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David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 6)

“As with fat and the choicest cuts of meat, my soul will be satisfied.

My lips will exult; my mouth will exclaim hallelujah!”

(Psalm 63:6 {Psalm 63:5 in English versions})

 

Now, in a culture that is as health conscious as ours is, we somewhat lose the impact of the initial metaphor.  We usually think of fatty food as something bad and to be avoided because it is just simply not good for you (or at least, in a society that is as sedentary as ours is, it is not good for you).  Yet, one thing that must never be forgotten is that typically, when you are dealing with meats, the fattiest cuts are also the tastiest cuts.  As a child, before I became aware of this and that health concern and when I was active enough that I could eat whatever I wanted and never gain a pound, one my favorite things about when Dad made steaks on the grill, was eating the fat on the outside of the cut.  And that is exactly what David is communicating.  Take all of your health issues and set them to the side and think simply of the wonderful taste that comes with fat, and recognize that David is saying that his soul enjoys his God in the same way as his taste buds enjoys the fatty cuts of meat. 

We, as humans, respond to food.  This is not a cultural thing, but it is tied to our very being—we like to eat and we like to eat well.  We have made an art out of fine cooking, and almost everything we do on a social level is done around food.  Different cultures may have different styles of food that is popular with their palates, but there is food, none-the-less.  And what David is seeking to communicate to us through the ages is that as satisfying as the best meal may be—and when we have an exceptional meal prepared for us, it is not uncommon for us to think of that meal for days if not weeks—and crave it again—so too, David says, his soul enjoys God.  The question that needs to be asked, then, is does your soul crave God in the same way your mouth craves a favorite food.  Do you look forward all day to your morning or evening prayer time in the same way that you look forward all day to a special meal that is being prepared?  Do you savor your time in prayer as you do a good meal or do you see it as just one more thing to do?

Beloved, I think that we are all guilty of falling short of the mark that David sets for us, but he continues his metaphor in the second line of the psalm.  Just as your lips and mouth do not remain silent, but instead rejoice, in a good meal, so too, his lips and mouth cannot remain silent at the presence of God in his life.  And, indeed, David’s mouth did not remain silent, but from his mouth came the many sweet psalms of the first part of the book of Psalms.  Loved ones, does your heart sing, do your lips exult, does your voice refuse to remain silent at the wonders of God?  If so, then praise God, but if not, I pray that these words of David will spur you on and help nurture within you a heart of praise. 

I will sing of my Redeemer, and his wondrous love to me:

On the cruel cross he suffered, from the curse to set me free.

Sing, O sing of my Redeemer!  With his blood he purchased me;

On the cross he sealed my pardon, paid the debit and made me free.

-Philip Bliss

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 12)

“The King will rejoice in God;

and boast, will all who swear by him;

for the mouth will be shut of all who speak a lie.”

(Psalm 63:12 {Psalm 63:11 in English Bibles})

 

And David, who is the rightful king of Israel, will rejoice in God (even in the midst of having to flee for his life) because God will shut the mouths of the liars—God will vindicate David’s name and bring to shame those who would seek to speak ill of him.  What an amazing statement!  David is saying that because God is who he is, that he has no fear.  Even in the situation he is in, where people are seeking his life and his kingdom, that David is entirely confident that God will bring truth to the surface and will bring an end to the lies that are being spoken about him. 

Beloved, were it that we could only have such faith!  That we could walk with such confidence as to know that God will stop the mouths of those who lie about us.  Yet, friends, we can because God will!  How often do we respond to lies about us by angrily confronting the liars?  How often do we drop everything that we are doing just to focus our energies on “restoring our good name?”  Loved ones, do not misunderstand me, a good name is an important part of your Christian witness, but do you not think that God will restore your good name for you?  Do you not think that God is able to put an end to false talk about you?  If you believe that God will do this and that he is able to do so, why do you fret and panic about the lies of the enemy so?

Loved ones, you are held in the hand of the one who is the very definition of truth and righteousness—pursue His truth and righteousness and the lies of the enemy will be shown for what they are.  As our Lord, himself said:

Blessed are you when they reproach you, persecute you, and say evil and lies of you because of me. Rejoice and Exalt!  For your reward is great in heaven.  For thus they persecuted the prophets who came before you.”

