Now we're turning in our Bibles to our reading for this morning's message, Psalm 84. Thank you for your prayers while we've been away on holiday, we had a very blessed time of rest physically, emotionally and spiritually. Both the messages that I'll preach to you today, I was guided to them - not quite on the beach but almost there! - I hope, and believe, by the Holy Spirit of God. I want us to spend a wee bit of time on this Psalm in particular. As you know, I'm sure, in the few years that I've been with you here as Pastor, that I'm very fond of the Psalms and taking our time going over them. This is one of the most beautiful Psalms in the whole of the book, and in fact it is titled 'The Pearl of Psalms' by many scholars.
We'll read all of the Psalm today, but we're only going to deal with the first four verses because that's where David stops, and that's why you find that little word 'Selah', for a rest and a time of reflection. Then, God willing, next week we'll take on the next few verses. Beginning at verse 1 we'll read the whole Psalm this morning: "How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God. Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee. Selah. Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them. Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools. They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God. O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob. Selah. Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed. For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee".
I have entitled this message, and perhaps even the series of messages: 'The Lovesick Psalmist', and if you want to lengthen that a little bit, 'The Lovesick Psalmist for the House of God'. The little title at the top of your Psalm is in the original scriptures, and it tells us a great deal about the reason why this Psalm was written. Now it doesn't always tell us everything about it, it doesn't always tells the author or indeed the occasion of the Psalm, but if you look at it for a moment you will read that it says: 'To the chief Musician upon Gittith, A Psalm for the sons of Korah'. If we were to take time, and we don't have the time today but you can do this at your own leisure, and go to Leviticus chapter 16, and even go to the book of Jude in our New Testament, you will find mentioned there the people of Korah, indeed, the man Korah and his descendants. They are chiefly known for what is called the rebellion of Korah, and you find that rebellion in Leviticus chapter 16. Really what happened was this man Korah, and a lot of other men - two of whom are Dathan and Abiram - are jealous of the spiritual authority and priesthood that both Aaron and Moses held. Because of that they led a rebellion, they wanted to take over, they wanted to be in charge spiritually - 'Why should Moses and Aaron have that privilege? Why can't we have it?'. They actually actively began to operate in a priestly capacity, and the Bible tells us - we don't have time to go into it all - that God judged Korah, and God judged the rebellion and the rebels of Korah, so much so that the ground cleft and opened up and swallowed them alive into hell!
It warms my heart today to know that such a beautiful Psalm, what I have told you already is called 'The Pearl of Psalms', is written for the sons of Korah. Although we are still in the Old Testament dispensation as we're looking in the Psalms today, isn't it wonderful to see even there the footprint of grace? To see, even there, the beginning of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ toward all men, no matter what dispensation they are in? He saves them by grace and not by law. We studied recently in Ezekiel 18 that the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father - if the son sees the sins of his father, if the son turns away from the sins of his father, he shall not bear them; but each man, each individual bears his own sins, and we see here what a beautiful song is given to the sons of this rebel Korah.
I say to you today, right at the beginning of our meeting, that there is grace for the taker. There is grace no matter what your father has done, no matter what your ancestors have done and been guilty of, no matter even what you have done - praise the name of the Lord Jesus, there is grace for you if you will come and take it. What a song is given to the sons of Korah! Then we see that the actual tune if you like, or the way that this Psalm is to be played, is said to be 'upon Gittith'. Now 'Gittith' literally means, we are led to believe, 'sweeter than the joy of the winepress'. This song, not so much the tune but the song itself, and the subject of the song, is said to be sweeter than the joy of the winepress. If you know anything about biblical imagery you will know that the winepress, the vine and the fruit of the vine, is said to be the greatest thing that this world can produce. It's the most affluent picture of wealth and luxury, satisfaction and joy. But this Psalm is to be played in a special way because the subject of the Psalm is sweeter even than the joy that the winepress gives.
