Recent psalms have focused much on the destruction of Jerusalem and God’s people wrestling with why it had happened and how long their exile would last. Psalm 84 switches gears. Here, we sense a shift from lamenting God’s absence to rejoicing in God’s presence.
This psalm was written by the sons of Korah, who was a musician in the temple during the Solomonic period (1 Chronicles 6:16–47). His sons were gatekeepers to the temple proper (1 Chronicles 9:17–22). The sons of Korah led the people in corporate worship (2 Chronicles 20:19).
This particular psalm celebrates the pilgrimage of God’s people to Jerusalem for worship. It portrays the people marching to Jerusalem together. The journey to Jerusalem might be dangerous for a lone traveller but there was safety and joyful fellowship in the presence of fellow worshippers.
The writer sings of his heartfelt desire for worship (v. 2) and the superiority of worship with God’s people over any other pursuit in life (v. 10). It is a psalm the church desperately needs today.
It is a sad reality that corporate worship has become optional in some sectors of today’s church. Even among those who regularly attend worship, gathering with God’s people is often more of a duty than a delight. Waking up early on a Sunday morning to gather with God’s people is not always easy. (This is perhaps especially true for BBC’s “sons of Korah” who arrive a full hour before the rest of the congregation to set up and prepare to lead in worship! Be grateful for our music team!) The psalm before us, on the other hand, explodes with shouts of joy and celebration as God’s people make their way to gathered worship. There is joy (v. 4) and strength (v. 5–7) to be found in corporate worship.
The psalmist understood that it was dangerous to attempt the spiritual pilgrimage alone. There was safety in the community of God’s people. How foolish it is for contemporary Christians to think that they can go it alone! How sad it is that so many are willing to forego the joy and the safety of community for the danger and drudgery of lone ranger Christianity! How tragic that so many professing Christians choose to forsake the joy and strength that God offers as they forsake the public assembly.
Some people object that, unlike the old covenant, where the Jerusalem temple was specifically appointed as the designated gathering place of God’s people for corporate worship, the New Testament de-emphasises the need for particular holy space. While it is true that church buildings are not holy in the same sense that the temple was holy, too many miss the truth that the church is the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16–17), which means that wherever the church gathers—inside a building, in a grassy parking lot, under a tree, or in a cave—becomes holy space while the church is gathered. It is in the gathering of the church that God most particularly meets his people.
As you reflect on this psalm today, ask yourself what is your attitude to corporate worship. Is it a drudging duty or a glorious delight? Can you honestly say with the psalmist, “A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (v. 10)?