Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
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;
2 To see thy power and thy glory,
So as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.
3 Because thy lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips shall praise thee.
4 Thus will I bless thee while I live:
I will lift up my hands in thy name.
5 My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness;
And my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips:
6 When I remember thee upon my bed,
And meditate on thee in the night watches.
7 Because thou hast been my help,
Therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.
8 My soul followeth hard after thee:
Thy right hand upholdeth me.
9 But those that seek my soul, to destroy it,
Shall go into the lower parts of the earth.
10 They shall fall by the sword:
They shall be a portion for foxes.
11 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.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
ITS CONTENTS AND COMPOSITION.—The speaker longs vehemently after Elohim=Jehovah as his God (El), and designates this longing as the thirst of one who is parched and languishing, because he was in this bodily condition when he sojourned in the dry, barren land (Psalm 63:1). The mention of jackals (Psalm 63:10) is against a figurative interpretation of this expression (Hitzig), derived from the fact that God is the element of life, as it were the nourishing sap of men (Hupfeld)=as in the barren land (Syriac, et al.). The description of the fate of the enemies of the Psalmist (Psalm 63:10) is much more natural, if a designation of place is found in Psalm 63:1 (Septuagint, Chald., Hengstenberg, Ewald, Delitzsch); and the mention of the king (Psalm 63:11), is not at all in such a way that we are compelled to think of a different person from the speaker (De Wette). On the contrary, the verbs, which it is better to regard as futures than optatives, lead to the assurance of the joy of victory in the overthrow of lying and boasting enemies, who pursue the Psalmist in his flight to the wilderness, but will themselves perish in this undertaking. In this connection it is much easier to think of the royal dignity of the Psalmist, who vindicates this against his enemies and as a sign of his Divine calling, in order to strengthen his faith, than to think that the king not mentioned otherwise is to rejoice in the deliverance of the Psalmist from the hands of his enemies. This being the case, we cannot think of any other royal poet but David, especially as this Psalm not only has points of resemblance with Ps. 41. and other Davidic Psalms, but the characteristic expression of the thirsting of David and his followers is used, 2 Sam. 16:2, 14; 17:29 (Hengstenberg, Delitzsch), when he halted in the steppes of the wilderness one or two days (2 Sam. 15:23, 28; 17:16) in his flight from Absalom, before he crossed the Jordan. As well the mention of the sanctuary (Psalm 63:2) as the prominence given to the royal dignity (Psalm 63:11), makes it necessary to think of this period and not of the sojourn of David in the wilderness of Judah in the time of Saul (most of the older interpreters). The Psalmist thirsting in the wilderness wishes to be again near to God (Psalm 63:1), as he was previously near Him in the sanctuary (Psalm 63:2), and this longing is based upon the grace of God, which surpasses the dearest and most precious of all things, life (Psalm 63:3), for which the singer will praise God continually (Psalm 63:4). His soul lives and is nourished by this, his mouth is filled with it (Psalm 63:5), as his hours of rest and the night watches are filled with meditation upon God (Psalm 63:6). For God has become to him a constant help, so that he can shout for joy in the experience of Divine protection (Psalm 63:7), and feels himself, in the attachment of his soul, drawn towards God, whom he thanks for his preservation (Psalm 63:8). His enemies will suffer a terrible ruin (Psalm 63:9,10). He, the king, on the other hand, will rejoice in God, that is to say, as one who has been delivered by God and drawn to Him; and every one who swears by God, that is, honors God as God (Deut. 6:13; Is. 19:13; 45:23; 65:16; Amos 8:14), will glory, because the mouth of those who speak lies is stopped (Psalm 63:11).—In the ancient Church, the morning service was opened with the singing of this Psalm (const, apost. II. 59; VIII. 37), partly on account of Psalm 63:6, partly on account of the translation of Psalm 63:1: early I seek Thee:7
Str. I. Psalm 63:1. I seek Thee (earnestly).—The older interpreters translated this: I seek Thee early, since they referred the verb שׁחַר to the noun שַׁחַר (dawn), although it properly means only a “solicitous seeking.”8—My flesh languisheth.—The Septuagint and Symm. have read incorrectly כַמָּה=as often, instead of כָּמַהּ which Symm. renders by ίμείρεται. [My flesh, in connection with my soul, indicates the whole man in his two principal parts, body and soul, as Pss. 16:9; 31:10; 44:25, etc.—C. A. B.]
