Chapter XI




King David has mentioned the Pilgrimage of Bakkah in his 84th Psalm. He wishes that he could also have the opportunity of accompanying the pilgrims. He envies at the birds who make nests and reside there in the house of the Lord, whereas he cannot even pay a visit to it. He longs for the Lord and the courts of His house and exclaims, ‘A day in thine courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God.’ What an ardent desire! An objective study of the Psalm has been undertaken in this chapter.[1] Most of the points have been explained at the spot in the footnotes. The Psalm is reproduced hereunder:

1.  How amiable are thy tabernacles[2], O Lord of hosts![3]

2. My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord[4]: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.

3. Yea[5], the sparrow hath found an house, and a swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young[6], Even thy altars, O Lord of hosts, my king, and my God.[7]

4. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still[8] praising thee.[9] Selah.[10]

5. Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee;[11] in whose heart are the ways of them.[12]

6. Who passing through the valley of Baca[13] make it a well[14]; the rain also filleth the pools.[15]

7. They go from strength[16] to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.

8. O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob. Selah.

9. Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed.

10. For a day in thine courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.[17]

11. For the Lord God is a sun and shield[18]: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.

12. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee.[19]

It would be advisable that a verse to verse study be undertaken to ascertain the theme of the Psalm.

Verse 1, as translated by NIV(p. 621) and NOAB (p. 747) asserts, ‘How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! (NOAB: O Lord of hosts!)’ It means that the Psalm relates to some dwelling place of the Lord Almighty, which physically existed at that time. The Arabic version of the ‘dwelling place of the Lord Almighty’ is ‘Bayt Allah’, which means the ‘House of the Lord’. It had been built by his primogenitor Abraham and physically existed there in Makkah with the same name as a ground reality. It was, however, also called ‘The Ka’bah’ by the Arabs. On the other hand, there existed no ‘dwelling place’of the ‘Lord Almighty’ or ‘Bayt Allah’ anywhere else on earth at that time. The ‘Solomon’s Temple’ did not exist at that time. It was built almost half a century later. Its construction could not even be started during the lifetime of King David. So there obviously remains no option but to consider this ‘dwelling place’of the ‘Lord Almighty’ as the ‘Bayt Allah’ or ‘The Ka’bah’ situated at Makkah. And there are other reasonable grounds as well in the body of this very Psalm which make the proposition quite certain.

Verse 2 shows the passionate earnestness of the king for the courts of the Lord, the Living God. It reveals that the ‘courts of the Living Lord’ already existed somewhere, but are not situated within his empire, and, as such, he cannot visit them. Therefore he can only long for ‘the courts of the Lord’.

As regards vv. 3-4, the comments recorded in the relevant footnotes above sufficiently make the theme clear. NOAB(p. 747) has afforded a very beautiful footnote on vv. 3-4, ‘Envy of the birds and servitors[20] who live there.’ The comments by the Collegeville Bible Com. (p. 772) on these vv. 3-4 are also noteworthy, ‘All living things are safe from threat in the presence of the Lord.’ The 7th Day Adventist Bible Com.(3:828) explains these verses in the following words:

The general meaning of the verse, whose conclusion the poet only implies, is that even the birds have free access to the sacred precincts of the sanctuary, they make their homes there undisturbed, while the psalmist is exiled from the source of his joy, is denied the privilege of worshipping within the sacred enclosure [stress added]. The nostalgic appeal of this verse is one of the most delicately beautiful expressions of homesickness in the whole realm of literature.

Verses 1-4 can be summed up as follows:

1. King David is paying homage to such a sanctuary which pertained to God and which physically existed there as a ground reality.

2. King David had an earnest desire to visit this sanctuary, but he could not accomplish it. Obviously, it could have been due to the fact that this sanctuary might have been outside the territorial boundaries of his state.

3. Solomon’s Temple had not so far been built. There existed only one sanctuary on earth devoted to the worship of the only one God whose construction was attributed to Abraham, i.e. the Ka’bah at Makkah, and there did not exist any such other sanctuary on eart by that time. 

4. King David expresses his yearnings that even the birds can set their dwellings in the courts of the Lord, but he is deprived of the privilege of the pilgrimage of this house of the Lord.

The translation of the  second clause of v. 5 in the KJV (‘in whose heart are the ways of them’) is not clear. Most of the other translations have rendered the theme as who have set their hearts on pilgrimage or the like. Here is a list of some translations, versions, and commentaries of the Bible which relate the theme of the verse and the Psalm with pilgrimage:

(i)       Bible Knowledge Com., p. 855.

(ii)     Christian Community Bible, p. 1000.

(iii)    Collegeville Bible Com., p.772.

(iv)    Contemporary English Version, p. 707.

(v)     Good News Bible, p. 900.

(vi)    Jerome Bible Com., p. 591.

(vii)   New American Bible, p. 615.

(viii)    New Bible Com., p. 472.

(ix)      New Bible Com. (Rvd), p. 504.

(x)       New Catholic Com., p. 473.

(xi)      New Com. on Holy Scripture, p. 264.

(xii)     New English Version, p. 441.

(xiii)    New International Version., p. 621.

(xiv)   New Jerome Commentary, p.540.

(xv)     New Jerusalem Bible, p.900.

(xvi)    New KJV (Nelson Study Bible), p. 966.

(xvii)  Peake’s Bible Com., p. 431.

(xviii) Today’s English Version, p. 607.

(xix)   Wycliffe Bible Com., p. 526.

(xx)    7th Day Adventist Bible Com., p. 828.

(xxi)  The Holy Bible (Old and New. Testament): An Improved edn. (American Baptist Publication Society), as quoted by ‘The Old Testament Books of Poetry from 26 Translations’, p. 334.

(xxii)  A New Trans. of the Bible (James Moffatt), as quoted by ‘The OT Books of Poetry from 26 Trans.’, p. 334.

It can be appreciated from the above data that the Psalm refers to some pilgrimage which has traditionally been performed at some sanctuary for a long time. First of all King David is bestowing the blessings in this psalm upon those ‘that dwell permanently in the house of the Lord and are ever praising Him.’ Secondly he is bestowing the blessings upon those ‘who have set their hearts on pilgrimage [but are not the permanent residents of it].’ It shows that the sanctuary physically exists there. It is practically dedicated to the Lord and not to any thing else whatsoever. People travel to it to perform ‘Pilgrimage’.

It is to be noted that the sanctuary of Jerusalem, the Solomon’s Temple, did not exist there by that time. It was built about half a century later. The sanctuary of Ka’bah, called the ‘Bayt Allah’ or the ‘House of the Lord’ by the Arabs, existed there at Makkah in Arabia as a ground reality for the last about one thousand years (before King David). The descendants of his primogenitor Abraham through his son Ishma‘el and the tribes of the whole of the Arabian Peninsula travelled to perform pilgrimage there in large multitudes. They pronounced (which they still pronounce) the praise of the Lord during their pilgrimage saying,

I am present, O my Lord, I am present; (…); of course, all praise is for you, and all grace, and all sovereignty; there is no partner to you.

David should have had deep love, longing, and reverence for it, because it had been built by his primogenitor, Abraham. But it was outside his empire and, being a king of another land and engaged in constant battles, he could not visit it then. So he wishes he could have attended the sanctuary and performed pilgrimage there with offering sacrifice on it. There was another genuine reason for David’s longing for the Pilgrimage of Bakkah, which is being stated under the next heading.