(Matthew 5:11-12)

Beloved, let our lives sing and boast of the one we serve, for what other god is like our God?  None!  No not one!

I will sing of my Redeemer, and his wondrous love to me:

On the cruel cross he suffered, from the curse to set me free.

Sing, O sing of my Redeemer!

With his blood, he purchased me;

On the cross he sealed my pardon,

Paid the debit and made me free.

-Philip Bliss

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 11)

“They will be thrown down on the sword;

they will be a portion for foxes.”

(Psalm 63:11 {Psalm 63:10 in English Bibles})

 

Not only is David confident in the death of those who seek his life, but he is confident in the ignoble way in which they will die and be left for the scavengers of the field.  The language of being “thrown down” on the sword paints the picture for us of the execution of defeated enemies, forced to their deaths.  And of course, the language of their bodies being a portion for the foxes finishes the picture of dead bodies strewn across the battlefield and left to rot and be eaten by scavenging animals—alone and without the dignity of a proper burial.

Oh, the indignity of the final end of those who persecute God’s own.  Not only is it ruin in this life, but it is ruin in the next.  Beloved, how many people do you know and love that are destined to be a portion for the foxes?  How many people do you regularly interact with who are on the wide path that leads to damnation?  And have you been faithful in showing them that there is another way?  Have you worked, even at cost, to remind them that Christ is the answer to their problems?  Have you warned them that unless they flee to Christ, condemnation is what they will face?  Oh, loved ones, how often we sit idly by while those we care about head for the sword of final judgment.  Friends, take a serious look around you at those whose lives do not reflect a relationship with the person of Jesus Christ.  Will you share the good news with them?  They may reject you, forsake you, change the subject, or walk the other way, but if they don’t, and they listen, oh the joy that you will share in seeing one who was destined for destruction experience life!

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 10)

“And those men of ruin, who require my life,

they will go to the lowest parts of the earth.”

(Psalm 63:10 {Psalm 63:9 in English Bibles})

 

Thus, not only does David have the assurance that he may hide behind the strong hand of God for protection, like a small child with his or her parent, but that God will act against those that seek his harm.  He says of those who seek his life, that God will send them to the lowest parts of the earth—the grave—Sheol—as a sign of his judgment against them.  Even in referring to these men, he calls them “men of ruin”—not so much because they are seeking David’s ruin (which they are), but because by seeking the death of God’s anointed king, they are condemning themselves to judgment.  Woe to those who oppose the chosen of God—woe to those who would seek to destroy God’s anointed children!

There is some discussion about the translation of the first clause of this verse.  Many will translate it as “those who seek to ruin my life,” connecting the “ruin” with the work of these men and not the lives of these men.  Yet, the Hebrew system of accent marks (a system designed to bind words together or to separate them) binds these first two words together into one unit—hence, “men of ruin.”

The principle, beloved, is clear.  God will protect and preserve his own.  Oh, how we so often fail to trust in that promise.  Oh, how often we doubt God’s provision for us!  And, loved ones, how often we neglect to remember that promise when we have a dispute with another believer.  Oh, dear friends, let us never forget that the promises that God extends to us are the same promises that He extends to other born-again believers; there is no room for bickering and in-fighting in the house of God.  Beloved, let there be peace.

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 9)

“My soul cleaves behind you;

your right hand takes hold of me.”

(Psalm 63:9 {Psalm 63:8})

 

As David is reflecting on his dependence on God’s strong hand of defense, he switches to a different, but related metaphor.  In the previous verse, he employs the imagery of being a chick under a mother eagle’s wings; here, the imagery is that of a timid child, clinging for protection to his father’s leg.  He begins this verse with the language of his soul or his spirit clinging or cleaving to God, yet doing so from behind.  Many of our English translations do not do a good job of bringing this out, but the Hebrew clearly suggests that the clinging is done as if he is coming up on God from the rear—just as a child hides behind their parent’s leg for protection when they perceive danger. 

