I have a recurring nightmare, and it’s on my mind today because I had it again last night. It’s not too scary or frightening, but it is very alarming. I’m usually here with you guys and the time has come for me to preach. So I walk to the pulpit thinking I’m ready to go, but a sense of dread grows in me as I near the pulpit, and sure enough when I feel an emptiness in my hands and look down to find that both in my hands and on the pulpit there is no Bible or no notes, and I find myself unprepared with nothing to say. I then stand there looking out and I begin to feel parched in tongue, a heaviness begins in my chest and it feels like I can’t breathe, it’s like I’m in a wilderness of soul and I’m gasping for life. You might think this is something of small beans compared with other nightmares people have, and you may be right. But for me, it’s terrifying. To be called to preach by God Himself to a particular congregation you love dearly, only to come to that momentous occasion and find yourself with nothing to say is the height of distress, for me.
Well, I mention this as we begin today because in our passage before us we find David in a similar situation. But it’s not a nightmare for him, he really is in the wilderness, in great need, and in his need his soul thirsts deeply. But, while there was desert all around him there was no desert in his heart. In such a desolate setting, he thirsts for God truly and finds abundant satisfaction in God deeply.
And that is exactly where I think Psalm 63 hits home for us today. 2020 has been a year of distance. Distance from the normal. Distance from our regular routines. Distance from our jobs. Distance from family for some, and for most, distance from relatives. For us, we’ve felt distance from each other, distance from the gathering and the communion of the saints. This distance is needed and necessary for now, but do you not feel weary of distance? We were made to be with each other, and yet for safety’s sake, we’re now seeking to keep some level of meaningful connection while maintaining a certain distance. It feels like isolation, it feels like a wilderness, it feels like Psalm 63. So the question leaping out at us today is this: in the midst of distance, in the midst of longing, in the midst of thirsting…can we find what our souls long for? Psalm 63 has a definitive answer: yes.
So lean into it with me now to see how great a comfort is offered us in the midst of our concerns.
Psalm 63 comes to us with a heading, “A PSALM OF DAVID, WHEN HE WAS IN THE WILDERNESS OF JUDAH.” David is the author, and the wilderness in his context. Two times in David’s life suit this setting; first near the end of 1 Samuel when he was forced to flee into the wilderness because Saul was seeking to hunt him down, and second near the end of 2 Samuel when he was forced to flee into the wilderness because his son Absalom led a successful rebellion and stole the throne from him. Both of these settings could very well fit the words of this Psalm but I do lean more towards the Absalom moment in view simply because of how the Psalm ends in v9-11, but we’ll see more of that in a moment.
There are three clear divisions here, they’re reflected in the paragraphing in most of our translations. So see first…
God My Desire (v1-4)
“O God, You are my God; earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh faints for You, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon You in the sanctuary, beholding Your power and glory. Because Your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise You. So I will bless You as long as I live; in Your name I will lift up my hands.”
How lovely and how personal does this begin in v1? This is not the cry of a stranger seeking to find out who God is, no. This is the cry of a believer, one intimate with God, one who knows God, one who is deeply familiar with God. Only those who truly know God are bold enough to call Him “my God.” It’s interesting how David fills out his longing with the details of his current surroundings. He’s in the wilderness, far from home, it’s as if that dry setting arouses a dryness within him, then that dryness within creates a longing in his soul that gives birth these words that flow forth from him. Listen to this language…he seeks earnestly, his soul thirsts, his flesh or body faints, as if his soul were a dry and weary land lacking water. David is describing here what I think is the common experience of all mankind. All was once bright in Eden. God made man and God walked with man in the midst of the garden. Perfect fellowship, sweet intimacy, unhindered access to God. But the serpent deceived our first parents when they ate and they and all in them (you and I) fell from our original condition. Our souls that were once a lush garden now darkened and dried up as ruin and rot entered in. Ever since, man’s whole soul is soaked with a sense of exile. We are not what we ought to be, we are not what we were made to be. And as David looks out over this arid landscape, he knows this isn’t where he should be either.
