The Pilgrimage of Bakkah In the Psalms of David
King David has mentioned the Pilgrimage of Bakkah in his 84th Psalm. He wishes that he could also have the opportunity of accompanying the pilgrims. He envies at the birds who make nests and reside there in the house of the Lord, whereas he cannot even pay a visit to it. He longs for the Lord and the courts of His house and exclaims, ‘A day in thine courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God.’ What an ardent desire! An objective study of the Psalm has been undertaken in this chapter. Most of the points have been explained at the spot in the footnotes. The Psalm is reproduced hereunder:
1. How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts!
2. My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.
3. Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and a swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, Even thy altars, O Lord of hosts, my king, and my God.
4. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee. Selah.
5. Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them.
6. Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools.
7. They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.
8. O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob. Selah.
9. Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed.
10. For a day in thine courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.
11. For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.
12. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee.
It would be advisable that a verse to verse study be undertaken to ascertain the theme of the Psalm.
Verse 1, as translated by NIV (p. 621) and NOAB (p. 747) asserts, ‘How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! (NOAB: O Lord of hosts!)’ It means that the Psalm relates to some dwelling place of the Lord Almighty, which physically existed at that time. The Arabic version of the ‘dwelling place of the Lord Almighty’ is ‘Bayt Allah’, which means the ‘House of the Lord’. It had been built by his primogenitor Abraham and physically existed there in Makkah with the same name as a ground reality. It was, however, also called ‘The Ka’bah’ by the Arabs. On the other hand, there existed no ‘dwelling place’ of the ‘Lord Almighty’ or ‘Bayt Allah’ anywhere else on earth at that time. The ‘Solomon’s Temple’ did not exist at that time. It was built almost half a century later. Its construction could not even be started during the lifetime of King David. So there obviously remains no option but to consider this ‘dwelling place’ of the ‘Lord Almighty’ as the ‘Bayt Allah’ or ‘The Ka’bah’ situated at Makkah. And there are other reasonable grounds as well in the body of this very Psalm which make the proposition quite certain.
Verse 2 shows the passionate earnestness of the king for the courts of the Lord, the Living God. It reveals that the ‘courts of the Living Lord’ already existed somewhere, but are not situated within his empire, and, as such, he cannot visit them. Therefore he can only long for ‘the courts of the Lord’.
As regards vv. 3-4, the comments recorded in the relevant footnotes above sufficiently make the theme clear. NOAB (p. 747) has afforded a very beautiful footnote on vv. 3-4, ‘Envy of the birds and servitors who live there.’ The comments by the Collegeville Bible Com. (p. 772) on these vv. 3-4 are also noteworthy, ‘All living things are safe from threat in the presence of the Lord.’ The 7th Day Adventist Bible Com. (3:828) explains these verses in the following words:
The general meaning of the verse, whose conclusion the poet only implies, is that even the birds have free access to the sacred precincts of the sanctuary, they make their homes there undisturbed, while the psalmist is exiled from the source of his joy, is denied the privilege of worshipping within the sacred enclosure [stress added]. The nostalgic appeal of this verse is one of the most delicately beautiful expressions of homesickness in the whole realm of literature.
Verses 1-4 can be summed up as follows:
1. King David is paying homage to such a sanctuary which pertained to God and which physically existed there as a ground reality.
2. King David had an earnest desire to visit this sanctuary, but he could not accomplish it. Obviously, it could have been due to the fact that this sanctuary might have been outside the territorial boundaries of his state.
3. Solomon’s Temple had not so far been built. There existed only one sanctuary on earth devoted to the worship of the only one God whose construction was attributed to Abraham, i.e. the Ka’bah at Makkah, and there did not exist any such other sanctuary on eart by that time.
4. King David expresses his yearnings that even the birds can set their dwellings in the courts of the Lord, but he is deprived of the privilege of the pilgrimage of this house of the Lord.
The translation of the second clause of v. 5 in the KJV (‘in whose heart are the ways of them’) is not clear. Most of the other translations have rendered the theme as who have set their hearts on pilgrimage or the like. Here is a list of some translations, versions, and commentaries of the Bible which relate the theme of the verse and the Psalm with pilgrimage:
(i) Bible Knowledge Com., p. 855.
(ii) Christian Community Bible, p. 1000.
(iii) Collegeville Bible Com., p.772.
(iv) Contemporary English Version, p. 707.
(v) Good News Bible, p. 900.
(vi) Jerome Bible Com., p. 591.
(vii) New American Bible, p. 615.
(viii) New Bible Com., p. 472.
(ix) New Bible Com. (Rvd), p. 504.
(x) New Catholic Com., p. 473.
(xi) New Com. on Holy Scripture, p. 264.
(xii) New English Version, p. 441.
(xiii) New International Version., p. 621.
(xiv) New Jerome Commentary, p.540.
(xv) New Jerusalem Bible, p.900.
(xvi) New KJV (Nelson Study Bible), p. 966.
(xvii) Peake’s Bible Com., p. 431.
(xviii) Today’s English Version, p. 607.
(xix) Wycliffe Bible Com., p. 526.
