Psalm 84...I don't know how many of you have read 'Pilgrim's Progress' by John Bunyan, or at least are familiar with it, but you will know that there in that great book - and I have a copy of it with me here this morning - he has a character in it called 'Christian'. He writes an allegory, a dream that he had when he was in Bedford prison, shut up because he was a nonconformist and he was preaching the Gospel yet he didn't belong to the Church of England - and that's what happened to you in those days if you preached the Gospel and didn't belong to the established church. But there in that prison cell he had a dream, and out of that dream he wrote the wonderful Christian, indeed literary, classic 'Pilgrim's Progress'. The whole story, the whole book, details the journey of this man, Christian, from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. All it is is simply an allegory, a picture story, of what it is to be a sinner in sin, bound for hell and destruction; and to move as a sinner from the City of Destruction to the cross, to have your burden rolled away at the foot of the cross into the tomb where Christ died and was buried and put our sin away forever, eternally under the sod; and then to have your journey begin toward heaven, toward the Celestial City, until one day you reach that place and are forever at peace with the Lord in that eternal state.
On the front of this edition it simply has the title: 'From this world to that which is to come'. That is the Pilgrim's progress, that all who are saved are going on: we began in the world, yet through the calling effectually of grace in our lives we have been called out of the world as a people unto God and we're all journeying toward heaven - a pilgrimage toward the Celestial City. If you're familiar with the book you'll know what a varied experience John Bunyan's Christian had as he went toward that city. We could nearly say that his problems only really began once he trusted faith, once his burden fell off at Calvary, for he met so many varied characters, he went through so many different experiences - many of them extremely trying and perplexing.
I couldn't help thinking, as I was studying this Psalm, studying this particular section for you today, that the journey and the pilgrimage of the Jew that we have noted in this Psalm is going on here - the Jews are going down to Jerusalem, or down to the tabernacle, or down to whatever edifice they were worshipping God in, but they're all journeying in this pilgrimage toward their final destination. As they go toward that destination they find many varied experiences. Of course, I think the parallel is obvious between the Jew here in this Psalm going to the house of God, and the believer in Christ going toward the eternal city of God, going toward heaven - and that's the parallel that I want you to see today.
Last week in verses 1 to 4 we looked at the longing of the Psalmist to be with the people of God. We don't really know the background, we're not even sure of the author but we think it's David, it seems to be a Davidic Psalm. He has a deep desire, he has a delight - verse 1 tells us - in the house of God, because the presence of God is there. The house of God wasn't naturally beautiful on the outside, but it was the fact of what was inside the house of God that delighted his heart. Those holy things, the holy ornaments and instruments and furniture, the holy service that was going on among the priests, the holy sacrifice that was being shed because of men's sinfulness, yet that blood that was being shed would cover - temporarily, at least, for him - his sin, and allow him to come into the very presence of Almighty God. He delighted in the house of God! He desired to be in the house of God!
We saw that for some reason David was debarred from worshipping, he couldn't get there, he was probably in the tents of triumph and battle on the battlefield for his nation. But he longed to be in the tabernacle, he longed to be with the people of God, serving God, worshipping God, but he couldn't be there - but oh, the delight and the desire that we see: his flesh, his heart, cried out - verse 2 - for the living God. We saw how that word meant 'he grew pale', he was being consumed inwardly by a loving desire, a lovesickness, to be in the house of God, with the people of God, where the presence of God was. His whole man, his whole nature cried out to be with God and to be with God's people.
That is the longing, but we enter into verses 5 to 8 today, because you now have the journeying. And, at least in David's mind, he begins that journey to travel in his heart and mind towards the house of God, to be in the very presence of God. Now, my friends, I'm trusting most of us here today are saved by the grace of God, and we have began that Pilgrim's journey and progress on to heaven. I want us to meditate this morning at how this Psalm parallels the journey that many of us go through as we travel toward heaven. I'm sure some of you are familiar with that little chorus: 'It's not an easy road as we're travelling to heaven'. It wasn't an easy road for these Jews as they were travelling to the house of God, because - as we read in verse 6 - in order for them to get there, from their homes to their destination, they had to travel through the Valley of Baca. The Hebrew word 'Baca' simply means 'weeping', and there was a Valley of Weeping. Some translators think it can also mean a dry, arid, wilderness valley - a desert where there was no water. For them to get through to the place they where going to, Jerusalem or to the place to worship God, they had to pass through a dry valley of weeping.
