Apart from a brief sideways glance at the enemies in v9-11, Psalm 63 is essentially a psalm that focuses on the psalmist’s longing for God and the satisfaction he derives from Him in a barren and empty world. Words of longing for satisfaction and fulfilment from God contrast with words of emptiness nowhere more powerfully than in the first verse of the psalm:

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;

The three expressions of reaching out (‘seek, thirst, long’) match off against the three expressions of the barrenness of the world he inhabits (‘dry, thirsty, no water’).

A world which satisfies

The pointlessness and emptiness of a world without a God in it, a life lived purely as an end in itself, has been poignanty observed and documented in the work of the existentialist philosophers; in many ways it is the crisis of modernity. Once God has been lost society is left with no deeper meaning beyond the ‘stuff’ that surrounds it (and we ourselves nothing more than a meaningless collection of chemical and biological ‘stuff’); we have nothing to anchor ourselves to and no basis to ground our morality and values beyond the pursuit of self-interest and the games of identity politics. All this was known and understood many centuries before and is described, for instance, in the book of Ecclesiastes. Without God life is vanity and meaninglessness: it is dry and thirsty, a land ‘where no water is,’ as the psalmist describes. This is why he is so keen to draw close (‘O God, thou art my God’) and to commit to seeking Him ‘early’ (v1). He will not leave it until it is too late or until other more interesting or pressing matters have been attended to; he will seek God early. As Moses had once besought the Lord ‘Shew me thy glory!’ so here the psalmist expresses that same longing to see and know it once again – the longing to experience the transcendent. In the world of today we too look for something which goes beyond the ‘objects as atoms’ of science and the ‘humans as animals’ of sociology, something which transports us into the realm of the divine and more deeply satisfying.

The prayer of the psalm is effectively that the richness of God’s essence – the ‘power and the glory’ that we can experience in a personal relationship with God now  – should be extended to the whole world and to the physical as well as the spiritual realm. It is the prayer that the world ‘outside’ (the dry and thirsty land) should become like the world ‘inside’ God’s temple. David has experienced  the deep possibilities of communication and fellowship with God that are available through worship ‘in the sanctuary’ (v2). Now he longs to ‘see’ (v2a) that ‘power and glory’ in the wider world as he has ‘seen’ (v2b) and experienced it in the past in God’s house. Whether or not he did see it as he escaped from Saul and his kingdom was established (we might well say that he did), the prayer will certainly one day be fulfilled. The Lord Jesus himself also saw and experienced it, and it is in the Lord’s Prayer that he ascribes to God ‘the power and the glory’ that is referenced here (v2a). In perhaps an unusual way the opening verses of the psalm effectively express the desire for God’s kingdom to come.

Thus far, then, the first stanza of the psalm. Here it is in full before we look at its second and third parts, with all the verbs that refer to David highlighted:

  1. [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;
  2. To see thy power and thy glory,
    So as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.
  3. Because thy lovingkindness is better than life,
    My lips shall praise thee.
  4. Thus will I bless thee while I live:
    I will lift up my hands in thy name.
  5. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness;
    And my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips:
  6. When I remember thee upon my bed,
    And meditate on thee in the night watches.
  7. Because thou hast been my help,
    Therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.
  8. My soul followeth hard after thee:
    Thy right hand upholdeth me.
  9. But those that seek my soul, to destroy it,
    Shall go into the lower parts of the earth.
  10. They shall fall by the sword:
    They shall be a portion for foxes.
  11. 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.

Better than life

The verbs of seeking, thirsting and longing from the first stanza are now joined by a further and more extensive set of verbs in v4-8. We can divide these up into four categories to learn more about what true commitment to deepening our relationship with God can look like:

Expressions of praise (praise, bless, lift up hands, praise, rejoice v3,4,5,7)

  • We need to lose ourselves in savouring and telling His greatness

Expressions of thought (remember, meditate v6)

  • We need to engage our minds in considering His words and deeds

Expression of commitment – (my soul followers hard after thee v8)

  • We need to stick close to God, determined not to become separate

Expression of receiving nourishment & satisfaction of the soul (v5a)

  • We need to allow ourselves to find rest and spiritual fulfilment in Him

Throughout these verses there is also a sequence of body parts (‘lips, hands, soul, mouth’ v3-5, cf also v9-11 which contain further examples), bringing out the point that a relationship with God is meant to impact the whole of one’s being.

