A Pilgrim’s Song
1How lovely is your dwelling place,
2 My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
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,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
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.
8 Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty;
listen to me, God of Jacob.
9 Look on our shield, O God;
look with favor on your anointed one.
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.
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.
12 Lord Almighty,
blessed is the one who trusts in you.
Psalm 84 expresses a heartfelt longing after the presence of God and an earnest desire to dwell with God. This desire is so deep and genuine that the writer experiences turbulent physical symptoms. He feels it with every part of his body—even his soul; his heart and flesh are in anguish (v. 2). Notice the verbs used to express his pain: he yearns, faints, cries, and aches to be near God. He would even be a doorkeeper just to be near God. For him, one day in God’s courtyard is better than to be elsewhere for years.
This is a pilgrim song. Pilgrimage has a destination. Pilgrimage, especially to the tabernacle or temple, carried special significance for Jews. Imagine the anticipation and reverence among ancient Israelites as families walked together, camped in the warming glare of the sun, sang along the roads, and encouraged each other as they toiled up and over hills. In such journeys, memories are stored up that can never be forgotten.
Those of us traveling the strange roads of the COVID-19 pandemic are storing up profound memories that will never be forgotten. We have witnessed the warmth of human kindness, the toil and sacrifice of first responders, the resounding songs of mass choirs, the creative connectedness of our virtual meetings, the resilience of people at grocery stores, the responsiveness of Salvation Army forces at frontline operations, and more.
The Psalmist had Zion in view. His destination was the City of God. The place where God dwells was his soul’s desire.
When God is the reason for our journey, we transform our valleys of Baka into places of springs (v. 6). The Hebrew ‘Baca’ might refer either to ‘weeping’ or to ‘balsam trees,’ both of which were common in dry valleys. Yet the autumn rains can cover them with pools. What the NIV calls “autumn rains” are those gentle early showers that are harbingers of the later spring rains. In his generous care over us, God provides all that we need while traveling these difficult roads. Even on desert roads, we find resources of abundance that never seemed possible.
Moreover, the anticipation of what is ahead strengthens us. The joyful expectations of pilgrims transform the difficult roads into places of refreshment (v. 6). Treading the rugged hills, steep slopes, rocky roads, and desert heat do not arrest our attention—they are not worthy of it. Our hearts are fixed on being near to God. Separation from God is what is unbearable.
Consider the cry of Moses when God became angry with the Israelites and refused to travel with them in the wilderness: “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here” (Exodus 33:15). Pilgrimage, without God’s presence, is pointless.
We do not just travel as those going from pre-COVID to post-COVID—the old normal to the new normal. Nor do we travel back to ‘the good ole’ days,’ just in the present. Those who worship God ‘go from strength to strength’ (Psalm 84:7). We may be weary; we may feel tired and even battered; but, in Christ, we are able. Because God is with us.
The final benediction of this Psalm concludes that the blessedness belongs to those who trust in the LORD (v. 12). Trusting God is a prominent theme in the Psalms. Trusting God involves placing the deepest parts of ourselves into God’s care, seeking and finding the place where he dwells, and looking to him for our security. Blessed are those who prepare their hearts to be a place where God lives. The journey is so much sweeter when this hope becomes our song. Amen.
written by Major Soo Jung Kim, Mission & Culture Secretary, USA East