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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 63

Psalms 63

THE whole of the Psalm contains the full number of 12 verses, on the assumption that the title is to be considered as an introduction, to which the ( Psalms 63:11) 11th verse corresponds as a Conclusion. The main body contains ten verses: and is divided into two fives. In both halves there is depicted in the midst of trouble, the cordial union of the soul with God for the present, both times in three verses, ( Psalms 63:1-3,) and ( Psalms 63:6-8,) and on the ground of this he raises his hope in reference to the future, Psalms 63:4-5, and Psalms 63:9-10, in the first half a hope of his own deliverance, and in the second, a hope of the destruction of his enemies. The conclusion in Psalms 63:11 sums up the whole, and expresses both in a few words.

The Psalm is aptly described by Clauss as “a delightful view of the experience of a soul thirsting after God and his grace, and finding itself quickened through inward communion with him, and which knows how to commit its outward lot into his hand.” Its great lesson is, that the consciousness of communion with God in trouble, is the sure pledge of deliverance. This is the peculiar fountain of consolation, which is opened up to the sufferer of the Psalm. The Berleb. Bible describes it as a Psalm “which proceeds from a spirit really in earnest. It was the favourite Psalm of M. Schade, the famous preacher in Berlin, which he daily prayed with such earnestness and appropriation to himself that it was impossible to hear it without emotion.”

The title runs: “A Psalm of David when he was in the wilderness of Judah.” The wilderness of Judah is the whole wilderness towards the east of the tribe of Judah, bounded on the north by the tribe of Benjamin, stretching southward to the south-west end of the Dead Sea, westward to the Dead Sea and the Jordan, and eastward to the mountains of Judah:—passages in Josephus, Robinson, II. p. 494, and Matthew 3:1, as compared with Psalms 63:6, shew that the country in the neighbourhood of the Jordan, as far at least as that country lies contiguous to Judah, was a complete wilderness. Without any proof, and against the natural import of the name, against the passage before us, and against Matthew 3, it has been repeatedly maintained, that it is only a part of this wilderness, in which Jericho stands like an oasis, that goes by the name of the wilderness of Judah: according to Raumer, the region next the Dead Sea, and, according to Robinson, “the wilderness along the west side of the Dead Sea.” This wilderness is not unfrequently designated simply The Wilderness. In this wilderness David was often found when flying from Saul. In the same wilderness also he took refuge during the rebellion of Absalom. That he did so is self-evident, inasmuch as the road from Jerusalem to the Jordan leads through it: it is, moreover, expressly asserted in more than one passage in the books of Samuel: 2 Samuel 15:23, 2 Samuel 15:28, 2 Samuel 16:2, 2 Samuel 16:14, 2 Samuel 17:16. We cannot refer our Psalm to the time of Saul, because mention is expressly made of a king in Psalms 63:11. On the other hand, in favour of the time of Absalom, besides this reason we have a very marked reference, in Psalms 63:1, “In a dry and parched (עיף ) land, without water,” to 2 Samuel 16:14,” And the king and all the people that were with him came weary, (עיפים ) and he rested there;”—comp. 2 Samuel 16:2, where Zibah brought out in the way, wine, “that such as were faint in the wilderness might drink,” and the יגע in 2 Samuel 17:2.

This reference affords very strong proof in favour of the correctness of the title proof which is strengthened by the circumstance, that, according to Psalms 63:11, the speaker must necessarily be the king of Israel. It could only be from not observing the relation in which this concluding verse stands to what goes before, summing up, as it does, the contents of the whole, that any expositors could have been led to consider the king as a different person from the Psalmist, who speaks throughout. Besides, the Psalm stands in close connection with the Davidic Psalms generally, and in the closest connection with such of them as belong to the time of Absalom, especially with Psalms 61 (Ewald remarks both Psalms have a striking similarity, and were undoubtedly composed by the same poet,) and Psalms 3 and Psalms 4 which are immediately related to the Psalm before us, inasmuch as they were composed during the first night of David’s flight, and with Psalms 42, which belongs to the period when David got beyond Jordan. Modern criticism ought to be somewhat distrustful of itself, as the fact is evident, that, in general, only those Psalms are related to each other, which are announced by the titles to belong to the same era.

