Psalm 63 is one of those psalms that make us feel uncomfortable when we read it. We feel uncomfortable because it is so difficult to relate to. The Psalmist reveals an intense love for God; his soul deeply longs to be with God; he is wholly committed to God even as he suffers. We realize as we read it how rarely we actually feel like this.
There are always those preachers who use these psalms to pour on the guilt; do you feel this way about God? Why not? As a result we shy away from these psalms. My goal this morning is to explain to you these psalms so that instead of shrinking pack from them, you would embrace them as believers in Christ should.
The problem is; we tend to approach the Psalms thinking first and foremost about our own personal experience with God. Our first question tends to be; do we feel this way; or, why don’t we feel this way. In doing this we forget that the Psalms are rooted in history; biblical history. We forget that there is a divine author of the Psalms, who does not haphazardly write scattered thoughts about personal experiences with God. And we forget that Jesus said the Psalms are all about him. So we must look beyond our own experience in appropriating the Psalms as our own.
I do not intend to break down every phrase in Psalm 63. I am uncomfortable when it comes to such passionate and personal prayer to break it down like some kind of grammar assignment. You can hear the Psalmist’s heart in his prayer. He is suffering; he longs to be near God. He passionately loves God and loves God’s mercy better than his own life. He determines to praise God no matter what suffering he is undergoing. He affirms his trust in the Lord; that his enemies will be defeated and he shall rejoice again in God’s presence.
When reading a psalm you must first ask who is speaking in the Psalm. These are the words of David when he was in the wilderness of Judah. The historical background behind this psalm is when David’s son Absalom conspired against David and led a large following of rebels into Jerusalem to kill his father and take over. David escaped with his men into the wilderness of Judah.
II Samuel 17:29 informs us that when David and his men were running from Absalom’s army, they become so hungry, thirsty and weary that they had to rely on the gifts of local people to survive. David wrote Psalm 63 during this dark time.
We see that David did not give up on God even though the fulfillment of the Lord’s promises were in question. God had promised David that he would rule Israel from Jerusalem, yet here he is almost starving in the wilderness, with his rebellious son sitting on the throne. David did not lash out in anger against God; nor did he challenge God; no, David affirms his trust in God; that he would be back on the throne and his enemies defeated.
David expresses his deep love for God, even in the mists of such suffering. Even though I am starving, your loving-kindness to me, oh Lord, is better than food. More than longing for any earthly pleasure, David longed for God. My flesh faints for you, v. 2, my soul thirsts for you. I have seen your power in the sanctuary.
You may wonder; if God is everywhere, why does David speak as if he misses God? Well, at this time in history, the Lord revealed himself in special places to specially chosen people. When David was made king, he built a tent and brought the Ark of the Covenant to rest in that tent. David would enter the tent and God would appear to him either in a vision or a cloud. David would commune with God there in that sanctuary.
But David is now out in the wilderness. This special presence of God is gone. Yet David remembers God’s power and glory and affirms his faith in the Lord. V. 9; My soul clings to you, because your right hand upholds me. David knew that even though he was away from the tent, God was always with him and upholding him. David promises in v. 4 to bless the Lord all his life, and lift his hands to God. Remember, in the Old Testament, to lift one’s hands to God was a symbol of commitment, just as lifting our hand in court is a symbol of commitment to tell the truth on the stand.
Now, it is vitally important that you see this Psalm as David’s experience before you see it as your own. Note in v. 11 that the fate of God’s people is dependant on the fate of the king; those who swear by the king will exult. You see, the psalms are all about God’s covenant with David. Israel as a nation had failed to obey God’s laws. What was the test God gave Israel see if they would obey him? Deut 8:2; The Lord your God has led you into the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
How did Israel respond in their wilderness test? They grumbled; they complained; they even called God a liar. Israel proved they could not be faithful; it was only a matter of time before they experienced God’s judgment. But that was not the end for Israel. The Lord raised up an insignificant shepherd boy and chose him to be their king. Reading about David is like reading the story of Israel all over again. David, like Israel, is considered small and insignificant. As Israel was considered the least of the nations when God chose her, David was considered least of his brothers when God choose him. As God defeated Egypt for the Israelites, God defeated Goliath for David. As God led Israel into the wilderness to test her, God leads David into the wilderness to test him.
