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A PSALM of one absent from the sanctuary, and longing to return to it (Psalms 63:1, Psalms 63:2), pursued by enemies who seek his life (Psalms 63:9), but confident in God's protection (Psalms 63:7, Psalms 63:8), and, indeed, full of joy and praise and thankfulness (Psalms 63:3-6 and Psalms 63:11). Near the close he lets fall a word, which shows him to be a king; and there is some reason to think that he is passing through a "dry and thirsty land," literally as well as figuratively (Psalms 63:1). All these indications agree exactly with the statements in the "title," that the poem was composed by David as he fled through the wilderness of Judea towards the Jordan on the revolt of Absalom (2 Samuel 15:16-30; 2 Samuel 16:1-14).
The psalm is made up of five short stanzas—the first four consisting of two verses each, and the last of three.
O God, thou art my God; or, my strong God (Eli)—my Tower of strength. Early will I seek thee. The song was, perhaps, composed in the night watches, and poured forth at early dawn, when the king woke "refreshed" (comp. Psalms 63:5, Psalms 63:6; and 2 Samuel 16:14). My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee; or, pineth for thee (the verb occurs only in this place). Soul and body equally long for God, and especially desire to worship him in the sanctuary (Psalms 63:2). In a dry and thirsty (or, weary) land, where no water is. This is figurative, no doubt; but it may also contain an allusion to the literal fact (2 Samuel 16:2; 2 Samuel 17:29).
To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. This is the form which the longing takes—to see God once more worshipped in the sanctuary in all the "beauty of holiness," as he had so often seen him previously.
Because thy loving kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. The complete resignation of the psalmist, his sense of God's "loving kindness," and his desire to "praise," not to complain, are, under the circumstances, most wonderful, most admirable, and furnish a pattern to the Church in all ages.
Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy Name (comp. Psalms 104:33; Psalms 146:2). The purpose of man's creation, the end of his being, his main employment throughout eternity, is the praise of God.
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness. The "marrow and fatness" of the sacrificial feasts caused a delight to worshippers, which was no doubt partly sensuous. The memory of them occurs to the psalmist, but only as the shadow and emblem of the far deeper joy and satisfaction which he finds in the spiritual worship of the Most High, and especially in the offering of praise and thanksgiving. And my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips; or, while my mouth praiseth thee (see the Prayer book Version, which brings out the true sense).
When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches. David had doubtless done this during the long and anxious night which followed his first day in the wilderness of Judea (2 Samuel 16:14).
Because thou hast been my help. God bad already delivered David out of so many dangers and troubles, that he felt all the more confidence for the future. Therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice (see the comment on Psalms 61:4).
My soul followeth hard after thee; or, clingeth close after thee (Kay, Cheyne); "Tibi adhaeret teque sequitur" (Gesenius)—longs to come as near to thee as possible; while, on thy part, thy right hand upholdeth me; i.e. with a reciprocal action, thou puttest forth thy right hand to sustain and support me, drawing me to thee, and holding me, as it were, in thy embrace.
But those that seek my soul, to destroy it, shall go into the lower parts of the earth. Professor Cheyne notes that "the psalmist has no sense of any incongruity between deeply spiritual musings and vehement denunciations of his enemies." And this is certainly true. But it is to be remembered that he views his enemies, not merely as his own fees, but as the foes of God and of Israel. As the servant of God, he must hate those who are opposed to God; as the King of Israel, he must hate those who seek to injure and ruin his people. He does not, however, desire for them suffering or torment; he only asks that they may be removed from this sphere into another world. (On David's conception of the lower world, see the comment upon Psalms 16:10 and Psalms 86:13.)
They shall fall by the sword; i.e. in battle—the natural end of those who stir up civil strife. They shall be a portion for foxes; rather, for jackals (see 2 Samuel 18:6-8).
But the king shall rejoice in God. The "king," thus suddenly introduced, cannot be an entirely new personage, unknown to the rest of the psalm, and, therefore, must be the composer, speaking of himself in the third person (comp. Psalms 18:50; Psalms 72:1). Every one that sweareth by him (i.e. by God) shall glory; or, shall triumph (Kay). Those who swear by the Name of God show themselves to be believers in God, and will be upheld by him in time of danger (see Deuteronomy 6:13; Isaiah 65:16). But the mouth of them that speak lies shall be stopped. (On the falsehoods told by David's enemies, see 2 Samuel 15:3; 2 Samuel 16:7, 2 Samuel 16:8; and comp. Psalms 38:12; Psalms 41:5-8.)
