with ever-increasing stamina,13 like getting their "second wind," until they reach the holy city.

Most of us do not travel very far to get here—certainly not by foot—and, because we are not gone for days or weeks at a time, our journey does not involve the same difficulties. Yet we do it more frequently, and it is not always easy to leave home.
  • Getting everyone ready can be a complex task, especially when children are involved or when several people are competing for the same bathroom.
  • Leaving family members behind who do not understand our desire to fellowship with other Christians or who may even object to it can be stressful.
  • Work related demands that drain our energy and compete for the time we set aside to worship can make it hard to get away.
These and other difficulties may tempt you to give up and stay home, yet if you persevere, God will honor your efforts so that you too can go "from strength to strength."

Keep in mind, though, that the psalmist's chief motivation is to praise God. If you come to church only to busy yourselves in activities different from those that occupy your time during the week—fellow-shipping with other Christians, teaching SS, leading the service, or preaching14—and you never get around to praising God, you will leave without the renewal that praise can bring. Worship is the most important thing you do here.

Praise is not the only reason people go to the temple, as we see by the
psalmist's request at the end of this section, in...
Ps 84:8 Hear my prayer, O LORD God Almighty; listen to me, O God of Jacob.
Appearing before God is an opportunity for the people to present their petitions to
Him. As He said to Solomon at the dedication of the temple,15
2 Chr 7:15 ...my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.
The travelers know that...

B. His promise awaits there.

Of course, they do not have to wait for the festivals to petition God; they can do that whenever and wherever they have need,16 but these times provide a formal setting that helps them to focus their attention.

Likewise, you can ask God to meet your needs at any time and in any place. Yet by coming here, you distance yourself, even if only a little, from distractions that make it difficult to concentrate as you appeal to God for help.17

Now the psalmist turns from recounting the way to God's house to describing...

III. The Worship in God's House (vv. 9-12)

What does the psalmist ask God when he arrives in Jerusalem? The third section opens in v. 9 with one of his requests.
Ps 84:9 Look upon our shield, O God; look with favor on your anointed one.
This is a petition for the king (Kraus 1989 3:167-168). A shield "provides covering and protection to the body during warfare" (Smith 1980 1:169), so the psalmist uses shield figuratively here as a substitute (metonymy) for the king, who protects the security of the nation. The king is also God's regent; that is, he rules Israel as a representative of God and assumes this office with a public ceremony of anointing.18 No matter how powerful the king may be, though, he is still dependent upon the One whose presence is in the temple.

David wrote Ps 20 for future Israelite kings and included this wish for their success.
Ps 20:2 May [God] send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.
 There is an advantage to having God's presence close at hand in the temple:

A. His protection arises there.

The psalmist realizes that he has the freedom to go to Jerusalem and worship in the temple because the nation remains secure. Should the king grow weak politically, foreign powers might assert their influence over Israel, which would include introducing pagan elements into the people's religious practice. This actually happened during the reign of Ahaz. Under pressure from the north and south, the king appealed to Assyria for relief and set up a pagan altar in Jerusalem based on a model he saw in Damascus where he went to pay tribute.19 Hezekiah, his son, broke from Assyria and instituted religious reforms, but most Judean kings after him followed the example of Ahaz, aligning themselves with other nations and allowing further pagan rites into the temple service until it was so defiled that God let Babylon destroy the sanctuary and exile the people.20

We do not have a state-sanctioned religion as Israel did yet, like Israel, our freedom to come here and worship also depends to some extent on the security of our nation. So we should follow the psalmist's example as well as Paul's advice to Timothy, to pray...
1 Tim 2:2 for...all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
This admonition is particularly relevant as we face acts of terrorism from those who would destroy us. Pray for those in authority and for those charged with our security.