That would lead us to ask the question why this Psalm is written, and even who wrote the Psalm. We don't really know who wrote this Psalm, and we don't know the specific occasion why it was written, but certainly I hope that you will agree with me as you read through this Psalm you will say with Spurgeon that 'it exhales Davidic perfume'. You can see David written all over this Psalm, you can savour the smells of the mountain heather as the young shepherd boy was out there in his youth, and now as the great king and warrior is out there in the tents of the king and the great shepherd there fighting for Israel. You can tell that David possibly wrote this Psalm.
I don't know what the occasion was of him writing it, but I imagine that he is reminiscing. Let me give you a bit of background: within Israel, and within the Jewish history, and indeed within the Jewish religion as we find it in the Old Testament, pilgrimages to the tabernacle were very common. It was a great festivity, it was a great time of celebration and rejoicing, and you would find that families would get together - the wider family circle would come together. They would pack their bags, they would gather picnics and foods, and they would travel towards the tabernacle of God for family worship. As they would travel along I'm sure that they would stop along the way, a little bit like pit stops, and just as you get pilgrimages today even to Mecca with the Islamic faith, you find that along the way of pilgrimages there'll be little inns, little stops and watering holes and places to refresh yourself. I'm sure that as they stopped at each of these little posts that more people joined their band, and they went along - a great company of people - to the house of God to worship God. As they went they would encamp in the sunny glades, they would go into the shaded vales. I can hear them, almost, singing in unison the songs of God and even the Psalms that they knew, and the Scriptures that they had. I can see them toiling together, pulling their horses, pulling all their luggage over every hill - working together through the swamps and through the valleys.
It was a great occasion, it was an occasion that the little children would remember right from their youth. It was an occasion that would give cherished and happy memories that would never ever be forgotten. It was a time of the year that everybody looked forward to, yet as we read this Psalm together today we see that he's mourning, we see that he's dejected and downhearted. Do you know why? Because for some reason, we don't know why, he is missing out on this great festivity. He's been debarred from it for an unknown reason to us, but he can't get there. His heart is longing after it, his heart is mourning the fact that he can't be with the people of God, that he can't go up to the house of God, and he can't enjoy the presence of God.
I don't know about you, but I feel within myself that one thing that marks my human nature is that the things that are most valuable to me, I only start missing them when I lose them. Isn't that right? We tend to take the most valuable things in our life for granted, but then when we lose them - we get a toothache, oh, we cherish and romanticise the time that we didn't have a toothache, when we didn't have the cold! We take so much for granted: it might be our health, it could be our wealth, and it could also be the worship of God. Those listening to my voice on tape today, who are shut in in their home or maybe in hospital, know exactly what I'm talking about. You maybe take it for granted coming here every Lord's Day to worship the Lord, but there are those who can't, and there are those who could and would give absolutely anything to be with us here today joining together in the great hymns and prayers to their God.
Well, this Psalmist was in the same position for whatever reason it was, he was homesick for the house of God, he was homesick for the place of worship that he had so many happy childhood memories of, he was homesick primarily and fundamentally for the presence of the living God. Now I want us to apply this Psalm, first of all, to David and understand what he's getting at in the first four verses of this Psalm, then I want us to apply it to ourselves - first to the Psalmist, and then to the saint of God. First let's look at the Psalmist, in verse 1 he describes this house of God, this worship, as his delight. He says: 'How amiable', or how lovely or beloved and dear, 'are thy tabernacles', or better translated, 'thy dwellings, O LORD of hosts'.
It's refreshing to me that David is not as cocksure as we sometimes are when it comes to theological truth and the word of God. We've it all worked out, don't we? At least we think we have it all worked out! We've everything pigeonholed and categorised and labelled and dispensationalised - you name it, we've done it! But this man of God knew what the house of God was like so much, and what the presence of God was like in the house of God, that he couldn't describe it! It was immeasurable, no language or no words - and you know some of the words that the Psalmist can use in this book - he couldn't find the words to express the wonder of it all!
