God is no mere abstract idea or absentee deity whose worship is of human origin.1 Rather, the eternal living Lord has made his presence known in many ways and on many occasions. The Scriptures repeatedly remind us of that presence, for they begin with God’s presence in creation and culminate in his consummation of earth’s history (cf. Isa. 41:4). Sandwiched in between are many records of God’s intervention into earth’s history, particularly in behalf of his own (cf. Ps. 136; Isa. 46:9-13). It is small wonder, then, that the Psalter, the great hymnbook of the Old Testament, so often sings of the wonders and blessedness of God’s presence. As such the Psalms were suitable for corporate as well as private worship (cf. e.g., Pss. 42:8; 65:1-4; 77:6; 91:1-2).2
The psalmist reports to his hearers that when he is in the presence of the Lord it is a time of “great joy” (Ps. 21:6). Elsewhere he testifies to the Lord that because God leads him steadily along the pathway of life, “I experience absolute joy in your presence; you always give me sheer delight” (Ps. 16:11).3 The presence of the Lord brings to him such extreme pleasure (ESV, “fullness of joy”) that it is a joy that is almost impossible to describe adequately in words. Other translations emphasize that the joy of God’s presence transcends the boundaries of this life. For example, the NLT reads: “You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever” (cf, HCSB, NIV). For the dedicated believer, then, there is not only the present joy of being able to realize God’s presence here and now, but this is but a foretaste of the eternal pleasures that the believer will experience everlastingly. As VanGemeren points out, “The psalmist conceives of life in fellowship with God in this world and beyond. Beyond the present experiences and joy in God’s ‘presence’ lies the hope of lasting joy in fellowship with God.”4
Thus the pleasures associated with God’s presence are reserved for believers, “the godly,” and “upright” (Ps. 140:13). For such people there is security and active fellowship with God. As the psalmist declares, “You uphold me because of my integrity; you allow me permanent access to your presence” (Ps. 41:12). Further, trusting believers who live in fellowship with God will find help and guidance through the changing scenes of life, for their strength is God-given and comes because of the good favor of the Lord’s presence (Ps. 44:3).5 Whether in times of pleasure, deep trial or suffering, the trusting believer may sense the presence of the Lord (Ps. 22:24). Thus Longman remarks, “We sense God’s intimate presence in the shouts of rejoicing and the cries of lament in the Psalter. The psalmist knows that God hears him.”6 Even the sinful but truly repentant David could pray,
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me (Ps. 51:10-11, NIV)
Thus the believer’s confidence lies in the fact of God’s nearness and availability to him (Ps. 73:28).7 Therefore, believers may encourage one another to praise the Lord with thankful hearts:
Come! Let’s sing for joy to the Lord!
Let’s shout out praises to our protector who delivers us!
Let’s enter his presence with thanksgiving!
Let’s shout out to him in celebration! (Ps. 95:1-2)
One of the most memorable times when the psalmist experienced God’s special presence was being in the house of the Lord where God’s earthly dwelling and presence were felt keenly. Thus David declares, “O Lord, I love the temple where you live, the place where your splendor is revealed” (Ps. 26:8). Elsewhere the psalmist expresses his deep longing to be continually in the courts of the Lord so that he may experience the great pleasure of God’s presence (Ps. 84:2). This overwhelming desire to be in the Lord’s house became intensified when the psalmist was for one reason or another far from that place. Several of the psalms express the yearning to be in God’s house as the psalmist’s prayer. The following study will examine four of these in order to find principles for experiencing God’s special presence with believers.
One of the loveliest prayer psalms, which extol the value of being in the Lord’s house is Psalm 63. So impressive is it that it became the morning hymn of the Sunday service in the fourth century church. Thus the Apostolic Constitutions reads: “Assemble yourselves together every day, morning and evening, singing psalms and praying in the Lord’s house: in the morning saying the sixty-second Psalm, and in the evening the hundred and fortieth, but principally on the Sabbath-day.”8
The title to Psalm 63 indicates that it was written by David while he was in the Judean wilderness. Whether this refers to the time when he was absent from Jerusalem during the rebellion of his son Absalom (cf. 2 Sam. 15:23; 17:15-22) or in some earlier period in the wilderness (cf. e.g., 1 Sam. 23:14-24:2) is uncertain. Although the psalm’s emphasis on David’s past experience in the sanctuary (v. 2) and his reference to himself as king (v. 11) tends to favor the former alternative, it must not be missed that the main thrust of the psalm is David’s strong desire once again to be in the place of God’s earthly residence (i.e., the place where the Ark of God rested).
Indeed, the psalm begins on such a note of yearning:
O God, you are my God! I long for you!
My soul thirsts for you,
my flesh yearns for you,
in a dry and parched land where there is no water.
Yes, in the sanctuary I have seen you,
and witnessed your power and splendor (Ps. 63:1-2).
