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Superscription.—“A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.” Hengstenberg: “The wilderness of Judah is the whole wilderness towards the east of the tribe of Judah, bounded on the north by the tribe of Benjamin, stretching, southward to the south-west end of the Dead Sea, eastward to the Dead Sea and the Jordan, and westward to the mountains of Judah. This wilderness is not unfrequently designated simply The wilderness. In this wilderness David was often found when flying from Saul. In the same wilderness also he took refuge during the rebellion of Absalom. That he did so is self-evident, inasmuch as the road from Jerusalem to the Jordan leads through it: it is, moreover, expressly asserted in more than one passage in the Books of Samuel (2 Samuel 15:23; 2 Samuel 15:28; 2 Samuel 16:2; 2 Samuel 16:14; 2 Samuel 17:16). We cannot refer our psalm to the time of Saul, because mention is expressly made of a king in Psalms 63:11. On the other hand, in favour of the time of Absalom; besides this reason we have a very marked reference in Psalms 63:1, ‘in a dry land, and is weary (עָיֵף) without water,’ to 2 Samuel 16:14, ‘And the king and all the people that were with him came weary (עֲיֵפִים), and he rested there.’ Comp. Psalms 16:2, according to which Ziba brought out, in the way, wine, ‘that such as were faint in the wilderness might drink,’ with the word יָנֵעַ in Psalms 17:2.”
M. Henry: “As the sweetest of Paul’, epistles were those that bore date out of a prison, so some of the sweetest of David’s Psalms were those that were penned, as this was, in a wilderness.” Donne: “The spirit and soul of the whole Book of Psalms is contracted into this psalm.” Perowne: “This is unquestionably one of the most beautiful and touching psalms is the whole Psalter.”
Homiletically, we see in this psalm, the thirst, the satisfaction, and the anticipation of the godly soul.
THE THIRST OF THE GODLY SOUL
I. The nature of this thirst.
1. It is a thirst for God. “I seek Thee; my soul thirsteth for Thee,” &c. In the second verse mention is made of God’s “power and glory” as things which the Psalmist desired to see. In the A. V. the clauses of this verse are needlessly transposed. The Hebrew is: “Thus have I beheld Thee in the sanctuary, to see Thy power and Thy glory.” The power and the glory are not the external pomp and splendour of public worship; but the communications of Divine grace, as manifested in the experience of the devout soul. The Psalmist longs for such communion with God as he had formerly enjoyed in the sanctuary. The thirst is not merely for the ordinances of religion, or for teaching concerning God, or even for His “power and glory;” but for God Himself. The thirst of the soul of man needs for its satisfaction that the soul shall be brought into vital and sympathetic relations with
(1) A Person. Creeds and ordinances cannot satisfy the soul.
(2) A living Person. Not one whose work and life and love are things of the past; but One who “is able to save, because He ever liveth,” &c.
(3) A Divine Person. One who is able satisfactorily to respond to its deepest yearnings, to help it to realise its loftiest aspirations, &c. One who ever liveth, who changeth not, &c. Only in God can the thirst of man’s soul find satisfaction. (See on Psalms 42:1-2).
2. It is an intense thirst. “I seek Thee earnestly” (not “early,” as in the A. V. The verb שָׁחַד is not to be referred to the noun שַׁחַר = the dawn. It means to “seek zealously,” a “solicitous seeking”); “my soul thirsteth for Thee, my flesh longeth” (Hengstenberg: “fainteth;” Moll: “languisheth”) “for Thee.” Each of the verbs indicates intense desire.
3. It is a thirst of the entire man “My soul thirsteth, my flesh pineth for Thee.” Soul and flesh are used to denote the whole man by his two principal parts. His whole being went out after God in fervent desire.
II. The occasion of this thirst. “In a dry and thirsty land where no water is.”
1. These words are true literally. The wilderness of Judah where David was at this time, even in the neighbourhood of the Jordan, was a desert country (2 Samuel 16:2; 2 Samuel 16:14).