Now let me stop there for a moment, because if you don't have the thirst that the Psalmist has for the house of God and for the people of God and the worship of God, I want to ask you right away, and ask my own heart: have you lost the wonder of it all? Have you? He couldn't describe it! We might be forgiven for thinking: 'Well, this must have been a tremendous structure. It must have had all the gems that you can imagine, all the gold and silver, and precious stones and vessels that you could conceive of must have made up this great structure, whatever it may be'. What was the structure? Well, if you think about it for a minute it couldn't have been the temple of Solomon, it couldn't have been Herod's temple, because David was before both of them. In fact, it couldn't be any temple! What it had to be was David reminiscing to his history, Jewish history, and looking back to what we know in the Old Testament to be the tabernacle. It was a tent, really, for pilgrims who wandered through the wilderness going from Egypt to the promised Canaan land. It was nothing attractive to look at, in fact if you had been uneducated with regards to the spiritual truth behind it all, you would have been forgiven for thinking it was a farmyard! It was just an old tent with badger skins over it, and there were farmyard animals wandering about in the courtyard. Yet David says that this place is so beautiful that I can't even describe it, its so lovely and beloved that I can't bring words to express it.
Now of course, we have to go further and say: 'How could David think that that was lovely?'. David thought the tabernacle was lovely, because David knew that the presence of God dwelt in it! That's why it was lovely to him, and we would do well to note that the saints of old didn't need great structures and cathedrals to say that the house of God was lovely, because the house of God was lovely because God was there! They could sing as well as us:
'We love the place, oh God,
Wherein Thine honour dwells.
The joy of Thine abode
All earthly joys excels'.
It was the fact that there, in that unlovely - even, I would go as far to say, ugly - structure, they were able to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. 'How lovely are thy tabernacles' - you'll note the little 's' at the end of that word, it's in the plural. It would be better translated 'thy dwellings', and what he is saying here is - if he's talking about the tabernacle - he's speaking of all the subdivisions of the tabernacle. You know that there were many rooms: there was the outer court, there was the inner court, there was the Holy Place, and there was the Holiest of All Places - the Holy of Holies. What David is saying here is that all of the cords, all of the curtains, all of the courts - no matter whether they're inner or outer - all of them are lovely to him! 'How lovely are thy dwelling places' - it wasn't the outside that was lovely, it couldn't have been the outside because it wasn't lovely to look at, it was the inside. He says they are amiable, they are lovely.
Now, if you've done the French language, you'll know that the verb, I think it's 'amore' if my memory serves me right, is the verb 'to love' - and 'amiable' comes from that in our English, it means to love, it means beloved - but in the Hebrew language here, the word that in English is 'amiable' is different than that, it means beloved, it means dear and cherished. So it's not just lovely to look upon, but lovely in my heart, beloved and dear to me. There was no beauty in this tabernacle that a man or a woman, or a boy or a girl should desire it. As this great festivity of Israelites came over the hill towards the tabernacle they didn't get blinded by the sparkling gold from the spires and the domes that came from it. They may have even missed it and thought that it was some Bedouins, some nomads going about their business. There was no beauty in it they should desire it, the beauty was inside.
I believe what David was thinking of were the golden vessels inside that tabernacle that held for a Jew, and even more for us in this dispensation, such spiritual truth and preciousness. I imagine that David is thinking that it is beloved to him because he can see the priests wandering around in all their sacred robes, going through their sacred service for God, offering up incense and sacrifice to God. I imagine it's lovely to him because he can see at certain times the High Priest coming in and doing the ministry that only he could do. I imagine he sees the sacrifice slain and offered to God. I imagine he's thinking about how that object lesson teaches the people of the seriousness of their sin, of the strictness of the justice of God towards sin, and of the great necessity of an efficacious sacrifice for their sin to atone and to cover it all. I imagine his senses are stimulated as he hears the Levites singing their songs, as maybe even the sons of Korah are lifting up the Psalms, as they're putting trumpets to their lips and blowing the sound for the glory of God!