An invocation and a vow.
"O God … seek thee." Rightly understood, these are the sublimest words human lips can utter. "My God!" To claim God as his own with joyful, adoring intelligence and absolute faith, is the highest act of which our nature is capable. It is melancholy to think that these same words may denote the degradation of our nature instead of its glory! The Prophet Isaiah, with holy indignation, restrained only by pity from utter scorn, depicts the idol worshipper falling down before his wooden image, and saying, "Deliver me, for thou art my god!" (Isaiah 44:14-17). Perhaps we need not go far to find even a lower depth. These words, "My God!" constantly slip from thoughtless, profane lips, as an unmeaning exclamation, with no trace of religious feeling. The poor heathen, who has some dim sense of an invisible spiritual power behind his image, may look down with wonder and pity on the educated Englishman who is devoid of all sense of worship, all consciousness of relationship to the Father of spirits. We have here
(1) an invocation; and
(2) a purpose or vow.
I. DAVID'S SUBLIME DECLARATION. "O God, thou art my God!"
1. The expression of worship. Our English word "God" is one of those ancient words whose original meaning is unknown, The Hebrew word for which it stands in the Bible primarily means "mighty." The object of true worship is the omnipotent, self-existent Creator. Yet observe that mere power is never set forth in Scripture as the sole or chief reason for worship,—that would be heathenish. God's wisdom, righteousness, truth, holiness, bountiful loving kindness, and pardoning mercy are everywhere regarded as his claim to our worship, obedience, trust, and love. Underneath, like the solid rock on which the temple stood, is this foundation truth of his almightiness. Worship is bowing down before God, but it is also looking up. "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted." The more abasing the sense of our weakness, ignorance, sin, need, the more glorious and joyful a thing it is to look out of ourselves to him with whom is "the fountain of life," and say, "O God, thou art my God!"
2. The expression of the sense of personal relationship. "My God!" Worship is much, but it is far from being the sum of religion. No small proof that the Bible is God's Word to man—a message from our Father to his lost children, is this—that its practical aim throughout is to awaken and appeal to this sense of personal relationship to God; to show us how sin has put us in a wholly false, unnatural relation to him; to bring us back to our right place and character—"children of God by faith in Christ Jesus."
3. Accordingly, this is the utterance of faith—reasonable, happy, unlimited trust. Nature, brilliant with the glory of its Maker, ruled by the awful harmony of his unswerving laws, impresses us with the distance between the Creator and the creature. Sin adds to the sense of distance that of estrangement and fear. In Psalms 51:1-19, David says, "Thou God of my salvation!" but does not venture to say, "My God!" But when faith sees "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ," and grasps his plighted word, the shadow of guilt is chased away by the joy of pardon. Love casts out fear. The soul that was "far off" is "brought nigh by the blood of Christ." Experience comes in to help faith, and the language of faith becomes also the language of adoring gratitude and exulting certainty: "O God, thou art my God!"
II. DAVID'S PURPOSE AND VOW. "Early will I seek thee." Our Revisers have happily kept this beautiful word "early," which an overstrained scholarship seeks to get rid of. The Hebrew word is the same with the word for "dawn." We have a similar figure in Psalms 130:6, a very natural and forcible image to a nation of early risers (comp. Alexander on Isaiah 26:9). This yearning of the spirit after God—heart hunger, soul thirst for his presence, love, likeness, is the very voice of his Spirit in the soul. Desire, hope, quest, perseverance, are all included here (see Psalms 130:2-5). And they who thus seek shall find, for "the Father seeketh such" (John 4:23). Some sincere Christians may feel this intense yearning after God an experience they would fain reach, but scarcely dare claim. Take courage; he is God of the valleys as well as of the hills. The prayer of the humble is his delight. Why not make David's words your own—with better right than he? For the ancient saint came and claimed his privilege only on the ground of God's covenant; we claim our birthright through him who said, "I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God" (John 20:17; cf. Romans 8:16). We are met for worship, yet there may be those to whom worship is but a dead form, who have never aspired, never cared to say, "O God, thou art my God!" You pity and despise the poor Hindu idolater. Which is really on the lower platform—he in his rude, dim, maimed, yet sincere fashion, expressing his sense of dependence on a higher and invisible, power, "feeling after God;" or you, with the light of nineteen Christian centuries shining full on you with the open Bible, with the music of God's message of reconciliation filling the air, yet with man's noblest aspiration, the quest of God; man's deepest, purest affection,—the love of God; man's sublimest capacity,—the worship of God, dead or slumbering in your soul? Alas! you do not dream what a glory, power, joy, meaning, would come into your life if from this hour you learned to say, "O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee."
