Psalm 24 is a bit EROTIC!
What? I’m a preacher’s kid – Sunday School, even seminary trained. But I don’t remember Robert Altar’s viewpoint ever coming up in sermons or Bible studies: “The term translated as ‘lovely,’ yedidot, is associated with dod, ‘lover,’ and dodim, ‘lovemaking,’ and conveys a virtually erotic intensity in the speaker’s longing for the temple on Mount Zion.”[i] I added the bold text to bring focus. The classic KJV’s ‘amiable’ fails to carry the intense desire the psalmist expressed for the ‘lovely’ Temple, but, more importantly, for God himself whose Temple it was.
Hebrew describes love with five different words:[ii]
Raya is a brotherly love that we have with close friends, companions and, yes, BFF’s.
Ahava is a committed, fierce love. This anchors us to our spouse. In the Old Testament, ahava is the word most used word for love. It describes the love of a parent for a child, spouses for each other, and even applies to love of food. It’s used for loving God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and for loving neighbor (Leviticus 19:18).
Chesed should be understood as ‘steadfast love,’ ‘loving-kindness,’ or ‘unfailing love.’ This is a covenant love shared by spouses in their commitment to marriage. It is also the covenant love in which God holds us.
Dod is an intimate, physical relationship. It literally means to caress or fondle. It seems to have originated from the word ‘boil.’
With this in mind, reread verses 1 & 2. Do we have the same compelling, even boiling desire for God and his New Testament Temple – the gathering of believers? This is not meant to cause guilt. Now that I’m entering my 8th decade on earth, I’m noticing that I, and a number of my friends, are expressing a deeper desire to take time with God. My recommendation: keep seeking his face, and desire for him will grow.
The titles which scholars have given to this psalm may help you title your sermon:
The Pilgrim’s Love and Longing for God and His House – David Guzik
The Psalm of the Janitors – James Montgomery Boice
Even the Sparrow – James Limburg
Homesickness – Donald M. Williams
The Pull of Home – Derek Kidner
Here are several ways to present Psalm 24:
The Sights and Sounds – 1-4
On the Road Again – 5-9
True Happiness – 10-12[iii]
Those who dwell in God’s house – 1-4
Those who are making their way to God’s house – 5-9
Those who trust God – 10-12[iv]
While our passionate author begins with his eyes on the physicality of the Temple (verse 1), it’s courts (verses 2 & 10), the altar (verse 3), and the gates (verse 10), what he is longing for is our Living God. Except for verse 6, the psalmist uses the sacred name Yahweh seven times – it’s LORD in English – and God appears 8 times. Four times he refers to God as LORD Almighty (NIV) or LORD of Heaven’s Armies (NLT). The writer’s passion is for the God he encounters in the physical Temple. Our passion should also be for our Living God who now dwells in his people.
The psalmist is one of God’s biggest fans. He is so passionate that in verse 2 he tells us his soul may faint while his heart and flesh cry out to God. The NLT rebundles these three words: With my whole being, body and soul, I will shout joyfully to the living God. For Donald Williams it’s a ‘shout’ or ‘a ringing cry.’ While all NFL teams have passionate fans, Kansas City Chiefs fans[v] love defending the title of “The Loudest Outdoor Stadium in the NFL.” They seriously ‘cry out.’ It appears our psalmist is equally engaged in passionately praising God. C.S. Lewis maintains “Every Christian would agree that a man’s spiritual health is exactly proportional to his love for God.”[vi]
Notice to whom the psalmist is shouting. It is to the living God! He is not a god of human invention. He is not a god who cannot speak, see, hear, smell, or feel (Psalm 115:4-8). He is living! The word “means ‘lively,’ as the giver of life, rather than ‘alive,’ as the opposite of dead.”[vii] A living God is worth shouting joyfully to and is worth telling others about.
Sparrows and swallows put in a nesting appearance in verse 3. Matthew 10:29 and Luke 12:6 tell us that two sparrows can be purchased for a farthing, or five can be bought with two farthings. This was a ‘buy four get one free’ deal. A farthing was the least valuable copper coin in the Roman monetary system. Sparrows were insignificant. As to swallows, they were viewed as restless birds that constantly flew. They only seemed at rest on their nests. David Guzik writes, “the insignificant can find his place in the house of God, and the restless person can find his rest (nest) there – near God’s altar.”
