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 swallow1 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,
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;3 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
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.
1 Bochart supposes
2 "Comme estort le pavillon de l'Arche." -- Fr.
3 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." -- Paxton's 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
"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."