The wilderness surroundings in which David found himself and the physical thirst that attends such places only accentuated for him the deep longing, his thirst, to be where Yahweh was particularly identified. There David had witnessed God’s “power and splendor” (v. 2). Yet, “The implication is that the longing which this desolate spot arouses is only the surface of a much deeper desire.”9 “The experience transcends the physical and symbolizes a spiritual experience. Eyes look toward the sanctuary but contemplate the ‘power and . . . glory’ of the incorporeal God.”10
The psalm continues with a devotional note expressing David’s commitment to the Lord (vv. 3-8). This portion begins with David’s declaration that his experiencing of God’s loyal love (or “lovingkindness,” KJV) is “better than life itself” (v. 3). Indeed, without such love there would be no life. With it David can experience what true living really is—a life lived out in the Lord’s presence as the recipient of the goodness of his gracious God. He cannot and will not restrain himself from praising God with great joy. Surely his whole life will be a testimony of praise to the Lord (vv. 3-5). Even in the nighttime hours he will recall with gratefulness God’s delivering power toward him (vv. 6-8). As in verse two, so this portion ends on the high note of the fact of David’s longing for the presence of God.
The psalm ends on an expression of David’s confidence in God. Although his enemies seek to kill him, he is confident of God’s further deliverance. Rather than destroying the king, his enemies will be destroyed. Scavengers will consume their dead bodies and their souls will reside in hell. David will again rejoice in God, as can all who put their trust in the name of the Lord. That is, those who possess a full confidence in God, which engenders an oath of allegiance to God in all that his name embodies, will realize the joy of God’s abiding presence in their lives.
Psalm 63 is a precious psalm. It is permeated by the psalmist’s love of God and strong longing to be in or live in the conscious presence of the Lord. Accordingly, Psalm 63 is dominated by the use of first and second person personal pronouns. This is especially emphasized in the Hebrew text by the juxtaposition of these two pronouns; for example: “My God—You” (v. 1); “I have seen you” (v. 2); “your name—I” (v. 4); “my soul pursues you—me your right hand upholds” (v. 8).
Psalm 63, then, is “a song of the most delicate form and deepest spiritual contents; but in part very difficult of exposition. . . . But how much more difficult is it to adopt this choice spiritual love-song as one’s own prayer.”11 Certainly Christians, as did David, often wander in a world of spiritual drought. Under such conditions it is all too easy to become weary and discouraged. When such occurs, like David, they need to exercise a heart that longs so deeply for God that it finds refreshment and joy in the realization of God’s presence. Whatever the situation, the trusting believer will find that time spent in fellowship with God and feasting on his Word will yield a life of both spiritual growth, and full confidence and satisfaction in the Lord.
The psalmist’s opening words contain a declaration of confidence in the Lord during the most challenging of times: “The Lord delivers and vindicates me! I fear no one! The Lord protects my life! I am afraid of no one!” (v. 1). The NET interprets the opening Hebrew phrase “light and salvation” as the psalmist’s assurance that God is the source of his deliverance and vindication. This understanding anticipates well David’s further expression of confidence in the Lord in verses two and three. Alternatively, the words have been taken by some as hendiadys, the two nouns entailing a glorious salvation/deliverance or victory over the psalmist’s enemies. As the NET note suggests, light can also be understood as guidance. David may be saying that in times in which he finds himself surrounded by his enemies and/or overwhelming odds, God guides him and delivers him in the face of all odds (vv. 2-3). In his life’s darkest hours God is his light and the one who brings deliverance. Further, it is he who is the psalmist’s protector.
Verses two and three go on to describe the kinds of attack that David experiences. The Hebrew phrase “devour my flesh” is a standard image for slanderous accusations or character assassination (cf. RSV, v. 12)12 or ill treatment of others (e.g., Mic. 3:2-3). It can also signify actual physical assault in which an attacker resembles a wild and ravenous beast. Such is the case when the psalmist describes his enemies as being like a lion, which will “rip me to shreds” and “tear me to bits” (Ps. 7:2; cf. Ps. 17:12). Perhaps David experienced some or all of the above circumstances.
Nevertheless, the Hebrew phrase is best understood contextually as referring to false accusations that the psalmist was once again enduring (cf. v. 12).13 Thus the position taken here is reflected in Leupold’s observation that the psalmist “again and again found it to be true that, when ‘evildoers approached to slander’ him, they were the ones that fell, not he. . . . The ‘adversaries and foes’ could well be the opposition party at the time of Absalom’s revolt.”14
A parallel idiom occurs in the Aramaic accounts of Daniel (Dan 3:8; 6:24), which are customarily translated “eat the pieces of” (i.e., to make false accusations against, i.e., to slander). The Aramaic idiom, which occurs here, may well derive from Akkadian,15 where from a cognate verb meaning “pinch/break off “ is derived a noun meaning “accusation,’ which when used with the verb “to eat” became a set idiom for denouncing someone.16 It is of interest as well that in the later development of Aramaic the Syriac cognate noun meaning “gnawed/broken morsel,” when used with the verb “to eat” also forms an idiom with the meaning “to slander” (or ”backbite”).17 Of further interest is the fact that the Aramaic/Syriac idiom passed on down into Modern Hebrew also with the meaning “to slander,” “make false accusations.”18
Accordingly, Montgomery is correct in noting that this idiom meaning slander is known not only in Ancient Akkadian but was “wide-spread through the Sem. languages.”19 Collins also notes that the idiom meaning “to slander,” “appears already in Amarna Canaanite.”20
If the reference to devouring the flesh is understood to relate more to slanderous false accusations (vv. 2, 12), then David’s mentioning of an “army” and “war” (v. 3) is to be understood in a twofold way. (1) The nouns army and war are to be taken as metaphoric language descriptive of both the number of those who are making lying accusations against him and the intensity of the struggle he is facing. The psalmist’s overbearing slanderous situation is like that of a soldier cut off from his regiment in wartime and facing seemingly insurmountable odds.