It is possible that the psalmist will actually see the king at the feast, but that prospect is not what excites him. Rather, it is the privilege of being in the temple.
Ps 84:10 Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
The psalmist will not actually enter the sanctuary itself—that right is reserved for the priests—he will get only as far as the inner court. Yet for him that opportunity, even if only for a day, is better than being anywhere else, no matter how inviting or enduring.21 Moreover, being a doorkeeper,22 a servant in God's house, is preferable to being an honored guest in the house of wicked men. There is nothing to compare with being in the presence of the LORD.

Why is that? What makes being in God's presence so wonderful? What draws people to the temple? ....v. 11 has the answer:23

B. His preference attracts there.

the fact that He offers them preferred treatment, what they can get nowhere else.
Ps 84:11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.
By comparing God to the sun, the psalmist may be referring to the warmth of His love and the light of His guidance.24 Like the king in v. 9, God is also a shield in that He protects His people. The mention of favor and honor is a way of saying that God treats His people well. In fact, the psalmist says, God holds back nothing from them that is good.

This is the kind of sweeping assertion we sometimes find difficult to understand in the light of our experience.
  • If I am not getting my homework done, would it not be good if God had my teachers give me less?
  • If I am not making enough money, would it not be good if God convinced the boss to give me a raise or, even better, enabled me to win the lottery?
  • If I am without a job, would it not be good if God found one for me?
  • If I am sick, would it not be good if God healed me?
When God fails to act according to our expectations, the natural response is: "I know what's good for me. Why doesn't God?!"

The answer, of course, is that God does know what is good for us, and He acts accordingly. As Paul says,
Rom 8:28 ...in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
The difficulty lies with our assessment. We evaluate things by what seems good at the moment. God evaluates things by what will actually be good in the long run. This difference in perspective will cause you repeated frustration, especially if you insist on trying to convince God that you are right. The only solution is to trust Him, which is how the psalmist closes the final section.
Ps 84:12 O LORD Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you.
This third beatitude marks the defining characteristic of God's people: faith in Him. It enables you to see the goodness of God in your life, even in situations that do not look good. This does not mean that you ignore or explain away difficult, even tragic circumstances, but that you view such conditions in the greater context of your general experience and knowledge of God. You, thus, can remain confident, even in hardship, that He will ultimately act in your best interests.

Ps 84 is a pilgrim song, sung by those who made their way to Zion for the annual festivals. Rehearsing what they should find upon their arrival. The psalm can encourage you in the same way.
  • The attraction to Zion—to praise God—is the same thing that should attract you here. Are you excited about coming and expectant to meet Him?
  • Although the difficulties you encounter along the way may be different, God still cares for those who journey to meet Him. Do you believe that He cares about you, about your needs?
  • Being in His presence, however briefly, is the best way you can spend your time. Would you rather be here now than anyplace else?
When you come to church, look for what you would miss if you had stayed home.
 

Bibliography

  • Briggs, Charles Augustus and Emilie Grace, 1906-7, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Psalms. 2 vols. [ICC] New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  • Goulder, Michael D., 1982, The Psalms of the Sons of Korah. Sheffield: JSOT Press.
  • Hodgin, Michael, 1998, 1001 More Humorous Illustrations for Public Speaking. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.
  • Kobayashi, Yoshitaka, 1992, "Baca, Valley of" Anchor Bible Dictionary 1:566.
  • Kraus, Hans-Joachim, 1989, Psalms: A Commentary. 3 vols. Minneapolis: Augsburg.
  • Leupold, H .C., 1959, Exposition of the Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
  • Manuel, Paul, 1998, "All the Beatitudes in the Bible and Most in Other Second Temple Literature." http://paulwmanuel.blogspot.com.
  • Perowne, J.J. Stewart, 1989, Commentary on the Psalms. 2 vols, in 1. Grand Rapids: Kregal Publications (reprint ed.).
  • Sabourin, Leopold, 1974, The Psalms: Their Origin and Meaning. New York: Alba House.
  • Smith, James E., 1980, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament 1:169.
  • Tate, Marvin E., 1990, Psalms 50-100. [Word Bible Commentary Series] Dallas: Word Books.
  • Williams, Ronald J., 1976, Hebrew Syntax: An Outline. 2nd ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • Wolf, Herbert, 1980, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament 1:361.

