Psalm 84 “Christmas Christocentricity”

Translation & Exegesis by Nate Wilson for Christ The Redeemer Church of Manhattan, KS, Christmas 2014.


 1. לַמְנַצֵּחַ עַל הַגִּתִּית לִבְנֵי קֹרַח מִזְמוֹר[1].

To the concertmaster over the giths[2]. A Psalm belonging to sons of Korah.

         The sons of Korah were priests, so the Psalmist’s perspective is that of an insider who works at the temple, although, since he speaks of a long journey to the temple, perhaps he lived and ministered in a city elsewhere in Israel and travelled to Jerusalem for periodic seasons of duty at the temple.


 מַה יְּדִידוֹת מִשְׁכְּנוֹתֶיךָ יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת.

How lovely are Your resting-places, Yahweh of hosts.

·         The Psalmist is very fond of these particular places (and, contrary to the NIV, NKJ, and ESV, it is a plurality of places) – “amiable... tabernacles” in the old English – “dwelling places” to “settle down.” This word is used throughout the Pentateuch to describe the special tent that was built for the worship of God. In Leviticus 26:11 God told the people of Israel, “...I will make My dwelling/tabernacle/resting-place among you, and My soul will not reject you.”

·         The next verse expands on the word “dwellings” from v.1, using the synonym “courts.” The “courts” are enclosed spaces, like a mall (Cf. 10:8). Exodus chapters 27 & 38-40 describe the construction of the courts of the tabernacle, and Leviticus 6 tells us that it was in the courtyard of the tabernacle that the fellowship meal was to be eaten. Solomon built two courtyards in his temple plan, one for the priests, and one for the people (2 Chron. 4:9), and it appears that these two courts (2Chron. 33:5) are what the Psalmist is referring to.


 2נִכְסְפָה וְגַם כָּלְתָה נַפְשִׁי לְחַצְרוֹת יְהוָה לִבִּי וּבְשָׂרִי יְרַנְּנוּ אֶל אֵל חָי.

My soul has longed and even fainted for the courts of Yahweh. My heart and my flesh cry out to the living God.

·         He is experiencing distance from God and desires to experience closeness to God which he has known before in the courts of the Lord.

·         There is a strong contrast between the living God and the speaker who feels barely even alive.

·         I don’t think that the NASB translation “yearn” is fitting. In none of the other 224 instances of this word in the Bible did the NAS render it “yearn,” whereas the NAS does render it “faint” in Job 19 and Lamentations 2.)

·         The verb translated “cry out” could be an anguished cry or a shout of joy, so I prefer not to limit the word to only its positive meaning as some translators (LXX, NAS, ESV) have done.

·         He misses the vitality of being close to God, and he is desperate to experience that again.


3 גַּם צִפּוֹר מָצְאָה בַיִת וּדְרוֹר קֵן לָהּ אֲשֶׁר שָׁתָה אֶפְרֹחֶיהָ
אֶת מִזְבְּחוֹתֶיךָ יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת מַלְכִּי וֵאלֹהָי.

Even a gamebird has found a house and a swallow[3] [has found] a nest for herself in which she laid her chicks[4] - your altars, Yahweh of Hosts, my King and my God.

·         The birds nesting in the altar create a symbol for the Psalmist of creatures finding a home in God’s presence. If even a bird can nest in the temple, then surely a human being can also be at home in God’s presence.

·         The contrast is striking between the tiny, lighter-than air birds contained in their fragile shells and the God who is the great “I am,” the Almighty Commander of the angel-warrior-hosts of heaven, the King of all Kings and God of all gods.

·         If this God’s altar can be a sparrow’s home, then surely this God can be “my God” – surely He can relate to me as a good King does toward the citizens of his kingdom.


4 אַשְׁרֵי יוֹשְׁבֵי בֵיתֶךָ עוֹד יְהַלְלוּךָ סֶּלָה.

Oh the blessings of those who inhabit Your house! They will praise You continuously! [Selah]

·         The word translated “Dwell/inhabit” here is a different from the word “dwelling-places/tabernacles” in v.1.