(2) The thought in verses two to three may also be viewed as an argumentum ad fortiori (argument to the stronger) expressing hyperbolically either that even if his enemies were a whole army, he would still not lose confidence in the Lord or that even in times of military combat, rather than fearing, he will place his full confidence in Yahweh. Understood in this multiple fashion, the psalmist is expressing his full reliance upon the Lord’s presence for his deliverance not only in this situation, but under any and all conditions including the field of battle. Whatever the circumstance, then, as another psalmist expressed it, one can be certain that because of his heart relation to God (see NET text note), “But as for me, God’s presence is my good” (Ps. 73:28, HCSB).21 Thus because of God’s presence and goodness toward him, the psalmist will have no fear. As Leupold remarks, “It is a statement made in the exuberance of faith.”22
The psalmist’s conviction is borne of a vibrant heart relation to the Lord (see NET text note and compare v. 8). That heart relation pours out next in a series of three prayers, each ending on a note of confidence (vv. 4-6, 7-10, 11-14). His first prayer is for the continued intimacy that only the presence of God can bring—a presence, which was especially experienced at the house of the Lord (vv. 4-5). Yet his desire was not just for those times, precious though they were, but he had an overwhelming longing to enjoy that same intimacy wherever his duties and travels might take him, and under whatever conditions he found himself.
The psalmist’s grand desire envisioned life in God’s house. Just as he had gazed at the splendor of the house of the Lord, (i.e., the Tabernacle if as generally held, this psalm is Davidic), which housed the Ark of the Lord, he would surely love to live out his life amid the splendor of God’s house. Such would doubtless prove to be but a foretaste of his future earnest gazing upon God’s essential glory. The psalmist’s words, however, may well reflect a deep sense of his present longing for the consistent, conscious, intimate presence of the Lord. Under such circumstances he would find the protection and refuge that he would expect to enjoy if he were in God’s earthly tent. Granted this, he would be certain of victory over his enemies. Indeed, he is confident of deliverance and that one day he will again offer sacrifices and praises “in his dwelling place” (v. 6).
The psalmist’s second section of prayer focuses on his request for continued intimacy with the Lord (vv. 7-10). Like the first prayer section, it begins with the expression of the psalmist’s desire for God and ends on a note of confidence that his petition has been heard (v. 10). David’s opening request here reflects the well-known call-answer motif, which indicates the possibility of a personal relation and communion with the Lord, often in times of danger, testing, or trouble.23 This sense of a close personal relationship with God is expressed further in the psalmist’s statement that in praying to the Lord he is following the dictates of his own heart (cf. v. 3). In so doing, he expresses once again his need for God’s deliverance for his present situation. Having done so, he once again finds a steadfast confidence in the Lord: “Even if my father and mother abandoned me, the Lord will take me in.” Such confidence was not based upon personal arrogance or unfounded conjecture, but in the strong sense of a realized presence of the Lord with whom he was in close personal fellowship.
The psalmist’s third prayer section (vv. 11-14) begins with his humble desire that the Lord give him further instruction and guidance in his personal life (v. 11). David apparently was undergoing strong personal attacks against his character and reputation. His attackers seemed to him to be like those who lie in ambush to destroy another. In such circumstances the psalmist feels almost helpless. Were it not for the realization of the Lord’s presence with him, he would be without hope. Therefore, he again confidently expresses his hope of deliverance and a life in God’s favor (v. 11-13), and urges all who will listen, “Rely on the LORD! Be strong and confident! Rely on the LORD!” (v. 14).
From Psalm 27 we learn that rather than self-reliance in the experiences of life, one must rely on the Lord. Only by living in communion with God and living out his standards can one be confident of a satisfying and rewarding life. Just as in Psalm 63, so also Psalm 27 contains the scriptural solution for life lived on the highest plane—a consistent daily fellowship in the constant presence of the Lord. It is only this kind of dedication and trust that can carry one through all the experiences of life, including times of intense trial or testing, or physical danger. As Travers wisely points out, however,
“ More often than military or terrorist activity, our enemies are likely to be the false witnesses David mentions in Psalm 27. . . . We should remember that an unfounded slur against a believer is a slander against the testimony of God in that believer’s life; God has a stake in suppressing the false witness, and we should let him resolve the matter in his way.”24
Expositors have long considered Psalms 42 and 43 as originally comprising one psalm. Such may also be seen in that some Hebrew manuscripts combined them into one psalm.25 Moreover, the combined psalm displays remarkable unity of structure and themes. (1) The psalm belongs to the genre of lament psalms, but it is a psalm which also contains vivid prayer requests (Pss. 42:6, 9; 43:1-3) and notes of hope. Interspersed with notices of the psalmist’s prayers the themes of lament and hope are carried out through the double psalm: lament (42:1-4, 6-7, 9-10; 43:1-4) followed by a hope (42:5, 8, 11; 43:5) that culminates in thanksgiving. (2) The phrase “why are you depressed” marks major structural divisions in the combined psalm (42:5, 11; 43:5). (3) There are rich vocabulary and literary associations between Psalms 42 and 43; Thus the question “why” occurs some ten times and the word “soul” is found seven times, while the enemies taunts against him and his God appear in all three sections (42:3, 9-10; 43:2). Yet in all three sections the psalmist speaks of the need for the presence of God: present longing and past reminiscences (42:1-2, 4), present experience in the midst of difficulties (42:8-9), and present to future prayer and confidence in the Lord (43:3-4).