 

Endnotes


[1] It eventually made its way into the temple liturgy, because the superscription above v. 1, which the NIV places in small print, has instructions for the choir director. The meaning of is uncertain, although it is evidently a musical term, appearing also in the headings of Pss 8 and 81 (see Wolf 1980 1:361).

[2] The relevant passages are:
Exod 23:14 "Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me. 15 "Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in that month you came out of Egypt. "No one is to appear before me empty-handed. 16 "Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field. "Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field. 17 "Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD.
Exod 34:23 Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD, the God of Israel. 24 I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the LORD your God.
Deut 16:16 Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. No man should appear before the LORD empty-handed: 17 Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you.
1 Kgs 9:25 Three times a year Solomon sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings on the altar he had built for the LORD, burning incense before the LORD along with them, and so fulfilled the temple obligations.
2 Chr 8:12 On the altar of the LORD that he had built in front of the portico, Solomon sacrificed burnt offerings to the LORD, 13 according to the daily requirement for offerings commanded by Moses for Sabbaths, New Moons and the three annual feasts—the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles.
[3] God addresses this particular concern in...
Exod 34:24b ...no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the LORD your God.
[4] Other psalms express a similar yearning for the temple of God.
Ps 27:4 One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: 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 seek him in his temple.
Ps 42:1 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
Ps 122:1 I rejoiced with those who said to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD." 2 Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem. 3 Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together. 4 That is where the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, to praise the name of the LORD according to the statute given to Israel.
Ps 137:5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. 6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.
The plural in Hebrew of dwellings and perhaps courts (v. 1) as well as altars (v. 3) may mark respect (Williams 1976 §8; see Leupold 1959:608), extension ("when the object consists of several parts" Williams 1976 § 11; see Perowne 1989:117), or the multiple structures of the temple complex (Kraus 1989 3:167-168).

[5] For a fuller treatment of this trope, see Manuel 1998.

[6] Modern English translations generally preserve the poetic rendering of the KJV: "Blessed are those who...," which may cause some confusion with a Hebrew word
that does apply to God.

[7] The only exception is the Queen of Sheba's remark to Solomon.
1 Kgs 10:8 [= 2 Chr 9:71 How happy your men must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!
[8] This was the privilege of priests and Levites.
1 Chr 23:30 They were also to stand every morning to thank and praise the LORD. They were to do the same in the evening 31 and whenever burnt offerings were presented to the LORD on Sabbaths and at New Moon festivals and at appointed feasts. They were to serve before the LORD regularly in the proper number and in the way prescribed for them.
"The view is utopian of course; the priests and Levites who stayed in the temple and did all the work involved there (including, no doubt, caring for pilgrims at festival times!) may not always have considered it so ideal" (Tate 1990:358).

[9]The author concludes the first part of his composition with the word selah, which the NIV does not even try to translate. We do not know what it means but, judging by where it appears in this and other psalms, it is probably a musical notation that marks a pause of some sort (perhaps after a crescendo). It occurs twice in Ps 84, setting off three sections of four verses each.

The line spacing in the NIV ignores these in favor of the translator's own divisions. Commentators find the one in v. 8 particularly troublesome. Leupold says that the term there "seems...to be misplaced and does not aptly mark a division" (1959:609). Perowne asserts that "it is quite impossible to regard ver. 8 as the natural conclusion of the second strophe" (1989:117).

[10] Goulder claims that Ps 84 was originally a pilgrim song for the sanctuary at Dan that Korahites in Israel brought to Judah after the Assyrian invasion (1982:41).

[11] This reference to autumn or early rains indicates the author composed this poem for the Feast of Tabernacles (Sabourin 1974:211; Kraus 1989 3:167, 169; Tate 1990:355).

[12] The geographical referent is uncertain. It may be figurative ("Valley of Weeping") of the hardships travelers must endure (see Kobayashi 1992 1:566; Tate 1990:353-354, 359).

