The Hebrew expression natsách (preceded by the preposition “to”) is commonly thought to signify “to the musical director” or “leader.” In the Septuagint, the rendering is “to the end.” An ancient Latin translation of the Hebrew Psalter reads victori (“to the victor”), probably because of linking the Hebrew expression to a root meaning “to defeat.” This suggests that considerable uncertainty exists about the significance of natsách.
There is also uncertainty about the meaning of the expression “according to the Gittith.” In the Septuagint, the rendering is “concerning the winepresses,” possibly suggesting that the psalm should be rendered according to the melody of a composition sung when men were treading grapes. Another possibility is that Gittith designated a musical instrument.
Specifically called a “psalm,” this composition is attributed to the sons of Korah, probably meaning the descendants of the Levite who rebelled against the divinely granted authority of Moses and Aaron. (Numbers 16:1-3; 26:10, 11)
With deep appreciation for the sanctuary, the psalmist referred to the dwelling place of “YHWH of hosts” as “lovely” or “beloved.” Being in the plural, the Hebrew word (mishkán) and the corresponding Greek word (skénoma) in the Septuagint for “dwelling place” may call attention to the superlative nature of God’s tabernacle. The designation “YHWH of hosts” reveals that mighty angelic hosts are in his service.
It appears that the psalmist found himself in circumstances that did not permit him to go to the sanctuary for worship. His “soul” or he himself longed for, yes, fainted for the “courts of YHWH.” His intense yearning to be among other worshipers of God in the sacred courts exhausted him. The thought of being there may have prompted him to sing with joy to the living God. His expression of joy came from the heart, his deep inner self, and involved his flesh or his entire organism.
The psalmist observed that a sparrow finds a home, and a swallow a nest for herself where she may have her young. Whereas birds had access to the temple area, even being able to build nests near the altar, the psalmist, by reason of his unfavorable circumstances (possibly as an exile), could not fulfill his yearning to be in the temple courts. The psalmist expressed his relationship to YHWH of hosts in a very personal way, speaking of him as “my king and my God.” (See the Notes section on verse 3 for additional comments.)
Those who were privileged to serve regularly at YHWH’s house were fortunate, blessed, or enjoyed a state of desirable happiness. Those so favored would have been priests and Levites who could continue to praise God while serving at the temple.
Fortunate, blessed, or happy also would be the man who found his strength in God, being consoled and sustained at all times. The highways such a man would have in his heart (“mind,” according to number of translations) or in his deep inner self would be the roads leading to Jerusalem, where the temple was located. According to the Septuagint, such a man had God as the source of his aid. (See the Notes section for verses 5 and 6 regarding the rendering of the Septuagint.)
On the way to the temple in Jerusalem, worshipers would pass through the “valley of Baca,” a dry area. Because of having the temple as their goal, they would not look upon the scenery in a negative way but would perceive it as being like a well-watered region. A number of translations make this sense explicit. “They pass through the Valley of Baca, regarding it as a place of springs, as if the early rain had covered it with blessing.” (Tanakh) “As they pass through the dry valley of Baca, it becomes a place of springs; the autumn rain fills it with pools.” (GNT, Second Edition) “As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it like a spring. The autumn rains fill it with pools of water.” (NCV)
It would appear that the prospect of being among other worshipers at the temple, invigorated those traveling to Jerusalem. This seems to be indicated by the words “they go from strength to strength.” There, in Jerusalem or Zion, the “God of gods” would be seen, for it was the location of his representative dwelling.
Reflecting on his own situation, the psalmist petitioned YHWH of hosts to hear his prayer. He repeated the plea with the words, “Give ear, God of Jacob.”
For the descendants of Jacob or the Israelites, God was a protective shield. The psalmist specifically made an appeal for God to look favorably on the “face” or person of his anointed one. Whether this “anointed one” designated the reigning king or the high priest cannot be determined from the context.
The psalmist regarded a day in the temple courts as better or more precious than a thousand days spent in any other location. He preferred to stand at the threshold of God’s house (occupying a lowly position or, according to the Septuagint, choosing “to be cast aside in the house of God”) rather than to reside in the “tents of wickedness,” regardless of how comfortable and luxurious the dwellings of the ungodly might be.
YHWH is a “sun” and a “shield,” providing light, comforting warmth, and protection for his people. On those whom he approves, he bestows “favor” and “glory” or honor, granting them his blessing and a noble or dignified standing. He does not withhold good from those walking or conducting themselves uprightly.
The psalmist concludes with the confident acknowledgment that the man who trusts in YHWH of hosts is fortunate or blessed, enjoying a desirable state of well-being.
Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.
In verse 3(4), “altar” is plural in Hebrew and in the Septuagint. This appears to be a plural of excellence, emphasizing the superlative nature of the altar.
Verses 4(5) and 8(9) conclude with “selah,” which term is of uncertain significance. The Septuagint rendering is diápsalma, thought to mean “pause” or “musical interlude.”
For verses 5(6) and 6(7), the extant Septuagint text reads, “Fortunate [the] man whose aid is from you, Lord. In his heart, he has determined to go up the valley of weeping to [the] place which he has appointed, for also the lawgiver will give [the] blessing.” This could be understood to mean that the man would be making his ascent from the valley to the place God had appointed for worship (the temple in Jerusalem), and there God, the lawgiver, would give his blessing.
The Septuagint rendering “lawgiver” (the participial form of nomothetéo) would somewhat fit the meaning “teacher” for the Hebrew word moréh. This Hebrew term has also been defined as “early rain.” The obscurity of the Hebrew text and the variety of possible meanings account for the differences in interpretive renderings. “Passing through the valley of Baca they make it a spring; the early rain also covers it with blessings.” (NASB) “As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a source of springwater; even the autumn rain will cover it with blessings.” (HCSB) “When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs, where pools of blessing collect after the rains!” (NLT) “Those passing through a valley of weeping, a fountain do make it, blessings also cover the director.” (Young) “As they pass through the Baca valley, they find spring water to drink. Also from pools the Lord provides water for those who lose their way.” (NAB)
In verse 11(12), the Septuagint does not refer to God as being a “sun” and a “shield.” It says that he “loves mercy and truth.”