For better is a day in Your courts than a thousand [elsewhere]; I prefer standing at the threshold in the house of my God more than dwelling in the tents of the wicked.
Psalm 84 is a song of longing for the house of God, to be where the Lord dwells, and where His praise is sung and His people gather for worship. It may have been sung by Hebrew pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem for a festival, but whatever the context, it expresses the heartfelt desire for worship that should be in every believer.
The psalmist makes two comparisons in this verse. The first is between spending a day in the courts of the Lord than a thousand days elsewhere, or in other places. The Temple in Jerusalem had a series of courts, an outer court for Gentile converts, a court for women, a court for Israelite men, and a court for priests. There were also various gateways into the courts, used by different people for different purposes. At the center of the Temple was the Holy of Holies, which is where the Ark of the Covenant was, and where once a year the sacrifice for atonement was made by the High Priest. The psalmist says that to be in the courts of the Lord–and he doesn’t specify which one, so we can presume any of these courts, is better than spending a thousand days anywhere else. Just to be within the vicinity of where God’s people are worshiping just for a day is more precious than being anywhere else for a thousand days.
The second comparison is between standing at the threshold of the Temple (some translations speak of being a “gatekeeper”–but I think “standing at the threshold” makes more sense of the comparison), and dwelling in the tents of the wicked. Someone who stands at the threshold of a place is someone who is not planning to stay. They’re visiting, or just looking in, as opposed to someone who dwells, who has made their abode in that place. The psalmist has made a choice (my translation “prefer” is probably not strong enough–the verb is “to choose”): he would rather hang around the entrance to the Temple, able to hear the worship of God’s people, than live with the wicked in their tents, far removed from the praises being offered to the Lord.
We don’t worship in the Temple, but we do gather for worship every Lord’s Day with God’s people. And we know the Lord inhabits the praises of His people, so the place they are gathered for worship is, indeed, the Lord’s house. Do we consider going to church better than being anywhere else? Would we rather stand in the lobby, hearing the voices of God’s people lifted in praise, and the words of the Scriptures read and expounded, than be among unbelievers? Church is not an optional extra for Christians. The Lord expects us to gather with our brethren in Christ for public, corporate worship. May the words of this psalm impress upon us the attitude we should have toward church.
Have a great week!