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A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.
No psalm in the Psalter is more divinely sweet and spiritual than this, or awakens a deeper response in the soul that thirsts after God. As such it is the common property of the devout in all ages, and in the so-called Apostolic Constitutions was ordered to he sung every morning in the Church. Taking the verbs as futures and not optatives, the psalm contains no prayer, but abounds in praise, thanksgiving, inward longing after God, and joyful trust. As to its occasion, modern criticism, against the older interpreters, inclines to David’s flight from Absalom, 2 Samuel 15:13, etc., making large reliance upon Psalms 63:11, (where see note,) and upon the supposed allusion of Psalms 63:1, “a land dry and עי Š, ( weary,)” to 2 Samuel 16:14, “and the king and all the people came עיפים , ( weary,)”
etc., compared with 2Sa 16:2 ; 2 Samuel 17:2. But though the coincidence agrees well enough with the hypothesis, it has no necessary force of proof that the occasions were the same; for the same person passing through different parts of the same desert at different times might describe his sufferings in similar terms simply from the uniformity of effect from the same physical conditions. Against this hypothesis it may be further urged that the psalm is admitted on all hands to be a morning hymn; (Psalms 63:1;) but in David’s flight from Absalom he passed no morning in the “wilderness of Judah.” On the night of the same day that he left Jerusalem he crossed the Jordan. He had purposed to pass the night west of the Jordan, (2 Samuel 15:28,) but tidings from the capital compelled him to pass over without delay, (2 Samuel 17:16; 2 Samuel 17:22,) and the first morning was, therefore, passed on the “plains of Moab,” east of Jordan, not in the “wilderness of Judah.” Not less forcible is the internal evidence of the psalm itself. It contains no prayer or confession, but abounds in thanksgiving, praise, and holy confidence, everywhere bearing the marks of a tranquil mind and a recent night of calm meditation, Psalms 63:6. Contrast with this the elegiac tone of his psalms written the first day and night of his compulsory abdication, as Psalms 3:4, Psalms 3:7, 42, 43, 55. In addition we must cite the Septuagint, followed by the Vulgate, which gives in the title “the wilderness of Idumea,” instead of Judah. Now it is well known that after the Chaldean invasion, the Idumeans (Edomites) advanced their northwest border upon the desolated territory of Judah as far as the parallel of Hebron. (See 1Ma 5:65 ; Ezekiel 36:5; Prideaux, part i, book 1.) So that by foreigners the southern part of Judah was called Idumea. This would leave Engedi, where we suppose the psalm to have been written, fully within the so-called Idumean territory, in the desert which might indifferently be called wilderness of Judah, or of Idumea. The authors of the Septuagint Version, themselves Alexandrian Jews, would naturally (as foreigners actually did) call that Idumean which a Palestine Jew would call Judean territory. This would harmonize the apparent difference between the Hebrew and Greek titles, and fully corroborate the assignment of our psalm to David’s sojourn in the vicinity of Engedi. 1 Samuel 24:0. But the section of the wilderness of Judah farther north, embracing the route from Jerusalem to the mouth of the Jordan, which David took in his flight from Absalom, was never called Idumea either by Palestine or foreign Jews. Our psalm belongs, with Psalms 57:0, to the period of Saul’s persecution, only a little later than the latter, when the crisis of danger had passed and a calmer scene had succeeded. See introduction to Psalms 57:0. Psalms 63:1-8 describe his thirsting after God; Psalms 63:9-11, the sure and certain overthrow of his enemies.
Wilderness of Judah Extending on the east of Judah, over all the territory between the central mountains and the Dead Sea, east and west, from the mouth of Jordan on the north to the desert of Arabia on the south. Localities were often called after the nearest city, as wilderness of Engedi, of Maon, of Ziph, of Tekoa.
1. My God The “Our Father” and “Abba Father” of the Old Testament, expressive of the confidence and submission of all acceptable prayer or praise.
Early At daybreak, to be taken literally. See on Psalms 46:5.
Soul It occurs four times, and “is the characteristic word of the psalm.” Jebb.
