WORD STUDY – THE SUN – שׁמשׁ
Psalms 84:11 “For the Lord God is a sun and a shield, the Lord gives grace and glory. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.”
Sometimes we forget that when we read the Psalms we are reading poetry. This is probably due to the fact that most people consider poetry to be rhymes. You know like, “Little boxes, little boxes, little boxes made of ticky tack, little boxes and they’re all made just the same.” Actually, rhyming and meter are only poetic disciplines but that is not what makes a poem a poem. A poem seeks to express a feeling, something abstract and it uses imagery, metaphors, similes etc. to get that feeling across.
Psalms 84 makes very good use of metaphors to explain God’s relationship to us. The Lord is a sun and the Lord is a shield are obviously metaphors. A metaphor helps to describe something. For instance if we say that a man is a fox, we do mean he has a tail and pointed nose we are saying that he has certain attributes like a fox, that is he is clever and quick witted. We say the Lord is a sun, what associations do we make? He is warm, bright, giver of life, giver of light. Some people will say; “If it is not spelled out clearly in the Bible then I will not believe it.” Will the Lord being warm, bright, giver of light and life is not really in the Bible word for word, but by simply saying He is a sun you have embedded in one word many words and descriptions.
But if we put this poem in its proper context we find the sun has an even deeper and more significant meaning. The word sun is shemesh. This is originally a Phoenician loan word for a deity who gives life. Thus, the Lord being a sun is a life giver.
Now look at the previous verse: “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.” Verse 11 then explains why the writer feels this way. It is because the Lord is a sun and a shield. The word wicked is rasa’ This is one of those ra words where the third letter, in this case is an Ayin tells us the type of evil. This represents an evil of ungodliness, or to be without God. Thus we have an image of being without God is like being without the sun. We live in darkness and if there is no sun everything quickly dies.
The context suggest this is an evil place. This does not have to be a place where evil or bad things take place. It could be a place owned or operated by a good person. A neighbor’s home, a school function or a place of entertainment. Nothing evil or bad about the place, but yet, devoid of the presence of God. Hence the writer would much rather be a simple servant in the House of God than in a place where God is not dwelling. He just wants to be near God regardless of the position. The picture here is of God being not just a host, but the perfect host as the sun is considered perfect.
In oriental culture, hospitality was considered a great honor and a dishonor if your guest did not feel properly honored. Having Aspergers Syndrome and not having many guest in my household, I fully understand what an honor it is to have someone care enough to visit my home. I have a home email address and when I receive a personal email, not from some Nigerian prince who needs to park his money in my bank account, but from someone who knows me or wants to know me. Heck, I even bet if you are not an Aspie, you would feel it an honor if someone you respect, maybe your pastor or a teacher, pays you a personal visit. In Oriental culture as a guest you would be provided warmth, comfort and food. Yet to the writer God is a sun. The sun was considered the giver of life, warmth, comfort and food. Thus, to the Psalmist, God is the perfect host and the writer is picturing God as such and that we are His honored guests. When we visit Him he is honored and as thrilled as any Aspie or person having someone they highly respect pay them a visit.
A host in oriental culture must provide protection for his guest. So too as the perfect host, God will surround us with protection, he is our shield which in Hebrew is magen which means an encirclement of protection. As long as we are under his roof we can be guaranteed that He is honored bound to protect us even at the cost of His own life. Which basically is what He did. So comparing God to the perfect host as the sun is sort of Messianic here.
This perfect host gives us grace which in this case is the Hebrew word chen which means favor. We get preferential treatment like a long time customer. He will go out of his way to make sure we have everything we need so we are comfortable. He will also give us glory or kavod which in this context refers to honor and respect. The perfect host will place you in the best room, give you the best towels, use the best china etc. This too is to show you respect and that you are welcomed.
No good thing will he withhold to them who walk uprightly. There is a condition to all this wonderful treatment. If you go to a restaurant you will be given the best of everything, no good will they withhold from you, so long as you pay well enough. If you whisper to the waitress that you will give a 100% tip if she sings Happy Birthday to your sweetheart, I bet you she will sing, especially if she is trying to pay her way through college. With God you will get His best under the condition that you walk uprightly. The word walk is halaka which is a righteous walk and the word uprightly is tamam which is without blemish, perfect, no defect. Well that puts this wonderful treatment from God about as far out of reach as a five star restaurant is to panhandler.
But soft, is that not why Jesus came to this earth to die on a cross? So that He who was without blemish or spot could make us without blemish or spot? Thus, through his blood, we are now welcomed into the house of God presided over by the perfect host, God Himself and we are His honored guest who are tamam righteous through His Son Jesus Christ.