Is it any wonder that he finds delight in this place? His delight leads to desire, because in verse 2, if you look at it, he says: 'My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God'. His delight led to desire, and we would be right to say that in all cases of life infinite delighting will lead to infinite desiring. He says: 'My soul longeth', he had a deep insatiable longing to be with the people of God in the house of God. The word, literally in the Hebrew, for 'longing' is 'growing pale'. He was growing pale! He goes further: 'even fainteth', literally the word is 'to be consumed with lovesickness'. The Latins used to say that they were dying of love, this is the sentiment that David is communicating here: 'I'm dying to be with these people, I love that place and those people so much', and he was inflamed with such a passion, such a desire and thirst, that he would have this object to gratify himself in the worship of God that he says: 'I'm wasting away!'.
I don't know whether you have teenage children, but maybe they go off their food, and they begin to behave all strange - I think maybe Cheryl and Stephen were like this, I don't know! - but you say to them: 'Is there something wrong, are you lovesick?'. That's the way David felt, lovesick for the house of God and for the people of God! I would say that it's not too strong a word to say that he was tormented to be away from the people of God. So much so that he says soul, heart, and flesh - what's that? Soul, heart, and flesh? It's the whole man. 'All of me, Lord, is crying out for the living God. I'm growing pale, I'm consuming within me, I'm becoming lovesick for the living God - I'm crying out for Him'. The word for 'crying out' is a word that would be used of an army, a captain in the army, saying 'Charge!' as they go into battle. It's the word that would be used at the end of a triumph parade when the army comes back from battle in victory, and they shout 'Victory!'. 'My voice cries out to You, Lord, like that for the living God'.
You and I both know, and I believe that David knew, and of course Solomon knew for God told him at the consecration of his temple, that God dwelleth not in temples made by the hands of men. David lets us know what his desire was after, it wasn't for the tabernacle, it was Who was in the tabernacle! It was for the presence of God, that's why he says: 'I cry for the living God!'. Turn to Psalm 63 and we find the same sentiment in verse 1: 'O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is'. His flesh was creeping and crying after God. I don't know whether you've gone for any length of time without water, but your flesh begins to crave it doesn't it? David was beginning to crave, physically. You remember the disciples, this came to me as I thought about this, in the garden of Gethsemane and the Lord leaves them - Peter, James and John - and He says: 'Pray that ye enter not into temptation. Watch and pray'. What did He say - why? - 'Because the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak'. You know all about that, don't you? You want to pray but you can't, you're too tired. You want to do great exploits for God, but you can't, your body doesn't seem to answer to the cry that is within the spirit. Well, look at this man: his flesh was answering to the cry that was in the spirit, his very flesh was crying out to God - the whole man! As Thomas Brooks, the great puritan, said: 'If you've ever seen a wee child crying for its milk, this is the way David was'. It's not just his voice cries, but the hands cry out, the legs cry out, the feet cries out, the whole babe cries out for its milk.
What a desire he had for the delight of his heart, but we find him here in this Psalm dejected. In verse 3, the reason being - and I tend to, with conjecture I must say, picture David sitting in the camp, missing and pining after the people of God and the house of God, and he sees a little sparrow fly and land in front of him. He says: 'The sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God'. Now I believe that David gets dejected, he gets a little bit depressed, if that's not too strong a word - and we know in Psalm 102 and verse 7 that he says in another place: 'I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top' - I feel alone! As he feels alone and cut off from the people of God and the house of God, he sees this little sparrow, and I believe that what is in his heart is envy - a sanctified, holy jealousy. He sees this sparrow, and he knows that in a split second that sparrow can get up, span its wings, and fly away, and can be himself with the people of God in a moment - but David can't do that.
In Psalm 55 we see David says: 'O that I could take the wings of a dove and dwell in the wilderness', but he's doing the opposite here, he's in the wilderness wishing he could take the wings of a sparrow and dwell with the people of God. 'Lord, how can a sparrow get to be with Your people but I'm stuck out here and cut off from them?'. He talks about the swallow, how they can build a nest, they can build a place even for their young - and I believe what he's saying here is that even in the houses and the tents of the tabernacle, and even later on in the temple, there were the eaves of the priest's houses round about the tabernacle, and swallows would make their nest underneath them. They were able to make a nest, not just for themselves but for their little young chicks, among the people of God and even on the very temple of God. Around the houses round about they have nests there, but I'm cut off from the people of God!