Flesh longeth The soul thirsted for God, the fountain of living water; the flesh languished from hunger for the bread of life.
Dry and thirsty land Dry and weary land. A land which exhausted life and furnished no supply. To be taken literally of the land, but as an emblem, also, of his condition in exile, cut off from the ordinances of worship and the fellowship of saints.
Where no water is Not absolutely, but where it was frightfully scarce. En-gedi, now Ain-jiddy, means “fountain of the kid,” from a beautiful fountain that breaks out of the rocks above the ruins of the ancient city, and about 400 feet above the plain. But such fountains are very rare in the desert. The city stood far south, near the shore of the Dead Sea, in the heart of the desert, south by east from Hebron. Its immediate vicinity was exceedingly fertile and beautiful, but David was in the adjacent desert mountains, probably el-Mersed, on the north.
2. Sanctuary The holy place. A title given to the sacred tabernacle, Exodus 25:8, first settled at Shiloh, Joshua 18:1, afterwards at Nob, 1 Samuel 21:1-6, and later at Gibeon, 1 Chronicles 16:39. The ark of the covenant had been, from the date of Eli’s judicature, at Kirjath-jearim. 1 Samuel 7:1-2. Still the tabernacle was revered as holy, and oracles were given by Urim and Thummim, and answers of prayer obtained. 1 Kings 3:4-5; 1 Chronicles 16:39. The tabernacle worship still supplied the highest manifested glory of God known in the Hebrew worship, for which the exiled psalmist now longs.
3. Thy loving kindness is better than life Thy mercy, by which life eternal is provided, is better than natural life with kingly honours super-added. Compare 1 John 3:1. The words, as Mrs. Conant beautifully says, are “an implication of immortality. In what sense could his ‘ loving kindness’ be ‘better than life,’ if it ceased with the cessation of ‘ life?’ A conscious possession, independent of the earthly ‘life’ and superior to it something for which the earthly life might properly be sacrificed, something therefore indestructible by the death of the body can alone come up to the measure of the thought here expressed.” See Dr. Conant’s version of the Psalms, in loc. These “implications of immortality” are everywhere scattered over the pages of the Old Testament.
My lips shall praise thee Because, notwithstanding all my sufferings, the paramount good remains.
4. I will lift up my hands In solemn posture of prayer. In thy name Depending only on thee for such deliverance as thou canst sanction.
5. My soul shall be satisfied The language is spiritual. “Soul” is here the rational nature the ego the same as “thirsted after God,” (Psalms 63:1,) and “satisfied,” or satiated, expresses the abundant supply of every desire. This fulness David finds only in God. John 1:16.
Marrow and fatness Synonymous words, literally, fatness and fatness, a figure of a sumptuous banquet of all that is most excellent.
6. Meditate… in the… watches Through all “the night watches” the whole night. The language of this verse does not accord with a condition of alarm, agitation, and precipitate flight, such as David experienced the first night of his escape from Absalom; nor do these calm night meditations answer to the deep disturbance and casting about of his soul then. (See introductory note.) But they perfectly suit the serene safety which ensued after the peaceful departure of Saul. 1 Samuel 24:22.
Night watches Of these the Hebrews reckoned three: the first, or “beginning of the watches,” ending at midnight, Lamentations 2:19; the “middle watch,” ending at the “cock crowing” or about three o’clock, Judges 7:19; and the “morning watch,” ending at sunrise, Exodus 14:24. In the time of Christ the Jews had adopted the Roman method of reckoning four watches of three hours each, beginning at six o’clock in the evening. Mark 13:35
7. Because… therefore His past experience offers assurance to faith of future deliverances. Thus “tribulation worketh patience,… experience,… hope.” Romans 5:3-4.
Wings Emblem of tender care and protection.
Luke 13:34. The figure always refers to the cherubim whose wings shadowed the “mercy seat.”
8. My soul followeth hard after thee Or, my soul taketh fast hold behind thee. The figure is that of following close behind, and taking fast hold meanwhile of, the person leading. “He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.” 1 Corinthians 6:17; see Jeremiah 13:11.
