The Eighty-Fourth

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Today’s reflection of the 84th Psalm becomes richer with a bit of a back story. So here we go…

During the wilderness wanderings of the Hebrew people, after the construction of the Tabernacle, the Levites were the clan selected by Moses to attend to the “House of the Lord.” The Levites were entrusted with all the functions of the Tabernacle from serving as a priest all the way down to the doorkeepers. The clan of Korah were Levites who were chosen to serve as the doorkeepers for the Tabernacle, they called them Korahites. This becomes important in today’s Psalm because this isn’t a Psalm of David, but of the sons of Korah.

It was a privilege to be selected to serve in the House of the Lord. It meant that you were more concerned with holiness and that you followed the rules of the Tabernacle because you shared close proximity to the presence of the Lord. As the leader of the Hebrew people, Moses was the mouthpiece of God to the Hebrew people and was always taking direction from God and overseeing all the set up, transport, and relocation of this nomadic people and this tabernacle. One day Korah had enough. He assembled 250 other household leaders and challenged Moses’ leadership by essentially saying; “We’re close to God too, why do we always need to follow what you say?This resulted in test between Moses and Korah’s rebellion. The result was that the Lord swallowed Korah up in a giant sink hole in the earth while fire came out from the altar and killed the other 250 (Numbers 16).

Serving in the Tabernacle was never-ending work, that came with no accolades, no promotions, and no recognition. In the end, it also meant that the chance to receive land as an inheritance was greatly diminished or not even possible, “for the Lord was their inheritance.” Serving in the House of the Lord was a vocation which meant you would not receive what everyone else in the world receives.

Now onto Psalm 84.

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
    to the living God.

Our modern world doesn’t understand this. Those without faith or even one in the larval stage of development have no framework for these words to take root. Even among those who would call themselves devout, very few would be able to articulate what it is like for the longing soul to faint, or feel desperate for the court or “presence” of the Lord. Most people go about their day focused on the next thing to do, their work, their kids, their meals, their whatever. Apart from a disciplined practice of stillness, prayer, study, or focus, a person will never discover, yet alone experience what it means to satisfy the soul which longs for God.

Therefore, this Psalm is really reserved for those with the graced awareness of how our deepest being despairs apart from this connection.

Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
    ever singing your praise! 

Here we see the perspective of the Korahites who lived, worked, and dwelt in the Tabernacle. This connection and proximity is treasured above all else and is a tremendous source of strength, protection, comfort, and joy of life. They receive these “good things“/ blessing of God, instead of land and cultural prosperity. It’s still a choice today…the world’s inheritance or God himself.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the Valley of Baca
    they make it a place of springs;
    the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
    each one appears before God in Zion.

The Valley of Baca (literally means “valley of weeping“). Forty years in the desert is not easy. We are all willing to go through an arid period if we have the promise of coming out the other side far better than when we are today. For the Hebrew people, this was the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey, a place of freedom and abundance. The wilderness was the required route but it was no quick journey. While God provided, it was a monotonous existence, hardly what most signed up for. As a result the people often lost faith, and gave up hope. Thus Korah’s rebellion and many like it before and after. To go from “strength to strength” or to have the arid valley of weeping become springs and pools is to have a perspective which can only come from seeing beyond everything, or being able to live in faith within an existence of suffering. Here is the most famous part of this Psalm:

For a day in your courts is better
    than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

Proximity to God is better than anything offered anywhere else. For the Korahites and other clans of Levi serving in the house of the Lord, they lived a different life than those out in the camp. Among the tents where hundreds of thousands of people were always thinking God couldn’t see them and the freedom they thought they possessed was an illusion which was always found out. How we behave when we think God can’t see, or that no one is watching reveals the true heart of that person. Once we know that about ourself, the proximity of the Lord offers a buffer, an incentive to try a little harder, to fight a little more against the impulse for hiding and wrongdoing.

For Korah’s decedents that were not swallowed up with the household, this is the subversion of one’s family. Choosing the courts of the Lord or proximity to God, may mean to go against the family, it did for the sons of Korah. Remember their inheritance was God, not their family. This subversion of our own family is a valley of weeping on its own and few of us ever truly liberate from the influence of our family. Only when something infinitely more satisfying, more helpful, and more meaningful can dislodge this often dysfunctional attachment.

For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
    from those who walk uprightly.
12 O Lord of hosts,
    blessed is the one who trusts in you!

The Psalmist closes this prose with the reason for such a radical shift in priorities. If we delay our gratification for the small earthly things, and focus on the Main Thing, then the result will be true satisfactionsatiation rather than continued hunger for all the wrong things. One right decision begets another until an entire life is restored, blessed, and prosperous.

May we all experience the longing within our soul and come to realize that it is not a desire for power, or any lesser thing on earth, but for proximity and divine union. For me, I awaken every morning with this sense of longing, and lostness. I go into the dark morning and find stillness no matter where I am. Deep down, it feels like the desert is calling me, I fantasize about being alone in the wilderness or locked in solitude in a quaint little hermitage. It’s not our need for nature, it’s a longing for the court of the Lord. We all need this reconnection. This Psalm has helped me so many times in my life to find the presence of God, to find proximity, even in the midst of a busy week or in a city.

My prayer for you is to follow this inner cry for proximity to where it leads you. It begins messy and awkward, and becomes the best part of every day. May we all be graced enough to experience it and taste just how good the Lord is to those who trust and wait upon Him.