Boice

Tuesday: The Psalm of the Janitors

Written on 12/04/2018
James Boice

By James Boice

Theme: Security in the Lord

In this week’s lessons we are reminded of the need to long after God, who delights in his people as they trust in him.

Scripture: Psalm 84:1-12

As I have read over the various commentaries on this psalm, I sense that the understanding of it that I shared yesterday eliminates a lot of the scholarly barnacles that surround it and opens it up to us in fresh ways.

For this is not a song of pilgrims making their way up to Jerusalem for one of the three annual feasts, as many commentators argue. There are other psalms that do that (Psalms 120-134). Nor is it an allegory in which the sparrows and swallows of verse 3 represent the psalmist, even less their “young” standing for his children, which others have suggested. It is not even a psalm of a person who has been separated from the temple, as David was on at least several occasions, though it would be appropriate for such a person. 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. They are saying that their souls yearn for God’s house not because they are separated from it, but because that is where they are and want to be. It is why they are serving.

This throws light on the most beautiful language of the psalm also, the part having to do with the sparrows and the swallows. People have tried to read hidden meanings into this, but it is best taken as a simple observation, as H. C. Leupold suggests:

The statement is not to be thought of as being a kind of allegory in which the birds represent the writer or any worshiper. Nor do the “young” in this case symbolize the children of the writer. Nor is the term “altars” to be understood in absolute literalness as though the writer were trying to indicate that birds actually built their nests upon the altars which were in use every day.1

The poet simply saw birds at the temple, and his point is that as the birds make their home at the temple and were secure there with no fear of enemies, so may the people of God make their home in God and find their security in him.

1H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), pp. 604, 605.

Study Questions:

  1. For what are the people yearning in Psalm 84? Why?
  2. How does the psalmist see the birds?

Reflection: Where do you find security in this world? Do you find it in your home, achievements, talents, or career? How can God provide you with security?


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.