Psalm 63
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The faith which inspires the two preceding Psalms reaches its climax here. At a distance from the sanctuary and in peril of his life, the Psalmist throws himself upon God. What he longs for above all things is the sense of God’s presence, as he realised it in the worship of the sanctuary (Psalm 63:1-2). In lifelong thanksgiving for God’s love he will find his highest joy and satisfaction (Psalm 63:3-5), spending whole nights in meditation upon Him as he recalls the greatness of His past mercies (Psalm 63:6-7). While he draws closer and closer to God, his enemies will be banished into the nether darkness (Psalm 63:8-9). While their corpses lie ignominiously exposed on the field of battle where they fell, he and those who are loyal to God and to him rejoice in God, and all factious opposition is silenced (Psalm 63:10-11).

The Psalm does not admit of clear division into stanzas. Thought follows thought out of the fulness of a loving heart, and the precise connexion of the clauses is often obscure.

Such a Psalm teaches, more effectually than any formal definition, what is meant by a Personal God—a God with Whom the soul can hold converse with the whole force and fervour of a loving devotion. Its lofty spirituality is such as few can reach. But the concluding verses of the Psalm seem to be on a lower level. “We pass all at once into a different atmosphere. We have come down, as it were, from the mount of holy aspirations, into the common everyday world, where human enemies are struggling, and human passions are strong. Yet this very transition, harsh as it is, gives us a wonderful sense of reality. In some respects, it brings the Psalm nearer to our own level. The man who has been pouring out the fervent affection of his heart towards God is no mystic or recluse, lost in ecstatic contemplation, but one who is fighting a battle with foes of flesh and blood, and who hopes to see their malice defeated, their power crushed, and their carcases left to be the prey of jackals in the wilderness” (Bp Perowne). It must be remembered too that the Psalmist felt strongly that his enemies were God’s enemies, and looked for their discomfiture, not only as a visible proof of God’s favour to himself, but as a manifest token that God had not withdrawn from the government of the world, and was surely, if slowly, establishing His Kingdom among men.

The author of this Psalm was a king, for unless it is of himself as king that he speaks in Psalm 63:11, it is difficult to understand the relation of the king’s rejoicing to the destruction of the Psalmist’s enemies (Psalm 63:9-10). He was apparently at a distance from the sanctuary, and was in danger from malicious enemies, whose destruction he looks for on the field of battle. The title ascribes it to David, “when he was in the wilderness of Judah.” Since he is already king, it is not to his earlier wanderings (1 Samuel 23:14 ff), but to his flight from Absalom, that this title must be intended to refer. The road to Jericho by which David left Jerusalem led through the northern part of the desert of Judah, and he halted at “the fords of the wilderness” before crossing the Jordan (2 Samuel 15:23; 2 Samuel 15:28). The graphic narrative in 2 Sam. refers more than once to the privations which the king had to suffer in his hasty flight (2 Samuel 16:2; 2 Samuel 16:14; 2 Samuel 17:29; cp. Psalm 17:2). The king and his followers were ‘weary’ in the ‘weary land,’ which supplied so apt a figure of his spiritual privations. The germ of the Psalm is to be found in the faith and resignation of David’s words to Zadok, “Carry back the ark of God into the city: if I shall find favour in the eyes of Jehovah, he will bring me again, and shew me both it, and his habitation: but if he say thus, I have no delight in thee; behold here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him” (2 Samuel 15:25 f). To part with the visible symbol of God’s power and presence argued no common faith: it shewed that he was no slave to the common superstition, which regarded God’s favour as tied to the Ark.

Much of the Psalm can certainly be explained from David’s situation, and if the reference of the Psalm to David is abandoned, it is idle to speculate as to the author and his circumstances. But whoever he was, the spiritual power and beauty of Psalm 63:1-8 remain the same. It is no wonder that the Psalm was adopted by the early Church as its morning Psalm (primarily on the ground of the LXX rendering of Psalm 63:1), as Psalms 141 was chosen for the evening Psalm. “The Fathers of the Church,” says St Chrysostom, “appointed it to be said every morning, as a spiritual song and a medicine to blot out our sins; to kindle in us a desire of God; to raise our souls, and inflame them with a mighty fire of devotion; to make us overflow with goodness and love, and send us with such preparation to approach and appear before God.” See Bingham’s Antiquities, B. xiii. 10.