More intriguing still are a number of expressions that seem to link to the book of Ruth. In the expression that his soul ‘follows hard after’ the Lord there is an echo of Boaz’ encouragement that Ruth should not go to another field but ‘stay close’ by his reapers and keep her eyes fixed when gleaning. This will mean that she is more productive and it will ensure she has their protection (Ruth 2v8,9). Then there is the ‘shadow of thy wings’ phrase (v7), the archetypal expression Boaz uses to describe how Ruth the Moabitess has come to trust in the God of Israel (Ruth 2v12). Next we have the ‘night watches’ and Ruth’s nocturnal visit to offer herself to Boaz and request his protection and the unexpected satisfaction and joy that came from their relationship even though Boaz was an older man. Finally the name of Boaz himself (‘in him is strength’) finds its echo in the description of God as ‘my help’ in v7a (same root word), and in the acknowledgement that ‘thy right hand upholdeth me’ in v8. Perhaps these are coincidental; perhaps not – Boaz and Ruth were David’s ancestors after all!

Marrow and fatness

By this point the psalm has used three powerful expressions or metaphors to describe the way in which a relationship with God exceeds and transcends the this-worldly experience of life:

My soul thirsts for Thee in a dry and thirsty land (v1)

  • God’s ‘power and glory’ are thirst-quenching in a barren world

Thy lovingkindness is better than life (v3a)

  • The terms ‘power and glory’ are now joined by a third attribute of God: lovingkindness
  • This lovingkindness of God goes beyond what this life has to offer

My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness (v5a)

  • Bone marrow is a critical element of human physiology, serving a key role in fat storage and blood cell production (it has been described as ‘the blood cell factory’ – and where would we be without that?); it is fascinating in this light that the Scriptures have long used it as an expression of richness and essence even though the full significance of marrow seems not to have been well understood until the late 1800s
  • Marrow and fatness stand for what is opulent, the choicest part (again, science can source an impressive list of nutrients that eating bone marrow can provide); together they metaphorically bring satisfaction to the soul, just as they literally bring life within the structure of the physical body

The king shall rejoice

The last stanza (v9-11) contains a mixture of material. We learn that this is a royal psalm – a psalm about the king (v11) – and that it is he as our leader and example who has been thirsting and longing for God. It is not, then, that life is great if you are rich and powerful, and it is only the poor and downtrodden who thirst. No; everyone thirsts – it is intrinsic to the human condition if we but stop and reflect on our state. Even the Lord Jesus Christ who claimed no goodness of his own (‘Why calmest thou me ‘good’?’)longed for and committed himself completely to his father. Indeed, some of his final words, spoken admittedly to a more pressing physical need pinned to the cross, spoke the words ‘I thirst’.

Back in the psalm we look aside to the enemies briefly in v9-10,11c in a way that has much in common with many other psalms. Enemies are bound for perishing in ‘the lower parts of the earth’ (they will neither see life nor know the satisfaction the psalm has been describing), they will die in battle and ‘be a portion for jackals’ (KJV ‘foxes’ – an opportunistic predator like a small wolf likely to be found amongst ruins or in the aftermath of battles). There will be no ‘eternal life’ for them (as the Lord styled it in the gospel of John); they will ‘not see life’ (John 3v36) and will perish without appreciation of the salvation God has to offer.

And then, in the final verse, we move swiftly back to the king and the theme of speaking:

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. (v11)

The king will ‘rejoice’, those who ‘swear by God’ shall ‘glory’ (all uses of the mouth), but ‘the mouth of them that speak lies’ will be silenced. The glory that was an attribute of God in v1 has now been transfigured and transferred to those who fear Him and make Him the anchor and reference point of their lives. Ultimate truth and the true nature of things can only be fully experienced with God; anything which does not acknowledge Him is a lie and will ultimately come to silence. He is the ground of everything and the source of all satisfaction. There are no words without Him. There is no water. There is no life. Our rejoicing, then, and our glory, is all Him.

Written By Mark Vincent