We find this valley referred to in Judges chapter 2 and verses 1 and 5, only it's called the Valley of Bochim there. We read the story about how the children of Israel have now left Egypt and are about to enter into the promised land, but they have disobeyed some of the commands of God. God told them to destroy all the false idols of the people and drive the people out, to kill them all, to not make any covenants or agreements or political settlements with any of them, but they disobeyed God. In the Valley of Bochim, we find in Judges 2, there is an angel of God stands before the people of God, and He tells them that He will not drive out the nations any more, He will not drive and make the way clear of the Canaanites for the people of Israel, but they will be a thorn in their side for ever and their gods will judge them. We read in Judges 2 the people of Israel broke out into uncontrollable weeping and sobbing and lamentation. So this valley is called the Valley of Bochim, or the Valley of Baca.
I think in Jewish literature and language it has become a sort of byword for the experiences that all of us can go through in life that we could class as a Valley of Weeping. I think we can see right away the parallels, that as these Jews were travelling toward their worship they had to go through hardships. Oh yes, they delighted in the place they were going to, oh they desired to be there, but it was not an easy road that they were travelling along - and just like you and me as we are saved, we're sanctified, we're satisfied and enjoying the Lord, maybe even serving the Lord; and we're looking forward to a day when it will be absent from the body, but present with the Lord, but it's not easy. Maybe at this particular juncture in your spiritual journey toward heaven you find yourself passing, squeezing, constricting through a valley of tears and a valley of arid dryness and famine. It's not an easy road as we're travelling to heaven.
We pictured last week these Jews packing their bags, leaving their home, gathering together in their family clans, getting on the road, following the caravans. In the distance you could see them, like a swarm of flies, travelling toward their destination to worship God. You can hear their melodious happy singing, you can hear them helping one another and putting their shoulder to the wheel, pushing their carts and wagons over the little hills, trying to pull them through the sloughs of despond and the mud pits. But there is a valley that they enter into, when before they could stop at a well, at an oasis in the desert, but this valley has nothing in it - no water, no refreshment, no place where they can stop and chat and drink and find their strength coming back into their bones. It is a place of weeping, torment and tribulation - but they must pass through it, they have to go through it because it is part of the pilgrimage!
We find a valley exactly like that in the Pilgrim's Progress. I want to read it to you. Pilgrim comes to one valley where he meets the devil, who is called in the book 'Apollyon'. Then, when he gets out of that valley where he has fought the devil tooth and nail with the very armour of God on him, he enters into another valley. He would like a mountaintop at the end of that I think, but he enters into a second valley. He says, I read: "Now at the end of this Valley was another, called, The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death, and Christian must needs go through it, because the way to the Celestial City lay through the midst of it: Now this Valley is a very solitary place. The prophet Jeremiah thus describes it: A wilderness, a land of deserts, and of pits; a land of drought, and of the shadow of death, a land that no man (but a Christian) passeth through, and where no man dwelt. Now here Christian was worse put to it than in his fight with the devil himself; as by the sequel you can see. And I saw in my dream, That when Christian was got to the borders of the Shadow of Death, there met with him two men, children of them that brought up an evil report of the good land, and they made haste for Christian to go back and not go there. Christian said: 'Where are you going?'. They said: 'Back! Back! And we would have you do so too, if either Life or Peace is prized by you'. Christian says: 'Why! What's the matter?'. 'Matter?', they said, 'We were going that Way as you are going, and went as far as we dared; and indeed we were almost past coming back; for had we gone little further, we had not been here to bring the news to thee'. Christian says: 'But what have you met with?'. 'Why we were almost in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but that by good hap we looked before us, and saw the danger before we came into it'. Christian says: 'But what have you seen?'". Listen now: "'Seen? Why the Valley itself, which is as dark as pitch: We also saw there the Hobgoblins, Satyrs, and Dragons of the Pit: We heard also in the Valley a continual howling and yelling, as of a people under unutterable misery, who there sat bound in affliction and irons; and over that Valley hangs a discouraging clouds of Confusion: Death also doth always spread his wings over it. In a word, it is every whit dreadful, being utterly without Order'. Christian said: 'I perceive not yet, by what you have said, but that this is my Way to the desired Haven'. 'Be it thy Way', they said, 'we will not choose it for ours'. So they parted, and Christian went on his Way, but still with his Sword drawn in his hand, for fear lest he should be assaulted".
