From Strength to Strength

Dr. Brian Allison

Psalm 84:5-7 reads, "How blessed is the man whose strength is in Thee; in whose heart are the highways to Zion! Passing through the valley of Baca, they make it a spring, the early rain also covers it with blessings. They go from strength to strength, everyone of them appears before God in Zion." Now to appreciate the meaning and personal applications of these verses, we need to understand the main message of the Psalm. The main message is the formal worship of God; coming before God in His holy temple. So, we read, "How lovely are Thy dwelling places, O LORD of Hosts!...How blessed are those who dwell in Thy house! They are ever praising Thee...For a day in Thy courts is better than a thousand outside" (vss. 1,4,10a). The (historical) theme of the Psalm is the eventual meeting at Zion (or Jerusalem) in order to worship God.

Psalm 84 has three main divisions. The first major division deals with greatly desiring the place of the worship of God (vss. 1-4). So, for instance, we read, "My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord" (vs. 2). The second major division deals with steadily moving towards the place of the worship of God, (vss. 5-7). The worshiper passes "through the valley of Baca," making his way to Jerusalem. The third major division deals with actually arriving at the place of the worship of God, and personally engaging in formal worship (vss. 8-12). So, for instance, we read of the pilgrim actually worshiping. "O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob!" (vs. 8); again, "I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God, than dwell in the tents of wickedness" (vs. 10b).

Though this Psalm refers to a specific historical, formal situation, we may approach it from a more spiritual vantage point. The key idea of Psalm 84:5-7 is that the inner strength of the believer is commensurate with, and determined by, the desire for, and the experience of, the worship of God – "How blessed is the man whose strength is in Thee; in whose heart are the highways to Zion!" This verse is a Hebrew parallelism. The second statement of the verse conceptually echoes, or is relationally tied to, the first statement. Accordingly, one's strength in God is associated with having within one's heart the highways to Zion. The phrase 'in whose heart are the highways to Zion' simply means a heart which seeks or strives for the presence of God. Here is a person who naturally and spontaneously turns to, and longs for, God in worship.

Thus, the teaching of this verse is that the one who longs for worship, the one who knows and experiences the presence of God, is the one who will experience inner rejuvenation and transformation. In the presence of God and through the worship of His name, one experiences inner grace. So, for example, we read, "Thou wilt make known to me the path of life; in Thy presence is fulness of joy; in Thy right hand there are pleasures forever" (Ps. 16:11). So, inner strength derives from true worship, from encountering and communing with the living God. Similarly, the absence of true worship results in inner weakness, debilitation, and exhaustion.

God Himself is the source of this inner strength. He Himself provides it. He imparts and communicates this strength in the very worship of His name – "How blessed is the man whose strength is in Thee [i.e., rooted in Thee, generated from Thee]" as he or she seeks the presence of God. We are wholly dependent on God for needed strength. He chooses the moment when He will give strength. He also chooses the extent to which He will give strength. Being strengthened in God is thus wholly a work of grace. It is not primarily a matter of human grit (though human intensity and perseverance serve God's purposes). It is not primarily a matter of human determination (though the human will is not inconsequential in securing God's blessings). It is not primarily a matter of mechanically applying practical formulae or carefully following self-help steps (though an active strategic approach is beneficial). It is primarily, and ultimately, a matter of God Himself radically moving and revealing Himself, and granting His strength. So, we read in Psalm 18:30ff, "As for God, His way is blameless; the word of the LORD is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him. For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God, the God who girds me with strength, and makes my way blameless? He makes my feet like hinds' feet, and sets me upon my high places. He trains my hands for battle, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. Thou hast also given me the shield of Thy salvation, and Thy right hand upholds me; and Thy gentleness makes me great. Thou dost enlarge my steps under me, and my feet have not slipped."

God's imparted strength is durable; it is firm, able to counter and reverse the various forms of depression, grief, sadness, and the normally debilitating responses to the stressful circumstances of life. Thus, the Psalmist presents an illustration, "Passing through the valley of Baca [i.e., weeping], they make it a spring, the early rain also covers it with blessings." He teaches that God-imparted and God-rooted strength is unflappable, as well as has a medicinal, invigorating effect on one's surroundings. These empowered ones who passed through this valley and transformed it; and they did so because of the strength that originated from them. These ones positively changed their environment. Obviously, we must understand this statement to be a figure of speech. The point is that these ones who were strengthened by God, in turn, communicated strength to others. They thus became sources of grace to others. Accordingly, in his own sorrow and depression, the apostle Paul could state, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Cor. 1:3,4).

God-rooted, worship – derived strength need have no end, but rather can multiply – "They go from strength to strength, everyone of them appears before God in Zion." Perhaps a better translation should read thus, "They go from strength to strength, appearing before God in Zion." As a believer worships, he will experience incremental, even exponential, strength. He will grow in internal power in so far as he experiences God's presence. The extent and intensity of one's participation in the true worship of God is proportional to the measure and extent of the experience of inner stability and fortitude (i.e., spiritual change).

Practically speaking, what does it mean to go 'from strength to strength?' It may mean, for instance, that a believer will grow in his willingness to deal with a family issue and bring it to resolution. It may mean that a hesitant and fearful believer will grow in hope in order to handle the tough issues of life. It may mean that a believer will grow in his commitment to action in establishing walk with integrity and honesty in his place of employment. Again, it may mean that you will grow in your determination to fulfil your conjugal responsibilities to your husband or your wife. It may mean that you will grow in your commitment to please God by nurturing your devotional life and expanding your Christian service. It may mean that you will grow in tenacity to endure persecution and opposition; and we could multiply the examples of what it means to go 'from strength to strength.'