Thy right hand upholdeth me See Song of Solomon 2:6. It is not enough that we should take firm hold of God, but God must also take hold of us. Our feeble grasp would be insufficient, but “none can pluck us out of his hand.”
“Soul,” here, must be understood of the inner and spiritual nature, as in Psalms 63:1; Psalms 63:5
9. But those He turns from these soul yearnings and sweet thoughts of God to the stern battle of life before him. The strong adversative force of the conjunction, joined to the pronoun, brings out the sharp contrast between him and his enemies.
That seek my soul, to destroy it The order of the Hebrew words is, but they to destruction will seek after my soul, that is, to their own destruction, and so the parallel clause, they shall go, etc., shows that it is not what they intended for him, which is clearly enough implied, but what should overtake them, that he is speaking of. The word here rendered destruction radically denotes a loud noise, crash, and means tempestuous overthrow, ruin with a crash.
Lower parts of the earth Not a periphrasis for grave, as elsewhere and as in Ephesians 4:9, for in Psalms 63:10 he declares they shall be denied burial, and being a threatened punishment of bad men, it must be understood of punishment in sheol, or the future world, taking the phrase as synonymous with our Lord’s words, John 8:23: “Ye are ‘ εκ των κατω , ( from the beneath,)” using beneath as antithetic to “ τα ανω , ( the above,)” in the same connexion; and more sharply defined John 8:44, “Ye are ‘ εκ πατρος του διαβολους , ( from your father the devil.)” And this is further evidence by their condition after death, John 8:21, “Whither I go ye cannot come,” a denunciation conditioned on their “dying in their sins,” which shows that he is speaking of the future state. In the same verse (John 8:23) our Lord says, “Ye are ‘ εκ του κοσμου , ( from the world,)” but κοσμος , world, here is to be taken figuratively in the morally bad sense of a state of society at enmity with God, as in Joh 15:8-9 ; 1 John 2:15-16. Different is John 3:31, where εκ της γης , ( of the earth,) is to be understood of humble, imperfect, perishable origin. It is clear, therefore, that both the psalmist and the Saviour, in the words in question, use language Hebraistically of future punishment.
10. Sword… foxes Denoting that they should die violent deaths, and, being unhonoured with a burial, their carcasses would become food for carrion eaters, a punishment and dishonour of no ordinary grade. Foxes, שׁעל , ( shual,) the jackal, a natural association with his present desert life. No animal body in the East can remain long exposed after death without being eaten by dogs or jackals. See 2 Kings 9:35-36.
11. But… king “King,” according to the date given to the psalm, cannot here mean David, who never assumed that title during the life of Saul, though afterwards he thus spoke of himself in the third person, Psalms 21:1; Psalms 21:7; Psalms 61:6. It can, therefore, apply to none but Saul, and this eminently suits the unvarying tenor of David’s loyalty; his high conceptions of the theocracy; his marvellous reverence for Saul as the Lord’s anointed; his constant refusal to take Saul’s life, when in two instances he could have done it with a single stroke; his uniform distinction between Saul as rightful sovereign and those lying flatterers who led him astray; and the unaffected lamentation and inimitable elegy upon his death. It further illustrates his forgiving piety.
Every one that sweareth by him Whether the pronoun refers to “God,” or to “king,” in the preceding clause, may be grammatically indifferent; but it may be urged against the latter, and in favour of the former, that though in a heathen country it might pass as an allowable custom to swear by the king, (see Genesis 42:15,) the Hebrews were strictly forbidden to swear by any but God. Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 10:20; Isaiah 65:16. What the prophet, Isaiah 45:23, calls “swearing,” the apostle, Romans 14:11, calls “confessing.” It was a religious acknowledgment of the supremacy of God.
But the mouth of them that speak lies This, with the preceding line, forms an antithetic parallelism, falsehood being opposed to truthful swearing in God’s name, and the rejoicing, or boasting in God to the shutting up the mouths of those who “speak lies.” This confirms the sense given of the passage.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 63". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26