The next verse reflects the response of God to his action—God’s right hand takes hold of him.  The Hebrew word that is used here is the term $m;t’ (tamak), which reflects the idea of grabbing hold of something firmly and not letting go.  In addition, it is important to be reminded that the language of the right hand reflected the idea of strength and might—in other words, with God’s hand of power, he grabs hold of David to provide that protection.  In addition, we need to understand that the idea of “soul” for the Hebrew reflected the idea of his whole life and the entirety of his being.  Sometimes vp,n< (nephesh) is translated as “life” (Genesis 9:5) or even the idea of  “personality” (Leviticus 26:30).  In other words, David is not speaking only of spiritual matters in the context of this verse and the metaphor he is employing, but that of the entirety of his life.

Beloved, so often we like to imagine ourselves as being the strong hero pressing against the storms—you know the picture, the man in the cowboy had and duster bent down as he fights his way forward against the wind and driving rain.  Yet, loved ones, this is not the Biblical model.  There are no lone cowboys in the body of Christ and none of us can stand alone against the storms—if we try we will fail.  The Biblical picture is that which David is painting for us here—we are children clinging for safety to our Father’s leg, and with his strong hand he leads us.  Oh, what a contrast there is between the way we like to perceive ourselves and the way God perceives us.  Oh, how much foolishness we engage in when we get that perception wrong.  Beloved, cling to the leg of your heavenly Father—his strong hand will hold you during times of trouble.

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 8)

“For you are my help

and in the shadow of your wings I will exult!”

(Psalm 63:8 {Psalm 63:7 in English Bibles})

 

The language of God being as a mother eagle to his people, Israel, is a common Old Testament image (Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 32:11; Ruth 2:12; Psalm 17:8; etc…).  And oh, what a wonderful image it is—that of God providing his strong protection over his people, sheltering them from the storms by his great and mighty wings.  And it is from under the protection of God’s wings that we may not only rest in confident assurance of that protection, but we may sing to God undistracted by the cares of this world.  What assurance there is when you know that you are safe and protected!  What peace comes to a child’s heart when, after they have been threatened, they rest once again, safely in their parent’s arms!

Sadly, we live in a culture where many do not understand this concept.  Many children grow up in families where both spouses work and are out of the homes and have to learn to protect themselves from life’s difficulties.  Many children grow up without their fathers and don’t know the peace that comes from the assurance of the safety of being in their father’s arms.  Many adults put their own interests and goals ahead of the good of their families, again creating an environment where children are forced to find protection elsewhere.  Abuse, too, runs rampant in our culture, making the home anything but a safe place to be.  As a result, these young men and women have grown up relying on themselves, not trusting too many people, and not knowing the assurance of resting in the arms of one who loves them and is able to keep them safe from the  cares of the world.

Oh, the damage we have done to our families by pursuing our own agendas instead of the agenda of God—instead of pursuing his glory and righteousness.  Oh, beloved, what a message of hope we have to offer, though, in the Gospel!  In Christ, there is hope and peace and rest for the weary soul.  In Christ there is safety; under God’s strong wings we may find rest and help.  And under God’s strong wings we may finally sing for joy—exult—in the glory of Him who is greater than all the threats of this world put together.  In Christ and in Him alone we may find our help.

Our God, Our help in ages past,

Our hope for years to come.

Our shelter from the stormy blast,

And our eternal home:

Under the shadow of your throne

Your saints have dwelt secure;

Sufficient is your arm alone,

And our defense is sure.

-Isaac Watts

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 5)

“Thus, I will bless you with my life;

in your name I will lift my hands.”

(Psalm 63:5 {Psalm 63:4 in English Bibles})

 

Not only will David lift his voice in praise, but he will lift his hands as well—fully praising his God and redeemer.  What a simple, but wonderful thought to keep before us!  Not only should our lips be lifted up in praise to our God, but so too should all of our body—everything that we do in life should be done for the praise and honor of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  And, indeed, this is exactly what David is getting at when he says that he will bless God with his life.  Life is about worship and nothing less.  Life is not about accomplishing goals, learning facts, making money, or building families—it is about worship and everything else that we do (accomplishing goals, learning facts, making money, and building families included) is to be done to that end.

