Psalm 63 is a psalm of intense devotion to God. Written by David, king of Israel, most probably when he was a fugitive from the rebellious Absalom (circa. 980 BC ‘ the history of this period is recorded in II Samuel 15-18 ‘ it is a large section though worth being familiar with for a good understanding of the context of this psalm). Most of this time was spent by David in the wild, inhospitable desert region between Jerusalem and the Jordan. The desert which neighboured Jerusalem is the source of an ongoing metaphor in the psalms. The metaphor of the desert represents a lack of blessing, a lack of the presence of God in one’s life and circumstances. On the other hand water was a common symbol for blessing and particularly for the spirit of God Himself. The thirst that David was overcome by in the dry wasteland where he was hiding was not primarily a thirst for water but for God. At the outset David calls God his God (vs.1). This intimate familiarity with the almighty God is what characterises the covenant relationship: ‘I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God’ (Exodus 6:7); I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people’ (Lev. 26:12). In a sense David at this time has been exiled from Jerusalem. The situation is similar to that in Psalm 137 where the writer reminisces of the days in Babylon where the people wept when they remembered Zion. David longs to be back in the sanctuary of God where he has always found nourishment for his thirsty soul. Note the specific things that David recalls to have fed his soul and for which he now thirsts. In the first place he has seen the power and glory of God (vs.2) and in the second place he has received God’s love (vs. 3). Because David has tasted these things he will now ‘praise’ (which simply means to commend the supreme worth of something) and he will lift up his hands in prayer (vs.4). As he does this he is confident that he will be filled with even greater measures of the things he has already received. The scenario is one that accentuates the primacy of the soul’s nourishment over that of the body in the most vivid way. David declares that his soul will be satisfied with fat (cheleb ‘ NIV translates it dynamically as ‘richest of foods’). The fat was the choice part of the offerings given in the temple and was always the specific part of the beast that was removed and offered before God. The sense here is that God bestows upon his worshippers the choicest things, that they will certainly be filled with only the best that God has and never second best and that as a result they will be truly satisfied. The message here is that it is not the satisfaction of the body that matters most in life but that of the soul. The person who has God in their life will have their soul filled with ‘the richest of foods’ and this will be their joy no matter how desolate outward circumstances may be.
Verses 6-8 of the psalm are a testimony to the constant devotion of David and contain a beautiful portrait of David’s serenity in the loving care of God. The picture of being sheltered beneath the wings of God (vs. 7) is a common one in the psalms with a notable example in Psalm 91:1. The picture is of a hen protecting her chicks with her own body so as to let herself be the barrier between her young and any harm that may threaten them. However there is a reciprocal action here on the part of the psalmist. Because he is held by God he will cling to the one who holds him (vs. 8).
As a result of God’s zealous protection David can feel confident that they who now seek to take his life will certainly be destroyed (vs. 9). The ‘depths of the earth’ is a reference to death though in a vague sense since at this point in the progression of God’s unfolding revelation their was only the vaguest concept of heaven and hell which is revealed finally in Revelation. To ‘be given over to the sword’ on the other hand is a clear expression of divine judgement as is the fate of becoming food for jackals (vs.10). The people of Israel, as with most peoples of the Ancient Near East, respected the human body highly so that even at death it was to be treated with utmost care. To have a proper burial in a suitable place was absolutely requisite. The Israelites cared greatly not only about death but about how death came and what would happen to their bodies. The manner of death and burial was seen as a kind of statement about the life of the deceased. The fate of being consumed by jackals was the extreme worst case scenario. It will be recalled that the evil woman Jezebel, when she died, was eaten by dogs (2 Kings 9:30-37). The manner of her death and the fate of her body were important indicators to the ancient Israelites as to how she was regarded by God.
And so the psalm ends with the rejoicing of the king (vs. 11). That David puts it in this way (referring to himself formally as the king) indicates that he now confidently can picture himself being returned soon to his throne in Jerusalem to take up his kingly role as before. At that time he will rejoice as the king of Israel again. And this rejoicing will be shared by all who acknowledge God’s name.