Verses 1-5

The first strophe is Psalms 63:1-5. The Psalmist has a heart-longing after God, Psalms 63:1, in consequence of this he enjoys the most vital communion with him, Psalms 63:2 and Psalms 63:3, and this insures to him the return of his former prosperity, Psalms 63:4 and Psalms 63:5.

Ver. 1. O God, thou art my God, I seek thee, my soul thirsteth after thee, my flesh fainteth after thee in a dry land, and is weary without water. Ver. 2. Therefore I behold thee in the sanctuary, seeing thy power and thy glory. Ver. 3. For thy loving-kindness is better than life, my lips praise thee. Ver. 4. Therefore I shall praise thee in my life, in thy name I will lift up my hands. Ver. 5. As with marrow and with fatness my soul shall be satisfied, and with joyful lips my mouth shall praise thee.

It is a proof of the sincerity of David’s faith, that he loves so well the expression “my God,” with which he begins, (comp. Psalms 3:7, Psalms 18:2, Psalms 18:28, Psalms 22:1, Psalms 22:10), and that he can utter it even when in the deepest misery. Arnd: “Just as a magnet has lost all its power when it does not quickly turn to the north, so faith has lost all its power and is dead, when it does not without delay, turn to God and say, O my beloved God.’“ On “my soul thirsteth,” (comp. Psalms 42:2,) he says: “Just as bodily hunger and thirst are appeased by meat and drink, so the spiritual hunger and thirst of the soul are satisfied only with God.” That after the soul, even the flesh is spoken of, shows the earnestness of the desire (comp. on Psalms 16:9). Every strong emotion is accompanied with bodily effects comp. Psalms 84:2. The עיף is generally connected with ארץ , but the reference to “my flesh,” or even to the person is much more natural, as the ארץ is generally feminine, and is used with ציה in the feminine in the preceding clause, and as the parallel passages in the books of Samuel put the matter beyond a doubt. The more recent expositors consider the residence in the wilderness, and the being weary, as a mere figure, descriptive of a miserable condition. This in itself is possible; but the parallel passage in Samuel shows that we must abide by the literal rendering. The particular feature, however, is not to be viewed by itself, but as symptomatic and descriptive of the whole condition in which the Psalmist was placed. For this it was singularly suited: a king who could not get even a drink of water to quench his thirst? All human fountains of consolation and happiness were dried up to the Psalmist. But he thirsts all the more earnestly after the divine fountain which still remained open to him. It is by this that a child of God may be known. When the children of the world are in a dry land, and are wearied and without water, the last remains of any desire after God disappear from their souls. But real piety, in proportion to the severity of personal suffering, becomes all the more intense in its longings after God. By the extent to which a man, in severe sufferings, can say “I seek thee,” &c. may he decide on the state of his soul.