Loved ones, set this before you as you go through your day.  Is what you are doing—whatever it may be—done in a way that is worshipful toward God?  Do you do what you do out of a heart that is motivated by personal desires, or a desire to worship?  Beloved, there is nothing more satisfying than the worship of God.  A tool is most useful when it is used for the task for which it was created.  When used for other things, its usefulness is reduced and it will likely become damaged and less effective a the task for which it was created.  Beloved, you were created to worship God; you will never find satisfaction in anything else and in seeking those other things, you will likely damage yourself.  Yet worship is a perfect and right fit and when you do all that you do (work, recreation, chores, etc…) out of a heart of worship toward God, you will find these things to be satisfying as well.

And let us not stop there, for it is not just the believer that has an obligation to worship, but all people—again, that is what we were created to do.  And our being created in that way implies an obligation on us to do that which we were created to do.  Not only must we be worshiping God for all that he has done—especially in our redemption—but we must worship God for who he is, and even those who have not experienced redemption owe this to God.  God is infinitely wise, wonderful, beautiful, glorious, lovely, and powerful, and to neglect to praise one who is so much greater than you or I in every way is downright rude and arrogant—downright sinful. 

Oh, loved ones, how easy it is to become burdened and distracted by all of the cares of the world and all of our daily and weekly obligations.  Yet, beloved, how this causes us to lose focus of what we are to be about in this world.  We are to worship and we are to be about worship in all that we do.  If we lose sight of this, we will not only be less effective at all we do, but we will find that we are wounding and damaging ourselves, just as a flathead screwdriver is damaged when one takes to use it as a chisel.  Commit yourself to worship, friends, and all the other things will fall into their proper places.

O bless the Lord, my soul;

Let all within me join,

And aid my tongue to bless his name,

Whose favors are divine.

-Isaac Watts

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 4)

“For your covenant faithfulness is better than life;

my lips will sing praises to you.”

(Psalm 63:4 {Psalm 63:3 in English Bibles})

 

Those of you who know me well know that I sound a bit like a broken record when I get to verses like this, but I would hold that these things are essential for the Christian to understand.  The Hebrew word that is found in the first part of this verse is the word ds,x, (chesed).  This word is translated in a number of ways in our English Bibles, sometimes we see it as “mercy” or “loving-kindness” and sometimes we see it as “grace” or “faithfulness.”  It is a word that carries with it many ideas, but essentially reflects God’s covenant faithfulness in the midst of his people’s covenant unfaithfulness.  And, oh, through history, how God demonstrates his ds,x, (chesed) to his people. 

And indeed, David speaks some very important words here—he says that the ds,x, (chesed) of God is better than life.  Were it not for God’s covenant faithfulness, life would not be worth living, David communicates.  Were it not for the covenant faithfulness of God this world would have been swept away in his wrath over sin.  Were it not for the covenant faithfulness of God, you and I would be condemned to the darkness of eternal judgment.  Were it not for God’s covenant faithfulness, he would have never sent his Son to redeem a people for himself—to redeem you and me.  Friends, do you see just how important this word is to us—this characteristic of God?  Do you see how we could not live without it?  Oh, how often we take God’s covenant faithfulness for granted; let us be reminded by these words of David that it is better than life itself—it is what makes life worth living!

And as a result of God’s covenant faithfulness in your life and in the lives of believers everywhere, it ought to cause your voice to sing praises to God!  The verb that David uses in the second clause is the word xb;v’ (shavach), which means to sing loud praises—to laud another.  Beloved, when you look back at your own life and you see the hand of God at work, does it not make you want to sing!  When you look back through history and you see God’s hand at work in the lives of his people, does it not make you want to praise!  Oh, how often we take the work of God for granted in our lives—oh how often we take the covenant faithfulness of God for granted—as if it were something that was our due pay for services rendered!  Beloved, our infinite praise is God’s due pay for his covenant faithfulness!  So, let us get to work—it is a precious labor to praise our God.  No, we will never repay what we owe, but though we cannot repay, shall we not try?  Shall we not praise him for who he is and for what he has done?  It is a pleasant duty and a delightful task that has been set before us, indeed.