(xx) 7th Day Adventist Bible Com., p. 828.
(xxi) The Holy Bible (Old and New. Testament): An Improved edn. (American Baptist Publication Society), as quoted by ‘The Old Testament Books of Poetry from 26 Translations’, p. 334.
(xxii) A New Trans. of the Bible (James Moffatt), as quoted by ‘The OT Books of Poetry from 26 Trans.’, p. 334.
It can be appreciated from the above data that the Psalm refers to some pilgrimage which has traditionally been performed at some sanctuary for a long time. First of all King David is bestowing the blessings in this psalm upon those ‘that dwell permanently in the house of the Lord and are ever praising Him.’ Secondly he is bestowing the blessings upon those ‘who have set their hearts on pilgrimage [but are not the permanent residents of it].’ It shows that the sanctuary physically exists there. It is practically dedicated to the Lord and not to any thing else whatsoever. People travel to it to perform ‘Pilgrimage’.
It is to be noted that the sanctuary of Jerusalem, the Solomon’s Temple, did not exist there by that time. It was built about half a century later. The sanctuary of Ka’bah, called the ‘Bayt Allah’ or the ‘House of the Lord’ by the Arabs, existed there at Makkah in Arabia as a ground reality for the last about one thousand years (before King David). The descendants of his primogenitor Abraham through his son Ishmā‘el and the tribes of the whole of the Arabian Peninsula travelled to perform pilgrimage there in large multitudes. They pronounced (which they still pronounce) the praise of the Lord during their pilgrimage saying,
I am present, O my Lord, I am present; (…); of course, all praise is for you, and all grace, and all sovereignty; there is no partner to you.
David should have had deep love, longing, and reverence for it, because it had been built by his primogenitor, Abraham. But it was outside his empire and, being a king of another land and engaged in constant battles, he could not visit it then. So he wishes he could have attended the sanctuary and performed pilgrimage there with offering sacrifice on it. There was another genuine reason for David’s longing for the Pilgrimage of Bakkah, which is being stated under the next heading.
From the perusal of the material of the chapter provided so far, it would easily be appreciated that:
i) Some ‘House of the Lord of nations’ already existed during the days of King David.
ii) It was a sanctuary and was abundanatly visited by pilgrims from far and near.
iii) King David had happened to stay there for a considerable period of time.
iv) It was situated in the valley of Bakkah.
v) After going back to his motherland he could not have an opportunity to visit this sanctuary due to some reasons.
vi) He expressed his earnest desire to visit this sanctuary.
vii) He envies the birds which uninterruptedly make their nests in this sanctuary and reside there.
viii) He is so fond of this ‘house of the Lord’ that he would prefer to be a doorkeeper there than to live in his own homeland, whom he calls the land of wickedness as compared to the sanctuary.
ix) According to him ‘a day in the court of Lord’ is better than a thousand (else-where).
x) The Jewish sanctuary (i.e. the Solomon’s Temple) did not exist at that time. It was built by his son Solomon after his death. By that time there existed only the sanctuary of Ka‘bah at Makkah, which was built by his primogenitor Abraham, and Ishmā‘el about ten centuries earlier and hundreds of thousands of people visited it all the year through.
 As to the authorship of this song, it can safely be considered as a genuine work of King David himself. Some of the authorities are given here. Matthew Henry’s An Exposition of the O&NT, (4:324) explains in its introduction:
Though David’s name be not in the title of this song, yet we have reasons to think he was the penman of it, because it breathes so much of his excellent spirit and is so much like the sixty-third psalm which was penned by him; (…), witness this psalm, which contains the pious breathing of a gracious soul after God and communion with him.
7th Day Adventist Bible Com. (3:827) writes in its introduction to this psalm:
Ps 84 was composed by David, the Lord’s ‘anointed’(…). It is a passionate lyrical expression of devotion and love for the house of Jehovah and His worship. The psalm seems to describe the blessedness of those who dwell in the sacred precincts (vs. 1-4, 9-11); the blessedness of those who make pilgrimages to the sanctuary (vs. 5-8).
Peake’s Com. on the Bible (p. 431) observes:
The period of its composition is clearly that of the monarchy.
It shows that the commentators take it to be written by David himself.
 The actual Hebrew word used here is משכן ‘mishkawn’ which is the exact synonym for the Arabic word ‘maskan’, i.e, residence. According to the Strong’s Dictionary (Entry 4908, p. 74), it means: ‘aresidence; dwelling (place), habitation.’ So ‘thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts’ would literally mean: ‘Your house O Lord of nations.’ It would be ‘Baytullah’ in Arabic, which is al-Ka’bah of Makkah. Keeping in view the fact that the Solomon’s Temple had not so far been built, it becomes certain that it refers to only Ka’bah of Makkah, as there did not exist any ‘House of Lord’ on earth except it by that time.
 ‘Lord of hosts’ may imply here that He is not the Lord of Israel only; but He is the Lord of all the nations.
 Gray & Adams Bible Com., 2:611 explains:
David says not, Oh how I long for my palace, my crown, my sceptre, my kingdom; but oh how I long to return to the house of God! [the word ‘return’ shows that King David had previously been to this place.]
