Rejoicing in God’s Presence
(H) For the director of the choir, according to Gittith, of the sons of Korah, a psalm. (1) How lovely (is) your tabernacle, Yahweh of Hosts! (2) My soul yearns, indeed faints for the courts of Yahweh. My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. (3) Even the sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest for herself where she can lay her young at your altars, Yahweh of Hosts, my king and my God. (4) Blessed are those who dwell in your house! They are ever praising you. (Selah) (5) Blessed is the man whose strength is in you, in whose heart (are) the highways (to Zion)! (6) As they go through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs. The early rains also cover it with pools. (7) They go from strength to strength. (Each one) appears before God in Zion.
The opening verses contains several important names for God: “Yahweh of Hosts” (vss. 1 & 3), “Yahweh” and “living God” (vs. 2), and “my king and my God” (vs. 3). This is one of several pilgrimage psalms found in the psalter. These verses focus on the goal of that pilgrimage in Zion, the tabernacle of Yahweh (vs. 1), also called “the courts of Yahweh” (vs. 2), “your altars” (vs. 3), and “your house” (vs. 4).
The psalmist expresses the pilgrim’s deep longing to reach his destination with three verbal synonyms: “yearns...faints...cry out” (vs. 2). So welcoming and delightful is God’s sanctuary that wild birds, both sparrow and swallow, build their nests there (vs. 3). The sons of Korah also describe the delights awaiting pilgrims when they arrive in God’s presence (vs. 4) as well as the blessings experienced by pilgrims along the way as they journey toward their goal (vss. 5-7).
I. Aching for God’s dwelling place (1-3)
II. Anticipating the joy of spending time in God’s presence (4)
III. Along the way while on pilgrimage (5-7)
The anticipation of rejoicing in God’s presence sustains pilgrims through the rigors of their long journey to Zion.
God required the nation of Israel to observe three annual festivals: the Feast of Unleavened Bread at Passover in the early spring, the Feast of Pentecost at the ingathering of the first fruits of the harvest at the beginning of the summer season, and the Feast of Tabernacles during the fall harvest (Ex. 23:14-17). Pilgrims were expected to travel to Jerusalem and gather at the temple in Zion, journeying from every corner of the nation, to celebrate God’s goodness and protection and to rejoice in worshiping at his sanctuary.
While New Testament believers are not commanded to make such regular pilgrimages, we long for the day when our earthly sojourn will be over. Then together we will gather in the heavenly realms to worship in God’s presence in the New Jerusalem. Eliza Hewitt phrased it this way in her Gospel hymn, When We All Get to Heaven: “What a day of rejoicing it will be when we all see Jesus!” Today, whatever our circumstances, we find sustaining grace on our pilgrim way knowing that we will soon be together with the Lord.