The sparrow finds a home (verse 3) in God’s house (verse 4). It is only fitting that the Creator does not bar his creation from the house that some of his human creation made for him to enjoy.
My King and my God (verse 3) belie a God who is personally knowable and approachable. This is not a god who holds his subjects at arm’s length. This is our Father who comes and puts an arm around his child.
Ever go on a pilgrimage? One of the oldest, and best known is the Camino de Santiago. It began in 814 AD. If you haven’t been on a pilgrimage, then surely, you’ve been on a road trip. Think of your favorite road trips, perhaps to family, to summer vacations, to a favorite sports stadium or concert location. Then imagine the trip on foot. People on pilgrimage from Nazareth, who went the Samaritan route (64-70 miles), would have taken 3 to 5 days walking on foot to Jerusalem. Carefully observant Jews chose the Jordan route (85-90 miles) taking one day longer – 4 to 6 days.[viii]
The route through the Valley of Baca (verse 6) was thought to be a challenging part of one route. Baca is related to ‘tears’ and ‘weeping.’ It was an arid place of drought and dryness, which God would transform with springs and rain.
Verse 7 describes pilgrims who go from strength to strength. Not a phrase we hear a lot. In the 2021 edition of the Tour de France bicycle race, Bauke Mollema, a Dutch cyclist, broke away from the leaders on a tough mountain stage. The commentators opined during the race as to whether he would be caught in the last 43 km of the race. After Mollema won that stage of the race, a commentator summarized his ride by saying, “He went from strength to strength to strength.” As we age, that happens less and less. What God does give us is some surprising spiritual strength.
While we are New Testament people, our backstory is the Old Testament. The reference in verse 8 to the God of Jacob reminds us that God can transform the lives of ‘heel grabbers,’ meaning ‘cheats,’ and allow even us to be part of his Kingdom.
Psalm 24, along with Psalms 42–49, 85, and 87–88, is a Korahite psalm. The sons of Korah were chosen to be ‘gatekeepers,’ or doorkeepers – janitors, if you will. 1 Chronicles 26:6, 8 describes them as people of great ability and authority, “very capable men, well qualified for their work.” In fact, the chapter records the gates, storehouse, and courts where these men were to serve in the temple. These were the men who wrote this psalm.
Boice, who titled his commentary Psalm of the Janitors, argues that this psalm was not written by Israelite pilgrims on their journey up to Jerusalem. For him, “It is a psalm of people who were present in the temple, who served in God’s house, and who are expressing here how intensely their very souls yearned and even fainted for God…not because they were separated from [the Temple], but because that is where they were and wanted to be. It was why they were serving.”[ix]
In verse 10, the psalmist compares the God’s-doorkeeper-for-a-day assignment with a thousand days anywhere else and chooses the one day assignment. Perhaps the Korahites could also be called Temple ‘greeters.’ Greeters are the friendly face of a church, often the first persons a guest will meet. Like the Korahites of the Temple, greeters need to be ‘very capable’ people who are ‘well qualified for their work.
The psalmist calls Yahweh our sun and shield (verse 11). This is the only reference to God as sun.[x] The Israelites spent four centuries being exposed to the Egyptian sun god. They carefully avoided making this comparison except for this single reference. Charles Spurgeon has observed, “A sun for happy days and a shield for dangerous ones. A sun above, a shield around. A light to show the way and a shield to ward off its perils.”[xi]
Here’s the good news for those on a journey to our God:
11 The Lord will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right. 12 O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, what joy for those who trust in you.
Worship note: Check out Phil Wickham’s recent song – House of the LORD – it echoes Psalm 24.
[i] Altar, P. 297
[ii] “Hebrew Roots of Love,” Web
[iii] Limburg, Pp. 286-287
[iv] Boice, P. 692
[v] For full disclosure, I’m a Chiefs fan!
[vi] Lewis, P. 3
[vii] Mays, P. 274
[viii] Ingermanson, Web
[ix] Boice, P. 690
[x] Text like Malachi 4:2 and Revelation 1:16 refer to Jesus Christ.
[xi] Guzik, Web