But then v2 comes, and David remembers something. He remembers, not just the beauty of the temple, he remembers the beauty of God in the temple. He remembers seeing God’s power and glory as he gathered with the people to worship God. And remembering this brings him back from the dusty dryness he felt within and that leads him to make a mighty conclusion in v3, that he will praise the Lord because His steadfast love is better life. Does this raise a question for you? It ought to. Why doesn’t David say “…because Your gloryis better than life?” Didn’t he see His glory as he beheld God in the temple? Why then does David speak of God’s love? I think the answer is quite revealing. Here’s what I think is happening here:
Every Valentine’s day I want to make much of Holly, because ‘in our sacred scene she is heaven’s queen.’ So I get roses, a card, and some chocolates from myself and the boys. Why? Because we want to make much of her, of her love, her care, and her hard work. We want to remind her of how greatly we appreciate all she does for us, and we could do it every day of the year in reality. But in this it’s my hope she would feel loved, cherished, adored, and made much of. Church, God’s love for us is much bigger than that. Let me explain…
David saw the glory and power of God and he rejoiced in it by praising God. Specifically, in praising the love of God. What is the connection between seeing God’s glory (v2) and praising God’s love (v3)? I think it’s this. By revealing His glory to David God was loving David. Or we could say it like this, David expressed his joy in God’s love because allowing him to behold His glory is the primary way God loved David. God was beheld in His glory, God was then praised in response, David’s soul was filled with joy and God is glorified, or made much of, in it all. Now, I would also say, this is the primary way God loves us. God does not love us by making much of us as if we were the center of His attention, but by revealing His glory to us. So how does God reveal His glory to us? By sending One who is the exact representation of His glory to save us from sin, and free us from sin, so that we’d be enabled to make much of God forever.
This is the connection between seeing God’s glory and praising God’s love. And because David has been so loved by God in this way see v3b-4…David’s lips will praise God, David’s mouth will bless God, and David’s arms will rise high in praise to God! He’s in the wilderness. His soul was parched…but now his soul soars in praise as he remembers how God loved him by revealing His glory to him.
So Church, God was David’s great desire, is He yours? It will be your great shame if you set your soul on anything else. Why? The soul not set on God is always a dry and weary land. Even if all the riches in this world are yours, your soul will be impoverished if you don’t have God. There is no sadder tale than that. But there is no better tale than the opposite. It will be your great satisfaction if your soul is set on God. Why? Because you’ll find the steadfast love of the Lord to be what it is, better than life itself. Even in this fallen and wilderness like world, knowing God will be an oasis, a foretaste of heaven. May God be your great desire.
God My Delight (v5-8)
“My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise You with joyful lips, when I remember You upon my bed, and meditate on You in the watches of the night; for You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.”
The sense we get from moving from v1-4 to v5-8 is stunning: because God is David’s great desire, God is his great delight as well. One follows the other. As David moves on the images he uses continue to come. So how does David now describe God being his great delight? Remember, before his soul was like the desert around him that found an oasis of joy in God, now he describes his soul as one who is quite content after a very full and decadent meal. When I hear this language I immediately think of Hobbits. One of the wonderful peoples in J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic tales who are constantly eating and finding pleasure in full bellies. Tolkien describes Hobbits as those who eat not only enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, lunch, afternoon tea, supper, and dinner. As wonderful as that image is, I think what’s more in view is the image given to us in the Old Testament. To the ancient Israelite it was the fat portions that represented the best and most richest of foods, which is why the priests were commanded to not eat them but reserve them for God alone after an animal sacrifice on the altar. David uses this new image in v5 to describe how his soul feels when it’s content and happy in God.
What happens to a soul like that? Just as the chef in the kitchen is praised after a wonderful meal is eaten at the table, so too God in heaven is praised when He is enjoyed in the gospel here below. Look at the end of v5. A soul happy and content in God, bursts forth in glad and joyful praise to God. Or, when the heart is full and content in God the mouth will open in praise to God. Or, when the soul is satisfied in God the tongue will be eager to glorify God. And as v6-7 come we see this satisfaction in God and praise to God isn’t easily disrupted, no, it endures, it lasts, it persists even through the darkness of the night. You could say it’s the night when we’re at our most vulnerable, both from enemies outside of us and thoughts within us. When our boys have a nightmare or see something that frightens them in the night, what do they do? They come wake us up, one of us takes them back to their room, and we pray asking God to take care of them, to calm their fears and help them rest. Look at David here, he not only runs to God in the night, his soul is so delighted in God that he meditates on God, remembers how God has helped him in the past, rejoices at how safe he is in the shadow of the Almighty, and he praises God in the present, even in the darkness of the night.
All of this leads to v8. Now, up to this point in Psalm 63 David’s soul has made much progress. His soul began thirsting for God in v1, his soul became satisfied in God in v5, now we see his soul clinging to God in v8. This word ‘clings’ in v8 is the same word used in Genesis 2:24 as it describes how a husband will leave his father and mother and ‘hold fast to his wife.’ This is also the word used in Ruth 1:14 when Naomi tried to turn her daughters in law away from following her. Remember it? Orpah did leave but what did Ruth do? Ruth ‘clung’ to her. That’s what David is doing to God, clinging to Him. I love how the KJV puts it “My soul followeth hard after Thee.” So David is clinging to God, chasing hard after God, and as he does this what does he find? See it at the end of v8. He finds God’s right hand, the symbol of His strength, holding firmly onto him.
