Saturday, January 4, 2014

Lectionary notes on Psalm 84

Psalm 84, Page 707, BCP

Quam dilecta!

1 How dear to me is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts!

My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.

2 The sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young;

by the side of your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my King and my God.

3 Happy are they who dwell in your house!

they will always be praising you.

4 Happy are the people whose strength is in you!

whose hearts are set on the pilgrims' way.

5 Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs,

for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.

6 They will climb from height to height,

and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.

7 LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;

hearken, O God of Jacob.

8 Behold our defender, O God;

and look upon the face of your Anointed.

9 For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room,

and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.

10 For the LORD God is both sun and shield;

he will give grace and glory;

11 No good thing will the LORD withhold

from those who walk with integrity.

12 O LORD of hosts,

happy are they who put their trust in you!

This psalm, attributed to the “sons of Korah” rather than David, is understood as a pilgrim psalm, sung as travelers approached the Temple. The mood is one of joy and exaltation, anticipating being in the place that was understood in the Temple cult to be the actual dwelling of the Lord, as we are reminded in verse 1. And yet, Walter Zorn notes that the rhythm pattern used is that of a lament, even though this psalm is uniformly joyful. One solution to this strange combination might be that this is a psalm written when the writer could not actually go to the Temple, and so is remembering being able to worship there with longing. The author longs for God, just as we all long to be in the presence of someone we truly love.

The psalter version used in our Book of Common Prayer is NOT the NRSV version, but an updated version of the translation of Myles Coverdale from 1535 (Hatchett, 551-2), which is why the demarcation of verses sometimes differs from other translations, including the NRSV in this case. This is less than optimal in the case of the first verse of this psalm, in my opinion, because the first words are rendered here “How dear…” when the more common understanding is “How lovely…” The primary meaning of the Latin title is “loved, beloved, dear” with a secondary meaning of “chosen, special” etc. according to the online Latin study tool

Likewise, in verse 6, “desolate valley” is usually translated as “valley of Baca” which probably was not a literal place but means “valley of weeping,” reminding us that in order to get to a place of praise we also must undergo trials and suffering.

Verses 7-10 in our psalter (8-11 in NRSV) are a prayer for “God’s anointed.” Originally referring to the king or for a priest, as Christians, we can read this as referring to Jesus. Verse 9 is a beautiful summation of worship: as we allow ourselves to sink into worship as a means to enter God’s presence, time stands still. Further, the “sons of Korah” who are ascribed as the authors of this psalm also were sometimes describes as “doorkeepers.” Referring to God as “the sun” is unusual, since many pagan religions worshiped the sun, and hence that terminology was usually avoided. The psalm ends with a benediction in verse 12, a statement which is at the same time a request for blessing.

While the psalm on its surface focuses on being in God’s sanctuary, actually the real theme is being in the presence of God. This is a love song to God, as many of our favorite psalms are. For us, God is not only encountered in a church sanctuary, but in the faces of those we love, in the woods, at the seashore, in the sound of our children’s laughter, in moments of grace that drop unexpectedly upon us like a summer shower, and especially in our times of prayer or service, which are blessed no matter where they take place. God is our true home.

Links for more information:

Walter D. Zorn, The College Press NIV Commentary: Psalms, vol. 2
Marion J. Hatchett, Commentary on the American Prayer Book

No comments:

Post a Comment