This is a Pilgrim Psalm, a celebration of marching to Zion for any number of annual feasts and festivals. The imagery is rich with symbolism.
The psalmist begins with a common figure of speech heard among pilgrims meeting to share the journey. They refer to the House of Jehovah as if it were a long lost dear relative. Just the sight of it in the distance makes the heart sing! Never mind the tired body as the long journey is near the end; the soul itself grows weary and faint being away too long from the symbolic imperial courts of the Sovereign Ruler. Oh, to be in His vicinity again! The hearts are aflame with anticipation.
The pilgrim envies the very birds that reside in the Temple precincts. Stop and consider the context a moment: Asaph and his descendants mostly lived in or near Jerusalem. It was their duty as Temple singers to be there year round. It’s not as if they were unaware of the paradox that those who live closest to the Holy Place are often cynical, whose ritual observances are empty habit. This is a hidden joke here. Speaking through the pilgrim, the lyrical priest senses in his heart that surely the very birds are taking full advantage of the blessings of flocking to a structure that would offer lots of nesting opportunities well out of reach of anything without feathers. But the birds are not fallen and know their Creator instinctively, needing no such tangible reminder of Him as temples and rituals. The psalmist wants to capture the joy and wonder of someone who counts it a privilege to worship. Thus, he is among those blessed to hang around and worship formally on a daily basis. It’s a big deal to him.
Then he explains why it matters so much: He lives here, but his heart is always on pilgrimage. We can’t be sure, but if the Valley of Baca were a literal geographic location, it would have been dominated by a weeping shrub, most likely the Arabian balsam, which is drought tolerant. Obviously the psalmist uses this as a symbol of a rather long and difficult passage in life. People whose heart remains hungry for more of the Lord’s Presence and power can turn the desert valleys into places filled with springs of living water, whose lives are filled with the downpour of blessings. Never mind the bad times, they just keep getting stronger in faith.
So standing before the Lord, he first observes the ritual of calling on God simply because He is God. Then observing the second protocol, he prays for his king, gesturing to the palace that stood next to the Temple.
Then he launches into a final celebration of the high privilege of standing a place long recognized as holy ground, even before Abraham wandered the area. If he died here, it would be more than he deserved. When on duty, a doorkeeper slept in the vestibule behind the door and lived a very Spartan existence. In more lyrical terms, it was his duty to open the door for the Master of the place, able to recognize Him in whatever guise He traveled, ready at any hour. That would be better than a solid and comfortable residence with any number of folks whose hearts were effectively dead to moral truth. Think of the immense privileges of serving God! He is the very sun in the sky, the armor of His warriors. Whatever it is we can imagine as “good” is in His hands offered to us daily. Just walk in His character.
In the final verse, the word for “trust” in Hebrew refers to committing oneself to a feudal lord, without any reservation and expectation, for whatever service He decides.