Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This psalm purports to be a "psalm of David," and there can be no just ground of doubt in regard to the correctness of the title in this respect. DeWette indeed supposes that the way in which mention is made of the "king" in Psa 63:11, seems to indicate that the psalm was not composed by David himself, but that it was written by some friend of his, who was his companion in the troubles which he experienced; but it is not necessary to resort to this supposition, for it is not very uncommon for an author to refer to himself in the third person, as Caesar does everywhere. The psalm further purports to have been composed by David "when he was in the wilderness of Judah." The "wilderness of Judah" was that wild and uncultivated tract of country lying on the east side of the territory of the tribe of Judah, commonly called "the wilderness of Judea" (Mat 3:1; compare the notes at Mat 4:1), lying along the Jordan. David was repeatedly driven into that wilderness in the time of Saul; and the general structure of the psalm would accord well with any one of those occasions; but the mention of the "king" in Psa 63:11, as undoubtedly meaning David, makes it necessary to refer the composition of the psalm to a later period in his life, since the title "king" was not given to him in the time of Saul. The psalm, therefore, was doubtless composed in the time of Absalom - the period when David was driven away by the rebellion, and compelled to seek a refuge in that wilderness. It belongs, if this view is correct, to the same period in the life of David as Psa 42:1-11; Psa 43:1-5; Psa 61:1-8; and probably some others.
The psalm consists of the following parts:
I. An expression of earnest desire to see the power and glory of God again, as he had formerly done in the sanctuary, Psa 63:1-2.
II. His sense of the goodness of God, and of the value of the divine favor, as being greater than that of life; and his purpose to find his happiness in God, and to praise and bless him in all situations, especially in those moments of solemn meditation when he was alone upon his bed, Psa 63:3-6.
III. His remembrance of former mercies, and his conviction that God still upheld him by his right hand, Psa 63:7-8.
IV. His firm belief that all his enemies would be destroyed, Psa 63:9-11.
O God, thou art my God - The words here rendered God are not the same in the original. The first one - אלהים 'Elohiym - is in the plural number, and is the word which is usually employed to designate God Gen 1:1; the second - אל 'Êl - is a word which is very often applied to God with the idea of strength - a strong, a mighty One; and there is probably this underlying idea here, that God was the source of his strength, or that in speaking of God as his God, he was conscious of referring to him as Almighty. It was the divine attribute of power on which his mind mainly rested when he spoke of him as his God. He did not appeal to him merely as God, with no reference to a particular attribute; but he had particularly in his eye his power or his ability to deliver and save him. In Psa 22:1, where, in our version, we have the same expression, "My God, my God," the two words in the original are identical, and are the same which is used here - אל 'Êl - as expressive of strength or power. The idea suggested here is, that in appealing to God, while we address him as our God, and refer to his general character as God, it is not improper to have in our minds some particular attribute of his character - power, mercy, love, truth, faithfulness, etc. - as the special ground of our appeal.
Early will I seek thee - The word used here has reference to the early dawn, or the morning; and the noun which is derived from the verb, means the aurora, the dawn, the morning. The proper idea, therefore, would be that of seeking God in the morning, or the early dawn; that is, as the first thing in the day. Compare the notes at Isa 26:9. The meaning here is, that he would seek God as the first thing in the day; first in his plans and purposes; first in all things. He would seek God before other things came in to distract and divert his attention; he would seek God when he formed his plans for the day, and before other influences came in, to control and direct him. The favor of God was the supreme desire of his heart, and that desire would be indicated by his making him the earliest - the first - object of his search. His first thoughts - his best thoughts - therefore, he resolved should be given to God. A desire to seek God as the first object in life - in youth - in each returning day - at the beginning of each year, season, month, week - in all our plans and enterprises - is one of the most certain evidences of true piety; and religion flourishes most in the soul, and flourishes only in the soul, when we make God the first object of our affections and desires.
My soul thirsteth for thee - See the notes at Psa 42:2.
My flesh longeth for thee - All my passions and desires - my whole nature. The two words - "soul" and "flesh," are designed to embrace the entire man, and to express the idea that he longed supremely for God; that all his desires, whether springing directly from the soul, or the needs of the body, rose to God as the only source from which they could be gratified.
In a dry and thirsty land - That is, As one longs for water in a parched desert, so my soul longs for God. The word thirsty is in the margin, as in Hebrew, weary. The idea is that of a land where, from its parched nature - its barrenness - its rocks - its heat - its desolation - one would be faint and weary on a journey.
Where no water is - No running streams; no gushing fountains; nothing to allay the thirst.
To see thy power and thy glory - The reference here is to what was manifested of the presence and the power of God in the services of public worship; the praises, the prayers, the rejoicings, the evidences of the divine presence.