·         The Hebrew word here in v.4 has to do with “sitting down,” so it could be implying that our presence in God’s house is like that of a squatter (literally, “one who sits”) on a good piece of land that we don’t own.

·         However, this word for “inhabit” can also connote fulfilling a vocational role, such as that of a king (2 Sam.7:1?), or a prophet (2 Kings 6:32, Ezekiel 8:1), or, in the case of this psalm, a priestly son of Korah, serving in the temple.

·         The phrase “the house of the Lord” is used throughout the O.T. to describe the temple where people came to offer sacrifices and have their sins atoned for (e.g. Exodus 23:19). But the physical tent (and later the brick-and-mortar building) were understood to be a type or figure of the spiritual reality of heaven as God’s house. Acceptance into the temple was a symbol of acceptance into the eternal presence of God in heaven.

·         We see this in places like Psalm 26:8  “LORD, I have loved the habitation of Your house, And the place where Your glory dwells,” (NKJV)

·         and Psalm 27:4 “One thing I have desired of the LORD, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD, And to inquire in His temple,” (NKJV)

·         and Psalm 23, “I will inhabit the house of the Lord forever.”

·         To be accepted by God, for Him to choose to dwell among you, for you to be welcomed into the place of His worship, and for you to fulfill your role as a worshipper of God, is a truly blessed position to be in. “Oh the happinesses of those who sit in God’s house [and] praise Him still – again [and again] – forever!” Don’t quit praising God! Don’t leave that place of happiness! There is nothing in this world capable of giving you as much happiness as you will enjoy while worshipping God. Nothing.


5 אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם עוֹז לוֹ בָךְ מְסִלּוֹת בִּלְבָבָם.

Oh the blessings of mankind with You; power belongs to him – highways are in their heart!

This verse is admittedly a bit cryptic, and most translations add words to try to make some sense out of it.

·         The KJV adds a pronoun to make it mean that those whose strength is in God are like the travelers in the next verse who turn dry valleys into springs.

·         The NIV and NKJ, following the lead of the Septuagint, add a verb “set” to get the meaning that those who have set their hearts on the pilgrimage[5] to the earthly house of the Lord to worship will enjoy blessings.

·         The NAS and ESV insert a proper noun (“Zion”) – pulled out of a sentence two verses later – to render the meaning that those who find strength in God have within themselves the way to get to God.

·         There does seem to be a theme common to all of these:

·         Whether, as the NAS and ESV could imply, he is eagerly reviewing the landmarks of the route to the temple,

·         or whether, as the NIV and NKJ imply, he is staking out the Sabbath on his calendar and planning to go worship that day,

·         or if, as the KJV implies, he is actually driving to church,

·         whoever wants to make the journey to the earthly house of the Lord experiences blessings.

·         This may be the same highway spoken of by Isaiah (40:3) when he said to “prepare a highway for our God,” and spoken of by Jeremiah (31:21) when he prophesied of a time when the hearts of the exiled Jews in Babylon would hit the highway home to worship God in Jerusalem again and prepare for the coming Messiah.


6 עֹבְרֵי בְּעֵמֶק הַבָּכָא מַעְיָן יְשִׁיתוּהוּ גַּם בְּרָכוֹת יַעְטֶה מוֹרֶה.

Passing by the Valley of Baca they install a well; additionally, an early rain will wrap up the blessings!

·         Baca[6] is thought by classic Hebrew lexicographers (Strong & BDB) to be a valley in Philistia. Jerusalem was built up in the hill country of Judea, and there are a lot of valleys which run from Jerusalem East down to the Mediterranean coast (where the Philistines lived) as well as valleys that run Northward down to the Jordan River lowlands. [Show map] “Baca” is also the name of a species of tree in one of those northerly valleys that David’s men hid in before the Battle of Mich­mash against the Philistines, so perhaps the name of the valley comes from the tree that grows there.