2. These words are true figuratively. The desert was a picture of his condition. An exile from his throne and home, and from the sanctuary of the Lord. His own son and his most trusted counsellor, with a great host of his subjects, in armed rebellion against him. The circumstances in which he was placed led him to seek the Lord the more earnestly. Sorrow and trial often drive us the more closely to God. “When my blood flows like wine,” says Beecher, “when all is ease and prosperity, when the sky is blue, and birds sing, and flowers blossom, and my life is an anthem moving in time and tune, then this world’s joy and affection suffice. But when a change comes, when I am weary and disappointed, when the skies lower into a sombre night, when there is no song of bird, and the perfume of flowers is but their dying breath, when all is sun-setting and autumn, then I yearn for Him who sits with the summer of love in His soul, and feel that all earthly affection is but a glow-worm light, compared to that which blazes with such effulgence in the heart of God.”
“Trials make the promise sweet.
Trials give new life to prayer.”
III. The reason of this thirst. Why did David thus yearn for God? Two reasons are suggested—
1. Because of his personal relation to God. “Thou art my God.” Jehovah was the God of the Poet, not only by creation, but by covenant; not only by virtue of His claims, but also by the Poet’s choice and consecration. There was a recognised and sacred relation between them, because of which it was right and appropriate that the Psalmist should seek God. Blessed are we if, “when the woes of life o’ertake” us, we can address ourselves to Him, saying, “O God, Thou art my God.”
2. Because of his exalted estimation of God. David says that he longs for God, “Because Thy lovingkindness is better than life.” We regard “life” here as signifying more than mere existence; for the statement of the Psalmist implies that life is good; and that mere existence is not a boon is clear from Matthew 26:24, and Revelation 9:6. The Psalmist regarded the lovingkindness of God as better than a life of prosperity and pleasure. Having God’s lovingkindness in his troubled life in the wilderness of Judah, David would esteem himself more blessed than in a life of pleasure in his palace at Jerusalem without it.
“Better than life itself, Thy love,
Dearer than all beside to me;
For whom have I in heaven above,
Or what on earth compared with Thee?”
IV. The relation of this thirst to the praise of God. “My lips shall praise Thee. Thus will I bless Thee while I live; I will lift up my hands in Thy name.” The lifting up of the hands was the attitude of worship, and symbolised the lifting up of the heart.
1. In his sorrowful exile while thirsting for God, the Psalmist praises Him because of what He is in Himself, what He is to him, what He has done for him, and what He has promised to do for him. In the bitterest experiences of life the devout heart will find matter and motive for praising God.
2. In the delightful realisation of His presence, which he now seeks and anticipates, he will praise Him yet more. The prospects of the godly soul should inspire the most joyous songs.
3. In his whole life he will praise Him. “I will bless Thee while I live.” The entire life of the godly man should be grateful, reverent, and songful.
“My days of praise shall ne’er be past,
While life and thought and being last, Or immortality endures.”
CONCLUSION.—How are you endeavouring to quench the thirst of your soul? Avoid the delusive promises of satisfaction held out by the world. At no earthly stream can you find the refreshing draught which you seek (Jeremiah 2:13). “Jesus cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto ME and drink,” &c.
I. How should we seek God?
II. Where should we seek Him?
1. In the closet.
2. In His Word.
3. In the ordinances.
III. When should we seek Him?
1. Early in life.
2. In advance of temporal things.
IV. Why should we seek Him?
1. He is the soul’s life—“God.”
2. His nature is communicative—“MY God.”—W. W. Wythe.
GOD’S POWER AND GLORY MANIFESTED IN THE SANCTUARY
In nothing is genuine piety more strikingly manifested than in the esteem for Divine ordinances. In the proper use of the public means of grace, communion with God is enjoyed, spirituality of mind is promoted, &c.