Now, my friends today, it is called upon every Christian, I believe, at some time in their life's experience, to go through the Valley of Tears, to go through what men have called 'liquid pain', the distillation of heaven, the diamonds of heaven - where God has to record your tears by putting them in a bottle, it is part of the pilgrimage of God's children. Joseph, in his divine pilgrimage of God's providence, as he went through so many valleys, it is recorded of him in the book of Genesis that eight times he wept. We read of David, through all of his regal kingship and reigning in majesty, but yet through all of his heartache and trial seven times we read the great king wept. We read Jeremiah, he's the prophet of tears, the whole book of Lamentations is his writing of how he wished that his whole head were a river of waters that he could just continually weep for the breach of his people Israel. We read of David's men on one occasion that they wept sorely, to the extent that they had no more power or strength to weep. In Psalm 6 David says that he wept so much that his bed was swimming in his own tears. Remember Peter, after he betrayed the Lord, and the Lord Jesus gave him that glaring look, the guilt entered into his soul and it says that Peter went out and wept bitterly. None other person than our Lord Jesus Christ is recorded many times as weeping: standing over Jerusalem, unrepentant Jerusalem, unregenerate Jerusalem: 'Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I would have gathered you as a hen gathers her chickens, but ye would not'. Standing by Lazarus' tomb weeping over sin, and what sin has done to men and women, He stands and it says: 'Jesus wept'. Then we see Him in Gethsemane, it says He is nigh even unto death, sweating as it were great drops of blood, and He is weeping for sin and for what sin will do to Him on the cross! Even our Saviour had to go through the Valley of Baca.
Friends, what I want to bring to you today from this Psalm is a message of good news. The message is simply this: the road of tears can be a blessed road, the road of tears can be a blessed road. Now the Psalmist gives us the ways in which that road of tears that we must go through will be made blessed. There are four things, and I want you to record them in your mind if not on a piece of paper, because if you don't need them now for what you're going through, you're going to need them in a day very shortly to come.
The first thing that David tells us to do is: this road will be blessed when your energy is in God, this journey will be blessed when your strength and your energy for it are in God. Look at verse 5, the first part: 'Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee'. If you're going to get through your Christian pilgrimage, and specifically squeeze through the Valley of Baca, and tears, and dryness, and famine, you're going to have to find your energy in God. You're not going to get through it unless God gives you that 'divine stickability'. You will need God's strength to believe that He's not going to let you go. You will need God's strength to obey Him, even though you seem to see that everything is contrary to what you would want, and what you think God would want for you. You need strength to obey and do what He tells you, even though the clouds seem to be dark above you. In fact, you need strength to suffer, that's the bottom line, isn't it? If any of us are to go through Valley of Tears, we will need the very strength of God to be our portion and to be our energy to get us through it.
Remember Paul in Ephesians 6? We were studying it not so long ago, he was telling us to put on the armour of God. The helmet of salvation, the breastplate of the righteousness of God, the belt of truth, our feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace, the shield of faith to quench the fiery darts of the evil one, the sword of the Spirit, and all prayer, and we're to go in the battle. But before he enters into all the exposition of what those things are, and the fact that we should take them up by faith, he says to us: 'Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might'. If we're to go into the Christian battle, thank God that He's given us our armour, He's given us everything that we need, but if we stand in our own strength we'll fail! If we try to travel through the Valley of Baca in our own strength, that'll be the end!
We need strength for this pilgrimage, just like these Jews needed the strength for their pilgrimage to worship. There's no half-hearted people on this journey, because they couldn't have stuck it! They had to put everything into it, there was an intensity and an enthusiasm in their journey to go and worship God. You saw it last week, his delighting and his desire to be with the people of God. You know in your own worshipful life before God that in prayer, in worship, in praise, even in the study of the word of God, it's not pleasant or profitable unless you put your whole heart into it. Oh, it's a dirge and it's boring, and I say to you today I find some preaching boring, I find some praying puts me to sleep - because you can sense when a man or a woman is putting their heart into their worship. It's the same as we travel along to heaven: if we're to get through the Valley of Tears, you've got to have your whole heart in this journey, for only when you put your whole heart in it will you get all of the strength of God.
Can you imagine these pilgrims setting out, packing their bags, getting their family together, and they leave their hearts at home? Not a bit of it! They would be a caravan of corpses, and dead men and women would be unfit to move with the living saints of God to go and worship the Living God. As David says in verse 2, that his whole flesh, and heart, and body, and soul, and voice cry out for - it's the Living God! The New Testament mirror of what we're finding here, this spiritual truth, is simply this: set your affections on things that are above. Do you want strength to get through your trial? Well, where your treasure is, that's where your heart will be also! Where's your heart today? Is it in your job, is it in your family, is it in your home? What is it in? If you're to get through the journey and pilgrimage to heaven, your heart needs to be in heaven, and then your whole self will journey toward where your heart is.