So as I have seen thee in the sanctuary - At the tabernacle, amidst the solenm services of divine worship. There seems to be no reason for supposing that he here refers to the mere external pomp and splendor of public worship, but he doubtless includes the power of the divine presence which he had felt in such services on his own soul. As applied now to a place of Christian worship, it may be observed that there are nowhere more striking exhibitions of the Tower of God on earth than those which occur in such a place, especially in a revival of religion. The scene on the day of Pentecost was as striking an exhibition of the power of God as that which goes forth in the fury of the storm, in the raging of the ocean, or in the guidance of the heavenly bodies. Nothing can so well express what occurs in such a scene as the words "power" and "glory;" nothing shows more certainly the power of God than that influence which bows down haughty sinners, and makes them humble; which produces a deep stillness and awe in the assembled multitudes; which extorts the cry, "Men and brethren, what must we do to be saved?" which makes hardened men weep, and men long addicted to habits of sin willing to abandon their iniquities, and turn to God: and nothing shows more clearly the "glory" of God than that power, that grace, that mercy, which thus turns multitudes from the ways of sin and death, and directs their feet into the path of peace and salvation. They who have ever witnessed the power of God in a revival of religion, will ever afterward long to see again "the power and glory" of God, as they "have seen" it "in the sanctuary."
Because thy loving-kindness is better than life - Thy favor; thy mercy. This is of more value than life; more to be desired than life. Life is the most valued and valuable thing pertaining to this world which we can possess. See the notes at Job 2:4. But, above this, David valued the favor and friendship of God. If one or the other was to be sacrificed, he preferred that it should be his life; he would be willing to exchange that for the favor of God. Life was not desirable, life furnished no comforts - no joys - without the divine favor.
"My life itself, without Thy love,
No taste of pleasure could afford;
'Twould but a tiresome burden prove,
If I were banished from the Lord."
My lips shall praise thee - That is either
(a) because of this loving-kindness; because I have this trust in thy character; or
(b) because thou wilt restore me to the place of public worship, and I shall be permitted again to praise thee.
Probably the latter is the true idea.
Thus will I bless thee while I live - In my life; or, as long as life lasts, will I praise thee. The word "thus" refers to the sentiment in the previous verse, meaning that as the result of his deep sense of the value of the loving kindness of God, he would praise him through all the remainder of his life, or would never cease to praise him. A true purpose of serving God embraces the whole of this life, and the whole of eternity. He who loves God, and who has any proper sense of his mercy, does not anticipate a time when he will cease to praise and bless him, or when he will have any desire or wish not to be engaged in his service.
I will lift up my hands in thy name - In solemn prayer and praise. See the notes at Psa 28:2.
My soul shall be satisfied - See the notes at Psa 36:8. The idea is, that his soul now longed for the service of God as one who is hungry longs for food, or as one who is thirsty longs for drink; and that the time would come when this longing desire would be satisfied. He would engage in the service of God as he desired to do; he would be permitted to enjoy that service without interruption.
As with marrow and fatness - See the notes at Psa 36:8. The words here employed denote rich food; and the comparison is between the pleasure of serving God, and the satisfaction derived from food when one is hungry. It is not uncommon to compare the pleasures of religion with a feast or banquet. Compare Isa 25:6.
And my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips - Lips full of joy; or, which give utterance to the joy of the heart.
When I remember thee upon my bed - See the notes at Psa 42:8. That is, when I lie down at night; when I compose myself to sleep. Nothing can be more proper than that our last thoughts, as we sink into quiet slumber, should be of God; of his being, his character, his mercy, his loving-kindness; of the dealings of his providence, and the manifestations of his grace toward us, during the day; and nothing is better suited to compose the mind to rest, and to induce quiet and gentle slumber, than the calmness of soul which arises from the idea of an Infinite God, and from confidence in him. Often when restless on our beds - when nothing else will lull the body to rest, the thought of God - the contemplation of his greatness, his mercy, and his love - the sweet sense of an assurance of his favor will soothe us, and cause us to sink into gentle repose. So it may be - so it will be - when we are about to sleep the long sleep of death, for then the most appropriate thoughts - the thoughts that will best prepare us for that long sleep - will be thoughts of God.
And meditate on thee in the night-watches - See the notes at Psa 1:2. The word watches here refers to the ancient divisions of the night for municipal or military purposes - periods of the night assigned to different persons to keep watch around a camp or city. The most common division of the night was into three parts, though the arrangement varied at different times. See Mat 14:25; Luk 12:38.