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
We may imagine the psalmist in the wilderness. It is night. He stands at his tent door. The light of moon and stars falls on a sandy waste stretching into dimness and mystery. He is lonely and sad. The emptiness of all around and the memory of better times breed a great longing in his soul. It is not as if it were something new and strange, rather it is the revival of the deepest and strongest cravings of his heart, that as he muses gather force and intensity, and must express themselves in song. The key verses seem to be Psalms 63:1, Psalms 63:5, Psalms 63:8.
I. THE SOUL'S LONGING. (Psalms 63:1-4.) When we "thirst for God," we naturally look back and recall the times when we had the truest and fullest enjoyment of his presence. We think of "the sanctuary." It was not the outward glory; it was not the splendid ritual; it was not the excitement of the great congregation; but it was the vision of God that then brought peace and joy to the soul. And that is what is craved again—more life and fuller: "To see thy power and thy glory." There are often circumstances which intensify and strengthen our longings. When we come to know God, not only as God, but as our God and our Redeemer, we feel that it is a very necessity of our being, that it is our life, to see him and to serve him, to love him, to worship him, to rejoice in him as all our Salvation and all our Desire.
II. THE SOUL'S SATISFACTION. (Psalms 63:5-7.) What alone can satisfy the soul is the vision of God; not God afar off, but nigh; not God in nature, or in the Law, or in the imagination of our hearts, but God in Christ. Here is true and abiding satisfaction, infinite truth for the mind, eternal righteousness for the conscience, perfect love for the heart. Philip said, "Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us;" and the answer of our Lord was, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." The more we meditate on this possession, the more we rejoice and give thanks. We cannot but praise. "As the spirit of the whole Book of Psalms is contracted into this psalm, so is the spirit and soul of the whole psalm contracted into this verse" (Donne). "Because thou hast been my Help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice" (verse 7).
III. THE SOUL'S RESOLUTION. (Verses 8-11.) There is mutual action. The soul cleaves to God, and God cleaves to the soul. There is a double embrace—we both hold and are upheld. The result is invigoration—the quickening glow of life through all our being, the free and joyous resolve to cleave to God, and to follow him in love and devotion all our days. Our needs are constant, and God's love never fails. When we are weak, his strength makes us strong; when we are weary, his comforts sustain our fainting souls; when we are ready to sink in the waters, his voice gives us courage, and his strong arm brings us salvation. God ever comes to those who want him. Desire on our part is met by satisfaction on his part. More and more as we love and serve we enter into the joy of our Lord. Our heart is prophet to our heart, and tells of vanquishment of the enemy, of the coming glory and the pleasures which are at God's right hand forevermore.—W.F.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
Chrysostom says, "That it was decreed and ordained by the primitive Fathers that no day should pass without the public singing of this psalm."
I. THE GRANDEST CONVICTION THE CREATURE CAN HAVE. (Psalms 63:1.) That God is ours, and that we are God's.
II. THE GRANDEST LONGING OF BODY AND SOUL. (Psalms 63:1.)
III. THE GRANDEST VISION OF LIFE. (Psalms 63:2.) To see the power and glory of God.
IV. THE GRANDEST SONG. (Psalms 63:3.) The loving kindness of God better than life "in all the fulness of its earthly meaning."
V. THE MOST ABOUNDING SATISFACTION OF THE SOUL. (Psalms 63:5.)
VI. THE SUREST AND SAFEST PROTECTION. (Psalms 63:7.)
VII. THE MOST UNFAILING SUPPORT. (Psalms 63:8.)—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 63". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent