The Anointed Ones’ Longing For The Tabernacles Of God
 A brief study of Psalm 84, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 24 April 2009

Psalm 84 is one of the most beautiful psalms in the Psalter. Although the writer is not given, I agree with almost every commentator I have read that it breaths of David’s excellent spirit.  And it appears to me that the majority of commentators are right that this Psalm was probably written by David during the time when he was driven away from Jerusalem by his Son Absalom. During this period of time, David also wrote Psalm 42, which is another beautiful psalm expressing his desire to be found with God’s people in public worship at the Tabernacle.

This then is how we will understand this psalm. We may entitle it: “The Anointed One’s Longing for the Tabernacles of God.”

It has essentially three parts, according to the division provided by the two selahs in verse 4 and 8.

From verses 1-4, we have an expression of how lovely the prospect of dwelling in the tabernacles of God is to the anointed soul. We may entitle this “The Sparrow’s Bliss.”

From verses 5-8, we have a description of how the anticipation of being found in the tabernacles of God brings joy to the pilgrim on his journey and makes him a blessing to others in the world. Here we have “The Pilgrim’s Cheer.”

From verses 9-12 is a plea to the LORD to look down upon us with favour for the sake of the Anointed One, that those who trust in Him may find grace to enjoy His blessings today and forever more. Here we have “The Anointed’s Favour.”

Let’s consider these 3 parts in a little more detail.

1. The Sparrow’s Bliss

1  How amiable [or lovely] are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts! 2 My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.

The temple had not yet been built in David’s time, so it is fitting that David should speak of the Tabernacle as the place of worship.

But let us take note that the Tabernacle of the LORD is but a symbol of His worship. God is omnipresent, but the Tabernacle symbolises His favourable presence. It is at the Tabernacle that God meets His people in a special way to bless them as they worship Him.

David therefore speaks of his deepest inner longing for the courts of the LORD’s tabernacle. But really his desire is to worship the Lord with his people, and to commune with the Lord. He says it in clear in verse 2: “my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.

David desired after the LORD in His whole being. So deprived was he, and so deeply did he long to meet with the Lord in worship that he expresses a playful envy for the birds that dwell in and around the tabernacle, near the altars of the Lord.

3 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.

This beautiful verse has been variously interpreted. Hengstenberg believes that David is referring to himself as the sparrow and a swallow. I will leave it to you to read his arguments—one of which is that the birds could not possibly make their nest on the altars in the tabernacle.

But it appears to me that it would be strange for David to speak of himself as a bird laying her young if he is indeed speaking about his own bliss in metaphor.

It appears to me that as David envisioned in his mind the Tabernacle, he is reminded of the birds the fly freely around the courts of the Tabernacle. Did he see a swallow or sparrow fleeting by as he thought about the Tabernacle and the joy of worship in it? Did David imagine in his mind’s eye how the birds are making the nest on the altars? How he envied the birds!

But as George Horne puts it:

It is evidently the design of this passage to intimate to us, that in the house, and at the altar of God, a faithful soul findeth freedom from care and sorrow, quiet of mind, and gladness of spirit; like a bird, that has secured a little mansion for the reception and education of her young. And there is no heart, endued with sensibility, which doth not bear its testimony to the exquisite beauty and propriety of this affecting image.

This must be so, for David no doubt was not only thinking about the tabernacle as a happy place to be in. He must rather be thinking of the happiness of being in the presence of God to praise and worship in him. This is surely what he means in verse 4—

4 Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee.

What a joy it is to be amongst those who dwell in the temple, whose daily employment is to serve and worship the Lord directly. What a joy it will be when one day, we shed this earthly tabernacle (cf. 2 Cor 5:4) to worship in the heavenly tabernacle, the Father whom we love (Heb 8:5, 9:11).

And the anticipation of that day must surely quicken our steps and bring a smile in spite and despite of our present trials.

2. The Pilgrim’s Cheer

David says:

5 Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them [or as clarified in the NKJV—“Whose heart is set on pilgrimage”]. 6 Who passing through the valley of Bacamake it a well; the rain also filleth the pools. 7 They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God. 

From within the tabernacle, David’s mind wanders to a holy day when God’s people are streaming towards Jerusalem to worship the Lord at the Tabernacle or to celebrate the Passover.

He sees the smile on the faces of the pilgrims. He sees the spring in their stride. Their heart is filled with anticipation. They go from strength to strength, determined to reach the Tabernacle for to worship the Lord.