The Psalmist in Psalms 63:2 says that he comes, by these his earnest desires, into the most intimate connexion with God, and that he shall participate in his grace. The כן has its usual sense “therefore,” “in consequence of this,” comp. Psalms 61:8:—because the whole desire of my heart goes after thee. “To behold God,” signifies “to be assured of his love,” “to enjoy his grace,” comp. at Psalms 17:15. Such a beholding of God can only take place in the sanctuary; for this is the tabernacle of meeting, the type of the church; there God permits his people to approach him, there they are beside him, even though they are far off in body, yea, even though in a desolate wilderness. Instead of, “I behold thee in the sanctuary,” we may render, without any alteration in the sense, “Therefore I dwell with thee in the sanctuary:” comp. at Psalms 27:4, and the passage quoted there, Psalms 61:4. The infinitive with Lamed is to be explained as at Psalms 21:3, Psalms 61:8, to see = so that I see. Where God is beheld, there will his power and glory also be seen: who ever is partaker of his grace, has these unfolded to him: comp. Psalms 27:13, where to see the goodness of the Lord is to experience his excellence, The power and glory of the Lord are in the first instance developed (and this is what is here spoken of, comp. Psalms 63:3, and its opposite in Psalms 63:4,) in inward comfort, whereby the soul is quickened in the midst of sufferings: compare Psalms 42:8. “The Lord commands his loving-kindness in the day time, and in the night his song is with me,” i.e. by day and by night the Lord makes me partaker of his loving-kindness, and bestows it for this reason, that I may sing songs of praise in the midst of sufferings. This verse has had the misfortune to have been frequently and in various ways misunderstood. The interpretation comes nearest the truth: through this desire after thee, or in consequence of it, I walk, though in the wilderness, in communion with thee, as if I were in the sanctuary:—an abbreviated comparison. Against this, however, we have the widely spread parallel passages in the Davidic Psalms, according to which, whosoever enjoys the grace of God, wherever he may be, is really, in a spiritual sense, in the sanctuary, and beholds God there. The following interpretations are altogether at fault: “there I long after thee in thy sanctuary, might I only behold thy might and glory:”—this is contrary to the sense of כן and חזה ; “therefore might I behold thee”—contrary to the sense of the perfect, and it is absurd to explain “therefore,” as in ver. 1, mention is made only of desire; “then I behold thee in the sanctuary,” i.e. “then, when I have found thee whom I desire, I will rejoice in view of the sanctuary:”—without any foundation, as in Psalms 63:1, the subject spoken of is not finding but seeking, and Psalms 63:3 and Psalms 63:4 would become unintelligible; “therefore I beheld thee formerly in the sanctuary:”—it is impossible to explain “therefore,”—as I long after thee, therefore I beheld thee! in like manner, Psalms 63:3, and against Psalms 63:4, where כן denotes in consequence. The true translation contains a most comforting truth, viz. that in the deepest misery an approach to God and to his grace stands open to us, that he always, and without exception, comes down to us in the exercise of love if we only stretch out to him the arms of desire. “Therefore,” says Calvin, “we should learn from his example, that when God deprives us of all outward tokens of his favor, we should behold God in the midst of the abyss with the eye of faith, in order that we may not turn the back upon him, as often as what is visible is withdrawn from us. Yea, even when tyrannical power deprives us of the holy ordinance of the supper and other means of grace, we ought to be upon our guard that we do not turn away the eyes of our mind from God.”

The Psalmist in Psalms 63:3, gives his ground for saying that he beholds God in the sanctuary, and that he experiences his power and glory:

His loving kindness appears in those consolations which quicken his soul, he can still, so strong are those consolations, he can still love and praise him. In view of such proof of fellowship of love with the Lord, any proof to the contrary, which outward suffering seems to afford, is not worth being regarded:—”for thy loving kindness, which I do possess, is better than the life, of which I am deprived.” David’s life at that time, considered outwardly, might more properly be called a death than a life:—comp. on life as equivalent to salvation or prosperity, Psalms 16:11, Psalms 30:5, Psalms 36:10, and Psalms 42:8. “My lips praise thee,” stands related to the first clause, in the same way as in Psalms 42:8, “in the night, his song is with me,” does to “the Lord commands his loving kindness in the day time.” The man who can p r aise God must be richly blessed by him, must see his power and glory.

The “therefore,” in Psalms 63:2, draws an inference from Psalms 63:1, and the “therefore,” in Psalms 63:4, draws an inference from Psalms 63:2 and Psalms 63:3. As, from the inward longing of the Psalmist after God, there flows inward union with him, in the midst of the trouble of the present, so from this there flows again assurance of the deliverance of the future; for God cannot leave his own people, even outwardly, in death. The man who can praise God in death, has a pledge that he will yet praise him in life, that the Lord will again make him participate even outwardly in his favour. The whole, therefore, depends upon this one thing, that the soul has a longing after God. Wherever this is, there is salvation in trouble, and salvation after trouble. The clause, “I shall bless thee,” (i.e. I shall thank thee:—compare Psalms 16:7, Psalms 34:1), in reference to “my lips praise thee,” shows that the כן , which refers in reality to the whole contents of Psalms 63:2 and Psalms 63:3, is more immediately connected with the conclusion of Psalms 63:3. The בחיי , “in my life,” i.e. “when brought back to life or to salvation,” is translated by many, “during my whole life”: but in this way the connection, so full of meaning with מחיים in Psalms 63:3, is destroyed, and, besides, the explanation is grammatically inadmissible,—compare at Psalms 30:5. On the lifting up of the hands as the gesture of prayer, see Psalms 28:2. The connection and the parallelism shew that the language refers to prayers of thanks. On the “name of God,” “his glory as it has been manifested in his deeds”:— in this the Psalmist, when rendering thanks, lets himself down:—compare at Psalms 20:1, Psalms 20:5, Psalms 52:9, Psalms 54:1.