The unified psalm, then, takes its place along side of Psalms 63 and 27 as expressions of the need and reality of God’s presence. Likewise, it displays many of the same themes as in our previous two psalms. Thus there is an intense yearning for the presence of God (cf. 42:1-2 with Pss. 27:4, 9; 63:1-3, 8) and the house of the Lord (cf. 42:4; 43:3-4 with Pss. 27:4-6; 63:2) as well as the experience of being tested by adversaries (cf. Pss. 42:3, 9-10; 43:1 with Pss. 27:2-3, 5-6, 12; 63:9-10). So it is that the psalmist prays to the Lord for his help (cf. 42:6, 9; 43:1-3 with Pss. 27:7-12; 63:5-7) with the result that through it all he remains confident of the Lord’s deliverance and that God will give him victory over his enemies (cf. 42:5, 8, 11; 43:3-5 with Pss. 27:1-3, 5-6, 10; 63:3-5, 9-11).26 Through it all the psalmist remains confident that he will offer praise and thanksgiving once again to the Lord (cf. 42:5, 11; 43:5 with Pss. 27:6-7; 63:4, 11).
As with Psalm 63, the combined psalm 42-43 begins with an opening statement of an earnest longing and desire for God’s presence:
As a deer longs for streams of water,
so I long for you, O God!
I thirst for God, for the living God.
I say, “When will I be able to go
and appear in God’s presence?” (42:1-2)27
Much as the thirsting deer longs for fresh, pure water, so the psalmist longs for him who is the fountain of living waters. His cry grows in intensity, being expressed first as a desire for God, then for the living God, and still further for the very presence of God. The psalmist’s yearning for the Lord is felt even more strongly in that his enemies constantly taunt him with jeers that imply that the psalmist’s God, if he exists at all, has deserted him. This causes the psalmist to recall all the more vividly the times when he would accompany the throngs to the great festivals at the house of God (vv. 3-4). Despite his despair, however, he reminds himself that he must remain patient, waiting confidently for the Lord’s personal deliverance of him (v. 5).
Then once again despair concerning his present condition overtakes him. Consigned to a mountainous region, the nearby waterfalls rather than reminding him of the fact that the living God to whom he cries out (v. 2) is also the “living water” for whom will come his deliverance, instead serve to make him so overwhelmed with his situation that he feels like a drowning man (vv. 6-7). And yet, like Jonah (Jonah 2) he reminds himself that the Lord is his only sustenance. Indeed, Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel, is a God of love and faithfulness. Therefore, even in the night hours the psalmist can sing of the Lord’s presence and pray to him. He prays for the reality of God’s presence, for the Lord’s deliverance, and for relief from the taunts of his enemies (vv. 9-11). Having done so, he again reminds himself of the need to remain patient and confident in God’s “saving intervention” (v. 11).
As Psalm 43 begins, the psalmist renews his plea for God’s deliverance (v. 1). His earlier sense of being ignored by God (42:9) is now felt even more keenly, for he mournfully cries out, “Why do you reject me?” (43:2). More than being forgotten or ignored, the psalmist now wonders whether God indeed has rejected and abandoned him. Rather than the darkness of despair, which he feels, the psalmist longs for the light of God’s delivering presence in accordance with the truths of God’s known covenant faithfulness. Indeed, as God’s covenant people were led to the land of promise by the guiding light of God’s presence (cf. Exod. 40:38), so the psalmist desires to be led once again to the house of the Lord.
Now rising in renewed confidence, he expresses an assurance that the Lord of love and faithfulness will deliver him from his current difficulties. Restored to God’s house, he will once again rejoice in the Lord and express his thanksgiving in word and music. Perhaps the closing refrain (v. 5), which now appears for the third time in the double psalm, may reflect the psalmist’s sense of victory over personal doubt and despair. God will indeed intervene on his behalf, and bring him deliverance and victory over his foes. For his part the psalmist must wait patiently, confident that the God of love and faithfulness will do his. In any case, this psalm, like the previous two, points to the true source of personal success and satisfaction. In the midst of life’s changing scenes it is only the Lord himself who is sufficient to meet man’s needs. When the believer’s confidence rests in God alone, he may be assured of the Lord’s guidance and provision. So it is that he may bask in the joy, security, and pleasure of the Lord’s presence.