When your energy is in God this road of tears will become a blessed road, but secondly: when God's directions are in you this road will become a blessed road. The second part of verse 5: 'in whose heart are the ways of them'. 'Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee', but also the man, 'in whose heart are the ways of them' - or literally 'the steeps', 'the steps' are on this man's heart. What's David trying to say? He's simply saying that the ways that lead to the house of God, the direction, if you like, is written upon the heart of a man whose strength is in God. The actual steeps - now I don't know whether this was the tabernacle, I think it probably was, on some kind of a causeway in the desert. He may be thinking of a temple, and maybe the steps up to the temple - either way there was a bit of a steep to climb. What David is saying: the climbing of those steeps to get into the presence of God and the house of God, and to be with God, are written upon the man's heart. In other words, he's determined to get there. The direction is on his heart, it leads him there, it drives him there, and that is what will get us through the Valley of Baca: that we have a desire to get through it, the very steeps are written on our heart, we're determined to climb it.
There is a highway of holiness that is being made in all our hearts, the Lord is preparing the way for Himself, He is making the valleys flat and straight, He is bringing the hills low, He's flattening it all out so that He may flood holiness into our hearts. My friend, as we go toward heaven, and if we're passing through trial as we speak, and God's ways are in our hearts, and our heart is in His ways, we are what we should be and we are in the place where we should be - and one day, the word of God tells us that we will be where He is. Do you want to get through? Is your energy in God? Is that where your strength is coming from? Is God's directions in your heart? I can't help think that when He was talking about the sparrows and the swallows, do you know that sparrows and swallows and many of the birds in nature have an in-built natural navigation system? It's just there from nature, and God has put there so that they know where to go in summer and they know where to go in winter, and David is saying that it's the same with the child of God. When he's born from above and he's a child of heaven, he lives for heaven, he lives toward heaven, and when he's going through the Valley of Baca the actual steeps and the mountains he's climbing and the valleys he's going down to, the direction's written on his heart to get him there!
When your energy is in God, when God's directions are in you, thirdly: when God turns your weeping valley into a well. Oh, I love this verse, verse 6: 'Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools'. Literally it could be translated: 'Passing through the Valley of Weeping, they make God the Fountain'. As they pass through the Valley of Weeping, all the water they have is tears, there's no fountains, there's no pools, there's no oasis, but by faith they make God their Fountain - they drink of God! There was no misery too great, there was no ground too barren that couldn't become a well of comfort to them because they were feeding upon the Living Bread, they were drinking at the Fountain Head. The most gloomy situation became the most bright, the most hopeful, because through their wilderness they made it, by faith, a valley of springs. You remember that was said of the children of Israel as they went through the wilderness, as they followed Moses, they did all drink the same spiritual drink, for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them and the Rock was Christ! Now listen: if you are on the Christian pilgrimage and you find yourself going through the Valley of Baca, if you get your strength from God, and if you put God's ways in your heart, I am telling you that He will turn your Valley of Weeping into a Well of Springs. If you have the goal of heaven in your heart, He will get you there! He will cause you to be able to endure any amount of sorrow and pain - why? Because these children of Israel, by faith, were able to extract water from rocks and sands because they fed upon God and drank from He who is the eternal Fountain.
This thrills my heart, Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:17, and you know what he went through: 'Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory'. Paul could go through what he went through, and you know it, and he could even call it light affliction - his Valley of Baca - why? Because he had his eye on the goal, on the destination, and the delight that would be there when he arrived. It makes all the discomforts of the road insignificant! This is even more beautiful, because in verse 6 it says that the Valley of Baca will be made a well, but the rain also fills the pools - do you know what that means? The wells are the water from beneath, the pools are from beneath, the natural resources - but when our natural resources from below fail us, God will intervene in supernatural providence and He will send down the rain from heaven! Isn't it wonderful?