·         So this could be interpreted literally as one of the valleys that a Jew living outside of Jerusalem would have to climb in order to get to Jerusalem, or it could be interpreted figuratively as an emotional low place where you feel like crying[7], like in v.2 where your heart and flesh cry out to participate in the vitality of the living God instead of longing and fainting.

·         When the Jews prepared for the siege of Jerusalem, they went down into all the valleys around Jerusalem stopping up the wells and springs so that the Chaldean army would not be able to get water while it was laying siege to the city. The beseiged Jews did not want the enemy to feel welcome around their city! But the person described here in Psalm 84 is doing the opposite. Whether by God’s supernatural provision of all that supports life or by literally digging wells so that other travelers can have a place to refresh on their journey to the place of worship, they are creating a welcoming environment for others on their way to the temple in Jerusalem, paving the way for the worship of the Lord!

·         The last part of this verse has a couple of different interpretations which can be confusing. However, if you understand that the Hebrew word barcoat can mean “blessings” (LXX, NAS cf. Psalm 21:3,6; Proverbs 10:6; 28:20) or it can also be used to mean “pools of water” (KJV, ESV, NIV, cf. Eccl. 2:6; Song 7:4), and since the context of this verse is talking about both water and blessings from God, you can see how translators might go either way. And it’s not really a problem[8]; God is described elsewhere in the Bible as the One who opens up springs and provides water to the thirsty. (Psalm 104:10 “He sends the springs into the valleys; They flow among the hills.” - NKJV Isaiah 41:18 “I will open rivers in desolate heights, And fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, And the dry land springs of water.”)

·         My take on this verse is that these believers on their way to worship God have dug wells or set up cisterns to catch water to drink, and that God has responded to this kind of faith which opens the way for others to worship Him by quickly sending rain that makes those wells or water stations immediately operational with plenty of water to drink.


7 יֵלְכוּ מֵחַיִל אֶל חָיִל יֵרָאֶה אֶל אֱלֹהִים בְּצִיּוֹן.

They will walk from strength to strength; He will be seen before[9] God in Zion.

·         V.5 has already mentioned the power available to us when we are with God and intent on worshipping Him. This verse continues that theme, describing it as “walk[ing] from strength to strength.”

·         This Jewish pilgrim is going up to Mount Zion to the temple to observe one of the annual feasts – I would guess the feast of Booths, since the Gittith Psalm setting may relate to harvest time and since the early rains of v.6 would have been in the Fall around the time of the feast of Booths[10]. At any rate, he is obeying the Mosaic law of Exodus 23:17, “Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD.” God has provided strength for the journey to the place of worship, and now in that place of worship he finds more strength as he finds acceptance before God.

·         cf. Psalm 65:1-2 “Praise is awaiting You, O God, in Zion; And to You the vow shall be performed. O You who hear prayer, To You all flesh will come.” (NKJV)


8 יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים צְבָאוֹת שִׁמְעָה תְפִלָּתִי הַאֲזִינָה אֱלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב סֶלָה.

Yahweh, God of hosts, heed my prayer; be attentive, O God of Jacob:

·         Now that he has gotten to the temple and has been accepted in God’s presence, finally the worshipper begins his prayer to God. What is he going to ask for? A new bicycle? An iPad? Peace with his grouchy neighbor? Listen to what he asks for: this blew me away when I read it a couple of weeks ago:


9 מָגִנֵּנוּ רְאֵה אֱלֹהִים וְהַבֵּט פְּנֵי מְשִׁיחֶךָ.

See our shield, O God, and look at the face of Your Anointed One.

·         This is a fascinating prayer request: “See our shield; look at Your Anointed.” Two commands “See/Behold” and “look.” That’s all he’s asking God to do[11].

·         And what is he asking God to look at?

·         Do you remember who the shield[12] is from Ps. 3:3? “, Yahweh, are a shield beside me...”

·         or what about Psalm 18:2  “The LORD is... My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation...” (NKJV)

·         So here’s a question: How can the Psalmist ask God to look at this shield if God IS the shield?

·         I suggest this is a reference to the second person of the Trinity who is particularly concerned with our salvation, and who is introduced at the end of the verse as the “anointed one.”