It may, however, be noted that the construction of Solomon’s Temple had not yet begun. By the time of King David, there existed only one ‘House of God’, which had been built at Bakkah (the name of Makkah at that time), by his forefathers, Abraham and Ishmā‘el.
 NOAB (p. 747) has afforded a very beautiful footnote on vv. 3-4, ‘Envy of the birds and servitors [a male servant] who live there.’ The comments by the Collegeville Bible Com. (p. 772) on these vv 3-4 are also noteworthy, ‘All living things are safe from threat in the presence of the Lord.’
 Matthew Henry’s An Exposition of the O&NT, (4:24, 25) observes at this point:
He would rather live in a bird’s nest nigh God’s altars than in a palace at a distance from them. It is better to be serving God in solitude than serving sin with a multitude. (…). Observe, David envies the happiness not of those birds that flew over the altars, and had only transient view of God’s courts, but of those that had nests for themselves there. David will not think it enough to sojourn in God’s house as a way-faring man that turns aside to tarry for a night; but let this be his rest, his home; here he will dwell.
 The 7th Day Adv. Bible Com. (3:28) explains the verse:
The general meaning of the verse, whose conclusion the poet only implies, is that even the birds have free access to the sacred precincts of the sanctuary, they make their homes there undisturbed, while the psalmist is exiled from the source of his joy, is denied the privilege of worshipping within the sacred enclosure. The nostalgic appeal of this verse is one of the most delicately beautiful expressions of homesickness in the whole realm of literature.
 According to Gray & Adams Bible Com., 2:611, ‘still’ here means, ‘all the day long’.
 NIV, (p.621) translates it as: ‘they are ever praising you’, instead of: ‘they will be still praising thee.’
 A New Catholic Com. on Hebrew Scripture (p.473) renders this v. as, ‘Blessed [be] those who dwell in thy house, still they praise thee.’ It further observes, ‘Yet the idea of “They are pilgrims at heart” is consistent with the theme of the psalm.’
 NIV, (p.621) has well translated it as: ‘who have set their hearts on pilgrimage’, instead of: ‘in whose heart are the ways of them.’
 The 7th Day Adventist Bible Com. (3:828) explains the verse:
The second blessing is bestowed on those who hold God in their hearts as they make the pilgrimage.
It may be noted at this point that some of the translations have arbitrarily inserted the word ‘Zion’ here; e.g. NOAB (p.849) and Praise Songs of Israel: a Rendering of the Book of Psalms (John DeWitt), as recorded in OT books of poertry from 26 translations, ed. Curtis Vaughan (Michigan: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1973), p. 334, write: ‘in whose heart are the highways to Zion.’ NOAB has also recorded a footnote to it saying, ‘Heb. lacks to Zion’ (p. 849). But this word ‘Zion’ does not exist in most of the English translations. The original Hebrew also lacks it as quoted above with refence to NOAB. On the contrary most of the translations use here the word of ‘pilgrimage’ or ‘pilgrim’.
The Holy Bible Containing O & N T: An Improved Edition (American Baptist Publication Society), as recorded in OT books of poertry from 26 translations), p. 334, translates it as, ‘In their heart the pilgrim-way.’
A New Translation of the Bible by James Moffatt (as recorded in OT books of poertry from 26 translations, p. 334) translates it as, ‘Set out on pilgrimage.’
New English Bible translates (p.441) it as, ‘Whose hearts are set on the pilgrim-ways’
NIV translates it as, ‘Who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.’
CEV (p. 707) translates it as:
You bless all who depend on you for their strength and all who deeply desire to visit your temple.
And the Temple of the Lord, by that time, was only the Ka‘bah at Makkah.
It clearly shows that the theme of the Psalm 84 is the ‘Pilgrimage’.
 Matthew Henry’s An Exposition of the O&NT, (4:326) here observes:
Our way to heaven lies through a valley of Baca, but even that may be made a well if we make due improvement of the comforts God has provided for the pilgrims of the heavenly city.
 Gray & Adams Bible Com., 2:612 explains:
To such a one, whose soul is athirst for God, the valley of Baca becomes a well, while the hot rock pours out its streams of blessing.
It portrays a true state of mind of a Pilgrim to Makkah.
 The Peshitta, (p.628):
They have passed through the valley of weeping [the word ‘weeping’ shows that the actual word here was ‘Baca’, because its meaning, if not taken as a proper noun, is ‘weeping’], and have made it a dwelling place; the Lawgiver shall cover it with blessings.
 The actual Hebrew word used here in the Bible is חיל ‘khahyil’. According to Strong’s Dictionary, (Entry 2428, p. 39), it means, ‘an army, strength, band of men, company.’
 Gray & Adams Bible Com., 2:612 explains:
The poet would rather be the humblest of the guests of Jehovah than dwell at ease among the heathen.
It depicts the honour and esteem which the poet attaches to the ‘House of God’.
 The Peshitta (p. 628) presents it as:
For the Lord God is our supply and our helper;
Servitor means: A man servant (Chambers Eng. Dic., 1989; 1345).