By the “glory” of God as displayed in the sanctuary we understand the glory of His character as developed in the principles of His moral government and in the method of redemption. The natural perfections of God are manifested in the works of nature; His moral attributes are made known in His Word.
By the “power” of God as manifested in the sanctuary, we understand the spiritual energy which renders His Word effectual. Consider—
I. How God has manifested His glory in the sanctuary.
1. In the sanctuary He has made known the moral excellences of His character—His holiness, mercy, wisdom, faithfulness.
2. In the sanctuary His people are favoured with communion with Him. This privilege is enjoyed in meditation, praise, and prayer.
II. How God has manifested His power in the sanctuary. The means designed for the conversion of sinners and the edification of saints are admirably adapted to the end for which they are designed; yet, through the depravity of mankind, they are inefficient unless accompanied with Divine influence. Thus the power of God is seen in the sanctuary—
1. When sinners are converted.
2. When believers are edified.
III. The pleasure which the Divine manifestations have afforded the people of God. In contemplating the Divine character, in communing with Him, and in witnessing displays of the Divine power, great has been the pleasure which they have enjoyed (Psalms 26:8, and Psalms 84:0).
IV. The desirableness of being favoured with the constant manifestations of the Divine power and glory. “My soul thirsteth for Thee,” &c. If these things are so desirable, how may we attain them?
1. Esteem Divine ordinances, attend with delight upon them, and pray that the blessing of God may attend them.
2. Pray fervently for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. His agency is indispensable, &c.
1. How great is the criminality of those who neglect Divine ordinances.
2. Those who neglect them need not wonder if they are not converted.
3. How great is the privilege of having a place in the sanctuary of God.
4. What will it be to behold His power and glory in heaven!—(Abridged from an unpublished MS.)
THE LOVINGKINDNESS OF GOD BETTER THAN THE LIFE OF MAN
“Thy lovingkindness is better than life.”
These words imply—
I. That life is good. This could not be said of mere existence. Existence may be an evil—
(1.) Because of its miserableness. In his great sufferings, Job felt his existence to be a curse (Job 3:0. Comp. Matthew 26:24; Revelation 9:6).
(2.) Because of its perniciousness. From the holy Word we learn that there are certain beings in the universe whose characters are utterly depraved, whose aim in life is utterly destructive, and whose influence is only and continually malignant (John 8:44; 1 Peter 5:8). Their existence is good neither for themselves nor for others. It is a bane and blight in the universe. According to the tone and teaching of the Scriptures a life of misery or a life of sin is not to be accounted life at all, but only a form of death. David thought of a life of peace at home, in secure possession of the throne, and in the enjoyment of Divine ordinances; and he affirmed that the lovingkindness of God was better than such a life, and his statement clearly implies that life itself when it is not blighted by sin or sorrow is a good thing. It is so—
1. Because of its great faculties. How remarkable are the powers of recollection, reflection, anticipation, ratiocination, imagination, affection, with which human life is endowed! How great its power of usefulness!
2. Because of its great capacities. How immense is man’s capacity for enjoyment! The streams of delight from which he drinks are countless and inexhaustible. The whole endless future is before him for the satisfaction and development of his capacities. He was created in the image of the ever-blessed God, and, therefore, capable of participating in His peace, joy, &c.
3. Because of its conditions and circumstances. The world in which at present we spend our life is full of interest, instruction, utility, beauty; It is a great treasury, exhibition, school, temple. Heaven, to which we look forward as the scene of our life in the future, is of unspeakable glory, &c. Truly life is good. But the Psalmist states—
II. That the lovingkindness of God is better than life even at its best. “Thy lovingkindness is better than life.” It is so—
1. Because all that is good in life flows from the lovingkindness of God. The powers and capacities of human life, and all that is pleasing and precious in its circumstances and conditions, are streams from the fountain of the Divine lovingkindness. “All my springs are in Thee.” “With Thee is the fountain of life.” All that is true, useful, good, and beautiful in the universe springs from the infinite grace of God.
2. Because while much that is good and pleasant in life is transient and intermittent, the lovingkindness of God is constant and abiding. In life joyous hours are succeeded by sorrowful ones. Like David, we pass from peace and home and the sanctuary of God into the exile and weariness of “the wilderness of Judah.” Fairest prospects soon fade. But the lovingkindness of God is eternal, unchangeable, &c. It is “that good part which shall not be taken away from” the man who trusts in God.
3. The lovingkindness of God sanctifies even the pains and trials of life, so that by means of them life is enriched and blest (Romans 5:3-5; Romans 8:28; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18; James 1:2-3; James 1:12; 1 Peter 1:6-9).
4. The lovingkindness of God is the crown and glory of life. The enjoyment of it makes life’s fairest scenes more divinely beautiful; its most precious experiences more precious. It ennobles the pleasures of life, it consecrates its friendships, it sanctifies its successes, &c. It is the heaven of the soul.
1. What is the character of your life?
2. What is your estimate of the Divine lovingkindness?
THE SATISFACTION OF THE GODLY SOUL
The Psalmist passes from thirst to the assurance of satisfaction in God. And in these verses we see the nature of this satisfaction. He found satisfaction—
I. In the provisions of God. “My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness.” The provisions of God for the spiritual needs of men are frequently represented in the Scriptures as a sumptuous feast. David looked forward confidently to the realisation of spiritual satisfaction and delight.
1. The Divine provisions are spiritual. “My soul shall be satisfied.” Satisfied with delightful experiences, exalted and blessed fellowship, ennobling occupations, enrapturing prospects, &c. Pardon, communion with God, work for God, hope of holiness and heaven, &c.
2. The Divine provisions are rich. “Marrow and fatness.” The provisions of the Gospel are like a “feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.” Its blessings are not only useful but delightful; not only healthful, but pleasant.
3. The Divine provisions are abundant. The Psalmist was assured of satisfaction. “My soul shall be satisfied.” Whatever God gives He gives abundantly. Pardon (Psalms 136:5; Psalms 136:15; Psalms 103:8; Isaiah 55:7); Redemption (Psalms 130:7). Grace (2 Corinthians 9:8).
II. In meditation on God. “I remember Thee upon my bed, and meditate on Thee in the night watches.”
1. The nature of this exercise. “Remember, … meditate.” Recollection presented the doings and sayings of God, and then the mind meditated upon them, and upon Him. Meditation is not mere reverie, but musing, or fixed and continuous thought One of the most important mental exercises, especially in relation to spiritual life and progress. And we fear that it is also a most neglected exercise.
2. The subject of this exercise. “Remember Thee, … meditate on Thee.” The grandest, most glorious subject that is possible. Meditation on God is
(1) humbling, inasmuch as it reveals our feebleness, insignificance, sinfulness.
(2) Spiritualising, inasmuch as it withdraws us from the material and worldly into association with the spiritual and Divine.
(3) Transforming, inasmuch as we become like unto those with whom in thought and feeling we dwell (2 Corinthians 3:18).
3. The season of this exercise. “On my bed, in the night watches.” Night is favourable to meditation on God and spiritual things,
(1) Because of its darkness. Material things are then hidden from our view and spiritual things appear with reality and vividness.
(2) Because of its stillness. The noise and tumult of the day ill accord with meditation on spiritual and Divine themes. The quiet of the night harmonises with and aids such meditation. Great are the advantages of meditation like this.
III. In the protection of God. “Because Thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice.”
1. This protection is well assured. It is guaranteed both by God’s promise and by man’s experience. “Because Thou hast been my help, therefore,” &c.