There's an ancient law that is written that says that if there was nests built there, no matter how sacred the building being built around it, those nests couldn't be taken away and they couldn't be destroyed. He was jealous of the sparrow, envious of the swallow, who could rest on the altars of God. Now listen, I don't believe any swallow would have been allowed to nest on the altar of God, but what he is speaking of metaphorically is that just as these birds can fly right now and even nest around the tabernacle of God, I would long to go like a swallow and to nest in the altars of my God. What a desire! What a delight he had in the altars of God, but what a dejection that he couldn't get there. I think as he looked at those sparrows and at those swallows he was saying to the Lord: 'Why should those swallows be nearer the altars of God than I am?'. Do you know what I think God said to him? 'David, fear not, ye are of more value than many sparrows'. Do you know why? Because in verse 4 he says: 'Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee'. Still praising Thee!
You can still praise God if you're in the house of God or outside house of God. People who realise the delight that there is in the presence of God, people who have a desire after the presence of God, people who are dejected when they're out of the presence of God, can be able to praise God, worship God, and know God no matter where they are - even in the wilderness like David. Now listen: David stops, and he says 'Selah'. That wee Hebrew word simply means 'reflect', there may even have been a bit of a musical interlude, but there certainly was a pause, and it was created so that the people would just think about what David had just said. That's what I want you to do in closing minutes of our meeting. I want you to think about what David has just said - that is what this Psalm meant to the Psalmist, but I want to ask you: what does it mean to the saint? What does it mean to the saint in our earthly worship? How do we worship as the people of God? Do we love it? Do we desire it? Or do we take it for granted? Do we despise it? Does its familiarity breed contempt with us? Do we see it as a chore, or even - God forbid - as a bore? Can we say, like another Psalmist, 'I was glad when they said unto me, let us go up into the house of the Lord' - I was glad?
Those who can't get here would love to be here, but I wonder for some of you here today: is there no beauty in this that you should desire it? Maybe you're not saved, and you're here and you're thinking: 'Well, I don't know why these people come here once on a Sunday, twice on a Sunday, some of them even come three or four times a week for various things! I don't understand it!' - there's no beauty in it that you should desire it, because you're seeing the outward, you're just seeing the people gathering and singing hymns, and some man preaching too long. You see it all, and you think: 'What's in it?' - oh, that you could see like David, that the presence of God was in it. Maybe, to our detriment, it is not noised abroad as it used to be that the Lord is in this house - maybe there is the sense of God that there used to be. Well, let me say this, whether you're unsaved or whether you're saved, whether you see it or whether you don't, I'll tell you what it's all down to: it comes down to a matter of the heart. That's what it is: the whole nature, like David, ought to desire God; your flesh ought to cry to the spirit; you ought to be crying and weeping and pleading for the privilege of being here.
I saw a cartoon in a minister's magazine recently, and it was two little sparrows on a telegraph line and they were looking down on a big ornate, beautiful cathedral. Peter said to Paul: 'Yes, it's a lovely nest, but they only use it once a week'. We don't dwell in temples made with hands, do we? We don't go to a tabernacle or an ornate temple, we are the temple of the living God - and we have the greatest temple of all, yet we ought to desire to be in it and to be with the people of God. Isn't it wonderful to think: David didn't need to be forced to it, he didn't need an orchestra to get him there, he didn't need the best preacher in the world either! He didn't need a visit from the oversight, for it was in his heart, he wanted to be there. As old Spurgeon said: 'He needed no clatter of bells from the belfry to ring him in, because he carried his bell in his own bosom. He had a holy appetite, which is a better call to worship than a full chime'. His heart was in it, and you know that's what's missing today! That's what's missing here: heart in it!