Comp. (beside Psalms 61, 62) Psalms 42-43, the companion piece in the Korahite collection.

A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah. O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is;
1. O God, thou art my God] Elohim, thou art my El. He addresses Jehovah, for Elohim here is the substitute for that Name (cp. Psalm 140:6), as the Strong One to whom he can appeal with confidence in his need. Cp. Psalm 42:2; Psalm 42:8-9; Psalm 43:4.

early will I seek thee] So the LXX, πρός σε ὀρθρίζω (the word used in Luke 21:38); and hence the use of the Psalm as a morning Psalm. Rather, however, earnestly will I seek thee; though sometimes (e.g. Isaiah 26:9) the word seems to be used with allusion to the supposed derivation from shachar, ‘dawn.’

my soul … my flesh] My whole self, soul and body. Cp. Psalm 84:2, ‘soul, heart, flesh’: the emotions, the reason and the will, the physical organism in and through which they act.

thirsteth for thee] See Psalm 42:2, note; Psalm 84:2.

longeth for thee] Pineth for thee, a strong word, occurring here only, meaning probably, ‘faints with desire.’

in a dry and thirsty, land] In a dry and weary land (Psalm 143:6; Isaiah 32:2). These words are certainly metaphorical, not literal: it is the ‘water of life’ for which he thirsts; the spiritual refreshment with which God revives the fainting soul. But the metaphor was naturally suggested by the circumstances in which David was situated.

1, 2. Recalling the glorious visions of God which he has enjoyed in the sanctuary, the Psalmist thirsts for a renewed sense of His Presence.

To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.
2. The A.V. transposes the clauses of this verse in a way which cannot be justified. Render:

In such wise have I gazed upon thee in the sanctuary,

To see thy strength and thy glory.

In such wise (‘so’) is explained to refer to Psalm 63:1 meaning ‘as my God,’ or ‘so fervently’; but this verse seems rather to give the ground and reason for the preceding verse:—I pine for communion with Thee, because I have had such glorious visions of Thy presence in the sanctuary. There he has ‘gazed’ upon God—the word is used of an intent and discerning contemplation, specially of things divine (Psalm 27:4; Psalm 11:7; Psalm 17:15), and of prophetic ‘vision’ (Isaiah 1:1)—in order to realise His Majesty as it is revealed to man. The Ark was the symbol of God’s Presence, of His strength and glory (1 Samuel 4:21; Psalm 24:7, note; Psalm 78:61; Psalm 132:8); and all the ordinances of the sanctuary possessed for him a sacramental meaning. It was thus that Isaiah ‘saw the Lord.’

Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.
3. Because thy lovingkindness &c.] R.V. renders, For thy lovingkindness &c., a further reason for the longing of Psalm 63:1. But it is best to retain the rendering of the A.V. He has waited to see God’s power and glory, yet after all it is the lovingkindness of which he has personal experience that tunes his lips to praise. When Moses desired to see God’s glory, he was granted a revelation of His goodness (Exodus 33:18 ff). It is better than life, than that which men count most precious, for without it life would be a desert. His life was threatened, but the danger fades out of sight in the consciousness of God’s love. Note the connexion of God’s strength and lovingkindness (Psalm 63:2-3), as in Psalm 62:11-12.

shall praise thee] Shall laud thee, a different word from that in Psalm 63:5. The word is supposed to be a proof of the late date of the Psalm, as it is an Aramaic word, and is found elsewhere only in the later parts of the O.T. But it is precarious to argue from a single word, when the remains of Heb. literature are so comparatively scanty.

3–5. The joy of grateful praise.

Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name.
4. Thus] So, as in Psalm 63:2 : cp. Psalm 61:8 : so fervently; in such a spirit of loving gratitude.

while I live] Cp. Psalm 104:33; Psalm 146:2.

I will lift up my hands] The attitude of prayer (Psalm 28:2; Psalm 141:2; 1 Timothy 2:8), the outward symbol of an uplifted heart (Psalm 25:1).

in thy name] Relying upon all that Thou hast revealed Thyself to be. Cp. Psalm 44:5; John 14:13, &c.