Psalm 63:2. Thus have I looked at Thee in the sanctuary, to see Thy power and Thy glory.—The change of the perfect (Psalm 63:2) and the imperfect (Psalm 63:4) shows that the Psalmist will continue to do, what he has previously done; and the repeated “thus,” renders prominent the similarity of his feelings prevailing under both circumstances, namely, the longing after God, which he now has in the barren land, as he once had it in the sanctuary. The supposition of a reference back to the beginning of the Psalm=so as to my God (Ewald), has little in its favor. The following interpretations are to be entirely rejected, especially on account of their not regarding the perfect: then (when my longing is quieted) I will behold (Chald., De Wette), or there, that is to say, in such a land (Luther, Geier), or: thence, that is, in consequence of which (Calvin, Rosenm., Hengstenberg) I behold Thee in the sanctuary, so that I see Thy glory, which then is understood of spiritual beholding, as if the beholder, though far off in the body, had been snatched away by his longing into the sanctuary. There is no necessity to transpose the halves of each Verse from Psalm 63:2 to Psalm 63:8 (Hupfeld). [The A. V. transposes the parts of Psalm 63:2 without reason.—C. A. B ]
[Psalm 63:3. For Thy grace is better than life.—The A. V. regards the כי as giving the reason of the praise in the second clause, and translates: because. This is possible, yet not so good as the interpretation that it gives the reason of the longing of Psalm 63:1 (Hupfeld, Delitzsch, Moll, Perowne, et al.). Hengstenberg refers it to the previous Verse.9
Psalm 63:4. Comp. Ps. 28:2, for the lifting up of the hands in prayer.—C. A. B]
Str. II. [Psalm 63:5. As with marrow and fatness.—Perowne: “An image borrowed from a rich and splendid banquet, comp. Pss. 22:26, 29; 23:5, 6. Hupfeld, following J. H. Mich., thinks that the reference is immediately to the sacrificial meal, which accompanied the thank-offering, here used as an image of thanksgiving (comp. Pss. 50:13; 54:6, etc.), and that the comparison is between his delight in rendering thanksgiving to God, and the enjoyment of the fat of the sacrifices. But the simpler explanation is the more probable, comp. Deut. 32:14; Is. 25:6; Jer. 31:14.”—C. A. B.]
Psalm 63:6. The mention of night-watches, of which there were three, at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of the night (Ex. 14:24; Judges 7:19; Lam. 2:19), shows that the remembrance of God with the Psalmist was not a transient occurrence, but called forth (repeated earnest meditation during the whole night, Ps. 139:17 sq.
[Psalm 63:7. For Thou hast been a help to me, and in the shadow of Thy wings will I shout for joy.—Perowne: “David in the present, distress, finding support in the past, and from that sure ground looking forward with confidence and joy to the future.”—For the figure in the last clause, comp. Pss. 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 61:4.
Psalm 63:8. My soul cleaveth to Thee, Thy right hand upholds me.—God holds fast to the righteous with His right hand and holds him up, whilst the righteous hangs on to God or cleaves to Him. This is a beautiful representation of the mutual affection and reciprocal relation of God and His servant.—C. A. B.]
Str. III. Psalm 63:9. But they, to (their own) destruction shall they seek my soul, shall go into the abysses of the earth.—Some, after the Septuagint and Vulgate, take לְשוֹאָה=in vain (in vanum), as if they had before them לַשָּוְא. But it does not state the purpose of the enemy (most interpreters), but the consequence of their hostile pursuit, which was for the ruin of others, yet brought ruin upon themselves. The parallel clause is particularly in favor of this. The abysses of the earth, or the depths of the interior of the earth (Ps. 139:15; Is. 44:23), mean here as Eph. 4:9, not the clefts and caves, but the world below (Böttcher, et al.).
Psalm 63:10. They shall be given up to the edge of the sword.—This is literally: they shall pour him (that is, the enemy as a collective noun) into the hands of the sword. This, would not only be unusual and obscure in English, but in the present connection would cause misunderstandings; hence transposition is necessary.10 The verb is the Hiphil of נָגַר, and not from גָּרַר. The same construction is found, Jer. 18:21; Ezek. 35:5.—[A portion for jackals.—The idea is that, slain by the sword and left upon the field, their bodies would be the prey of jackals. Jackals are the scavengers of the East, and even enter the towns and quarrel with the dogs in the streets for carrion, 11—C. A. B.]
Psalm 63:11. Every one that sweareth by Him. It is likewise correct, as far as the language is concerned, to explain: that sweareth by the king, that is, confess themselves as his subjects, and show themselves to be such (Theodoret, Ewald, Hengstenberg); but actually this is objectionable from the fact that heathen nations might very well swear by the life of the king (Gen. 62:15), but an Israelite could not do this.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. In the greatest abandonment, in the desolate wilderness, in peril of body and life, the pious hold fast their communion with God in faith, and long constantly for a more complete realization of it. For God is the highest good of the pious, and as their God is not only more precious than life, but is likewise the source of all refreshment and the ground of every deliverance and help. Hence God, as the abiding object of their longing, as well as the essence of salvation, is the constant subject of their meditation and praise, in which they find the strongest nourishment and the sweetest enjoyment for their souls
2. The remembrance of the blessings which the pious have received in the sanctuary of the Lord, and the longing there experienced and gratified, for ever deeper insight into the power and glory of God, not unfrequently, in times when they are far from the sanctuary, without their own fault, and in distress of body and of soul, is violently awakened by the burning longing for consolation, assistance and deliverance from God. Since, however, it is connected with the recollection of previous benefits and assistances from God, it draws the soul into the sphere of comforting thoughts and blessed experiences, and excites it even during the time of suffering to pleasure in prayer and joy in thanksgiving, from which again grows resignation to God, confidence in deliverance from the hands of the enemies who pursue the pious to their own destruction, and the enlargement of the view, so that it embraces all who confess God.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
We can call upon God in the wilderness as well as in God’s house, yet we have no reason to undervalue the latter or give it up.—He who cannot enter the house of God, may yet thankfully remember the blessings which he has there received, as well as the benefits which God has bestowed upon him besides.—Why is the grace of God more precious than life?—To praise God is no burden, but pleasure to the pious.—With the pious sorrow as well as joy should serve to express the dependence of their souls on God, and at the same time to render this more spiritual and deeper. The longing after God in its grounds, its expressions, and consequences.—To reflect upon God’s glory, benefits and guidances is a salutary occupation, and at the same time a sweet enjoyment.—What fills the heart passes over the mouth, yet for some to everlasting confusion.—Together with Psalm cv., the daily morning prayer of the ancient Church.
