I continue to mull over Adonai Tzv'ot or Jehovah Sabaoth (see https://www.christianmusingsfortoday.com/post/god-of-angel-armies) . There's so much to contemplate regarding calling on the God of angel armies for requests big and small.
I'm delighted to find that one of my favorite Psalms (Psalm 84) is the motherlode of Lord of Hosts references--four times in this one psalm alone!
It reminds me of a couple of songs that reference God and angel armies/helpers:
Amy Grant's Angels Watching Over Me: https://youtu.be/KNIO9KH3UC8
Chris Tomlin's Who Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies): https://youtu.be/qOkImV2cJDg
Tomlin's chorus in particular really picks up on what I reflected on in the last post:
I know Who goes before me. I know Who stands behind. The God of angel armies is always by my side. The One who reigns forever, He is a friend of mine. The God of angel armies is always by my side.
Psalm 84 has a slightly different take. Rather than emphasizing how we can call upon God Almighty in our time of need, the response of the writers (the Sons of Korah) to the Lord of Hosts is simply worship.
This psalm opens with this amazing passage:
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord, my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.
As a worship leader (as were the Korahites), I find this opening to be so powerfully inspiring. Would that we all always felt this deep longing and passion for the courts of the Lord!
And, we see that they immediately reference the Lord of Hosts in this passage...twice!
In between these references and the next one in verse eight is an interesting section on life's difficulties---very appropriate to notice here since when I'm not blogging on the Names of God, I'm writing about suffering (and sometimes a mix of both!). Here are verses 5-7:
Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools, They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion.
So, first off, this is my favorite section of my favorite psalm setting in the Book of Psalms for Singing (see https://youtu.be/fOQm7qweKPE). I've always loved the musical setting (same as the Naval Hymn--or Eternal Father, Strong to Save) and that phrasing about going from strength to strength. I had never really focused on the part about the Valley of Baca until I started studying what Scripture has to say about suffering.
The Valley of Baca, according to Warren Wiersbe, is “any difficult and painful place in life, where everything seems hopeless and you feel helpless, like ‘the pit of despair.’” According to this site (https://explorethebible.lifeway.com/blog/adults/the-view-from-the-valley-session-5-psalm-841-12/#:~:text=Warren%20Wiersbe%20describes%20the%20Valley,through%20the%20valley%20of%20weeping.), the word baca means "balsam" but also "weep" (i.e. trees "weeping" resin). It's the valley of weeping.
I've been there. I'm in and out of there still. Psalm 84 describes how pilgrims pass through there. This is part of life, and it's definitely part of life if you're a pilgrim.
I've had some lovely conversations lately with co-sufferers, and we have come to the realization that what we're going through isn't so weird and unusual--our eyes are just opened to the reality that others may be in denial over. Life involves suffering. It simply does. We can deny it, avoid it, run away from it, and rail against it. But sooner or later, suffering comes for us all.
That may sound very depressing, but I take great encouragement. It normalizes suffering, like when you have a physical or mental health issue going on and a diagnosis gives you comfort because you say, "Finally, I understand! I just KNEW something was wrong!"
And I'm happy that thus far, I can say along with verse 5, that my strength is in God, and my heart is on the highway to Zion. I blogged about this concept in Isaiah a long while back during a focus on the book of Isaiah: https://www.christianmusingsfortoday.com/post/highway-of-holiness. Life is a pilgrimage (and, yes, a highway!!). Are we on the Holy Way or some other path? It is indeed true happiness to be on the highway to Zion, even despite the hardship and suffering. And, as I wrote in that previous blog, we need to remember that ours isn't an individual path. The pilgrim path is a communal one. There is a "we" and a "they" all through Isaiah 35 and Psalm 84.
I know that others are in the Valley of Baca with me, either co-suffering with me in my pain, or I'm co-suffering with them in theirs, or we're just acknowledging that all suffering is kinda similar when it all comes down to it and we just have an understanding together that we're on a challenging stretch on this pilgrim path right now.
Better to be there than to be on the wrong path, heading toward disaster. At least I know that Zion is the goal and aim.
What's amazing in Psalm 84 is this idea that we pilgrims can make this terrible valley a "place of springs." This isn't us "naming and claiming" something that isn't ours to claim. God's pilgrims have agency. We can effect real change. It is my deepest desire to make the path all around me a place of springs. Dear Lord, may it be so!
Sometimes we think that we have to be healthy and well and have it all together in order to be useful. The Bible teaches the opposite. It's those in a position of weakness who can be the most useful for the kingdom. And, here, it's the people walking through a literal Vale of Tears who can transform the tears into springs of water! The metaphor gets stretched further in verse six--the tears become beautiful pools! Like a fertile oasis in a desert!
And then, right after we're told that the pilgrims "go from strength to strength" and "the God of gods will be seen in Zion," we have the third "Lord of Hosts" reference:
O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed.
It's a worship pause, noted by a selah (see https://www.christianmusingsfortoday.com/post/try-to-put-a-selah-into-your-life). I know we sing about God being our Shield all the time in Christian worship. But, David Guzik, in the Enduring Word Bible Commentary (https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/psalm-84/) points out that this verse isn't talking about God as Shield but is asking God to look upon our shield, and our anointed one. Matthew Henry's commentary says "the psalmist prays for audience and acceptance with God."
It's asking God to see us. Just like Hannah (and Hagar) prayed. It's yet another passage where we can call on the Lord God of Hosts to see us, see the good that we've done and see who we are. We Protestants are always so careful to make sure that we're not doing works for the purpose of attaining salvation and righteousness by our own means. But, there is a very human need to be accepted and valued, and Who better to show what we've accomplished to than the Lord of Hosts? It's like a toddler saying, "Daddy, look at me! Look what I'm doing!" There's a beauty and honesty to that. Failing to share our successes and joys with God isn't something to be proud of. It actually smacks of claiming our successes as our own, because the impulse turns inward--we forget God in times of ease. Rather, excitedly sharing with God something good that happened shows the heart of someone who understands friendship with God.
For example, in Luke 10, we see the 72 disciples that Jesus sent out return with joy on how successful their ministry was. Rather than Jesus chiding them lest they become too prideful, He responds with,
“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
He rejoices with their rejoicing. The only correction is that He shows them more clearly what to be joyful for, and reminds them of how seeking "power over" something or someone is a problematic path. Their sharing their successes with Him is not the problem. It's a beautiful thing. But Jesus knows our hearts, and if we're rejoicing about the wrong things, it's good to have teachings that get us back on track. Don't rejoice that you have power! Don't seek it, don't search for it. See things with heavenly eyes.
Do we come to God with our joys as well as our sorrows? Do we seek joy in the midst of the Valley of Baca?
The final section is sheer praise and acknowledgement that worshipping in God's courts is far preferable to wealth and security. And we have a verse where God is likened to a sun and shield, so that's more in-keeping with the rest of the psalms. We're told that God doesn't withhold any good thing from the upright. He "bestows favor and honor." We long for these things--He's the source of granting them. We become idolatrous when we look to other sources for the deep desires of our hearts. It's OK to come to Him, to ask God to see you, to confess those deep desires and let God (not other sources) sift them to foster the good and remove the parts that would be helpful and hurtful to us and others if they were to be granted.
The psalm concludes with the final "Lord of Hosts":
O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.
And that right there would be a good descriptor of the meaning of life. Do you want happiness? Do you think you have faith? What single sentence can you take and orient your entire life around to stay on that Highway of Holiness?
This one. Psalm 84:12.