Text: Psalm 63
The psalms are the Manna of the Church. As Manna tasted to every man like that that he liked best, so do the Psalms minister Instruction and satisfaction, to every man, in ever emergency and occasion. David was not only a clear Prophet of Christ himself, but a Prophet of every particular Christian; He foretells what I, what any shall do, and suffer, and say. And as the whole book of Psalms is… 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 themselves to all necessities. This is one of those. (John Donne, sermon on Ps. 63.7)
The wilderness of Judah
The context for writing this sermon is most likely 2 Samuel 15, when David had to flee Jerusalem from the forces of his own son Absalom. We know that the psalm is written by David when he was in the wilderness. When we look through his life, we see that he was in the wilderness on two occasions. The first was when he lived as a political exile from Saul in 1 Samuel 23-26. But he was not yet king then, and this psalm seems to indicate that David is already king when he is writing it. Thus the the occasion is David’s war against his own son, Absalom, who has temporarily taken possession of Jerusalem. This is a time where David is in danger of losing both his throne and his life. Yet he doesn’t seem to be concerned with these matters as much as he is concerned with something higher. Indeed he is most concerned about being separated from God’s sanctuary, and he writes this psalm to express his desire to be reunited with God’s holy place.
Understanding the setting is important because it highlights just how striking David’s spiritual attitude is. He has many legitimate earthly concerns that he could turn his attention to, yet they all fade into the background. David’s mind and his heart are focused on God. He is fully taken up in prayer and worship, and he is fixated on the near presence of God and the satisfaction which God’s presence gives his soul.
Satisfied as with marrow and fat
“O God, You are my God; early will I seek You.” David seeks God early in the morning (vs. 1a). This shows a priority. It is the first thing that David does. But it also serves as a bookend to David’s day, which he will complete in vs. 6. David is seeking God from the moment he rises until the time when he goes to bed, reminiscent of Deut. 6:6-7:
And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.
We also see that David remembers all of the past works of the Lord, how he has delivered him time and time again. This memory and passion fills David’s being. He is wholly consumed with the pursuit of God. He loves God with his whole heart, soul, strength, and mind.
This spiritual drive is like a bodily need. My soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water (vs. 1b). Compare this with Ps. 42:1-2 As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. But it is more than mere sustenance. God is satisfaction and a delight to David (vs. 1b, 5). Like marrow and fat, the presence of God in David’s life is delicious. It is a deep pleasure. This is important to understand. True spirituality is not a perpetual fast. It is not plain and bland. It is milk and honey. True communion with God is butter, cheese, and cream. God is true satisfaction. This is why His blessings are always presented as enjoyable and lavish. Take Is. 25:6 as one example, “And in this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees.” It is simply a lie that Christianity is a dull, dreary, and depressing. The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; But the soul of the diligent shall be made rich (Prov. 13:4). This may take some internal training, of course, but the man who has spiritual communion with God has the greatest excitement, the warmest sensation, and the most lasting joy.
We should not fail to notice that, in this moment, David looks for God where He can surely be found: “So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory” (vs. 2). David was not content to simply “be with God” in the wilderness. He longed for the sanctuary. Now, of course, it is better to be with God in the wilderness than to be in the sanctuary without God. This is true, and as such, we should not put our ultimate focus on time or place. But it is still best to be with God in the Sanctuary. David says that he has “looked for” God in the sanctuary “to see” His power and glory. The Hebrew grammar here actually has these verbs in the perfect tense, meaning that it is both past, having been accomplished, but with ongoing effects. This means that God has appeared in the sanctuary and continues to appear there. David knows where to look for God.
We should ask ourselves from time to time, are we looking for God where He has revealed Himself? Often when we are spiritually depressed we withdraw from the people of God and the regular activities of the church. We feel like we need some extraordinary spiritual experience to make it all right. But this is foolishness. God has shown you where to look. When you are sad, anxious, or depressed, these are the times when you most need to take advantage of the church and the means of grace, the word, sacraments, and prayer.
David then makes an astounding statement, “Your lovingkindess is better than life” (vs. 3a). Take that in for a moment. God’s lovingkindness, which is His tender mercy and faithfulness to redeem His people, is better than life. The spiritual is more important than the temporal. David is here not immediately concerned with his throne or even his life, though those were the objects of crisis. Instead, he is concerned with God. Do we feel the same way? Do we value God’s mercy more than all else?
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:24-26)
And so David worships God (vs. 3b-5). What else is there left to do? This is the proper response to God, the proper response to the one who satisfies your soul. We often feel our need for God most when we are at our weakest, when we feel the most danger. And at these times when we meditate upon God, when we despair of our weakness, and when we cry out for help, we must worship. In fact, crying out to God for salvation and taking delight in His mercy just is worship, a submitting our whole being to the rule of God. We must be taken up into the divine life in order to ever again live our own life. In this is our true rapture, joy, and delight.
Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice
When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches. Because You have been my help, therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice. My soul follows close behind You; Your right hand upholds me (vs. 6-8). David is able to rejoice in God because God has protected him in the past and will protect him in the future. At the end of the day, David thinks back on all that God has done for him, and He knows what God will do for him again. His enemies will be destroyed. This means his immediate enemies, the armies of his son Absalom, but also all of the troubles that will come upon him in this life and any that would threaten him in the world to come. He is secure. And so David’s soul clings fast to God (vs. 8). He knows he has protection there, at God’s right hand. He knows that he will win the battle.
God will destroy our enemies too (vs. 9-10). Who are our enemies? This might sound like strange language. It might make you a little uncomfortable. But if the psalms really are for us, then we cannot get away from the concept of enemies. They are all over the psalms, and everywhere God promises to protect us from them by either converting them or destroying them. This is not only an Old Testament phenomenon. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). We may not battle flesh and blood, but we do battle. The Church in this life is the Church militant. “And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly” (Rom. 16:20).
God will protect the righteous and establish final justice. This means that all things will be set right. Evil and injustice will not last forever. Even our reputation and honor will be preserved: “But the king shall rejoice in God; everyone who swears by Him shall glory; but the mouth of those who speak lies shall be stopped” (vs. 11). At the end of human history, everything will be made right, and everyone will be seen for who they are. We will know who was telling the truth and who was making it all up. And God promises us that we are secure.
Since we have seen this divine grace in the past and know that this divine victory will be the case in the future, we should rejoice in God and worship Him. More than this, we must delight in God. Take it all in. Find satisfaction for your soul in Him. This gives you confidence. This gives you peace. This gives you joy and pleasure forevermore. Let us train our hearts to feast upon God, to find perpetual mirth and spiritual hilarity in Him. Enjoy God. “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” (Ps. 34:8) “In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11). Let us say together with King David, in You, O God, my soul is satisfied. Amen.