The eighty-fourth psalm is a fourth psalm that both contains the psalmist’s fervent prayers to the Lord and expresses a deep longing for the presence of God. This psalm particularly associates that sense of God’s presence with the Temple, the earthly house of the Lord. The psalm is commonly considered to reflect a festive procession, which is on its way to one of Jerusalem’s festivals.28 The psalm is also liturgical in that as a Korahite psalm it is addressed to the music director in accordance with a tune (or musical style or instrument) named gittith (cf. Ps. 8).29
The structure of the psalm is easily discernable. It is bookended by the phrase “O LORD who rules over all” (vv. 1, 12) forming an inclusio. The three sections of the psalm are marked with the Hebrew term selah.30 As well, clear stitching elements serve to mark the linking of sections together. Stanza one is stitched to stanza two by the phrase “how blessed” (vv. 4, 5), while the second stanza is linked to the third by the plea to God to “hear my prayer” (v. 8) and the following petition to “ take notice of our shield” (v. 9; i.e., the Davidic king, God’s designated human protector of the people of the kingdom; see NET text note). Moreover, the first stanza emphasizes the psalmist’s longing to be in the courts of the Lord’s house, for life there is filled with surpassing joy (vv. 1-4).
The second stanza stresses the superior strength of a life lived with God as one’s guide and protector, especially as one purposefully follows his heart’s desire to be in God’s Temple (vv. 5-8), while the third stanza (vv. 9-12) features a return to the theme of the desirability of the Temple courts where the presence of God with its resultant blessing of trusting in him is strongly felt.
Unity in the psalm is achieved via its vocabulary, the words “LORD” and “God” each occurring seven times, the word “blessed” (vv. 4, 5, 12), and references to the Temple as God’s dwelling place (vv. 1-4, 10).31 The longing for the Temple as the locale of God’s particular presence forms the central theme of the psalm. In the first stanza the psalmist expresses forcefully a strong longing to be in the Temple, the place of special blessing (vv. 1-4). The second stanza features the psalmist’s putting “feet to his desire” as he prays for God’s strength along his journey to the Temple (vv. 5-8). In the closing stanza (vv. 9-12) the psalmist’s prayer looks for the Lord’s favor upon his human protector (i.e., the king, God’s earthly administrative representative). The prayer is made in confidence before him who inhabits the Holy of Holies in the Temple—the One who is Israel’s ultimate, divine protector. Just as the first stanza spoke of the longing for the blessings of life lived in the Temple, so the third stanza reiterates that desire and speaks of the blessed experience of those who live in full trust of the Lord.
The blessing associated with the Temple thus forms a corollary theme. This is particularly the case for those who make the Lord the center of their lives. The first stanza contains a blessing for those who actually live in the Temple. The second stanza features the blessings of those who travel to the Temple. The third stanza speaks of the blessings for all who trust in the Lord and desire to be in his presence in the Temple.
If as frequently believed the eighty-fourth psalm is a pilgrimage type psalm, one can sense progressive movement in the flow of the psalm. Longing desire for the Temple (vv. 1-4) is gives way to travel toward the Temple (vv. 5-8), and leads to the joy of spending even “just one day” in the Temple courts. Through it all is the underlying sense of the need to long for the surpassing blessings of the presence of God, which is so necessary for all who trust in the Lord.
Turning to the first stanza of the psalm, one is immediately struck by the fervency of the psalmist’s love and longing for the house of God. With his whole being the psalmist longs for—even pines for—the Temple. It is nothing less than the earthly abode of the One “who rules over all” (v. 1). If the Temple is the residence of the sovereign Lord of the universe, what could be more desirable than to be in his house?32 If even the birds choose to nest there in God’s presence, how much more should the psalmist! Accordingly, how blessed are those who have the privilege of ministering in the Temple precincts. In the very presence of God they can rejoice and praise him continually.
As the second stanza opens, the psalmist exclaims that those who so entrust themselves to the Lord’s strength as they travel to the house are extremely blessed.33 If their heart is set upon the Lord and are looking expectantly to their arrival at the Temple, whatever hardships they may experience along the way just become occasions for the Lord to sustain and provide for them. Therefore, the psalmist prays for God to hear his implied petition for strength for the journey.
As the psalm moves to its climax the psalmist looks to Israel’s divine sustainer and protector to make provision for Israel’s king. Indeed, Israel’s covenant relation to the Lord finds its external center in God’s anointed leader who cares for and protects his people (see NET text note). The psalmist’s prayer next sounds a note of praise in exclaiming, “Certainly spending just one day in your temple courts is better than spending a thousand elsewhere” (v. 10). That one day is far superior to any seemingly prosperous and long life in association with the unrighteous, because Israel’s God, the Lord of hosts (v. 12; see NET text note), whose presence is associated with the Temple, is present as the protector and provider of who are truly righteous (v. 11). As the NET text note indicates, the MT reads literally: “The LORD God is a sun and shield.” As “sun” God brings the light of salvation to men together with illumination for life’s problems. He also provides the warmth of his presence for the journey of life. As a “shield” he give protection. Together they signify that the Lord alone provides strength, wisdom, and direction for the journey of life. Truly, then, the believer’s life is a blessed one, because he puts his trust in the Lord (v. 12).
