Commentary on Psalms (42 - 89)
© by Francis Foulkes
& Cyril Okorocha



"1. How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD of hosts!
2. My soul longs, indeed it faints
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.

3. Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my King and my God.
4. Happy are those who live in your house,
ever singing your praise. Selah

5. Happy are those who 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 rain also covers it with pools.
7. They go from strength to strength;
the God of gods will be seen in Zion.

8. O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
9. Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed.

10. For a day in your courts is better than a thousand
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house my my God
than live in the tents of wickedness.
11. For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
he bestows favour and honour.
No good thing does the LORD withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
12. O LORD of hosts,
happy is everyone who trusts in you.

As we have seen in other Psalms, the temple had a special place in the lives and the affections of devout Hebrew people in Old Testament days. For those who lived outside Jerusalem pilgrimage there was very important. But more important than the place or the pilgrimage was trust in the living God who was worshipped in the temple.

The temple

The temple was "lovely" in the eyes of the psalmist and greatly loved by him (verse 1). He lived far from the temple, but with all his being he longed to be there (verse 2). He thought of the way that even the birds were able to nest there safely, and so he felt that he was always welcome and secure when he went there. But he went there not just to be secure, but to worship the One whom he addressed as "my King and my God" (verse 3). The temple was indeed the place to worship and praise God (verse 4), and the place where God's presence was specially real to those who sincerely sought him. So he could say that one day spent there was "better than a thousand spent elsewhere". It was better to have the humblest place at the gate of the temple than to live with those who did not serve God or seek to obey him.

The psalmist's attitude is a great challenge to us all. Many evil people in power or political authority often try to buy the support of good people, or silence prophetic voices raised against them by offering them money or favours or high positions in government. There are many cases where discerning Christians find it hard to know how to pray or speak in opposition to dictators in their own countries or elsewhere, simply because some church leaders and others who would describe themselves as Christians are seen to be working in support of those dictatorships. Those who love the Lord are challenged to reject evil in all its forms, and to realise that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (see Psalm 97:10 and 1 Timothy 6:10). True worship and faithfulness to God are priorities for all who would call themselves Christians.

Pilgrimage to the temple

The three great annual festivals, Passover, Weeks, and Tabernacles were kept in Jerusalem by all who could possibly go there (Deuteronomy 16:16). We read in the New Testament (Luke 2:41) that it was the habit of Mary and Joseph to go to Jerusalem for the Passover. Verses 5 and 6 show how the psalmist felt that blessing could come from such a pilgrimage. The journey might be difficult, through barren country, but the sense of God's presence on the journey was like the blessing of abundant rain watering the dry ground. Realising that, instead of becoming weary, people seemed to increase in strength as they went (compare Isaiah 40:29-31). The thought of eventual arrival at the temple, where they believed God to be specially present and ready to answer prayer, was an additional source of inspiration for the faithful pilgrim.

For the Christian there is a different source of inspiration. It is not in a building, but in the abiding presence of God. Jesus said, "where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them" (Matthew 18:20). His promise frees us from those who depend on external things or who try to use religion as a way of money-making. The promise of God's presence is for those who "worship in spirit and truth" wherever they are (John 4:24).

The God worshipped in the temple

The temple was just a building. It was God whose temple it was that mattered. Churches, however great and ornate, are just buildings. We must never venerate a building or any object rather than God. The names by which God is addressed in this psalm help us to realise this: "Lord of hosts" (verses 1, 3, 8 and 12), "the living God" (verse 2), "my King and my God" (verse 3), "God of Jacob" (verse 8). God is as "sun" bringing light and warmth to His people, and as "shield" protecting them (verse 11). God gives strength to those who trust him (verse 5), and answers their prayers (verse 8); prayers that they make specially too for their king as God's anointed and who is intended to be their protector and defender (verse 9). Christians are urged to pray for those in authority, as well as speaking and living in ways that will promote obedience to God and a just and humane society (see 1 Timothy 2:1-4 and Romans 13:1-7). People often seek favour and honours from the world, but the truest favour and honour comes to those who serve God. God keeps back nothing that is good from those who rely on him (verse 11). Whether they are in the temple or far away, whether they can make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem or not, "happy is everyone who trusts in the Lord" (verse 12). This is the central message of the psalm. To trust in the Lord is what matters most of all,

What about Christian people today? What does this psalm mean to us? We have no temple as the Jewish people had. We have no command to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem or other holy places as means of salvation, as Muslims claim about pilgrimage to Mecca. For Christians the meaning of the temple was fulfilled in Jesus. He was "tabernacle" and "temple" (see John 1:14 and 2:20-22), "God with us" in the most perfect way. And now the Holy Spirit makes our lives and the fellowship of Christians his temple (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and 2 Corinthians 6:16). Our greatest desire - like the psalmist's longing - should be to worship the Lord in our daily lives. Through prayer and meditation on the Scriptures we should personally draw strength and courage to live each day in joyful obedience to God and, in the power of the Holy Spirit, with a loving and caring attitude others (see Ephesians 5:18-20). But we should also rejoice in the fellowship of God's people meeting together to worship and to encourage one another in his service (see Hebrews 10:24-25).

Meditation "With my whole being I sing for joy to the living God" (verse 2, Good News Bible). Is that true of me?

For further thought and study

a. What is the understanding of true happiness expressed in this psalm in verses 4, 5 and 12, and also in Psalms 1:1, 32:1-2, 41:1, 94:12 and 128:1?

b. In Old Testament days people used shields to protect them in battle. How might we express today the thought of God being our protection? See Exodus 13:21-22, Psalm 23:4, 125:1-3, Matthew 28:20, John 10:27-30 and Colossians 3:3 for different ways that the Bible speaks of God's protection. In what way should leaders - both political and religious - be a "shield" to their people (verse 9)? See Acts 20:28, 1 Timothy 5:17 and 6:20.


1. For the reference to "according to the Gittith" in the heading of this psalm, seen Note 1 on Psalm 81. The "Korahites" were descended from Levi (Exodus 6:21-24) and were linked with the Levites in the worship of the temple (1 Chronicles 9:19 and 26:1 and 19).

2. The Hebrew in verse 5 says literally "in their hearts are highways". It does not mention Zion, but the thought is probably of pilgrimage there, and it speaks of those who are eager to make the pilgrimage. Even though it may not be possible for them to go to Jerusalem, they make the pilgrimage in their hearts.

3. In verse 6 some understand "Baca" to mean 'weeping' and so understand it to speak of God's gift of joy even in the midst of sorrow. Others understand the name to refer to some dry valley and so the reference is to God's gift of refreshment for his people as they travel there. In either case we can say that the reality of faith is shown not so much in comfortable experiences of life as in perseverance and triumph through pain.