This is my first attempt at exegesis of an OT passage, at least for this blog, so if you want to offer any helpful comments, let me know!
Some have called this one of the most difficult Psalms to translate; something that I will not even attempt to do, Hebrew being a weakness. It is filled with some vague phrases, but overflowing with powerful images. Some have suggested that David wrote this during his exile, having been overthrown by his son Absalom. To those who would suggest such a thing, it is easy to see that this was written on the way back to Jerusalem, perhaps even resting in a place called Baca. Some see this as the same valley in Judges 2:1-6.
It has also been suggested that this is a Psalm sung on the way to the Tabernacle, perhaps as a pilgrimage tune. Some Muslims refer to Baca as the valley of Bakkah where the first mosque was built. To them this is Mecca, and the Psalm relates to the journey there.
I see it as a journeying Psalm, perhaps on the way to the Tabernacle or the Temple, but written by one who has been separated from the city of God for some time. (See Psalm 137) We know that the Ark of the Covenant resided in Jerusalem when this Psalm was written. (v7). We also know that the author, presumably David, was not at Jerusalem and somehow kept from getting there. This is why I would suggest, along with a few others, that this was written during Absalom’s civil war.
To the chief Musician upon Gittith, A Psalm for the sons of Korah.
(Psa 84:1) How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts!
The word משׁכנותיך rightly means ‘beloved’ as opposed to ‘lovely’, as if the tabernacles (perhaps everything surrounding the center of divine worship) was tenderly love. Granted, no matter the material state of the building, wherever the people of God meet, it is still a beautiful place, something to be loved, but the meaning here is that the tabernacles of God is beloved, something to cherish.
(Psa 84:2) My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.
Here the writer speaks longingly of the outer courters of the tabernacle/temple, where all manner of people may visit. To me, the simple reader, I see the write longing to the point of exhaustion to be even in sight of the house of God, to be included even among the strangers of Israel. I am reminded of the Prodigal Son who sought only to be a servant in the house of his Father if he could but be home again!
I live in West Virginia, and when I have to travel for extended periods of time, I start to long for home. When I was out in Indiana for a while, I missed the mountains so much that I would take a different path or go into Kentucky just to feel closer to home.
I know that when I am far from the Lord, and I begin to long, I do what I can just to get another taste of the goodness of God. How far was David away from the city of God that he was willing to settle for just being in the courts, where everyone was allowed?
David says that his לביand his בּשׂר cries out for God. This is his entire being. With every ounce, his inner man and his outer man, he sought his God, and longed for that city.
(Psa 84:3) Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God.
I know from what I have read that the Hebrew here is a bit confusing as is the logic of what David is saying. The altar was considered holy, so who would permit birds to nest there? How could they with the constant activity in that area?
I prefer this reading: (combining verse 2 and 3) My soul longs, yea, even faints for the courts of the Lord; my flesh cries out for the living God, even for your altars, O LORD of Hosts, my King and my God! Even the sparrow has found a house and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young.
This preamble, as it where, sets the stage for the rest of the Psalm. We see the writer, presumably David, on a journey, perhaps exiled from the very city of God, barred from worshipping the one true God where He had chosen to place His Name. Surrounded by many others (the same could be said for pilgrims) perhaps even a court full of servants, he was solitary; he was alone.
No matter the circumstances imposed by perception on the Psalm itself, a few things are clear:
1.) A separation, whether spiritual or physical exists between the author and Zion (v7)
2.) A great longing, a deep seated emotional attachment to Zion exists in the author’s heart.
3.) The author is going back to the city of God.