Psalm 63: 2-8
The title of Psalm 63 attributes it to King David while he was on the run in the wilderness of Judah (1 Samuel 22-24). Separated from God, he longed for the divine life in the Temple while extolling his intimate relationship with God.
Three religious sentiments are conveyed: expressions of longing, a short hymn of praise, and a conclusion with words of confidence.
O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
Flesh (bāsār) and soul (nepesh) are two dimensions of a human being that constitute the totality of that person (Genesis 2:2).
like the earth, parched, lifeless land without water.
The metaphor of arid land is used to portray the intensity of the psalmist’s longing. This metaphor not only makes the longing concrete, it also suggests that the need for an experience of God is as natural and basic to a human being as water is basic and essential for life itself.
Without a relationship with God, a person is devoid of the source of life, just as parched land is devoid of the source of its life.
Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary to see your power and your glory,
His desire for God is intensified by his previous experience of meeting him in the temple, where he witnessed God’s divine power (‘ōz) and glory (kābôd).
for your kindness is a greater good than life; my lips shall glorify you.
Only here in the Old Testament is anything prized above life — in this case, the authentic covenant bond of God’s lovingkindness (hesed).
Thus will I bless you while I live; lifting up my hands, I will call upon your name.
Uplifted hands is a traditional posture of prayer, reinforcing the image of liturgical prayer in the temple.
As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied, and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you.
The satisfaction that comes with the experience of God is compared to a sumptuous feast. While such a banquet satisfies physical need, it is understood here figuratively as indicating the satisfaction the soul experiences.
I will remember you upon my couch, and through the night-watches I will meditate on you:
There are several interpretations of this verse:
- David might have been employing “couch” ironically, as he would have at this time been wandering the wilderness, laying upon the cold ground with a stone as a pillow, meditating upon God. The wilderness being a dangerous place, he would have been in continual peril; it is easy to imagine that he would have spent many nights keeping watch for predators and enemies. Even with these distractions, his thoughts are with God.
- Or perhaps in his longing to be worshiping God in the temple, David is referring to the night-watches kept in the tabernacle for praising God (Psalm 134:1), wishing he were there with the Levites.
- It’s possible that David is looking to the future, where even in times of darkness, difficulty, and illness (being bedridden on his couch or bed) he vows to draw joy and strength from his relationship with God.
You are my help,
The passage ends with several images that characterize King David’s trust in God. First, God is proclaimed as his help (‘ēzer). This is not a hope for the future but rather a present experience.
and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.
Next, David depicts himself as being under God’s protective wings, a reference to the eagle that spreads its wings over its young.
My soul clings fast to you; your right hand upholds me.
Finally, King David clings to God and is upheld by God’s right hand, a stereotype that signifies God’s power.
The king has turned to God for life and security, and God has responded with love and protection.