Psalms 63:5 contains the continual expression of hope of future deliverance, which appears under the emblem of a banquet: compare at Psalms 23:5. In reference to “according to lips of joy,” i.e. “with them,” see at Psalms 3:4.

Verses 6-10

The second strophe, is Psalms 63:6-10. The Psalmist enjoys most intimate communion with God, and from this he has the confident assurance of the defeat of his enemies.

Ver. 6. When I think of thee on my bed, I meditate in thee in the night watches: Ver. 7. For thou art a help to me, and under the shadow of thy wings I can rejoice. Ver. 8. My soul depends on thee, thy right hand holds me fast. Ver. 9. And those go down who seek after my life, they come into the depths of the earth. Ver. 10. They are given over to the power of the sword, they become the prey of the foxes.

The sense of the ( Psalms 63:6) sixth verse is: when the Psalmist awakens during the night, his every thought on God is like a meditation in him, he sinks so deep in his reflections on the grace and compassion of God of which he has been a partaker, ( Psalms 63:7), that be cannot again fall asleep. On הגה with ב , compare at Psalms 1:2. “In the night-watches,” is “throughout the whole night:” compare on the night-watches, Psalms 90:4.

In the ( Psalms 63:7) 7th verse we have the reason why the Psalmist cannot get quit of his meditation on God. On the first clause Arnd says: “But God often conceals his help under the beloved cross.” On “under the shadow of thy wings, a favourite expression of David:” compare Psalms 17:8, Psalms 36:7, Psalms 57:1, Psalms 61:4.

In Psalms 63:8, there are the mutual relations between a believing soul and the Lord: it depends on him, and cleaves to him, like a bur to a coat, and he takes hold of it, and holds it up with his powerful right hand, so that it does not sink into the abyss of destruction and despair. On תמך with ב , to take hold of, to hold up, to hold fast, see Psalms 17:5. The right hand is the seat of strength, Psalms 18:35, Psalms 44:3, Psalms 60:5. Arnd: “God holds heaven and earth with his hand, he will therefore be able both to hold up and to bear such a little atom of earth as thou art.”

On שואה “ruin,” in Psalms 63:9, compare at Psalms 35:8. The common translation is, “And they who seek my soul to destruction”: but בקש נפש needs no such addition, it stands without any such, as for example in 2 Samuel 16:11, and according to the analogy of Psalms 63:10, we must expect an independent declaration of the destruction of the enemies in each of the two halves of the verse. They shall come into the deep places of the earth, as did once the fierce rebels in the days of old: compare Numbers 16:31-34, to which David also alludes in Ps. 56:16.

The Hiph. of נגר means always “to pour out.” The third plural stands indefinitely, and instead of the passive—”Over the hands,” after the verb of “giving over,” is equivalent to “into the power.” The jackals go after a dead body;-“they become their prey,” is “they remain unburied.” Compare, in reference to the fulfilment of the expectation expressed in Psalms 63:9 and Psalms 63:10, 2 Samuel 18:7-8.

Verse 11

The conclusion is in Psalms 63:11. And the king shall rejoice in God, every one that sweareth by him, shall glory, because the mouths of liars shall be stopped. Instead of “I,” the Psalmist says the “king,” in order to point to the ground of his hope and confidence. That the suffix in בו refers not to God but to the king, is evident, because it is not Jehovah but Elohim that goes before, and swearing by God being common to both parties, it was only swearing by the king that is a sign of fidelity: comp. Genesis 42:15-16. These, by the salvation which the Lord imparts to the king, shall have occasion to glory, that is, to triumph. On the rebels as liars see Psalms 62:4. Psalms 63:9 and Psalms 63:10 shew how their mouths are stopped.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 63". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-63.html.