[13] See the similar construction elsewhere.
Ps 144:13 Our barns will be filled with every kind of provision [lit. from provision to provision]. Our sheep will increase by thousands, by tens of thousands in our fields;
Jer 9:3 "They make ready their tongue like a bow, to shoot lies; it is not by truth that they triumph [a] in the land. They go from one sin to another [lit., from sin to sin]; they do not acknowledge me," declares the LORD.
2 Cor 3:18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory [lit., from glory to glory], which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
[14] Other activities might include taking care of the kids in the nursery or singing in the choir.

[15] God was responding to Solomon's earlier request.
2 Chr 6:40 Now, my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.
[16] Solomon's request is also that God will heed the prayers people direct toward the temple.
2 Chr 6:21a Hear the supplications of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place.... 32 As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when he comes and prays toward this temple, 33 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.
[17] The author concludes the second part of his composition as he did the first part, with the word selah.

[18] Leupold, contrary to the parallelism, identifies shield with God (1959:609). The Jerusalem Bible identifies the anointed one as the high priest (see Tate 1990:360). Other psalm texts connect these terms with the king.
Ps 2:2 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One.... 5 Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, 6 "I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill."
Ps 20:6 Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand.... 9 O LORD, save the king! Answer us when we call!
Ps 18:50 He gives his king great victories; he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever.
Ps 89:18 Indeed, our shield belongs to the LORD, our king to the Holy One of Israel.... 20 1 have found David my servant; with my sacred oil I have anointed him.... 38 But you have rejected, you have spurned, you have been very angry with your anointed one.... 50 Remember, Lord, how your servant has been mocked, how I bear in my heart the taunts of all the nations, 51 the taunts with which your enemies have mocked, O LORD, with which they have mocked every step of your anointed one.
Ps 132:10 For the sake of David your servant, do not reject your anointed one.... 17 "Here I will make a horn grow for David and set up a lamp for my anointed one.
The only exception applies the term to prophets.
Ps 105:15 "Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm."
Moreover, brief petitions for the king appear elsewhere in the Psalter (see the references above and the following).
Ps 61:6 Increase the days of the king's life, his years for many generations. 7 May he be enthroned in God's presence forever; appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him.
Ps 80:14c Watch over this vine, 15 the root your right hand has planted, the son you have raised up for yourself.... 17 Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself.
[19] The relevant passage is:
2 Kgs 16:10 Then King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria. He saw an altar in Damascus and sent to Uriah the priest a sketch of the altar, with detailed plans for its construction.
[20] Reference to the king makes this psalm pre-exilic (so Briggs 1906-7 2:225-226; Leupold 1959:603; Kraus 1989 3:167), probably during the reign of a righteous king, but a more specific date is not possible.

[21] This is a good example of the phrase "quality time" (see Kraus 1989 3:171).

[22] This was one of the primary duties of the Korahites, who are mentioned in the superscription.
1 Chr 9:19 Shallum son of Kore, the son of Ebiasaph, the son of Korah, and his fellow gatekeepers from his family (the Korahites) were responsible for guarding the thresholds of the Tent just as their fathers had been responsible for guarding the entrance to the dwelling of the LORD.
1 Chr 26:1 The divisions of the gatekeepers: From the Korahites: Meshelemiah son of Kore, one of the sons of Asaph.... 19 These were the divisions of the gatekeepers who were descendants of Korah and Merari.
The term may alternatively refer to a supplicant lying prostrate at the door of God's house (Tate 1990:355, 360), which is still far better than being an honored guest in the house of the wicked.

[23] The NIV does not represent the at the beginning of the verse. The particle is emphatic (so Briggs 1906-7 2:228) rather than causal (so Leupold 1959:607).

[24] Relevant passages that may explain the meaning of this referent include:
Ps 4:6 Many are asking, "Who can show us any good?" Let the light of your face shine upon us,O LORD.
Ps 27: la The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?
Ps 36:9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
Ps 43:3 Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell.
Ps 44:3 It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.
Ps 89:15 Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O LORD.