Because thou hast been my help - Because thou hast interposed to defend me in danger. The idea is, that he had experienced the divine interposition in times of danger, and that this was a reason why he should still confide in God. The argument is, that God's mercy and favor in the past is a reason why we should confide in him in time to come.
Therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice - Under the shadow or protection of thy wings will I feel safe. See the notes at Psa 17:8. Compare Psa 36:7; Psa 57:1; Psa 61:4.
My soul followeth hard after thee - The word used here - דבק dâbaq - means properly to cleave to; to adhere; to be glued to; to stick fast. Then it means to attach oneself to anything; and then, to pursue or follow after. The idea here is that of adhering to, or cleaving to; and the meaning is, that the psalmist adhered firmly to God, as pieces of wood glued together adhere to each other; that he, as it were, stuck fast to him; that he would not leave him or be separated from him. The language represents the feelings of true piety in adhering firmly and constantly to God, whatever there may be that tends to separate us from him. The adhesion of bodies by glue is a striking but not an adequate representation of the firmness with which the soul adheres to God. Portions of matter held together by glue may be separated; the soul of the true believer never can be separated from God.
Thy right hand upholdeth me - The right hand is that by which we accomplish anything; and, by constant use, is stronger than the left hand. Hence, the expression is equivalent to saying that God upheld him with all his strength. The meaning is, that God sustained him in life; defended him in danger; kept him from the power of his enemies.
But those that seek my soul to destroy it - Who seek my life; who endeavor to kill me. This language would well describe the purposes of Absalom and his followers.
Shall go into the lower parts of the earth - Shall descend into the earth; into the deepest graves. He would live; but they would perish.
They shall fall by the sword - Margin, They shall make him run out like water by the hands of the sword. The word rendered in the text "they shall fall," and in the margin "they shall make him run out" - נגר nâgar - means properly, to flow, to pour out, as water; and then, to pour out; then, to give up or deliver. The idea here is that of delivering over, as one pours out water from a basin or pitcher: they shall be delivered over to the sword. The original rendered "sword" is, as in the margin, "by the hands of the sword;" that is, the sword is represented as accomplishing its purpose as if it had hands. The sword shall slay them.
They shall be a portion for foxes - The original word - שׁועל shû‛âl - means properly and commonly a fox. But under this general name fox, the Orientals seem to have comprehended other animals also, having some resemblance to a fox, and particularly jackals. Thus jackals seem to be meant in Jdg 15:4; since foxes are with great difficulty taken alive; and in this place also it has the same meaning, inasmuch as foxes do not feast on dead bodies, though a favorite repast of the jackal. Gesenius, Lexicon. Compare Bochart Hieroz. T. ii. p. 190, ed. Lips. Jackals are wild, fierce, savage; they howl around dwellings at night - producing most hideous music, beginning "in a sort of solo, a low, long-drawn wail, rising and swelling higher and higher until it quite overtops the wind," (Thomson's "Land and the Book," i. 133) - and ready to gather at any moment when there is prey to be devoured. "These sinister, guilty, wo-begone brutes, when pressed with hunger, gather in gangs among the graves, and yell in rage, and fight like fiends over their midnight orgies; but on the battlefield is their great carnival. Oh! let me never even dream that anyone dear to me has fallen by the sword, and lies there to be torn, and gnawed at, and dragged about by these hideous howlers."
But the king shall rejoice in God - This passage, as was remarked in the Introduction to the psalm, shows that this psalm could not have been composed in the time of Saul, since the title king was not then given to David. The use of the term here in the third person does not prove that the psalm could not have been written by David himself, for he may have spoken of himself simply as "the king," and all the more forcibly and properly as he was driven unjustly from his throne, and was now an exile, yet was still a king - the king. The title was his; the throne belonged to him, and not to Absalom who had driven him from it. It was not improper to allude to this fact in the manner in which it is referred to here, and to say that "the king" - the true, the real king - himself - should and would rejoice in God. He would find God to be his helper; and by God he would yet be restored to his throne.
Every one that sweareth by him shall glory - Everyone that sweareth to him, or maintains his oath of allegiance to him, shall be honored.
But the mouth of them that speak lies - All who have sworn falsely; all who have professed allegiance and have proved unfaithful; all those who, contrary to their oaths and their obligations, have been found in the rebellion. They shall not be permitted to exult or rejoice, but they shall be confounded and silenced. This expresses, therefore, the fullest confidence in God; the absolute belief of David that he would be again placed on his throne, and again permitted "to see the power and glory of God as" he had "seen it in the sanctuary" Psa 63:2; the belief that he would be restored to prosperity, and that his enemies would be humbled and destroyed - So it will be with all who put their trust in God. There is certain joy and triumph for them, if not in this world, at least in the world to come.