2. This protection is perfect. “In the shadow of Thy wings.” (See the Hom. Com. on Psalms 57:1.)
3. This protection is joy-inspiring. “Will I rejoice.” (See the outline below on this verse.)
IV. In the sustentation of God. “My soul followeth hard after Thee, Thy right hand upholdeth me.” In the support of the godly soul two important things are here brought into clear view:
1. Man’s trust. “My soul followeth hard after Thee.” More correctly: “ ‘My soul cleaveth to Thee.’ Hengstenberg: “ ‘My soul depends on Thee.’ In Psalms 63:8, there are the mutual relations between the believing soul and the Lord: it depends on Him, and cleaves to Him, like a bur to a coat, and He takes hold of it, and holds it up with His powerful right hand, so that it does not sink into the abyss of destruction and despair.” Our business is to depend upon God, by faith to cleave to Him with the utmost tenacity.
2. God’s power. “Thy right hand upholdeth me.” The right hand is the instrument of skill and strength. With infinite wisdom and almighty power God sustains the souls that trust in Him. This “representation of the mutual affection and reciprocal relation of God and His servant” is both beautiful and encouraging.
V. In the celebration of the praise of God. “My mouth shall praise Thee with joyful lips.” The satisfaction of his soul the godly man seeks to express in praise to God. David resolves to praise God—
1. Vocally. “My month shall praise.” By so doing he would express the praise of his own heart, and excite the hearts and voices of others to praise God.
2. Joyfully. “With joyful lips.” To David, praising God was pleasurable employment. He viewed it not as a duty, but as a delightful privilege.
CONCLUSION.—Here then is satisfaction for the thirsting soul. In the protection, provision, and support of God, and by our meditation and trust and praise of Him, our spiritual anxieties may be calmed, our wants supplied, our joy inspired, &c. Turn thee, thou thirsting soul, from the shallow and muddy streams of earth to the clear and deep river of heavenly grace; and drink, and be for ever blessed (John 4:13-14).
THE ARGUMENT OF EXPERIENCE
These words speak alike of sorrow and joy. We need help. We can experience joy. Thus read, the text is true to life.
In commencing fresh eras in life the Christian feels that there will be nothing really new. The forms and dresses of things will alter; but the pensive features of sorrow and the open face of joy will be there too. The servant of God has an experience. God has been his “refuge and strength.” What words, then, can I select as the basis of an argument from experience more appropriate than these—“Because Thou hast been mine help,” &c.
I. The rejoicing is reasonable.—“Because.” It is not founded on promise alone (though if that be God’s, never will it be broken), but upon past experience. And upon this experience, as it divides itself into thousandfold circumstances. Oh, what seasons there have been! &c.
II. The rejoicing is personal.—“My help.” That does not exclude others. Every soldier in the army lifts up his answering Amen. Who can explain that strange mystery of individuality? At the heart of each of us there are unspoken mysteries of solitude. Even a child lives in a tiny world of its own.… “My help.” “I am not alone. God is my help.”
III. The rejoicing is real. There is joy. Something more than rest or quiescent peace. The soul was made for delight as well as for discipline and duty. Nay, rather shall I not say, for gladness in discipline and duty? In Christ there is a fountain of blessedness springing up unto everlasting life. For us all to-day there may be joy in the Saviour, the joy of forgiveness through the redeeming sacrifice of the cross, the joy of a new life which sanctifies suffering and sweetens toil, the joy of immortal life through the resurrection.
IV. The rejoicing is restful. Therefore under the shadow of Thy wings. “This is beautiful. You and I can make no such protection by machine-made covering for our beds, as a bird makes for its young. No! Rain and snow cannot pierce those shadowing wings! How roof-like their setting! How softly the inner covering makes all complete; resistance in the feathers without, down in the wings within. Can anything better represent the idea of security than this? of rest than this? of comfort than this? for it is the bird’s beating heart that is the warm glow of the nest; and it is God’s great heart of love in Christ that is near to us—so very near, taking our manhood up into God, clothing Himself in our nature, that He might succour and help us in temptation as well as in grief.…
.… The Psalmist had been meditating. Quiet hours bring quiet memories. He reminds us of the still night, in which the memory is set free, and unfolding its wings in the silence, broods over the pilgrim way. Yes, there—and there—and there, the word of the Lord was tried, and the promise of the Lord was tested, and the deliverance of the Lord was vouchsafed, and lo, there are memorial stones all along the way! “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me,” &c. “Oh, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good,” &c.