Psalm 84 thus has much to say concerning the high value of the presence of the Lord. As in the previous three psalms, there is an emphasis on the psalmist’s deep longing for God’s presence. That presence is especially associated in this psalm, as with the others, with the house of the Lord (cf. Pss. 27:4-6; 42:2, 4, 5, 11; 43:3-5; 63:2). Likewise, each of the psalms also gives assurance that God’s presence is available elsewhere for the trusting believer (Pss. 27:1-3, 11-14; 42:8; 43:3; 63:5-8; 84:5-8). Hence, all four psalms contain an emphasis on prayer and the need for trust in the Lord’s daily provision (Pss. 27:4, 7-9, 11-14; 42:5, 6, 9, 11-14; 43:1-5; 63:1, 5-6, 10-11; 84:5, 12).
The sense of the presence of the Lord was not reserved for psalmists. God’s prophets understood that their calling was from the Lord and that they were conveyers of his message. Too often that message was a negative one of God’s disapproval of his people. Such messages contained a warning that because they had defied his presence (e.g., Isa. 3:8), they should tremble before him (e.g., Jer. 5: 22). Moreover, they were in danger of being cast away from his presence (Jer. 23:39; Lam. 4:16).34 Nevertheless, God assured his people that one day a purified and faithful remnant would be restored to their land and he would again dwell among them (e.g., Ezek. 37:27-28). This would be realized through his Anointed One, the Messiah (Isa. 9:6-7; 11:1-9; Jer. 23:5-6) and “His kingdom will not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:14).
The expectation of the kingdom of God became very pronounced and hence is prominently expressed in the New Testament. For example, the Pharisees once asked Jesus as to when the kingdom of God was to come (Lk. 17:20). They apparently missed Jesus’ point, however, when he answered their question concerning the coming kingdom of God: “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Lk. 17:20b-21). Thus Jesus was instructing them that rather than looking for observable signs that signified the soon coming of the kingdom, people should understand that, “Looking for the kingdom is rejected because it is always present in the ministry of Jesus.”35 Liefeld adds, “The focus is on neither time nor location, however, but on the person of Jesus himself. With the life and ministry of Jesus, one can experience the kingdom of God.”36
The Pharisees were foolishly concentrating on the visible coming of God’s future kingdom. They failed to perceive that the kingdom was present among them in the person of Christ the king. They could realize the presence of the kingdom, however, by receiving Christ, the king, as a living, spiritual reality. By doing so, they would become members of the kingdom of God as it operates now, even while awaiting the coming of the future kingdom.37
But aside from the question of the kingdom, what is assuredly true is that with the coming of Christ the believer already enjoys intimate communion with the Lord and can sense his abiding presence with him. Jesus himself prayed for his disciples and for all true believers that they might experience the same unity and fellowship that he enjoyed with the Father by being taken into unity with himself (John 17:20-26). As a result, “Believers’ ‘complete’ . . . unity results from being taken into the unity of God, and once unified, believers will be able to bear witness to the true identity of Jesus as the Sent One of God.”38
Paul subsequently affirms that this union is now a living reality (Gal. 2:20). What was true of Paul is true also for all believers (Col. 1:27). The believer’s union with Christ gives the potential for a conscious sense of God’s presence with him. Indeed, “Our hope of glory is Christ in us. Our spiritual vitality is drawn from his indwelling presence. Other passages we might mention include Jesus’ promises to be present with the believer (Matt. 28:20; John 14:23).39 Even more importantly, the believer’s spiritual union with Christ is a vital one. “His life actually flows into ours, renewing our inner nature (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 4:16) and imparting spiritual strength. There is a literal truth in Jesus’ metaphor of the vine and the branches. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit if it does not receive life from the vine, so we cannot bear spiritual fruit if Christ’s life does not flow into us (John 15:4).”40 The poets expresses this fact so vividly:
For me to live, is Christ to live in me,
The life I live, is but His life in mine;
E’en as the branch maintains the life of vine
The throbbings of His life, my life entwine;
He lives in me.
In Christ am I, as branch is in the vine;
Christ in, the vine and branch now intertwine; The life of one, the other is;
For He is mine, and I am also His.41
To be sure, ultimately the believer looks forward to an eternity in the blessed presence of the Lord (John 14:1-4; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; Rev. 21:3-4). Yet even now in a way far greater than the Old Testament psalmists and prophets, today’s believers may experience the grand pleasure of God’s presence through Christ and by availing themselves of the power of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17; 16:12-16; Rom. 8:15-17, 26-27; etc.).
With the living reality of Christ in the believer, the testimony of the psalmists becomes a vivid one—and one that is instructive for vital Christian living. As the four great psalms that testify to the presence of God express it, believers must put their trust in the Lord’s sufficiency for the daily experiences, which come across the path of the journey of life. Moreover, theirs should be a life of prayer and instruction from the Word of God as their guidebook for life.
Like the psalmists of old, the reality of God’s presence should bring real joy and foster a deepened trust in the Lord’s provision for their lives. This will enable them to stand firm even in the midst of life’s testings and trials. Indeed, these experiences, when surrendered to Christ, will equip believers for a life of rewarding service for the Lord (cf. Paul’s assurance in 2 Tim. 4:6-8).
Not to be forgotten along the way are the psalmists’ many expressions of eager longing for experiencing the particular presence of the Lord in the house of the Lord. Such should be a particular encouragement for those who are specially called as ministers for the Lord. Rather than being a mere routine “employment,” the privilege of serving the Lord in the Lord’s house should be their desire and delight. Also, because believers are called to serve the Lord in varying capacities, attendance at the Lord’s house should likewise never become a prescribed “weekly duty.” Indeed, there is special joy for believers there, for in the house of the Lord they have the grand experience of sharing the Lord’s presence with fellow believers. Believers should eagerly anticipate the Lord’s day as the apex of the week.
