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Psalm 84:1-4

1. How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Jehovah of Hosts! 2. My soul longeth, [or greatly desireth,] yea, even fainteth after the courts of Jehovah: my heart and my flesh leap for joy towards the living God. 3. The sparrow also hath found a house for herself, and the swallow 457457     Bochart supposes דרור, to signify not the swallow, but some kind of wild dove; as he observes, that the Æthiopic version renders it the ring-dove, and the Septuagint, Vulgate, Chaldee, Syriac, and other ancient versions, the turtle These last probably render it turtle from the resemblance of the name to תור, tur, the common name of that bird. Merrick, in his version, translated it at first turtle, but afterwards substituted the more comprehensive name of dove instead of turtle, at the suggestion of Dr Lowth. “You have very good authorities for the turtle,” says that learned Prelate: “my objection may be merely an English one. The bird which we know by that name is of all others the most retired and shyest; and hardly ever approaches any building, much less makes her nest in any frequented place. Does not this consideration render it an unfit image for the Psalmist’s purpose here? The dove, which is only a more general name for the same bird, would not be liable to this objection.” But to remove that difficulty relating to the turtle, Merrick quotes a passage from Sir H. Blunt’s Voyage to the Levant, (page 186, ed. 5) in which that traveler says, that in Turkey, all birds are so tame from not being used to violence, that he had thrown his coat upon turtle-doves in the highway. “The Hebrew interpreters,” says the Illustrated Commentary upon the Bible, “believe it is the swallow, and are followed by our version. The word means freedom, deliverance, and may be supposed to refer to the free manner in which the swallow flies. It is only mentioned again, at least by this name, in Proverbs 26:2; and is there also associated with the tsippor, which our version there renders bird, instead of sparrow In both texts, the meaning agrees better with the swallow than the turtle-dove.” a nest for herself, where she may place her young ones, O thine altars! Thou Jehovah of Hosts! my King, and my God. 4. Blessed are they who dwell in thy house: they will be ever praising thee. Selah.

 

1 How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Jehovah of Hosts! David complains of his being deprived of liberty of access to the Church of God, there to make a profession of his faith, to improve in godliness, and to engage in the divine worship. Some would understand by the tabernacles of God, the kingdom of heaven, as if David mourned over his continuance in this state of earthly pilgrimage; but they do not sufficiently consider the nature of his present afflicted circumstances — that he was debarred from the sanctuary. He knew that God had not in vain appointed the holy assemblies, and that the godly have need of such helps so long as they are sojourners in this world. He was also deeply sensible of his own infirmity; nor was he ignorant how far short he came of approaching the perfection of angels. He had therefore good ground to lament over his being deprived of those means, the utility of which is well known to all true believers. His attention was, no doubt, directed to the proper end for which the external ritual was appointed; for his character was widely different from that of hypocrites, who, while they frequent the solemn assemblies with great pomp, and seem to burn with ardent zeal in serving God, yet in all this, aim at nothing more than by an ostentatious display of piety to obtain the credit of having performed their duty towards Him. David’s mind was far from being occupied with this gross imagination. The end he had in view in desiring so earnestly to enjoy free access to the sanctuary was, that he might there worship God with sincerity of heart, and in a spiritual manner. The opening words are in the form of an exclamation, which is an indication of ardent affection; and this state of feeling is expressed still more fully in the second verse. Hence we learn, that those are sadly deficient in understanding who carelessly neglect God’s instituted worship, as if they were able to mount up to heaven by their own unaided efforts.

I have observed, that in the second verse a more than ordinary ardor of desire is expressed. The first verb, כספ, casaph, signifies vehemently to desire; but not contented with this word, David adds, that his soul fainteth after the courts of the Lord, which is equivalent to our pining away, when, under the influence of extreme mental emotion, we are in a manner transported out of ourselves. He speaks only of the courts of the tabernacle, because, not being a priest, it was not lawful for him to go beyond the outer court. None but the priests, as is well known, were permitted to enter into the inner sanctuary. In the close of the verse, he declares, that this longing extended itself even to his body, that is, it manifested itself in the utterance of the mouth, the languor of the eyes, and the action of the hands. The reason why he longed so intensely to have access to the tabernacle was, to enjoy the living God; not that he conceived of God as shut up in so narrow a place as was the tent of the ark, 458458     “Comme estort le pavillon de l’Arche.” — Fr. but he was convinced of the need he had of steps, by which to rise up to heaven, and knew that the visible sanctuary served the purpose of a ladder, because, by it the minds of the godly were directed and conducted to the heavenly model. And assuredly, when we consider that the sluggishness of our flesh hinders us from elevating our minds to the height of the divine majesty, in vain would God call us to himself, did he not at the same time, on his part, come down to us; or, did he not at least, by the interposition of means, stretch out his hand to us, so to speak, in order to lift us up to himself.

