Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This is a Bible lesson on a passage outside the current ISSL schedule, Psalm 63. It says that it’s a psalm of David when he was in the wilderness of Judah. That puts it at a time he was fleeing either Saul or Absalom, and the fact that he calls himself king in verse 11 conclusively makes it the experience at the time of Absalom’s rebellion. Remember what has happened. David’s own son is out to kill him and take the throne of Judah. David has left Jerusalem with his loyal troops, leaving behind the temple of God and the Ark of the Covenant. This is one of the very lowest points of David’s life. Maybe the whole Bathsheba-and-death-of-their-son incident was this bad, but this is still about as miserable as it gets. But in this misery comes this wonderful expression of dependence upon and praise for God.
Kidner titles verses 1-4 “God my desire.” Verse 1 opens with a description of David’s intense longing for God.
Psa 63:1 A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah. O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
“you are my God” is the basis of all that follows. The fundamental thing about life for David is his relationship with the I AM. The covenant love of the God of the Bible is the central fact of David’s existence. This man didn’t know the whole story of redemption. He only saw the work of Christ dimly in the future. But he knew that the fact that God was his and he was God’s was the basic issue of life.
“earnestly” or “early” I seek you. The older translations used “early.” Both are good. First I seek you, it’s the priority of the day and of my life. Earnestly/with a whole heart I seek you. My soul thirsts, my flesh faints, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. This is David’s present physical experience. Dry and weary he’s marched out of Jerusalem, an old man with heavy heart accompanied by only his most loyal troops. The desperation of that situation is complete except for the goodness of God. It’s obvious, but bears saying, that this whole psalm is not the expression of one groping for a god he doesn’t know but rather the words of a friend of God, whose whole being longs for Him. This is either really how it was for David or is just flowery exaggeration. And of truth, it is the former. This was a man whose whole heart was given to God, and like one constantly in need of water, David says that except for God’s presence he would faint away dead.
Verse 1 is in the present tense: “I seek, thirst, and faint.” In verse 2 he looks back.
2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.
There was no temple at this point. The Ark of the Covenant was in a tent in Jerusalem. But we can hear in this verse the words of a man who dearly wanted to build a temple for God, who longed to worship God with others in Jerusalem, who saw in the presence of the Ark a visible representation of the real presence of God. With physical eyes David has seen the Ark and that has pointed him to heaven where God is seen in power and glory. And he is sure that God, the covenant-keeping God, will be with him in even this misery.
2Sa 15:25 Then the king said to Zadok, “Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the LORD, he will bring me back and let me see both it and his dwelling place.
Psa 63:3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
God’s steadfast love is better than life. At the end of the day, what do human beings value more than life? When push comes to shove, humans will trade anything they’ve got for it. And David rightly says that life, in comparison to really genuinely knowing God, comes in second. David’s motivation for praise is God’s steadfast love. God’s hesed/loving-kindness/covenant love, God’s steady, unchangeable, faithful love for his people, this is the rock of David’s life, as it is the rock of every real believer’s life.
Rom 8:38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,
39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
David is in a miserable situation. He remembers better times worshiping in Jerusalem. But he also knows that God is not confined to Jerusalem, and he knows that God’s faithful nature/steadfast love is the very guarantee of real and eternal life itself. And that present reality causes him to break into verbal praise.
Psa 63:4 So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.
When David contemplates the mercy and faithfulness of God, it bubbles out of Him. David’s open hands upraised to God convey dependence upon Him and trust in Him. Paul in 1Tim 2:8 speaks about that posture being an appropriate one for praying Christians.
Verses 5-8 Kidner calls “God my delight.”
5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
In verse 1, David’s longing for God is very fundamental and basic. Without God, he’s like a guy without water, he’s in immediate desperate straits. God, in His abundant mercy, doesn’t just give him a cool drink, but provides a whole banquet as well. David’s not going to faint from dehydration or weakness/starvation. He’s cared for long term, and sumptuously so. God doesn’t provide meager water and bread, but all that one could ever desire, at least if one is seeing straight. And again, that is cause for verbal praise.
6 when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
David and those with him are in danger from Absalom. Their sleep cannot be all that sound. If Absalom had not foolishly delayed, but rather attacked immediately, David’s position would have been precarious. It’s “in the watches of the night.” You get the sense that the nighttime hours drag by without immediate relief for David. But that doesn’t undo David. Rather, he testifies that those are rich times, when he has reason to meditate on God’s abundant provision. I don’t think David is giddy with happiness here, but when he lies there on the ground in the battle camp, and really thinks it through, there is reason to praise God in the very hard things. He’s not been left alone.
7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
God has not somehow simply stood by, passively loving David in some abstract and non-tangible way. He has rather been the very present help in trouble spoken of in Psalm 46. He’s sheltered David like a parent bird shelters its young. And that is cause for singing! Really, if He is all powerful, His love for us is unshakable, He is our help, and He shelters us like loving parent, what else is there? In the watches of the night in hard times, can we not be satisfied with Him and praise Him?
8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
My soul clings to you. The old King James Version language for this is wonderful. “My soul ‘followeth hard after’ thee.” “clings to” is elsewhere in the Old Testament rendered “cleaves to.” It’s a word used to describe marital devotion and loyalty. It’s the word used for Ruth’s beautiful devotion to Naomi. It describes one side of the truth about human relationships with God, the “free will” side, if you like. But it’s also wholly that “your right hand upholds me.” It’s all of God that we’re not overwhelmed in the hard things of life. Really, it’s He who holds us, not we that hold onto Him. Here in one verse we’ve got both sides of double truth of human responsibility and God’s sovereignty …
All of this is in a real, not imaginary world. David is in real physical danger, and those who are after him are genuinely evil. God is wholly righteous, and evil will not go unaddressed in His world. So the last section of the psalm Kidner calls “God my defense.”
9 But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword; they shall be a portion for jackals.
This is utter destruction. Jackals are the scavengers who clean up what the bigger predators have no use for. David’s wicked pursuers are really then pictured as the leftover rotting carcasses that a decent animal would pass on. They are food for creatures at the bottom of the food chain. In contrast
11 But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
The king, David , shall rejoice in God. David is king because God gave him the job. It’s his calling and responsibility, not Absalom’s. This verse is then more than a declaration that David is determined to be glad in God. It is affirmation that God’s purposes in David’s kingship will not be thwarted by the evil intent of a usurper of the throne, his own son and enemy. At the end of the day, God’s judgment is good, and reason for those who love Him to rejoice. We surely don’t want to live in a universe where evil goes on unchecked. While there was personal misery for David that his own son would suffer the wrath of God’s justice, there is really no alternative if the universe is going to be sane and righteousness is to reign. For the mouths of liars will be, must be, stopped.