Psalms of the Sons of Korah
The previous psalms of the sons of Korah were in the second book of psalms, this is the first of four psalms in the third book, not because they were written later, but because the theme has moved on God being with us, around us. This is a love song, Spurgeon said it was, “one of the most sweet of the Psalms of Peace.” By the time we get to the last one there will be something much darker.
The books of Psalms are roughly themed like this:
Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.
Psalms 42, 44–49, 84, 85, 87 and 88 are attributed to the Sons of Korah. Korah, was a cousin of Moses and Arron who led a revolt against Moses: Korah died in the rebellion. His three sons were named as singers in the Tabernacle and their offspring in the Temple. The sons of Korah who wrote these psalms are descended from Korah’s sons, not necessarily the sons themselves.
To the choirmaster: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah.
84 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
2 My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
3 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.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise! Selah
5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
6 As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.
8 O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
9 Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed!
10 For a day in your courts is betterPsalm 84 ESV
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favour and honour.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
12 O Lord of hosts,
blessed is the one who trusts in you!
Psalms are meant to be read as poetry, and as poetry the structure is important as to how a psalm is interpreted, we do not read a Limerick in the same way that we read a sonnet.
When I was told about Biblical Hebrew poetry the only thing I learned for a long time was that instead of the rhyme of European verse it used repetition, things were repeated in different words. Then there were the acrostic psalms like Psalm 119 and the Lamentations of Jeremiah where each line starts with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in order. I have discovered by looking at the psalms closer that there are other forms. One form, as in the next psalm, introduces each point in order then goes over them in the same order; this psalm uses a chiastic structure. Points are introduced and then developed in reverse order. It is structured like this:
A – v. 1, How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
B – v. 2, My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord;
B’ – v. 3, Even the sparrow finds a home at your altars.
A’ – v. 4, Blessed are those who dwell in your house.
A – v. 5, Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways.
B – v. 6a, As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs;
B’ – v. 6b, the early rain also covers it with pools.
A’ – v. 7, They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.
The central axis – v. 8, O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
A – v. 9, Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed!
B – v. 10a, For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.
B’ – v. 10b, I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
A’ – vv. 11 – 12, For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
As well as the structure the language used and here is the language of love. This is the language of love for being in the temple of God, but this same imagery comes up in the book of Revelation to talk about heaven. This is a love song for God’s kingdom. But more than anything else, according to Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, himself a mystic and poet in the Hebrew tradition, this is a psalm about preparing to pray. There were two levels of preparation in the Jewish tradition, the minimal level, expected from all people, is to attain a general attitude of seriousness and awe, the more intensive preparation is to take up to an hour in meditation to prepare for prayer. Here at the final parts of the first two chiasms is a longing to live in God’s temple, to spend time there: Blessed are those who dwell in your house. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.
Looking at the background of a passage is important. As a Christian I look for Jesus Christ in any passage, and there is a parallel between this psalm and the times when Jesus took time alone to be with his Father in prayer, at one time he is shown to have taken a whole night in prayer. If Jesus needed to prepare for prayer why do we not do it? It is humbling to hear that the Rabbis were expected to spend more time in preparing for prayer than I do in the whole of prayer (Luke 6:12). I need to take prayer more seriously, especially in its preparation. Do you?