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DAVID'S CRY TO GOD FROM THE DESERT
SUPERSCRIPTION: A PSALM OF DAVID; WHEN HE WAS IN THE WILDERNESS OF JUDAH.
This is a very beautiful psalm of devotion to God. Matthew Henry wrote that, "Just as the sweetest of Paul's epistles were those sent out from a Roman prison, so some of the sweetest of David's Psalms are those that were penned, as this one was, in the wild desolation of the Dead Sea desert."
All but the timid scholars agree with Rawlinson who wrote: "All the indications agree exactly with the superscription that this psalm was composed by David as he fled through the wilderness of Judea toward the Jordan during the revolt of Absalom."
The authorship and occasion of this psalm are made certain by the fact that the author was a king (Psalms 63:11), who was temporarily denied access to the tabernacle in Jerusalem, and who cried out to God from a parched desert. These conditions point unerringly to King David during his flight through the wilderness of Judea from the enmity of Absalom.
Delitzsch more particularly identified David's location with that arid strip of desert just west of the Dead Sea.
There are five divisions in the psalm, the first four with two verses each, and the fifth taking in the last three verses.
"O God, thou art my God; earnestly will I seek thee:
My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee,
In a dry and weary land where no water is.
So have I looked on thee in the sanctuary,
To see thy power and thy glory."
"O God, thou art my God" (Psalms 63:1). "In the Hebrew, these words are: [~'Elohiym], [~'Eli]. [~'Elohiym] is plural and [~'Eli] is singular." Spurgeon commented on this as, "Expressing the Mystery of the Trinity and the Mystery of their Unity, along with that of the Spirit of God."
"Early will I seek thee" (Psalms 63:1). This is the KJV rendition of this clause; and we have chosen it here because of the long traditions associated with this rendition. Reginald Heber's immortal hymn, "Holy, Holy, Holy," memorializes these words in the first stanza.
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning, our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy, Merciful and Mighty, God over all, and blessed eternally.
Kidner gives a scholarly defense of this rendition.
"Where no water is" (Psalms 63:1). There is no reason for taking these words in some figurative or mystical sense. The parched desert just west of the Dead Sea reminded David of how hungry and thirsty his soul was for God.
"So have I looked upon thee in the sanctuary" (Psalms 63:2). "Some have interpreted this to mean that David was here granted a vision of God just as clear and distinct as he had seen in the sanctuary." Such a theophany is not unreasonable, for God surely did grant such a vision to Joshua in the conquest of Canaan. The threat to the Davidic dynasty, David's kingdom being a type of the Messianic kingdom, and the heavenly necessity that David's heart should have been comforted and strengthened in this situation - all these things might very well indeed have led to such a theophany.
Then, there is the mystery of that little word, "So," standing at the head of Psalms 63:2, which will surely bear this interpretation. It is no embarrassment to us that many scholars reject it.
Such a vision of God, as McCaw admitted, "Would explain the sudden transition from sadness to great joy." It would also explain the confidence and prophetic certainty of the entire psalm, which among other things, accurately announced the end of Absalom's rebellion as being accomplished by the wholesale death (literally) of the whole rebellious army, leaders and all (Psalms 63:9-10).
"Because thy lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips shall praise thee.
So will I bless thee while I live:
I will lift up my hands in thy name."
"Better than life" (Psalms 63:3). That God's lovingkindness toward those who enjoy fellowship in Him is indeed "better than life" is indeed attested by the thousands of martyrs through many centuries who have sealed with their blood the sacred truth of these blessed words. As Paul himself stated it, "I hold not my life of any account as dear unto myself, so that I may accomplish my course ... to testify the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24).
"My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness;
And my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips.
When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on
thee in the night watches."
The soul of David in Psalms 63:1 "thirsted" for God, but here the metaphor of physical hunger is employed to describe the soul's overwhelming desire for God and his healing fellowship. Jesus himself adopted both of these metaphors in the Sermon on the Mount. "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled" (Matthew 5:6).
"The night watches" (Psalms 63:6). There were three of these, the first, middle, and last; and the sleeplessness of the beleaguered king would seem to be indicated by his being awake, thinking of God, during the night watches.
"For thou hast been my help,
And in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.
My soul followeth hard after thee:
Thy right hand upholdeth me."
"In the shadow of thy wings" (Psalms 63:7). "It is our duty to rejoice in the shadow of God's wings. This denotes our recourse to Him through faith and prayer, as naturally as little chickens flee from the cold to the protection of the hen's wings." Christ himself adopted this beautiful metaphor (Matthew 23:37).
DAVID PROPHESIES THE END OF THE REVOLT
"But those that seek my soul to destroy it,
Shall go into the lower parts of the earth.
They shall be given over to the power of the sword:
They shall be a portion for the foxes.
But the king shall rejoice in God:
Every one that sweareth by him shall glory;
For the mouth of them that speak lies shall be stopped."
"Those ... shall go into the lower parts of the earth" (Psalms 63:9). This is merely an Old Testament manner of speaking of the grave. In Ephesians 4:9, Paul referred to the grave of Jesus as "the lower parts of the earth." The meaning here is simply that the enemies of the king shall die.
"They shall be given over to the power of the sword" (Psalms 63:10). Twenty thousand of Absalom's forces were slain by the sword in the battle that ended the rebellion, which was fought in the forest of Ephraim (2 Samuel 18:7f). But that was far from all of it. "The forest devoured more people that day than the sword." Thus, more than twenty-thousand more were numbered among the slain.
"They shall be a portion for the foxes" (Psalms 63:10). "The word here should be translated `jackals,' as that is the meaning of it," as is indicated by the alternative reading in the American Standard Version margin.
What a remarkable fulfilment of David's prophecy came to pass. With no less than forty-thousand of Absalom's partisans to be buried, there was no earthly way that such a feat could have been accomplished. Thousands were left where they fell to become the food of beasts. "The jackals are the scavengers of the East. They prey on dead bodies, and assemble in troops on battlefields to feast on the slain."
Kidner noted that, "The jackals are the final scavengers, consuming the remains of the kill rejected by larger beasts. The wicked are, in other words, the very leavings of mankind."
Evaluated by any criteria known, David's prophecies here are among the most remarkable in the Bible. Never was a rebellion snuffed out as suddenly and thoroughly as was Absalom's, several facets of which were outlined in the prophecies.
1. The enemies went down to death. Absalom and Ahithophel, the leaders, led the way.
2. Forty-thousand of the rebel army died in the forest of Ephraim.
3. The bodies of the dead provided food for the wild beasts.
4. Many were left unburied, for there was plenty left for the jackals.
5. The king rejoiced in God, throne restored, enemies all dead; back at home.
None of these details are missing from the prophecy.
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 63". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29