All glory, laud, and honor to thee, Redeemer, King,

To whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring!

Thou art the King of Israel, thou David’s royal Son,

Who in the Lord’s name comest, the King and blessed One!

-Theodulph of Orleans

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 3)

“Thus, in the Holy Place, I have seen you;

seeing your might and your glory.”

(Psalm 63:3 {Psalm 63:2 in English Bibles})

 

Now, a question of translation arises in the first clause.  This verse begins with the words vd<QoB; !Ke (ken baqodesh), which mean “thus, in the Holy Place.”  The interpretive question that must be asked is whether or not David is referring generally to the sanctuary of God, as many translate it, which would likely speak of the Tabernacle and the grounds around it, or whether he is literally referring to the “The Holy Place” within the Tabernacle. 

The parallelism that we find in the second verse does not help us too much in answering that question given that it really highlights the second part of the first clause.  David says that he has seen God in the first part of the verse, then clarifies the statement at the end of the verse with the language of having seen God’s might and glory.  Indeed, this is something that David had witnessed early on in his life, but far more so by the later days (again, suggesting the probability of a later date).

So, how ought we to understand this first clause?  We can certainly take this as a general reference to the Tabernacle as a whole, but my suggestion is that this is a very specific reference to the Holy Place within the Tabernacle.  The structure of the tabernacle was that there were outer courts where the people could pray and worship, but when you entered the Tabernacle proper, there were two separate rooms, the Holy Place, where only priests were permitted to go and then the “Holy of Holies,” where the high priest alone was allowed to go once a year to take the blood of the sacrifice on the day of Atonement.

If only the priests were allowed to enter the Holy Place, how is it that David might have seen it?  There were three pieces of furniture within the Holy Place.  The first was the altar of incense, where incense was burned perpetually before the Lord to represent the perpetual prayers of the saints.  The second piece of furniture was the menorah, the seven-branched lampstand. This was kept lit through the night, not only providing light within the Holy Place, but also as a symbol of the light of truth to the world.  Lastly, there was the Table of Shewbread (also called the bread of the presence).  There were 12 loaves of bread that were put on the table on the first day of the week and left there until the Sabbath, when the priests would eat them and new loaves would be brought.  The twelve loaves represented the twelve tribes of Israel and the loaves together in the Holy Place represented the people of God in the perpetual presence of their God.

In 1 Samuel 21:1-9, we learn that at one point in David’s life, when he was fleeing from Saul, he and his men came to Nob (where the tabernacle was at the time) and asked for food.  The only food that was available was the shewbread—something that was only allowed for the priests to eat.  Yet, these loaves were given to David and his men.  Now, we are not told that David himself went into the Holy Place to retrieve these loaves, but this is not totally un-probable. 

Regardless on where you may fall in this discussion, the point is the same:  in the midst of David’s darkest hour, in the middle of spiritual dryness, his strength comes from his reliance on the Lord.  Oh, how often we falter, dear friends, because we seek to rely on our own strength rather than on the strength of God.  How often we allow the world to overrun or at least intrude into our spiritual lives.  How easily distracted our prayer time can be.  Beloved, what David is reminding us of is just how we rely upon God for our strength and apart from God, we will wither away—much like the plants of the land do when they are without water.  It is in God and in his glory that we must rest—it is in Christ and only in Christ that we can find health and joy.  Oh, beloved, seek his face, pursue the Lord and rest in him—no matter what the state of the world around you.

 

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 2)

“O God, you are my God; again and again I seek you.

My soul thirsts for you;

My flesh yearns for you—

In a land that is dry and exhausted without water.”

(Psalm 63:2 {Psalm 63:1 in English Bibles})

 

The wilderness around David is a visible metaphor for the spiritual state of the land of Israel at this point in history.  He looks around him as he flees into the wilderness and recognizes that the dryness of the land around him is much like the dryness of the hearts of those who seek his death—who seek to rule the kingdom of Israel not for the glory of God, but for their own gain and prosperity.