V. The rejoicing is prophetic. “Will I rejoice.” So we anticipate life’s future with entire and holy confidence. What can that future bring with it that our gracious Saviour cannot prepare us for, and order for our good? (Romans 8:31-39).
This, then, is to be written on our banners, “In the shadow of Thy wings I will rejoice.” Change and trouble must come to us all. But God’s right hand will uphold us all. “Because Thou hast been mine help,” &c.—W.M. STATHAM (Abridged from The Christian World Pulpit.)
THE ANTICIPATION OF THE GODLY SOUL
The Poet here looks forward confidently to the defeat and destruction of is enemies, and to his own exaltation because of his deliverance. The verses present to us a triple contrast.
I. A contrast of character.
1. The malignant and mendacious. The rebels were animated by a most cruel and malicious feeling against the king. They were as false as they were malicious. They spake lies. They delighted in lies. (See on Psalms 62:3-4.)
2. The religious and truthful. “Every one that sweareth by Him.” M. Henry: “That is, by the blessed name of God, and not by any idol (Deuteronomy 6:13), and then it means all good people, that make a sincere and open profession of God’s name.” Swearing by Him indicates truthfulness also. They appeal to Him as the true God, the God who delights in truth.
This great contrast of character still exists amongst men in this world. The false and the true, the good and the evil are still here.
II. A contrast of pursuit.
1. The rebels sought the life of the king. “They seek my soul.” Though the words “to destroy it” must be applied to the rebels; still it is true that they sought to take the life of David. The objects for which they were striving were utterly cruel and base.
2. The king sought his own salvation and God’s glory. They thirsted for the life of another; he thirsted for God. They looked forward to seizing his throne and kingdom; he to grateful, joyful, lifelong worship of God.
Of what character are our pursuits? Will they bear the searching scrutiny of truth and honesty?
III. A contrast of destiny.
1. The mendacious shall be silenced, and the truthful exalted.—“Every one that sweareth by Him shall glory; but the mouth of them that speak lies shall be stopped.” Hypocrisies, shams, false-hoods, may live long, as life appears to us; but they must perish; and they who utter them will come to silence and shame. Truth cannot perish, but must grow and advance to splendid triumph. The truth-seeker and the truth-speaker will have abundant reason for exultation.
2. The malignant shall be utterly and ignominiously destroyed, and the religious shall have cause for rejoicing, “And they to (their) destruction will they seek my soul; they shall go into the depths of the earth. They shall be given over to the power of the sword; a portion for jackals shall they be.” The jackals are the scavengers of the East. They prey on dead bodies; and assemble in troops on battle-fields to feast on the slain.
What a terrible fulfilment the words of the Poet had in the case of Absalom, Ahithophel, and twenty thousand of the rebels! In seeking the life of the king they brought upon themselves dread destruction. A fearful doom awaits all persistent workers of iniquity. “Sin when it is finished bringeth forth death.” “The wicked shall be turned into hell.” “The wicked is driven away in his wickedness.” They “shall be punished with everlasting destruction,” &c.
“But the king shall rejoice in God.” The destruction of the rebels was the salvation of the king. And his rejoicing by reason thereof was religious—“in God.” Those who truly trust in God shall come forth from the trials and conflicts of life “more than conquerors” through Him.
CONCLUSION.—How unspeakably important is individual character! Our character expresses itself in our pursuits, and determines our destiny. “As righteousness tendeth to life; so he that pursueth evil pursueth it to his own death.” Only through Christ can man attain righteousness of character. What is your character?
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 63". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent