A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. (Psalm 84:10)
Psalm 84 has longing written all over it.
For some reason, the psalmist has been away from God’s house. Whether he’s been traveling, or has been sick, or has been off at war, he remembers the temple and longs to be back there. “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD” (verse 2).
But it’s not just the temple he longs for. He’s not aching for the temple’s architecture or its smells or the excitement of being there among the crowds. His soul longs for the one who inhabits the temple. He longs for God. He wants to be near to God. His heart and flesh “sing for joy,” not to the temple, but “to the living God” (verse 2). It is God he wants.
Better to Be Near to God
In the old covenant, the temple was the particular place, among the people, where God stationed himself, so to speak. The temple in Jerusalem was his “house,” his dwelling place. And so, in Old Testament times, part of what it meant to be near to God was to journey to Jerusalem, and to come to the temple, to his house. And this psalmist longs for God so much, he doesn’t just want to visit God’s house, but to dwell there. “Blessed are those who dwell in your house,” he says, “ever singing your praise” (verse 4). He longs for God so much, some short visit won’t do.
“Blessed” here is another word for “happy,” and it’s used three times in just the twelve short verses of Psalm 84. To be in God’s presence, to draw near to him, to dwell where he dwells is the highest of happinesses and the biggest of blessings. God is the one who provides inner motivation and strength (verse 5), so that even when our circumstances are like a desert, the thought of him can be like springs of water (verse 6), and like a cool rain (verse 6).
So good is it to be near to God that it would be better to have him for only one day, rather than to be anywhere else for a thousand days. No other place, no other person, even holds a candle to him.
God Is Our Joy
For Christians today, Psalm 84 is one of many texts in the Bible that can help us cut away the potential distractions and diversions that threaten to disorient our worship and clutter our lives. As we sing, “Better is one day in your courts, better is one day in your house,” sing to God as your singular focus. This language about his dwelling place, and his courts, and his house, is all about drawing near to him, being close to him, wanting him, finding him, relating to him, having him be the fulfillment of all our deepest longings in his Son, Jesus, who is the true temple, the real meeting place between God and us.
The reason that one day in God’s house is better than a thousand elsewhere is because God is there. He’s the one we treasure. He’s the one who is our joy. So, let’s now cry out together to the living God, whose Spirit is water to our thirsty souls, and is the only one who can truly satisfy our hearts.