AUGUSTINE: Si non traheris, ora, ut traharis.
STARKE: True thankfulness has its ground in the heart, but expresses itself by words and works.—A believing soul finds its greatest pleasure in the consideration of the word of God, hence it has likewise a constant longing after it.—Where a carnal mind prevails in a man over the fear of God, the carnal will be the last before sleep, and the first after awaking.—He who loves lies is hateful to God and men, and ruins himself thereby.
FRANKE: What is it, that man has to seek more than this, that the Lord may be his God, who begins the ten commandments thus: I am the Lord, thy God.—FRISCH: Better lose a thousand lives, than once willingly dispense with the grace of God.—ARNDT: To live without God’s grace is death, to be eternally without God’s grace is eternal death.—THOLUCK: The power of prayer depends on knowing God as our God.—GUENTHER: O that we might learn three things from David: The art of doing without a thing without pain the preparation and use of the still hours, the blessed joy in communion with God in spite of flight, hunger, thirst, a wilderness, anxiety, and need.
[MATT. HENRY: Gracious souls look down upon the world with a holy disdain, and look up to God with a holy desire.—A closet may be turned into a little sanctuary.—BARNES: Nothing can be more proper than that our last thoughts, as we sink into quiet slumber, should be of God;—of His being, His character, His mercy, His loving-kindness; of the dealings of His providence, and the manifestation of His grace towards us during the day; and nothing is better fitted to compose the mind to rest, and to induce quiet and gentle slumber, than the calmness of soul which arises from the idea of an Infinite God, and from confidence in Him.—WORDSWORTH: Every devout soul which has loved to see God in His house, will be refreshed by visions of God in the wilderness of solitude, sorrow, sickness, and death.—SPURGEON: A weary place and a weary heart make the presence of God the more desirable; if there be nothing below and nothing within to cheer, it is a thousand mercies that we may look up and find all we need.—Life is dear, but God’s love is dearer. To dwell with God is better than life at its best.—When God gives us the marrow of His love, we must present to Him the marrow of our hearts.—We see best in the dark if we there see God best.—Night is congenial, in its silence and darkness, to a soul which would forget the world, and rise into a higher sphere.—C. A. B.]
[Perowne: “This is unquestionably one of the most beautiful and touching Psalms in the whole Psalter. Donne says of it: As the whole Book of Psalms is oleum effusum (as the spouse speaks of the name of Christ), an ointment poured out upon all sorts of sores, a cerecloth that supplies all bruises, a balm that searches all wounds; so are there some certain Psalms that are imperial Psalms, that command over all affections, and spread themselves over all occasions-catholic, universal Psalms, that apply to all necessities.’—And again he observes: ‘the spirit and soul of the whole Book of Psalms is contracted into this Psalm, Serm. 66.”—C. A. B.]
[Delitzsch admits this, yet contends that “since Psalm 63:6 looks back upon the night, this expression was chosen with reference to the break of the morning, as Is. 26:9. שִׁחַר is side by side with אוָּה בלַּיְלָה,” and thus he prefers the translation: I seek Thee early.—C. A. B.]
[Delitzsch: “This longing after God, which is now the more violent in the wilderness afar off from the sanctuary, fills him and impels him, for God’s grace is better than life, better than natural life (see Ps. 17:14), which as likewise a good thing, and the condition of all earthly blessings is a very good thing; yet God’s grace is a higher good, the highest good and the true life. His lips are to praise this God of grace, a morning song is due Him, for that which truly blesses, and that which he now, as previously, solely and alone longs for, is the grace of this God, whose infinite worth is measured only by the greatness of His power and glory .“—C. A. B.]
[It is better., with Perowne, Alexander, et al., to translate the power of the sword, the hand being expressive of power. Hupfeld and Delitzsch prefer the rendering: hands of the sword.—C. A.B.]
[Tristram Nat. Hist, of the Bible, p. 110: “Shu’al, always in the Bible translated ‘fox’ is undoubtedly a comprehensive term, from which our own word jackal is ultimately derived, and which comprehends the jackal as well as the fox. In several instances, as in the expression, Ps. 63:10, the jackal is indicated. 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—The natives of the East discriminate very little between the two animals, or rather look upon the fox as a small and inferior species of jackal. Indeed, their appearance to a cursory observer is very similar, the jackal having its fur of a paler color or yellowish rather than reddish in hue.”—C. A. B.]
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;