Church, words fail quickly when one tries to describe the assurance that floods the soul when we learn of God’s ever firm grip on us. I know me, I know my heart, you know you, you know your own heart, how prone to wander we are, how feeble our grip on Christ can be at times. Yet I know, I wonder if you know, I know with absolute certainty that we will continue on in faith until the end. Why? Because of how strong we hold onto Christ? No, only because of how strong He holds onto us. The bottom line is this: if we could lose our salvation, we would. Hear Paul’s words, “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). How utterly helpless we are without our God, but O how secure we are in His grip.
We’ve been called to embrace God as our desire, and as our delight, now see…
God My Defense (v9-11)
“But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth; they shall be given over to the power of the sword; they shall be a portion for jackals. But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by Him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped.”
v9 brings new information. For the first time in Psalm 63 we learn that enemies are in view. David’s soul has been earnestly seeking the Lord, but now we see he’s not the only one seeking. Enemies earnestly seek his life. It almost catches us off guard to see them show up in v9 David has been so entrenched in his enjoyment of God. But don’t miss it, no sooner are they mentioned than their defeat is made certain. Because David knows how firm God is holding him, he also knows those who go against him will go against God too. Which means his enemies will be destroyed, will go down into the depths of the earth, will be delivered over to the sword, and see it in v10, they’ll be delivered over to be a portion for jackals. This might seem strange to us, but remember what happened to Jezebel and those like her? Jezebel was so wicked in her time that God had said she won’t be buried but will be eaten by dogs. And sure enough, she was. She dishonored God in life and she met a dishonorable end in death. This is what’s being referred to here in v10 as David mentions that jackals, or foxes, will eat his enemies. Some believe v9-11 is something of a blemish on a perfect Psalm because it ends with awful statements about enemies being destroyed. No way. This isn’t a blemish. God’s saving work not only satisfies the souls of His people, God’s saving work also ultimately saves His people from their enemies who try to destroy them in this world.
But, as quickly as his enemies came into view they vanish from view as v11 ends the Psalm saying, “But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by Him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped.” He knows God has made anointed him and made him the true king of His people, and even as he’s forced to flee into the wilderness he knows his throne is secure. Why? Because he’s such a great king? No. Only because God is so faithful.
Church, if David’s calling as king was secure even in wilderness, our calling is more firm. For David could only see the shadows, we know the reality. We’ve heard Jesus say “…I am with you, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b). And we now forever enjoy the direct presence of God through the Holy Spirit living within us. So, wherever we are on earth: in the white house, or in the wilderness, or somewhere in between we’re always at home with Christ.
How do we sum up this delightful Psalm? Think of doves, Noah’s doves to be exact. In a very true sense this Psalm reminds us we are just like Noah’s doves. Remember they were let loose from the safety and security of the Ark to fly around the world seeking somewhere to land and rest after the flood, but when they were sent out at first they could find nowhere to rest and they returned. How are we like that? When a believer leaves the safety and security of Christ he or she might for a time look all around this world for somewhere their souls can rest. But when they see for themselves that there really is nothing to rest our souls on in this world, that all the world is a dry and weary land for the believer, we fly home to Christ.
Have you seen how dry and weary this world is yet? Have you seen how eve at its best it still can’t satisfy the longing soul?
Remember, God reveals His glory to us by sending One who is the exact representation of His glory to save us from sin, to free us from sin, so that we’d be enabled to make much of God forever. Psalm 63 calls us to not only live for Christ, it shows us living for Christ looks like living close to Christ. May our souls ever thirst for more of Him.
 Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David – vol. 2 (Mclean, Virginia: MacDonald Publishing, reprint) 65.
 Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72 (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 1973) 242.
 Nancy DeClaisse-Walford, Rolf A. Jacobson, Beth Laneel Tanner, The Book of Psalms – NICOT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2014) 519.
 Kidner, 242.
 Richard D. Phillips, Psalms 42-72 – Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2019) 222.
 Richard D. Phillips, Psalms 42-72 – Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2019) 222.
 Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David – vol. 2 (Mclean, Virginia: MacDonald Publishing, reprint) 68.
 Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary – The Writings (New York ; London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018), 155.
 Phillips, 225.
 Kidner, 245.
 CBS Bibles and Alistair Begg, CSB Spurgeon Study Bible (Nashville, Tennessee: Holman, 2017), 742.
 Phillips, 224.