Saturday, February 11, 2012

Psalm 63

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will comment on select verses in Psalm 63. I will use the King James Version, which is in the public domain.

A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.

Some say that Psalm 63 was composed when David was on the run from Saul. Others say it was composed when David was on the run from Absalom. After all, v 11 refers to the king, so does that not imply that David was already king when he composed this Psalm, which was not the case when he was on the run from Saul? Defenders of the "Saul" view will then retort that David technically was king when he was running from Saul, for he had already been anointed by Samuel.

And then there are many who do not believe that there is a connection between the superscription and the actual context of the Psalm itself. Some place the origin of Psalm 63 in the time of Judah's exile. And others envision its setting to be a king of Judah praying to God for help within the safety of the sanctuary.

1O 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;

According to Sigmund Mowinckel, it is on account of this verse that scribes applied Psalm 63 to David's time in the wilderness of Judah. In the wilderness, David was literally in a dry and thirsty land, but he was also thirsting after God, for David was away from God's sanctuary. And yet, within this scenario, David still had access to God when he was away from the sanctuary, enough to compose a Psalm for God and to have a degree of confidence that God would listen to him.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon and Keil-Delitzsch both made a big deal about the line "my flesh longeth for thee". How can the flesh long for God, they inquired, when Paul presents the flesh as something that is against God and his laws? I was not surprised that Spurgeon was trying to reconcile this verse with Pauline anthropology. I was a little surprised that Keil-Delitzsch were struggling with this issue, however, for, although they are conservative, they are also critical in their interpretation of the Bible.

Spurgeon's solution was that David's longing for God in his soul was impacting his flesh, or his body. I tend to gravitate towards what the Intervarsity Press Bible Background Commentary said, though: that ancient Israel and Mesopotamia did not envision a radical dualism between the soul and the body, unlike ancient Egypt.

2To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.

There is debate about whether the Psalmist is away from the sanctuary or inside of it. If the Psalmist is away from the sanctuary, then he is thinking back to the times when he saw God in the sanctuary and desires for God to return him to there, or he is hoping that God will be as powerful and glorious amidst the Psalmist's exile as God was in the sanctuary. If the Psalmist is inside of the sanctuary, then he is hoping to experience God while he is there, and his hunger and thirst for God in a dry and thirsty land in v 1 is a metaphor for how he is feeling spiritually and has nothing to do with him being in a literal desert away from the sanctuary. Presumably, according to this view, the Psalmist in the sanctuary wants to experience God there as he has in the past.

3Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.

Orthodox Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch comments (in the words of the Artscroll) that "Experiencing God's kindness is more precious than life itself because it is only the closeness of God that gives life its value and meaning". Atheists and agnostics who live fulfilling lives will probably dispute this notion. I myself do not dogmatically claim that a person has to believe in God to have a valuable and meaningful life. I do, however, think that Rabbi Hirsch's words can challenge all sorts of people to distinguish between merely existing and truly living. For me, my belief in a benevolent God is one factor that gives my life meaning.

4Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name.

5My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips:

Many interpreters remark that the Psalmist is comparing his experience of God with eating marrow and fatness. It's good when I can arrive at that point----when my experience of God is as satisfying as a filling and tasty meal. Unfortunately, in my opinion, some people who say that Christians should enjoy God do not present a God who is enjoyable to be around. Their God strikes me as a judgmental and unfair glory-hog who gets mad too easily. But I am happy when Christians (such as George MacDonald, Martin Luther, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle, and even David Marshall) and Jews (such as some of the rabbis) present a God whom I can love, and yet a God who also challenges me.

6When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches.

One of the interpreters in Spurgeon's Treasury of David says that the Psalmist meditates at night because that is a time when he is not occupied with other matters. And I appreciated the interpreters I read (such as Chuck Smith) who say that meditating on God can be something that one can do when one has insomnia: that way, one can spend that time of sleeplessness productively, gaining wisdom, strength, and an assurance of God's love.

7Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.

Some think that the Psalmist is in the shadow of God's wings in the sense that he is in the safety of the sanctuary, away from his enemies, for the sanctuary was a place of asylum. Others maintain that the Psalmist is away from the sanctuary but is in the shadow of God's wings because God is protecting him.

8My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me.

9But those that seek my soul, to destroy it, shall go into the lower parts of the earth.

The phrase that the KJV translates as "to destroy it" is le-shoah, which means "to devastation". The idea could be that the enemies are seeking to destroy the Psalmist's soul, or that their pursuit of the Psalmist's soul will result in their own destruction. The Septuagint probably reads the phrase as le-shav, "to vanity", for it says that the enemies are seeking the Psalmist's soul in vain.

10They shall fall by the sword: they shall be a portion for foxes.

The words that the KJV translates as "They shall fall" are yagiru-hu, which means "they will pour him" or "they will hurl him down". Who is to be hurled down to the sword? Marvin Tate and Keil-Delitzsch believe that the "him" is the king. Tate says that the idea here is that those who hurl the king down to the sword will become a portion for foxes. Keil-Delitzsch maintain, however, that the idea in vv 10-11 is that the king will rejoice in God even when he is endangered and is in a land of hungry foxes. Some preachers said that Psalm 63 is about delighting in God regardless of one's outward circumstances. I can see value in appreciating God for God's sake----because God is kind, righteous, etc. But I also believe that the Psalmist is hoping that God will concretely demonstrate those attributes by actually helping him and delivering him from his enemies, as God has helped him in the past.

11But 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.

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