Using Psalms: Psalm 84 and Jesus as Our Temple

Time for the second entry in my Using Psalms series. If you missed the first, you can find it here. Today I’ll be looking at Psalm 84, a psalm probably meant to be sung during pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem. I wanted to look at it to highlight a certain interesting theme involving Jesus and the Temple. So here’s the text:

How I love your Temple, Lord Almighty!
    How I want to be there!
    I long to be in the Lord‘s Temple.
With my whole being I sing for joy
    to the living God.
Even the sparrows have built a nest,
    and the swallows have their own home;
they keep their young near your altars,
    Lord Almighty, my king and my God.
How happy are those who live in your Temple,
    always singing praise to you.

How happy are those whose strength comes from you,
    who are eager to make the pilgrimage to Mount Zion.
As they pass through the dry valley of Baca,
    it becomes a place of springs;
    the autumn rain fills it with pools.
They grow stronger as they go;
    they will see the God of gods on Zion.

Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty.
    Listen, O God of Jacob!
Bless our king, O God,
    the king you have chosen.

One day spent in your Temple
    is better than a thousand anywhere else;
I would rather stand at the gate of the house of my God
    than live in the homes of the wicked.
The Lord is our protector and glorious king,
    blessing us with kindness and honor.
He does not refuse any good thing
    to those who do what is right.
Lord Almighty, how happy are those who trust in you!

Psalm 84

These psalm, as I just mentioned, was probably a pilgrim song. Israelites would sing it on their way to Jerusalem for the major festivals such as Passover. They all knew they were going to the Temple of their God, where they could be in His presence. Rejoicing like this was only to be expected.

The psalm begins with the psalmist wishing he could be in God’s Temple (other translations will use through the psalm “house” or “dwelling place”). He is ready to praise His God, and wants to be in God’s house to do so. Then he notes with some envy that there are even birds who make nests near the Temple and get to live there. He fantasizes about how great life is for the priests and Levites who serve in the Temple daily. If only, the psalmist feels, he could also be in God’s presence so often!

Then he moves on to celebrating the pilgrimage. After all, even though he isn’t in the Temple already, the people are all going there! Every step brings them closer to their God, which is cause for more and more celebration. He even describes their joy and blessedness poetically as refreshing the lands the pilgrims pass through. He then offers a brief prayer on behalf of the king, who represents Israel as a whole by virtue of being their leader. 

Finally, the psalmist concludes with a final praise of God and His Temple, telling of how much better it is to be in Yahweh’s presence than anywhere else on earth, because of how great He is. He is the protector, king, and refuge to all who trust in Him. Amen!

So how does this all become relevant to us? We, after all, no longer have a Temple. We do not make pilgrimages to Jerusalem to worship God, and instead find His presence through the Holy Spirit everywhere on earth. How then do we offer a pilgrim song like this to God in this era?

The key is to realize where the Temple has moved. The Temple building in Jerusalem played two major functions for Israel: it was where God’s glory and personal presence could be found, and where their covenant provided for them forgiveness of sins and atonement. If you wanted to find or worship God, you had to go to the Temple. If you wanted cleansing from sin, you had to go to the Temple. So where do we find these things now? Where does God dwell and forgive sins?

For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

Colossian 1:19-20

Jesus Himself is the replacement and fulfillment of the Temple. In Him alone can the glory of God be found (John 1:14, Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:3). In Him alone is there forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7, 4:32, Col. 1:14, 2:13). Jesus has taken over the role of the Temple for us, and therefore if we are to apply psalms about the “house of the Lord,” they must be applied to Christ.

So what do we now see for us in this psalm? I like this idea so much that I think I will simply paraphrase several verses with Jesus in mind.

How I love your Son Jesus, Lord Almighty!
    How I want to see Him!
    I long to abide in the Lord.
With my whole being I sing for joy
    to the living God…
How happy are those who are in Christ,
    always singing praise to you.

How happy are those whose strength comes from you,
    who are eager to follow the narrow road of Christ.
As they pass through the valley of the shadow of death,
    it becomes a place of springs;
    the Spirit rains down and fills it with pools.
They grow stronger as they go;
    they will see the God of gods on in His Son.

Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty.
    Listen, O God of Jacob!
Bless our Messiah, O God,
    the Lord you have chosen.

One day spent in Christ
    is better than a thousand without Him…
The Lord is our protector and glorious king,
    blessing us with kindness and honor.
He does not refuse any good thing
    to those who have been made right in Christ.
Lord Almighty, how happy are those who trust in your Son!

Using Psalms: Psalm 84 and Jesus as Our Temple