My friend, when God directs you down a road it's not a dead end! When God leads you down a road, He will provide for you, He will give you the supplies that you need - and if that is the road heading toward heaven you can be sure that the very things that seem to be impediments in your way, mountains that you cannot move, God will move and He will level them to a plane! As He said to Isaiah, He will make the very mountains before you stepping stones for you to get to your destination! Though your outward man perish, as Paul says, your inward man can be renewed day by day. You know, this was a desert road, and there were inns along it, there were watering holes and wells along it - do you know why? There is only one reason why, because it was the road of pilgrimage to the house of God, and if it hadn't been the road of pilgrimage there wouldn't have been any wells or inns on it. If you're on that road, even though you're going through that Valley, God has His wells, God has His rain, God has His refreshment - and you know, many of you, that there is typology within the word of God. Wells can often speak of the word of God, and rain often speaks of the Spirit of God, and as we go through these valleys in our lives, as the tears are tripping us and our hearts are breaking, what more do we need and what else can get us through than the word of God and Spirit of God?
Finally, when your energy is in God, when God's directions are in you, when God turns your weeping valley into a well, the road will be blessed when you eventually arrive at your desired destination. Verse 7: 'They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God'. Now normally a Valley like this would be a place for us to waste away, a place for us to diminish, but David says that the child of God, as he goes through it and as he comes out of it, gets happier, their song gets brighter and sweeter, their heart gets fuller with joy and happiness! It gets better, why? Because they know that they're getting nearer their destination! The Hebrew literally means that they go 'from company to company', they grow as they go toward heaven. What a wonderful phrase: 'Every one of them in Zion appeareth before God'. Now listen: it's only every one of them with the characteristics that are in this Psalm. Don't you give to me some kind of hotchpotch of eternal security, that you just say that you're saved and you're going to go to heaven no matter what your life is like - your strength needs to be in God, God's ways need to be in your heart. As you go through that Valley, God says that He will get all of His children there and they'll be forever with the Lord, none of them will perish, none of them will be absolutely starved of food and die, none of them will die of thirst! No matter through the deepest, damndest valley that they may pass through, none of them will get eaten along the way by wild beasts, none of them will be assaulted by bandits and robbed, none of them will get afraid and turn back on the way - they'll all be there! Isn't that what it says? Every one of them will appear before God!
This is powerful, for if you're truly saved this morning you will be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation to be revealed at the last time, and if your name is written in the Lamb's Book of Life I assure you upon the word of God that the Lamb will do everything to get you there. On that day He will stand, and He will want to say as He said on the earth: 'Those whom Thou hast given me, I have kept and none is lost - they are all here before God!'. Can I ask you: will you be there? Are you on this pilgrimage? Are you on this journey? Will you, one day, reach the final destination of heaven?
Let me finish with verse 8: 'O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob'. Lord, if I can't be there today, will You at least hear my prayer? He addresses God as the God of hosts, in other words the God of the great company of hosts that is gathering around the house of God, worshipping God. But this is wonderful: He's also the God of Jacob, the individual, the wrestler, the one that is cut off from God, the rebellious one. David is saying: 'I know that You're the God of the great company that's worshipping You in Jerusalem, but You're also the God of the wrestler, the God of the individual, the God of the lonely'. Isn't it wonderful, as we are travelling to heaven, that if we can't be there now the Lord hears our prayers while we're here, isn't it? We can say:
'I've wrestled on toward heaven 'gainst storm and wind and tide,
Now like a weary traveller that leaneth on his guide
Amid the shades of evening, while sinks life's lingering sand,
I hail the glory dawning in Emmanuel's land'.
I read a story this week of an elderly woman who was dying. Her husband was holding her hand and, as he was comforting her and telling her how much he loved her, their eyes met. A tear flowed down her wrinkled cheek, and gently her husband wiped it away and with a quiver in his voice he said: 'Thank God, Mary, that's the last!'. Are you going through the Valley of Tears? There will come a day that you'll shed the last one.
'Not now, but in the coming years,
It may be in a better land,
We'll read the meaning of our tears,
And there, sometime, we'll understand.
God knows the way, He holds the key,
He guides us with unerring hand.
Sometime with tearless eyes we'll see,
Yes, there, there we'll understand'.
Father, we know that the road of the transgressor is hard, and You want to turn that into wells of salvation for someone here today. We know also, too well, that the road of Baca, the valley right through the midst of tears, is at times unbearable - but Lord, You have promised to turn it all for our good, that we may drink of Thee and be satisfied. We thank Thee that one day we will stand and appear before God, and then it'll be worth it all when we see Jesus. Amen.
Don't miss Part 3 of 'Psalm 84': “Heaven Here And Hereafter”
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 second tape in his 'Psalm 84' series, titled "Through The Valley" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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