What is “Baca”? That’s what one of my daughter’s asked after singing Psalm 84 together this week in family worship. I have often meant to look it up, and so we did. What a nugget we mined together!
As this Psalm was our Psalm of the month in March, you’ll remember that the whole Psalm sings of how much the writers love to be in God’s house of worship (vss. 1-2); so much so that they would rather be there than a thousand days anywhere else (vs. 10). They’d even prefer being a lowly doorkeeper of the house of God than hanging out inside the tents of the wicked (vs. 10). In fact, they would go over mountain and valley to get there, and no one would keep them away. Nothing could keep them from getting to worship Christ with His and their brethren within their Father’s House. Not even the “Valley of Baca”:
Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them. Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools. (Psalm 84:5-6)
It’s almost like they are saying, “We’d walk through the dessert barefoot uphill both ways without water if that’s what it took to get to corporate worship. Nothing will keep us away, no way, no how, no sir!” The phrase, “Valley of Baca” seems to be a figurative expression, and means something either like “Valley of Weeping” or “Valley of Tears/Trickling” (some say Valley of Mulberry Trees); basically, it means a dry valley that would not be pleasant to travel through, and thus some would use it as an excuse therefore to turn around and not make it to worship. Yet the Psalmists say that even if they faced the Valley of Baca on their pathway to Church, somehow they would make water out of it and survive to get through to worship God where He especially meets with His assembled people. They would make lemonade out of lemons to refresh themselves enough to get through to be refreshed within the congregation where Christ Personally speaks and sings to and with His brethren (Psalm 22:22, 25/Hebrews 2:12; Psalm 40:7-10/Hebrews 10:7-10). There’s no way they’re missing out on that special experience of God’s grace and truth!
John Calvin gives a powerful commentary on this verse that I encourage you to meditate on as we continue our evening sermons on the fourth commandment, preparing for them by singing Psalm 92: A Psalm or Song for the sabbath day. It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most High: To shew forth thy lovingkindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night (vss. 1-2).
The meaning of the Psalmist is, that no impediments can prevent the enlightened and courageous worshippers of God from making conscience of waiting upon the sanctuary. By this manner of speaking, he confirms the statement which he had previously made, That nothing is more desirable than to be daily engaged in the worship of God; showing, as he does, that no difficulties can put a stop to the ardent longings of the godly, and prevent them from hastening with alacrity, yea, even though their way should be through dry and barren deserts, to meet together to solemnise the holy assemblies … There is, however, no doubt, that dry and barren deserts are here to be understood, in travelling through which, much difficulty and privation must be endured, particularly from the want of water; drink being of all other articles the most necessary to persons when travelling. [The Psalmist] intended this as an argument to prove the steadfastness of the godly, whom the scarcity of water, which often discourages travelers from prosecuting their journey, will not hinder from hastening to seek God, though their way should be through sandy … vales. In these words, reproof is administered to the slothfulness of those who will not submit to any inconvenience for the sake of being benefited by the service of God. They indulge themselves in their own ease and pleasures, and allow nothing to interfere with these. They will, therefore, provided they are not required to make any exertion or sacrifice, readily profess themselves to be the servants of God; but they would not give a hair of their head, or make the smallest sacrifice, to obtain the liberty of hearing the gospel preached, and of enjoying the sacraments. This slothful spirit, as is evident from daily observation, keeps multitudes fast bound to their nests, so that they cannot bear to forego in any degree their own ease and convenience. Yea, even in those places where they are summoned by the sound of the church-bell to public prayers … to hear the doctrine of salvation, or to partake of the holy mysteries, we see that some give themselves to sleep, some think only of gain, some are entangled with the affairs of the world, and others are engaged in their amusements. It is therefore not surprising, if those who live at a distance, and who cannot enjoy these religious services and means of salvation, without making some sacrifice of their worldly substance, remain lolling at home. That such may not live secure and self-satisfied in the enjoyment of outward prosperity, [the Psalmist] declares, that those who have true heart religion, and who sincerely serve God, direct their steps to the sanctuary of God, not only when the way is easy and cheerful, under the shade and through delightful paths, but also when they must walk through rugged and barren deserts; and that they will rather make for themselves cisterns with immense toil, than be prevented from prosecuting their journey by reason of the drought of the country.
With these challenging words before us, let us remember what was said in an evening sermon recently, entitled “Watch Your Sabbath Attitude”, guided by the first part of Westminster Larger Catechism 119:
If you are like the men in Amos and Malachi, here’s how your actions and attitude really sing Psalm 84:1-10: How aggravating are thy tabernacles, O LORD of heavy burdens! My soul loatheth, yea, even fainteth about the idea of being drug to the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh snuff against the boring God. Yea, why would the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may bury her young, even thine sepulchres, O LORD of heavy burdens, my taskmaster, and my oppressor. Blessed are they that leave thy house: they will be still avoiding thee. Stop the music. Pathetic is the man whose crutch is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them. Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a swamp; the mold also stinketh the pools. They go from crutch to crutch, every one of them in Zion gets dragged before God. O LORD God of hosts, I got nothin’ to say, O God of Jacob. Stop the music. Behold, O God our kill-joy, and look upon the yawns of thine annoyed. For a day in thy courts is worse than a thousand anywhere else but here! I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my pub, than to dwell in the tents of Shem.
May we have the devoted attitude of Psalm 84 toward worship in God’s house, and may we show it truly as they did in going out of our way to worship God with God’s people every time they get together, as do the writers of Psalm 84 — even if it means going through the Valley of Baca to get there.
In closing, I have in mind this photo that sits in my office given to Elder Renner by Pastor Bradley in Wales. It shows a number of saints who worship at one of the mission churches in the Philippines that Pastor Bradley has helped grow in Reformed doctrine and practice over the years. On the back of the photo, there is a handwritten note about one of the women and her children focused on in the center of the picture.