Are you cold? Let me finish this, and I'm going five minutes extra because I don't want any of you going home and watching Brazil and Germany [in the World Cup Final]. His heart was in it, and if your heart's not in it do you know what you need to do? Do what he did, look what he says in verse 3: 'O for thine altars, even thine altars, O LORD'. He sought the altar of God! Now listen, we today as the church of God have more lovely tabernacles than David did - I'll tell you why: we have a Great High Priest! Isn't it wonderful? We have a finished efficacious sacrifice by One who is a High Priest in His glories of His Person, and in the fullness of His grace who is second to none, who has been crucified, who has been offered to God, who has been accepted by God and risen from the dead, and we are told to be priests robed in garments of salvation lifting up prayers and holy sacrifices and offerings to God, and blowing the trumpet of salvation. Ought we not to be more ecstatic than David?
There were two altars here that I believe David was talking about, one was a brazen altar and one was a golden altar, and both were made of shittim wood and were covered in gold and brass. But the shittim wood typologically speaks of the humanity of Christ, the holy humanity, the perfect manhood of Him who was made incarnate so that He might go to Calvary and bleed and die and be our sacrifice - does it not rejoice your heart? Should it not fire your heart to realise that it is upon His incarnation that we stand, that we ought to have rejoicing and delighting, that we ought to desire to be here, and it ought to deject us if we can't get to it? It was covered in brass and gold speaking of His deity in different aspects. We are the tabernacle of God, but what ought to delight our hearts is what John 1 and verse 14 says: 'The Word was made flesh', watch it, 'and tabernacled amongst us'.
Is He lovely to you today? Is His sacrifice lovely? Is your heart cold? I'll tell you where you need to get to today, listen: we all need to get to Calvary. David wanted to get, in the spirit, to Calvary for that's where the security was. We need to see the satisfaction of Christ at Calvary, satisfying the holy wrath of God and all His righteousness and indignation for sin. We need to see His intercession, one altar was for sacrifice, one altar was for intercession - we need to see it! We need to stand on it! We need to rejoice in it! We need to be enthused in it! We need to feel secure from it! Could there be one here in the gathering today, and they're afar off, they're not coming boldly to the cross, not coming boldly with the Gospel because they fear their sinfulness? My friend, your sin, root and branch, was burnt outside the camp - it's gone in Christ, and you can be free - and, blessed Redeemer, that we can come in Him, into the very Holiest Place of All.
You know I think, in prophetic spirit, that that was what David was rejoicing in. No wonder the hymnwriter could say:
'Sweet the moments rich in blessing
Which before the cross I spend.
Life, and health, and peace possessing
From the sinner's dying Friend.
Here I'll sit forever viewing
Mercy streams in streams of blood.
Precious drops my soul bedewing,
Plead and claim my peace with God'.
That's the place of peace, that's the place of blessing. How beloved is God's tabernacle to us? Isn't it? I wonder are you not saved today? The only place, my friend, that you will find refuge from the wrath of God is in the Saviour's bloody side. If you'll not have Christ, you'll not have heaven.
Let us pray: Father, we thank Thee for David's desire and delight to be where the altar of God was. Lord, that's our delight as the church of the living God today, to be at Calvary, and to be there much, and to be there long. We say with Count Zinzendorf in the song of the Moravian revival:
'I thirst, Thou wounded Lamb of God
To wash me in Thy cleansing blood,
To dwell within Thy wounds - then pain
Is sweet, and life or death is gain.
How blessed are they who still abide,
Close sheltered in Thy bleeding side,
Who life and strength from thence derive,
And by Thee move and in Thee live.
Take my poor heart and let it be
Forever closed to all but Thee.
Seal Thou my breast and let me bear
The pledge of love forever there'.
Lord, our one prayer is this: fire our hearts with Calvary's love, for Jesus sake. Amen.
Don't miss Part 2 of 'Psalm 84': “Through The Valley”
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the first tape in his 'Psalm 84' series, titled "The Lovesick Psalmist" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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