And yea, because of the joy that they are looking forward to, they, as it were, become a blessing to those they pass by.

The picture that David paints is that as they pass through the valley ofBaca, which is the valley of weeping, they make it into a well or a spring, and the rain follows and fills the pools with water. The valley which is dry and arid which was watered only by the tears of the farmer lamenting their crop failures and animal losses are suddenly transformed into a lush landscape filled with watering holes for the animals to graze and water.

Listen to poetic rendering of this paragraph by a Mr Merrick, as quoted by Bishop Horne:

Bless’d, who, their strength on thee reclined,

Thy seat explore with constant mind,

And, Salem’s distant tow’rs in view,

With active zeal their way pursue;

Secure the thirsty vale they tread,

While, call’d from out their sandy bed

(As down in grateful show’rs distill’d

The heav’ns their kindlest moisture yield),

The copious springs their steps beguile,

And bid the cheerless desert smile.

From stage to stage advancing still,

Behold them reach fair Sion’s hill,

And prostrate at her hallowed shrine,

Adore the Majesty divine.

What a beautiful picture of blessing that the pilgrim and strangers of the Lord may bring to the land through which they traverse as they head towards the Celestial city. Oh may the Lord grant us that we too may be a blessing to many today as we have been blessed with a hope of everlasting fellowship in Christ.

For David, this thought brought him again to cry out to the Lord to hear His cry to bring him speedily back to the Holy City:

8 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob.

And it led to his appeal to the Lord to show Him favour on account of His Anointed.

3. The Anointed’s Favour

9 Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed.

The anointed or the anointed one is literally the ‘messiah’ in Hebrew. This could be a reference to David himself who was anointed as king over his people unlike Absalom. But David stood as a type of Christ, who is truly our shield—to shield us from the assaults of God’s enemies and from the wrath of God himself.

So David’s longing for the tabernacles of God found its fulfilment in the Messiah’s longing to return to the true Tabernacle to worship together with the people He came to redeem.

And this longing is imprinted in all the hearts of all the anointed ones—even all in whom the Spirit of Christ dwells. Such is the case, that every child of God longs to be found in worship with God’s people both today in public worship and the day to come when we shall worship God for ever and ever with God’s people redeemed through all ages.

This was David’s attitude. This must be our attitude. David longed to spend his time in worship.

10 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.

Pastor Jeff O’Neil has a very beautiful comment on this verse:

Although a king, yet he would exchange places with a doorkeeper. He did not think of that as a sacrifice, for he reckoned service in the house of God was superior to the throne.  The tents of wickedness were not to be compared with the tent or tabernacle of grace.  One day of opening and shutting the doors of God’s house is supremely greater than a thousand days of worldly pursuits.  A full day will give a full blessing.

Is this your longing too, beloved brethren and children?

“One thing have I desired of the LORD,” says David in another Psalm, “that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple” (Ps 27:4)

But why should the saints so delight to be in the presence of the Lord? The answer is supplied us in verse 11 onwards—

11 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. 12 O LORD of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee.

The LORD God is our all in all. He is our joy and our protection. As our Sun, He chases away the ignorance, gloom, darkness and suffering in our lives. He does do in these last days through Christ, the Sun of Righteousness who has risen with healing in His wings (Mal 4:2).

Likewise as our shield, God protects us from all the darts of the evil ones and indeed from the wrath of God to come. Again He does so through Christ, who became a curse for us to take the arrows of God’s wrath for our sin that we might experience God’s blessing.

As our Sun and Shield, the LORD gives us grace and glory. He gives us grace as a preparation for glory to come. Indeed where he gives grace, he will give glory, “for grace is glory begun and is an earnest it” (MH).

Grace and glory: these are the two great things most needful to give us joy today and in eternity. Therefore if God would give us grace and glory, we know he will not withhold anything good from the man that walk uprightly.

Therefore the man who trusts in the Lord and is able to worship the Lord with God’s people is truly blessed and have no need of anything else to add to His blessing.

Is this your attitude towards life in this world, beloved brethren and children?


Oh may the Lord grant us that as that we may have truly look forward to assembling with the saints to worship the Lord on the Sabbath?

And may the Lord grant us that we may so experience a foretaste of heavenly worship on the Sabbath that we long for the eternal sabbath.

And may we live with such anticipation of the joy to come that all the things of this present world may become strangely dim as we seek to be a blessing to fellow pilgrims and other in this life.

May we indeed find true blessedness as pilgrims and strangers heading towards the celestial city.…

“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2).