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Psalm 63 – From the Desert
A psalm of David.
When he was in the Desert of Judah.
1O God, You are my God,
earnestly I seek You;
My soul thirsts for You,
my body longs for You,
In a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
2I have seen You in the sanctuary
and beheld Your power and Your glory.
3Because Your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify You.
4I will praise You as long as I live,
and in Your name I will lift up my hands.
5My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise You.
6On my bed I remember You;
I think of You
through the watches of the night.
7Because You are my help,
I sing in the shadow of Your wings.
8My soul clings to You;
Your right hand upholds me.
9They who seek my life will be destroyed;
they will go down to the depths of the earth.
10They will be given over to the sword
and become food for jackals.
11But the king will rejoice in God;
all who swear by God’s name will praise Him,
while the mouths of liars will be silenced.
As the inscription notes, this psalm was written when David was “in the Desert of Judah.” “David did not leave off singing because he was in the wilderness, neither did he in slovenly idleness go on repeating Psalms intended for other occasions; but he carefully made his worship suitable to his circumstances, and presented to his God a wilderness hymn when he was in the wilderness” [Spurgeon]. We as children of God are not guaranteed easy lives, and so we too, just as the godly men of the past, may find ourselves (figuratively speaking) in the desert. David here sets a fine example on how to praise God in the desert. For David realized that, no matter how far he was from civilization, from his friends, from the physical trappings of worship, God was with him. “As the sweetest of Paul’s 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” [Henry]. “Troubles are grievous when they are present, but may prove a matter of a joyful song, when called to remembrance” [Dickson]
The psalm begins: “O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You” (vs. 1). Being far from the tabernacle in Jerusalem did not prevent David from seeking God. Nor did finding himself in the wilderness prevent David from appropriating God as his God. “We should always approach God, not only as God, glorious and almighty, but as our God. The phrase ‘O God, You are my God’ includes the two ideas of omnipotence and covenant relation, q.d., O God, Thou art mighty, almighty, the Governor of the world, and Thou hast promised to be my friend and helper” [Plumer]. David, having cultivated a close relationship with God before he was thrust into the wilderness, was well-prepared for facing the trials of the wilderness. To call God “my God” is “a thing which is not so easily said as the world imagines it and thinks it to be. Indeed, it is easy to the mouth, but it is not easy to the heart. The relations of God to His people are not bare and empty titles, but they carry some activity with them, both from Him towards them, and from them also answerably towards Him. Those whom God is a God to, He bestows special favors upon them; and those to whom God is a God, they return special services to Him” [Horton, in Spurgeon].
The special relationship David had with God is reflected in the language through which he expresses his yearning for God: “My soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (vs. 1). Thirst, after the need to breathe, is the second strongest bodily desire. “Thirst is an insatiable longing after that which is one of the most essential supports of life; there is no reasoning with it, no forgetting it, no despising it, no overcoming it by stoical indifference” [Spurgeon]. David was familiar with thirst, being in “a dry and weary land where there is no water”, and so it was no whimsical thing for him to say to God, “My soul thirsts for You.” Note also, David yearned for God with his entire being, with both “soul” and “body”.
David recalls his encounters with God under more favorable circumstances: “I have seen You in the sanctuary and beheld Your power and Your glory” (vs. 2). “He remembers and mentions the two attributes which had most impressed themselves upon his mind when he had been rapt in adoration in the holy place” [Spurgeon]. Though, while in the desert, David was far from the holy place, this did not stop him from praising His God: “Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You. I will praise You as long as I live, and in Your name I will lift up my hands” (vss. 3–4).
And if David could praise God while on the run in the desert, he could certainly praise God anytime, any place. As he says: “I will praise You as long as I live, and in Your name I will lift up my hands” (vs. 4). Praising God, in all circumstances, has benefits to our emotional well-being, bringing us satisfaction and contentment, as we get our minds off our worldly problems, and focus on God’s eternal plan: “My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise You” (vs. 5).
David’s communion with and meditation upon God was never-ending: “On my bed I remember You; I think of You through the watches of the night” (vs. 6). “Such is the nature of true religion and the power of divine grace, that it gets good out of all evil, and turns even a sleepless night to some valuable account. Blessed is the man, who has learned the art of not wasting precious hours in the nightwatches, although he may be denied the repose, which his weary nature demands” [Plumer].
David’s praise for God was based on his first-hand experiences of God’s goodness: “Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your wings” (vs. 7). “Meditation had refreshed his memory and recalled to him his past deliverances. It were well if we oftener read our own diaries, especially noting the hand of the Lord in helping us in suffering, want labor, or dilemma. This is the grand use of memory, to furnish us with proofs of the Lord’s faithfulness, and lead us onward to a growing confidence in Him” [Spurgeon]. Selfish as we are, “there is more encouragement in the least blessing bestowed upon ourselves than in the greatest blessing bestowed upon a stranger; and, therefore, on every account we may safely say, that a whole library of biographical books, and those relating exclusively to righteous individuals, could not so minister to the assurance of a believer as the documents which his own memory can furnish” [Spurgeon].
David sings in “the shadow” of God’s wings: “The very shade of God is sweet to a believer” [Spurgeon]. “It is our duty to rejoice in the shadow of God’s wings, which denotes our recourse to Him by faith and prayer, as naturally as the chickens, when they are cold or frightened, run by instinct under the wings of the hen. It intimates also our reliance upon Him as able and ready to help us and our refreshment and satisfaction in His care and protection” [Henry].
Some fault God’s children for using God as a crutch. True believers are proud to use God as a crutch, and depend on Him for everything: “My soul clings to You, Your right hand upholds me” (vs. 8). “A believer in God cannot endure a thought of separation from God, nor forbear to seek after God, when he misseth His presence, but will use all means to recover the sense of His presence which he hath felt before” [Dickson].
David momentarily returns to his own worldly problems, with the faith that God will right everything: “They who seek my life will be destroyed; they will go down to the depths of the earth. They will be given over to the sword and become food for jackals” (vss. 9–10).
But he quickly returns to thoughts of praising God: “But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by God’s name will praise Him, while the mouths of liars will be silenced” (vs. 11). “See the difference between the mouth that praises God, and the mouth that forges lies: the first shall never be stopped, but shall sing on forever; the second shall be made speechless at the bar of God” [Spurgeon].
David’s worldly standing did not get in the way of his praise for God. Though a king, David praised the One greater than he. “The greatest men are best employed in gladly adoring and serving God. The king can do nothing beyond that in dignity and nobleness. But the enjoyments of religion, even the highest of them are not reserved for crowned heads. They are also for every true worshipper. So that the poor pious peasant, artisan, exile, beggar or prisoner shall at last glory as much as any other” [Plumer].
What a blessing to have a caring, omnipresent God, who is ready and willing to hear our prayers, wherever we may be. “At home, abroad, surrounded by friends, menaced by foes, in his own abode, in exile, he has peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” [Plumer].