In a deeper sense, however, each day should for believers be an opportunity to serve Christ and, as did he in his earthly ministry, serve the Lord. His presence, whether in the study of his Word, or in prayer, or in his guidance and leading for the challenges and opportunities that confront believers in their everyday living, should encourage and equip them. Each day should be one of commitment to the Lord and produce an abiding trust in him, confident of his direction. As the psalmist reminds us, “How blessed are those who trust in you!” (Ps. 84:12).
The reality of Christ’s presence (Col. 1:27) and the Lord’s reminder of his presence with the believer always (Matt. 28:20) should awaken yet another longing. Jesus made this clear in his great commission (Matt. 28:19-20; cf. John 20:21; Acts 1:8). It is the desire that all people, as does the believer, may experience the joy of the Lord’s presence by receiving Christ Jesus as their Lord and Savior. The songwriter tells of this deep longing saying,
I’ve a yearning in my heart that cannot be denied,
It’s a longing that has never yet been satisfied;
I want the world to know the One who loves them so—
Like a flame it’s burning deep inside.42
By way of conclusion it may be said that, where the truths that we have examined here are present in the believer’s life, they bring joy, trust, and peace but also a vitality and stability that provide direction for one’s life. And surpassing this, the committed believer may truly bask in the conscious reality of “the pleasure of his presence” (Ps. 16:11).
1 H. Simian-Yofre (“Pānîm,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, eds. G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001], 11:608) points out that when used of the God of the Old Testament the word translated “presence” is a “term that occupies a mediating position between the danger of a materialistic conception of the deity conveyed by images, which the OT systematically rejects, and the danger of a nominalism that reduces the divine presence to an abstraction.”
2 It is interesting to note that the songs or hymns sung at historical events became commemorated in the book of Psalms. For example, elements and remembrances of Moses’ song of deliverance at the occasion of the passing through the Red Sea (Exod. 15:1-18) appears later in the Psalter (e.g., Pss. 18:7-15; 77:16-20). The exodus event itself is often rehearsed in the Psalms (e.g., Pss. 66:3-6; 80:8; 106:7-33; 114; 135:8-9).
3 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scriptural citations are from the NET.
4 Willem A. VanGemeren, Psalms, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, eds. Tremper Longman III, and David E. Garland, Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 5:192.
5 The psalmist reports that at the time of the exodus personified earth experienced the powerful presence of God (Ps. 114:3-8; note especially v. 7: “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob” [NIV] ).
6 Tremper Longman III, How To Read the Psalms (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1988), 57.
7 Note also Moses’ testimony to the Israelites: “In fact, what other great nation has a god so near to them like the LORD our God whenever we call on him?” (Deut. 4:7).
8 “Constitutions of the Holy Apostles,” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, eds., Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 7:423. It should be noted that Psalm 62 in the LXX order of the psalms (which was used in the early church) is the equivalent of Psalm 63 in our English Bibles. Similar sentiments may be found in the writings of Athanasius and Eusebius. See further Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms, Keil and Delitzsch Commentaries on the Old Testament, trans. Francis Bolton (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), 2:212-13.
9 Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, ed. D. J. Wiseman (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1973), 225.
10 Konrad Schaefer, Psalms, Berit Olam, ed. David W. Cotter (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2001), 153. The word translated “seen” can indicate spiritual understanding as a result of purposeful gazing at (i.e., contemplating) God. See further, Jackie A. Naudé, “xzh,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 2:56-57.
11 Delitzsch, Psalms, 2:213-14.
12 Note also Job 13:14, which is set in a context of Job’s complaint against his friends false accusations (vv. 3-12) and his vow of defending himself (vv. 15-19). See also Job 19:22.
13 Delitzsch, The Psalms, 1:256 remarks, “To eat up any one’s flesh signifies . . . the same as to pursue any one by evil speaking (in Aramaic by slander, back-biting) to his destruction.”
14 H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), 236.
15 See Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1977), 1111.
16 See further, The Assyrian Dictionary “K”, eds. Miguel Civil, Ignace J. Gelb, A. Leo Oppenheim, Erica Reiner (Chicago: The Oriental Institute, 1971), 222-23 and “A”Ppart I, eds. A. Leo Oppenheim and Erica Reiner (Chicago: The Oriental Institute, 1964), 255.
17 See R. Payne Smith, A Compendious Syriac Dictionary, ed. J. Payne Smith (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976), 52.
18 See Reuben Avinoam, Compendious Hebrew-English Dictionary, ed. M. H. Segal (Tel-Aviv: The Dvir Publishing Co., n.d.), 340.
19 James A. Montgomery, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Daniel, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1964), 204.
20 John J. Collins, Daniel, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 180. Collins also notes that the two words in the idiom “eat” and “pieces” are combined in Syriac into one word referring to the Devil. Certainly Satan is characterized in the Scriptures as “the Accuser” (cf. Job 1:6-11; Rev. 12:10).