Do you see? Where Israel failed, David succeeded! Since Israel could not avoid God’s judgment, God raised up a faithful king to represent them before God. David does not curse God or call God a liar in his wilderness. David demonstrates a committed, faithful, tender heart toward God, even in his suffering. Because Israel could not keep God’s laws, God made a covenant with David, that he would be a king over God’s kingdom, and those who found refuge in David and his sons would find peace and safety with God.
Do you see how the Israelites would have appropriated this Psalm for themselves? Because we could not be faithful, the Lord raised up a king for us. Consider his faithfulness on our behalf, Lord. We will find refuge in David. V. 11; all those who swear allegiance to David will rejoice; they will share in the blessings God has promised him.
As you read Psalm 63, and psalms like it, you must remember that David was a type of Jesus Christ. In the Old Covenant David was a picture of the Savior, but he could not actually save. David could defeat the Moabites and the rebels in Israel, but he could not defeat your true enemies; sin and death. And ultimately David proved himself an unfaithful king, as we saw with Bathsheba.
So you are to see Psalm 63 as the prayer of the Lord Jesus, he who David typified, and specifically, the prayer of Jesus during his intense sufferings. When Christ was in the wilderness forty days starving, he remembered his Father’s promise to sustain him, so he clung to God more than his life. When Christ was in the Garden of Gethsemane, with the horror of receiving God’s wrath before him, he clung to his Father’s will over his own desires. On the cross Christ stayed the course according to his Father’s will, looking ahead to the time he will be in his Father’s presence again.
When you read Psalm 63, your first thought should be; praise God! Our Savior was faithful in all things; he qualifies to represent me before a holy God. God has sent a king to represent me before him. In Christ I find my refuge and salvation. Only after seeing how Christ fulfills Psalm 63 can this psalm become yours.
Once you understand, you do not need to compare your feelings for God to Christ’s feelings, and once you realize you will always fall short of the sentiments expressed toward God in the psalm, you can embrace the psalm as your own. As one who has trusted in God’s appointed Savior, God loves you as he loved his own Son. He is always sustaining you; showing mercy toward you, and he will bring you to himself when this life is over.
Now, this psalm especially is to be used in times when the normal gifts God has given you to reveal himself have been stripped away. David was away from the special tent and needed to remember at night God’s promises. By remembering he was comforted. In the New Covenant, God does not appear in temples, nor does he give visions or speak audibly to your spirit. God reveals himself first and foremost through the Word of God. God also reveals his character and love through the presence and help fellow Christians.
But there will be times, like with David, when these tools are stripped away. You may be on a hospital bed, not able to attend church, not able to fellowship with Christians for any length of time, not even able to read a Bible. In other countries you may be placed in prison for being a Christian. Or you may be going through an emotionally difficult time when other Christians just aren’t helping; the darkness is so thick, even those gifts seem not to penetrate it. When those tools are stripped away, all you really have is God himself and his gospel promises.
Some people trust in the tools God uses instead of trusting in God himself. Thus when the tools are taken away there is no genuine faith. Note in v. 11 David mentions the liars who will go down in judgment. These people have declared allegiance to the king, but they turned on David when it was more beneficial to follow Absalom.
There are many in churches that have professed their faith in Christ, but their relationship with God consists in church attendance, or taking the Lord’s Supper, or even hanging a cross around their necks. They become excited for God when singing in a service or involved with other Christians, but on their own they rarely think of God or seek to obey him. They turn on God when they suffer. When they meet the Lord, he will say, I never knew you.
Yes, we are thankful for the church; we are thankful for preaching and worship and fellowship and the sacraments; these are gifts God gives us and we are to seek their benefit according to God’s design. But you must never value the gifts over God himself.
Your family, your spouse, your children, your church; they give you comfort, but you must walk with God yourself. When you stand before God on that great day, there will be no one else there to cling to; not the church; not your good works; not even your family. You either trust Jesus Christ for salvation or not; either you love him as your Savior or you do not.
And so Beloved, Psalm 63 is for all Christians. Here you see the faithfulness of your king, the Lord Jesus, who always clung to God, even as he suffered God’s wrath for your sins on the cross. If you swear by this king, you shall praise God forever.
As you read this psalm, you can say, thank you Lord, that Jesus was always faithful and committed to you, for I could never be this faithful. And remember Beloved, because Christ defeated sin and death as your faithful savior, God is with you as he was with Christ. Even when all other gifts ands helps are stripped away, you have Jesus, and his loving-kindness is better than life itself; and after this life is over, your lips will praise him eternally. Because of him, Psalm 63 is your Psalm. Amen.