My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips:
5. God feeds the hungry soul with rich and bountiful food (Deuteronomy 32:14; Psalm 22:26; Psalm 23:5; Psalm 36:8; Isaiah 25:6; Isaiah 55:2; Jeremiah 31:14). Though the language may be derived from the sacrificial feasts, it is indifferent to strict ritual precision, for the fat (A.V. here marrow) was never to be eaten, but was to be burnt on the altar as God’s portion (Leviticus 3:16-17).

When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches.
6. The A.V. connects this verse with Psalm 63:5, but the absence of and in the second clause makes it preferable to connect it with Psalm 63:7, thus:

When I remember thee upon my bed,

I meditate on thee in the night watches:

For thou hast been my help,

And in the shadow of thy wings will I shout for joy.

When once he calls God to mind as he lies down to rest, he is so engrossed with the thought of His love that he meditates on it all night long—per singulas vigilias (Jer.). The night was divided into three watches by the Israelites (Lamentations 2:19; Jdg 7:19; 1 Samuel 11:11); the division into four watches referred to in the N.T. was of Roman origin.

6, 7. Thankful recollection of past mercies.

Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.
My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me.
8. followeth hard after thee] Lit., cleaves after thee; cleaves to God (Deuteronomy 10:20 &c.) and follows Him (Hosea 6:3). Hard = ‘close.’ Cp. Shakespeare, Hamlet, i. 2. 179 “Indeed my lord, it followed hard upon.”

thy right hand &c.] Cp. Psalm 17:7; Psalm 18:35; Psalm 41:12; Isaiah 41:10. Man’s effort is met by God’s care (Php 2:13).

8, 9. While he draws ever closer to God, his enemies will be destroyed.

But those that seek my soul, to destroy it, shall go into the lower parts of the earth.
9. But those &c.] They, his enemies, who are seeking his life, are emphatically contrasted with himself (Psalm 59:15; Psalm 56:6). While his path is upward to God, theirs is downward to the depths of Sheol. It is possible to render (cp. R.V. marg.) But they shall be destroyed that seek my life, They shall go &c.

into the lower parts of the earth] Into Sheol, swallowed up like Korah and his company of rebels. Cp. for the phrase, Isaiah 44:23; Ezekiel 26:20; Psalm 86:13; Ephesians 4:9; Deuteronomy 32:22 : and for the thought, Psalm 9:15; Psalm 9:17; Psalm 55:15; Psalm 55:23.

They shall fall by the sword: they shall be a portion for foxes.
10. They shall fall &c.] Lit., They shall give him over (lit. pour him out) to the power of the sword (Jeremiah 18:21; Ezekiel 35:5). The active verb with indefinite subject is practically equivalent to a passive, ‘He shall be given over’; yet the idiom suggests the idea of mysterious agents, God’s ministers of justice, whose office it is. Cp. Luke 12:20, R.V. marg. The object of the verb is in the singular, either individualising the king’s enemies (‘each one of them’), or treating them as one body; but hardly singling out the leader. Cp. Psalm 64:8, note.

a portion for foxes] Rather, jackals. “It is the jackal rather than the fox which preys on dead bodies, and which assembles in troops on the battle-fields, to feast on the slain.” Tristram, Nat. Hist., p. 110. Their corpses will lie unburied where they fall, to be devoured ignominiously by wild beasts, instead of receiving honourable sepulture. Cp. Isaiah 18:6; Jeremiah 19:7.

10, 11. While his enemies come to an ignominious end, the king emerges from the struggle, triumphant over all opposition.

But the king shall rejoice in God; every one that sweareth by him shall glory: but the mouth of them that speak lies shall be stopped.
11. But the king] The connexion is unintelligible unless the king is identified with the Psalmist, whose enemies are destroyed. Cp. Psalm 61:6 ff.

that sweareth by him] Grammatically ‘him’ may refer to the king or to God, but usage decides that God is meant. Cp. Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 10:20; Isaiah 65:16. Those who invoke His Name as the attestation of their oaths are His loyal worshippers; they share the triumph of the king who is His representative.

but the mouth &c.] For the mouth &c. Those who ‘speak lies’ are those who rebel against God and His king, deluding men by false promises to join an undertaking which is false in its principle and aim. See Psalm 4:2, note; Psalm 62:4. They are all completely silenced.

Cp. the similar ending of Psalms 64. St Paul may have had the phrase in mind in Romans 3:19. The context shews how familiar the Psalms were to him.

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