·         Now, I realize that all priests and kings were anointed with oil in the Old Testament, so it’s possible that the Psalmist could be speaking of himself, but the phrase “Your anointed” seems to be speaking of a singular person, not just a run-of-the-mill priest, and this person is also called “our shield,” and no run-of-the-mill priest is called that.

·         The English word “Anointed” is a translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah” (and of the Greek word “Christ”). This word is all over the Bible as a title for Jesus!

·         “Look at our shield and gaze on the face of your anointed” – whom we know as Jesus!

·         Now he gives us 2 reasons for his request in vs. 10 & 11, both beginning with the English word “for” (although missing in the NIV’s translation of v.10), and these two reasons are equally fascinating:


10 כִּי טוֹב יוֹם בַּחֲצֵרֶיךָ מֵאָלֶף בָּחַרְתִּי הִסְתּוֹפֵף בְּבֵית אֱלֹהַי מִדּוּר בְּאָהֳלֵי רֶשַׁע.

Because a day in your courts is better than a thousand [elsewhere]. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to circulate[13] among the tents of wickedness.

·         According to 1 Chronicles 9, there were sons of Korah who were assigned to the office of doorkeeper of the temple: “...the Korahites, were in charge of the work of the service, gatekeepers of the tabernacle. Their fathers had been keepers of the entrance to the camp of the LORD.... All those chosen as gatekeepers were two hundred and twelve... they and their children were in charge of the gates of the house of the LORD, the house of the tabernacle, by assignment. The gatekeepers were assigned to the four directions: the east, west, north, and south... in this trusted office were four chief gatekeepers; they were Levites. And they had charge over the chambers and treasuries of the house of God. And they lodged all around the house of God because they had the responsibility, and they were in charge of opening it every morning. Now some of them were in charge of the serving vessels, for they brought them in and took them out by count. Some of them were appointed over the furnishings and over all the implements of the sanctuary, and over the fine flour and the wine and the oil and the incense and the spices” (1 Chron. 9:19-29, NKJV).

·         It was these same gatekeepers who controlled access to the temple at the coronation of young king Joash in 2 Chronicles 23 to keep out wicked queen Athaliah and her supporters and to protect the new king.

·         And, as best I can tell, it was one of these descendents of Korah who wrote this Psalm[14].

·         The very role of a doorkeeper was concerned with who should – and who should not – be in God’s special[15] presence. He was a bouncer. He had to stand at the door and keep out anyone who had a sore on his skin, anyone who had been to a funeral, anyone who had touched a Gentile, anyone who had slept with their spouse the night before, anyone who was sick, anyone who was from certain local tribes under God’s curse, anyone who was not ceremonially washed, etc., etc. etc. And as one who was an expert in the in’s and out’s of who was allowed to be received in God’s presence, he realized what a big deal it was to be received by God.

·         And this is one of the two reasons why he prayed for God to keep His eyes on “our shield... [God’s] Anointed one”: because this son of Korah would rather be in God’s presence than outside.

·         Now here’s another question: What does God keeping His eyes on the Messiah have to do with whether or not we can be in God’s presence? What is the logical connection? Can you see it?

·         There is a logical connection. It is not spelled out in detail in this Psalm, but it undergirds the worldview of the believer who wrote this Psalm – as well as the worldview of everyone who worships God in truth.

·         The connection is in the saving work of the Messiah who makes His people right with God. Without Jesus we cannot be right with God. If Jesus did not take upon Himself the punishment of eternal death which we all deserve to pay for our own offenses against God, we would not be able to stand in God’s presence. We would not be acceptable to God. We would not be able to worship or serve God. It was Jesus’ death and resurrection which made it possible for us to be in God’s house and to be adopted as His sons and daughters.

·         I really believe that this Korahite priest understood that somehow, it was the LORD who made him right with God, not ultimately conformity to all the laws of cleanliness which he had to enforce at the door of the temple. He must have reasoned that since the LORD made him right with God, then the most important thing to protect his blessed status in God’s house was for God to keep looking at the Messiah. “Don’t look at my sin and my unworthiness; look at Christ, O God, and then it will be well with me!”

·         God made sure that this Psalm was preserved in His holy scriptures because this otherwise-unknown priest nailed it; he perfectly expressed the essence of our relationship to God.

·         He gives a second reason in verse 11, again introduced by the word “for,” (ki in Hebrew), which expands further on this truth:


11 כִּי שֶׁמֶשׁ וּמָגֵן יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים חֵן וְכָבוֹד
יִתֵּן יְהוָה לֹא יִמְנַע טוֹב לַהֹלְכִים בְּתָמִים.

Because Yahweh-God is sun and shield; Yahweh will give grace and glory.

He will not withhold good toward those who walk in perfection.

·         Our sins “withhold good” (Jer. 5:25) from us. So when you feel like God is holding out on you, that is a lie which you must reject. God is not holding out on you. Your sin may be withholding good (in which case, you can repent and turn your eyes upon Jesus, and He will make things right again), or you may be judging something to be good for you which is really bad for you and misjudging God who is really withholding bad from you and not withholding good from you at all.

·         This Old Testament priest had amazing insight into God. He sees the distinct roles of God the Father and God the Son, both the light-emitting character of the glory of the Father and the shade-making, shielding character of grace exhibited in Jesus. God is both. We need both. We were made for both.

·         Those who walk in the path of perfection provided by Christ the LORD will receive every good gift God has to offer – bar none!

·         Nehemiah (9:20) reminds us that God “didn’t withhold” (לא מנעת) food and water from His people when they walked His path out of Egypt through the wilderness,

·         and David reminds us in Psalm 21 that the LORD “didn’t hold back” (בל מנעת) when he requested salvation and strength from God.

·         Once again, how is this a reason why God should keep looking at His Anointed One? It is because we are not perfect. Psalm 14:3 said “there is no one who does good, not even one.” We don’t deserve any good thing – sunlight or shade, grace or glory. Because of our offenses against God, we don’t even deserve stockings to put coal in! We deserve no good thing. But if our eyes are upon Jesus who lived the blameless, perfect life on our behalf, then if God keeps His eyes on Jesus and His blood and righteousness, then Jesus can freely give us every good thing He has!

·         “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2, NKJV cf. Eph. 1:6).

·         Ultimately this is the hope of the glory of God in heaven where “They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light” (Rev. 22:5, NKJV, cf. Isaiah 60:19 “the LORD will be your everlasting light... your God will be your glory”)


12 יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם בֹּטֵחַ בָּךְ.

Yahweh of hosts, oh the blessings of mankind trusting in You!

·         Now we see that this priest’s request for God to keep His vision trained upon Christ parallels the Psalmist’s own focus. He is a human who trusts in the LORD. He trusts that the LORD and His Messiah will forgive his sin and make Him right and bless him with every good thing that he enjoys – especially the joys of being accepted into God’s special presence, worshipping God in His temple, and serving God and His people in his job as a doorkeeper.

·         Do you see why Christ is central to Christmas now? He should be central to our thinking all year long too.

·         How quickly we take our eyes off Jesus when we think we deserve good things or when we think that those good things will be a source of comfort and joy.

·         If the gift we wanted doesn’t appear under the Christmas tree, will you become angry at God for withholding good from you? or will you recognize that you deserve no good thing and yet are connected to a God who withholds no good thing?

·         When that Christmas experience promises such excitement – whether it be a special food or drink or some kind of special entertainment or special relationship time with family or special toys – remember that you don’t want God to take His eyes off of Christ for a moment or you will lose everything good, so don’t let the things of this world take your eyes off of Jesus either. One way to keep your eyes on Jesus is to thank Him for every good thing you experience and remember that He is with you everywhere you go.

·         This Advent season, you can pray like the Psalmist did for God to keep looking at Jesus because He is the reason you are accepted into God’s house, and you love being in God’s house among the people of God.

·         This Advent season, let us keep our own eyes on Jesus in loving trust in Him to make everything right and give us every good thing we need.

·         And furthermore, let us this Advent season, direct the attention of other people around us to Christ as the central figure in our lives.

o       When they say, “Happy Holidays,” you can say, “Do you know what it is that makes this holy-day holy? It is the fact that God became a man – Jesus – so that He could tackle head-on the problem of evil and make us right with God!”

o       When they say, “Hey, look at this item,” you can say, “Hey, look at Jesus! He is the Son of God who took on flesh and dwelt among us so that we could see the grace and glory of God. That’s what Christmas is all about!”

o       It’s the same message the angels carried to the shepherds, “Hey, don’t be afraid, look, I’ve got good news for you that brings great joy to all people: A savior – Christ the Lord – was born for you this day in the city of David!”

[1] Hebrew text is from

[2] Gittith (cf. Ps. 8 & 81)/Instrument (or singer?) from Philistine city of Gath?/Instrument designed like a press (thumb harp?) or Song sung while pressing wine or at harvest season/Feast of Booths.

[3] The Tsippor bird is the same as that of Psalm 11:1 and is a sort of bird hunted for food, so I avoided the common translation of “sparrow.” The Deror bird is only found here and Prov. 36:2 in the Hebrew O.T. Its root indicates rapid movement. The Septuagint translated it trugwn turtledove.

[4] From the verb “break apart” found in this noun form only here, Deu. 22:6 and Job 39:30.

[5] Nowhere else does any English Bible translate this word mesillot as “pilgrimage,” the Hebrew word has to do with a raised path, whether of heaped-up earth like a modern-day highway is built to stay above the floodplain, or a path built up in elevation like a staircase or a switchback road to take you up a hill.

[6] Some Muslims have claimed that this is a reference to a pilgrimage to Mecca which is also called Bakka. The destination, however, is clearly not the same!

[7] Baca is in the same Hebrew word-family as bacah, which is the word for  “weeping”

[8] Similarly, the Hebrew word for “early rain” (Joel 2:23) is a participle of the Hebrew word for “teach” (2 Ki. 17:28, Isa. 9:15) so the LXX translated it “law-giver.”

[9] With a change of one dot in the vowel pointing, the preposition “to” can become the noun “God.” This is why some of the ancient translators (Septuagint, Acquilla, Syriac), who were probably working without any vowels at all to begin with, rendered this verse “God of Gods shall be seen in Zion.” As usual, this does not significantly derail the meaning. Either way, the supplicant is getting to experience acceptance in God’s presence.

[10] Delitzsch, however suggested that it was a priest living with David in exile from King Saul. He explains the request to look upon the anointed one as a prayer for God to put David on the throne so that he can go back to service in the temple. Spurgeon saw the original context as being something like that, but said that believers now should pray this Psalm Christocentrically (as I have interpreted it).

[11] Now, please don’t take this to an extreme. There is a place for asking God to look at you, such as David did in Psalm 13, “How long will You hide your face from me? ... Look this way; answer me, Yahweh my God, cause there to be light toward my eyes.”

[12] This title for God is based on what God told Abraham in Gen. 15:1 “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you...,” and Moses picked up on that imagery in Deut. 33:29 “Blessed are you, O Israel; Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD, Who is the shield of your help...”

[13] This appears to be the only instance of this verb in the Bible, but it appears to be used in the sense of roundness, as it is used in Isa. 22:18 and 29:3.

[14] What is your post, your role in the body of Christ? Is it of service or leadership or hospitality or administration or teaching or evangelism or healing or languages or prophecy or what? Have you realized the blessedness of fulfilling that role? That it will be more satisfying than chasing any of the entertaining things the world has to offer? The Psalmist is following in the footsteps of David, who said in Psalm 1 that we are blessed when we do not walk in the counsel of the “wicked.” The Psalmist’s post was at the temple door, and that is where he would rather be than anywhere else in the world.

[15] I use the word “special” as a qualifier because God is, in one sense, everywhere (omnipresent), and yet the Bible also speaks of God being present in a special way in Heaven, in the Temple, and in the bodies of Christians, and it is this latter sense in which I mean “special presence.”