21 The NET renders this verse even more forcefully: “But as for me, God’s presence is all I need.”
22 Leupold, The Psalms, 236.
23 See Richard D. Patterson, “The Call-Answer Motif,” Biblical Studies Press, 2008.
24 Michael E. Travers, Encountering God in the Psalms (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 2003), 219.
25 See NET text note #6 in Psalm 43.
26 These themes are likewise present in Psalms 61 and 62 and thus provide a canonical setting for Psalm 63.
27 The Hebrew verb translated “longs for” in the NT is related to Arabic and Ethiopic roots meaning “ascend/go up.” The Ethiopic verb in some contexts can also be used of offering up a sacrifice. See Thomas O. Lambdin, Introduction to Classical Ethiopic (Missoula, Montana: Scholars Press, 1978), 389. In a natural setting one can envision the picture of a deer, which climbs higher up a mountainside for pure, cool refreshment for his thirst, especially in a time when water may be abating in the lower streams in dry season. As such the imagery anticipates well the psalmist’s own situation (Ps. 42:6-7).
28 It has been suggested that the psalm is set in the days of David’s exile away from Jerusalem during the rebellion of Absalom (cf. 2 Sam. 15:16-22) and then later inserted into the liturgy, but this is far from certain.
29 Delitzsch (The Psalms, 1:148-49) suggests that the “gittith was, therefore, an instrument giving forth a joyous sound . . . a joyous melody, perhaps a march of the Gittite guard, 2 Sam. xv 18.” See further Joachim Braun, Music in Ancient Israel/Palestine (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 12.
30 The term selah likely indicates a musical marker of some kind, perhaps referring to a musical interlude.
31 Note that in verse seven the MT reads “blessings” rather than “the pools” of the NET.
32 Schaefer, (Psalms, 206) remarks, “To appreciate the sentiments about God’s ‘house,’ one can recall those of the poet of Psalm 122 and what God’s dwelling means for the psalmist (cf. 50:2; 74:2; 76:2; 87; 132:13-18). It is the protection, shelter, and place of celebration (cf. 27:4-5; 46; 48; 125:1).
33 Similarly, Psalm 42:4 portrays the joyful experience of those who travel to the festal celebrations. Verse six (MT 7) bristles with textual difficulties. The MT reading “blessings” rather than “pools” (NET) has already been noted (see footnote #31). Difficulties surround the word môreh, for the normal word for early/latter rain is yôreh. Elsewhere in Hebrew the form môreh functions either as a noun meaning “teacher” or in Joel 2:23 as a participle indicating “that which gives instruction” (i.e., in righteousness). If the initial “m” is taken with the preceding verb to comprise the verbal form yvXhm and the normal meanings “blessings” and “rain” are retained, one may translate the difficult line “also the rain covers/envelops them [with] blessings.” Nevertheless, the NET translation provides a smooth understanding of the travelers experience as they go to Jerusalem. Those who place their strength in God (v. 5) find sustenance “as they travel along” (v. 7), by receiving God’s provision (v. 6) even in an otherwise unpleasant, even forbidding environment.
34 God’s prophet Jonah even foolishly attempted to run away from God’s presence (Jonah 1:3, 10).
35 I. Howard Marshall, Commentary on Luke, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 655.
36 Walter L. Liefeld, “Luke,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, eds. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 10:272. Many translations render the Greek prepositional clause “within you” (e.g., KJV, NKJV, NIV, God’s Word). Such was also read by the Latin texts (ecce enim regnum Dei intra vos est) and held with varying interpretations by some of the early church fathers. Alfred Plummer (The Gospel According to S. Luke, The International Critical Commentary, 5th ed. [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1922], 406) admits that both possibilities are possible, but prefers “in the midst of you”—namely, that the kingdom was already present among them in the person of Christ and his disciples. He suggests that if the alternative reading would be allowed it would mean, “Instead of being something externally visible, the Kingdom is essentially spiritual; it is in your hearts, if you possess it at all.” This understanding could point to the coming reality of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27; i.e., the believer’s union with Christ). That is, the Pharisees need to understand that at the inauguration of the new covenant era with the founding of the church, the kingdom of God is present in the presence of the indwelling Christ. Such, however, could hardly be said of the Pharisees except as an underlying implication, so that “in your midst” is doubtless the preferable contextual understanding.
37 Jesus’ disciples later asked concerning the signs that would herald Christ’s coming to establish his everlasting kingdom (e.g., Matt. 24:3; cf. the later question of the disciples to the risen Christ, Acts 1:6).
38 Andreas J. Köstenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 498-99. A. H. Strong (Systematic Theology [Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1907], 795) remarks that union with Christ is one “in which the human spirit, while then most truly possessing his own individuality and personal distinctness, is interpenetrated and energized by the Spirit of Christ, is made inscrutably but indissolubly one with him, and so becomes a member and partaker of that regenerated, believing, and justified humanity of which he is the head.”
39 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 949.
40 Ibid. 953.
41 R.E. Neighbor, Gems of Gold (Elyria, OH: Mc Millen, Neighbor Publishing Co., 1934), 68.
42 Audrey Mieir, “To Be Used of God,” in 100 Inspirational Favorites (Grand Rapids: Zondervan/Singspiration, 1976), 42-44.