This is a beloved Psalm which demonstrates the maturing faith of David in his later years and trials. This Psalm is vivid. Surprising. It is memorable, and it is a wonderfully balm to the aching heart.
A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah. O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips: When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches. Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice. My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me. But those that seek my soul, to destroy it, shall go into the lower parts of the earth. They shall fall by the sword: they shall be a portion for foxes. But the king shall rejoice in God; every one that sweareth by him shall glory: but the mouth of them that speak lies shall be stopped.
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
This is a Psalm for the wilderness. Despite physical deprivation, David longs for God with both his soul & body (v1). His longing centers on seeing God’s power & glory as displayed in the sanctuary (v2). Because God’s lovingkindness is superior to life itself, praise will arise from David’s parched lips (v3). Though physically feeble, his arms will be raised in praise (v4).
His inner man will be strengthened, as with hearty victuals, and his lips will break forth in praise as after a delicious covenant meal (v5); this all will be the case even when upon his desert bed during the midnight watch (v6). Meditating upon God’s past deliverances secures a present peace to rest under the shadow of Jehovah’s wings (v7, Cf. Rt. 2:12).
Despite being hunted by his enemies, David hunts after God and he sees that even in this it is God’s right hand which holds him up (v8). Then David turns to his companions and rouses them to courage & loyalty. Those pursuing him for destruction would themselves be destroyed (v9). Either the sword or the desert scavengers would be their demise (v10). King David would remain joyful in God, and those who would share in that glory must renew their vows of fealty to David (v11). However, any traitors will meet with a sudden end, their lying lips will be stopped (v11).
IN FAMINE OR FEAST
David provides a sharp contrast to his ancestors here. Whereas Israel’s wilderness wanderings were marked by complaining, fear of foes, compromise with idolaters, pining for Egypts leeks & onions. Here David longs for “my God.” This is the beating heart of the evangelical faith. To call God your God is the sum of true piety.
Notice the orientation of David’s longing. He longs for God, as a night-watcher for the dawn, like a desert plant sends forth its tendrils to reach the smallest droplet of moisture, like a parched & famished man searches for food & drink. But this longing has a reference point: the power and glory of God. But David is more specific than that, it is God’s power & glory as displayed in the Sanctuary of saints which fills David’s mind.
God, of course, is not confined to the tabernacle. So, although there is great glory in the congregation of saints, true piety is sustained even in times of dryness, exile, and misery. It is false piety which deludes itself into thinking it can sustain spiritual life apart from the glory of God in the midst of His people, or if it thinks that mere emotional enthusiasm is enough to sustain Christian vibrancy. Individualism and mere enthusiasm are insufficient to sustain the spiritual life of the saint.
DELIGHTING IN GOD
In our emotionally stunted age, in many respects we must relearn how to feel. On one hand there is a tendency towards embracing emotional expressiveness as emotional maturity. But it is the one who has their emotions well in hand who truly has maturity. On the other hand, the stoic approach treats any emotional feeling with suspicion.
This and many other Psalms are full of godly emotions. This sets before us how to feel rightly about God. Many well-meaning Christians try to manufacture what they perceive to be vibrant “holy feelings”. Conferences. Summer camps. The right combination of books. Trying to obtain the right posture during their morning devotionals so that the Angel Choirs are forced to break forth in the Hallelujah Chorus. All of this is missing the focal point of our piety: God is your God.
You don’t have to persuade a starving man of his hunger. Nor do you awake each morning panicked with concern that maybe you’re not hungry enough for breakfast. By being human, you are in need of God. You need Him in your rising, sleeping, in the glory of the congregation, in the sorrow of the desert. You need Him more than life, more than breath, more than food, or water, or sunshine.
This is just the way things are. Spiritually maturity does not mean the deadening of emotions, it means the ripening of them. It means to aim for the object of those desires not the feeling of desire itself. Immature emotions are like a toddler trying to the hold fourteen leashes of untrained Great Danes after a cat runs by. By delighting in God for His own sake, and despite your circumstances, your emotions are brought to heel.
MORE THAN LIFE
But God is your God because His lovingkindness has been great towards you. Indeed, until you see that God’s hesed has been great towards you, you will chase after this life as if it is the point. But David says otherwise.
The Lord’s lovingkindness is better than “lives”. In other words, group together all variety of lives which could be lived––monarchs, drunkards, business tycoons, desert monks, those who live to a ripe old age and those who are cut off in childhood. The Lord’s tender mercy to you is better than any of them whether individually or in totality. His lovingkindness is like a strong hand beneath you. You seek hard after God, all to discover that God’s lovingkindness holds steadfast to you.
LET LIARS DIE
A striking thing about the Psalms is that they don’t follow the grooves of our nice and tidy sensibilities of what “godly emotions” should look like. This is particularly evident in this Psalm. Here is glorious lines of David rejoicing in the Lord. Here are glorious metaphors. And then, instead of a sweet ending, we have the clamor of threats and the swearing of oaths.
True longing for God fits us for battle with our enemies. While you remain on earth, your worship of the Living God is not intended to end with the sweet sighings of romantics. Rather, setting your affections of Christ above (Col. 3:1-5) is how you bring about the downfall of those hunting you down.
They shall fall by the sword. They shall be left to be devoured by desert beasts. Because God is your God. David resolves, as the lawful head of Israel, to rejoice in God. He then summons those with him to either join the cause or fall in silence.
You are beset with enemies. Both inward and outward. What is that to you? God is your God. Have you been feeling parched spiritually? Go to your God, both here amongst His people and in the solitary night watches. Seek after God, and find, that all along, at every turn, it is He who has sought after you, and will deliver you from all your enemies.