3 The sparrow also hath found a house for herself, and the swallow a nest for herself. Some read this verse as one continuous sentence, conveying the idea that the birds made their nests near the altars; 459459     This is the sense given in our English Bible; to the accuracy of which Dr Adam Clarke objects. “It is very unlikely,” says he, “that sparrows and swallows, or birds of any kind, should be permitted to build their nests, and hatch their young, in or about altars, which were kept in a state of the greatest purity, and where perpetual fires were kept for the purpose of sacrifice, burning incense, etc.” He proposes to read the words beginning at the third verse and ending with her young ones, within a parenthesis, and to explain the remaining part of the verse as the conclusion of the sentence commencing at verse 2d; or to read the parenthesis as the close of verse 3d: “Even the sparrow hath found out a house, and the swallow (ring-dove) a nest for herself, where she may lay her young; but I have no place either of rest or worship.” But though it cannot be reasonably supposed that these birds would be permitted to nestle about the altar itself, before which the priests were continually serving; yet it is not improbable that they were permitted to construct their nests in the houses near the altar. “The altar,” says Dr Paxton, “is here by a synecdoche of a part for the whole, to be understood of the tabernacle, among the rafters of which, the sparrow and the swallow were allowed to nestle; or rather for the buildings which surrounded the sacred edifice where the priests and their assistants had their ordinary residence.” — Paxtons Illustrations of Scripture, volume 2, pages 310, 355. Dr Morison, after quoting the criticism of Dr Clarke, observes, “I confess I see a great beauty in adhering to the sense given in the common version. Though the sparrow and ring-dove are represented as finding a nest for themselves at the altars of the sanctuary, it does not follow that the inspired writer intends any thing more than that, while he was exiled from the house of his God, these familiar birds had a home near that sacred spot where he had associated his chief joys.” Parkhurst considers, that a comparison is intended; and that though the particles of similitude “as” and “so” are not in the Hebrew text, they are to be understood. And in the Hebrew Scriptures, there are many instances in which they are omitted, but where it is necessary to supply them to make an intelligible version. He translates as follows: “Even (as) the sparrow findeth her house, and the dove her nest, where she hath laid her young, (so, should I find,) thy altars, O Jehovah of Hosts! my King, and my God.” According to this exposition, the Psalmist illustrates his vehement longing after the sacred tabernacle, and God’s public worship, by the natural affection of birds, and by that joy and delight with which they return to their brood after they have been absent from them. (See Parkhurst’s Lexicon on דרר,2.) Walford takes the same view. His version is: —
   “As the sparrow findeth a house, and the swallow a nest,
Where she may place her offspring,
So may thy altars be my abode, O Jehovah of Hosts!
My King, and my God.”
from which it might the more evidently appear how hard and distressing his condition was in being kept at a distance from them. This opinion seems to be supported from the circumstance, that immediately before the Hebrew word for altars, there is the particle את, eth, which is commonly joined with the accusative case. But as it is also sometimes used in exclamations, the prophet, I have no doubt, breaking off in the middle of his sentence all at once, exclaims, that nothing would be more grateful to him than to behold the altar of God. David then, in the first place, with the view of aggravating the misery of his condition, compares himself with the sparrows and swallows, showing how hard a case it was for the children of Abraham to be driven out of the heritage which had been promised them, whilst the little birds found some place or other for building their nests. He might sometimes find a comfortable retreat, and might even dwell among unbelievers with some degree of honor and state; but so long as he was deprived of liberty of access to the sanctuary, he seemed to himself to be in a manner banished from the whole world. Undoubtedly, the proper end which we ought to propose to ourselves in living, is to be engaged in the service of God. The manner in which he requires us to serve him is spiritual; but still it is necessary for us to make use of those external aids which he has wisely appointed for our observance. This is the reason why David all at once breaks forth into the exclamation, O thine altars! thou Jehovah of Hosts! Some might be ready to say in reference to his present circumstances, that there were many retreats in the world, where he might live in safety and repose, yea, that there were many who would gladly receive him as a guest under their roof, and that therefore he had no cause to be so greatly distressed. To this he answers, that he would rather relinquish the whole world than continue in a state of exclusion from the holy tabernacle; that he felt no place delightful at a distance from God’s altars; and, in short, that no dwelling-place was agreeable to him beyond the limits of the Holy Land. This he would intimate, by the appellations which he gives to God, My King, and my God. In speaking thus, he gives us to understand that his life was uncomfortable and embittered, because he was banished from the kingdom of God. “Although all men,” as if he had said, “should vie with each other in their eagerness to afford me shelter and entertainment, yet as thou art my King, what pleasure would it afford me to live in the world, so long as I am excluded from the territory of the Holy Land? And again, as thou art my God, for what end do I live but to seek after thee? Now, when thou castest me off, should I not despise every place of retreat and shelter which is offered me, however pleasant and delightful it may be to my flesh?”

4 Blessed are they who dwell in thy house. Here the Psalmist expresses more distinctly the proper and legitimate use of the sanctuary; and thus he distinguishes himself from hypocrites, who are sedulously attentive to the observance of outward ceremonies, but destitute of genuine heart godliness. David, on the contrary, testifies, that the true worshippers of God offer to him the sacrifice of praise, which can never be dissociated from faith. Never will a man praise God from the heart, unless, relying upon his grace, he is a partaker of spiritual peace and joy.


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