*(THIS IS PART 2. SEE POST BELOW THIS FOR PART 1)
Maybe you’ve never felt this way before but… I’ve often envied the saints of old who are already Home. Those Christian men and women who’ve run the race ahead of us and have already crossed the finish line. Their work is done. Their tests are passed and in the past. Their home is now where their hearts always were, in the presence of their King. The author of this Psalm longed to be in the place of blessing. So do I. But then he mentions another blessing, one not just for those who ‘have arrived,’ but for those still on the journey--! And while there’s much more to this Psalm than these few verses, the next full stanza is the one that impacted me the most today…
5Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
Here’s what I notice:
1) There’s an available blessing.
2) It doesn’t belong to the comfortable homebody, the independent, the self-sufficient, or the self-strong.
3) It does belong to the deliberate traveler, to the desperate, the humbled, the dependant, the self-weak & the weary.
4) It’s not a blessing based on geography but on cardiology—on the condition of the heart. The qualifying inner condition is a heart tattooed with God’s roadmap home.
It makes me wonder… did the Psalmist still have birds on his mind as he wrote about the passing pilgrims? To me, ‘highways in the heart’ conjures up images of the geese I see flying over my in-law’s house in the late fall, following some mysterious internal compass Southward, towards more amiable country. Like giant arrows in the sky, they pass overhead, a formation with purpose, pointing the way home; aerial pilgrims, sojourning towards the tug of some silent call. We’re not Home yet, but the setting of our hearts is telling. Are we aimless and stationary or deliberately heading for something? Objects are either in motion or not; the same is true for hearts. Here, the Psalmist seems to be saying that a heart which trusts in God for all strength is a heart on a journey ever closer to Him. And if the terrestrial pilgrims of psalm 84 meet this qualification? What exactly is the blessing made available to them?
6As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
7They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.
Remember, this part is a promise for the journey (6As they go), and for the pilgrim on his or her way to Jerusalem, tiring of the road-trip as they passed through the desolate Valley of Baca, this stanza announces a blessing of reprieve, a blessing of respite and relief in the midst of pain. Reprieve was a welcome thing in ‘the Valley of Baca;’ after consulting several commentaries, most translate this name to mean ‘the Valley of weeping,’ or ‘the Valley of tears.’ Several others said the word “Baca” actually refers to a thorny Balsam or Mulberry-type of shrub that grew with great abundance in dry places like this valley, hence the name. Still another tried reconciling the two by suggesting that weeping was the logical result of walking through a large quantity of thorny shrubs…! As much comic relief as this brings my sophomoric imagination, I believe the basic idea is that this was a particularly dry, difficult and dangerous valley that could not be avoided on the way to the blessings that awaited in Jerusalem. The reprieve for these Zion-bound pilgrims was that, though their route passed through an unavoidable and desolate valley of tears, it was nevertheless a trail dotted with wells, dug in advance for those who would come. Who dug the wells? Previous pilgrims, perhaps, or maybe the permanent dwellers nearby. The point was that even during the journey towards blessing there were blessings of reprieve waiting to be found.
Reprieve is a welcome thing in our Valley of Baca as well. Life can be a valley of tears. And yet-- “’they make it a place of springs’ …is a classic statement of the faith which dares to dig blessings out of hardships,” says Derek Kidner. There are waters of reprieve waiting for you if your trust for strength is in God. Always, we have to dig for it—in the Scriptures, on our knees in prayer, in the company of other pilgrims in progress— but the promise is that reprieve will be there waiting, like the water of a spring, waiting to be uncovered so it can bubble up from below! “Also,” however, ‘in addition’-- we can expect to receive downpours of reprieve from above, like low spots of land receive and gather the rain, unmerited and effortless blessings that shower down. What does this look like in our lives? “Some manifestation of his gracious presence, some promise coming with power to the soul, some testimony of saving interest in the love and blood of Jesus, some smile from his countenance, some word from his lips, some encouraging testimony that the feet are upon the Rock, is given” (J. C. Philpot). These are but a few raindrop examples plucked out from potential showers of God’s blessing.
When your hope for strength is in the LORD of hosts, though you feel weak day-to-day, yet you will “go from strength to strength (v.7a)…!” “We grow as we advance if heaven be our goal,” says Spurgeon of this phrase—“If we spend our strength in God's ways we shall find it increase.” Though the world sees only a valley of tears, from desert oasis to desert oasis you can travel, ever encountering the provision of God. We cannot avoid the Valley of Weeping; Jesus Himself told us that "In this world you will have trouble" (Jn. 16:33). And yet, never will you be left resourceless or powerless in the pilgrimage Home, and ever will you be increasingly strengthened," strength to strength," "glory to glory" (2 Corinthians 3:18)—to such a degree that the valley of Baca(weeping) will become the valley of Beracah (blessing). And as if that wasn't enough, here is the wonderful side-effect of a heart that seeks His strength—your passage leaves an impression filled with Life for those who can’t find a well on their own. When you lean on God, He guides you from pool to pool through the valley of tears, and where two walk, a trail is more easily followed.
Dear Saint of God, the blessing of Psalm 84 is the promise of water in barren places, life in the valley of the shadow of death, wellsprings of reprieve in the valley of tears. This is a blessing that benefits you now. Yes, blessings await you upon arrival, both in heaven and, as a foretaste, every Sunday among the assembled pilgrims of God. But blessings are also waiting for you on the way, right now, to be dug up and received, enough for each day between Sundays and eternity. And then, one day, you’ll be Home.