How quickly we forget, as we go through life, that riches are not found in the things of this world, but they are found in the things of God and in his righteousness.  Jesus says one of the marks of a true Christian, though, is that they hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6).  And as I have said many times before—hungering and thirsting is not a casual wondering what you will have from the buffet line tonight, but it is a deep hungering that recognizes that if the need is not met, you will die.

The illustration that we are given here is of being in a dry and barren land—the wilderness of Judea—in a time of drought.  We must remember that one of the most common judgments against God’s people when they entered into idolatry was just that—drought.  Yet, in the midst of judgment and fleeing for his life, David seeks to find his strength in prayer.  And David’s model that is one of constant prayer—seeking God’s face over and over again.  The verb for “to seek,” which is the verb rx;v’ (shachar), is found in the Piel stem, which simply means that it reflects continued, repeated action.  Thus, again and again, David is presenting himself before the Lord, seeking his face in prayer.

Oh, how we need to keep this principle before us as we go through our daily lives.  No, we may never be forced to flee into the wilderness because someone is seeking our life.  Yet, there are trials and struggles enough in this life that should force us to our knees.  And, beloved, it is on our knees that the man or woman of God finds their strength.  Friends, do not take this privilege for granted, but instead dedicate your life to continually seeking God’s face in prayer, and even in the midst of a dry and dusty land, God will provide you with an ever-flowing stream of soul-quenching water through his Holy Spirit.

Are we weak and heavy-laden,

Cumbered with a load of care?

Precious Savior, still our refuge—

Take it to the Lord in prayer!

Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?

Take it to the Lord in prayer!

In his arms he’ll take and shield thee;

Thou wilt find a solace there.

-Joseph Scriven

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 1)

“A psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah”

(Psalm 63:1 {superscript in English Bibles})

 

It is always helpful when psalms contain superscripts, which can introduce for us the context and the historical setting of the psalm (remembering that in the Hebrew Bible, the superscripts are part of the inspired text).  Even so, many of the superscripts still leave us with the responsibility of doing some footwork in the historical books if we want to narrow down the context more exactly.  And, in this case, we really have two possibilities that could provide the context for this psalm.

The earlier of the two possibilities would be found in 1 Samuel 23, when David was fleeing for his life from Saul.  He spent much time in the Judean wilderness (for example, see 1 Samuel 23:15).  The difficulty that some have with this earlier dating is that David refers to himself as “king” in this psalm (verse 11 in English Bibles) and technically, Saul was still the king of Israel.  At the same time, David had already been anointed by Samuel to be King of Israel by this point (1 Samuel 16), and though he had not yet assumed the role of King, the office was rightfully his.

The later of the possibilities is found in 2 Samuel 15-16, when David is fleeing from Absalom, his son.  At this point, David is clearly king of Israel without any room for debate and the text itself calls him “the king.”  David is found to spend time in the wilderness of Benjamin (which is often seen as part of the Judean wilderness) and Judah as he flees for his life again.  In turn, this second, later, choice may be a better option to fit the context of the psalm, though both are possibilities.

Whichever option you choose, what is perhaps more important is that the early church saw this psalm as a hymn that was reflective of their condition.  The church is a church in the wilderness heading for an eternal promised land that Christ has prepared and preserved for us, but for now, we are tested and tried here in this sinful world.  The early church especially also clearly understood what it meant to have people seek to destroy them as persecution abounded during those days (and still does today in other parts of the world).  Thus, tradition tells us, that men and women in the Early church often sang this particular psalm daily as a reminder of where they were and of God’s hand of provision in their lives.

Beloved, as you reflect on the words of this psalm, remember the context from which it comes—it is one of trust in God even in the midst of having to flee for your life.  Oh, how we can learn from those ancient saints who clung to this psalm for encouragement in the midst of their great trials.  Oh, how we would grow if we saw trials for what they are—not things to be feared, but opportunities for God to demonstrate his provision to us.  Loved ones, do not seek the easy life that finds its comfort in worldly things; seek the life that rests in God’s hand for all needs even in the midst of great tribulations.