Theme: Three Types of People
In this week’s lessons we learn from the psalmist what it is to truly desire God.
Scripture: Psalm 63:1-11
There are three types of people in any Christian gathering. There are those who are followers of Jesus Christ in name only, which means that they are Christians in name only. They seem to be following after God and Christ and say they are, but theirs is a false following, like that of the five foolish virgins who did not truly know the Lord and were rejected by him. The second class are those who are following Jesus but are following “at a distance,” like Peter at the time of Jesus’ arrest. The third type are those who, as Murdoch Campbell suggests, “in storm and sunshine, cleave to him and enjoy daily communion with him.”1 These people want God, and they want him intensely, because they know that he and he alone will satisfy the deep longing of their souls. David was a person who desired God above everything else, and Psalm 63 is a classic expression of his longing.
The title of Psalm 63 identifies it as “a psalm of David” and indicates that it was written “when he was in the desert of Judah.” There were only two periods in David’s life this can apply to, either: 1) when he was in the wilderness early in his life fleeing from King Saul; or 2) later when he was in the wilderness fleeing from his son Absalom. The second must be the case here, because in verse 11 David refers to himself as “the king” and he was not yet king when he was fleeing from King Saul.
The story of Absalom’s rebellion is told in 2 Samuel 15-19. Absalom was estranged from his father because he felt that David had mistreated him. He spent four years doing his utmost to win over the hearts of the people of Israel, and when he thought he was ready he set up a rival kingship in the nearby city of Hebron. Caught off guard, David feared an attack on Jerusalem and fled the city with those who remained loyal to him. From a military standpoint Absalom should have attacked David at once, while he was still off balance and unable to resist an assault. But God caused Absalom to listen to counselors who advised delay, and by the time the battle finally came, David was ready and Absalom’s army was soundly defeated by David’s battle-seasoned soldiers led by his faithful general Joab. Twenty thousand men perished in that battle, and Absalom was one of them. He was caught in a tree while fleeing on a mule and was slain by Joab personally.
This historical setting throws light on some of the psalm’s expressions: “better than life,” “as long as I live” and “those who seek my life,” for instance (vv. 3, 4, 9). They remind us that David was literally in danger of death at Absalom’s hand. The setting also gives added weight to David’s description of himself as “the king,” reminding everyone that he was the true king as opposed to the pretender.
The setting also helps us appreciate the emotional passion of the psalm. Separated from God’s sanctuary, which was in Jerusalem and which David loved, David is longing for a sense of the presence of God as a friend longs for one from whom he is separated, or as a lover longs for his beloved. This makes the psalm almost a love song for God, especially when David says, “My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you” (v. 1). Commentator Derek Kidner says, “There may be other songs that equal this outpouring of devotion; [but there are] few if any that surpass it.”2 J.J. Stewart Perowne, an older writer, says, “This is unquestionably one of the most beautiful and touching psalms in the whole Psalter.”3
The longing for God expressed here is similar to that in some of the psalms of the sons of Korah, especially Psalms 42, 43 and 84. Psalm 63 is similar in tone to Psalms 61, 62 and 64, which means that the historical setting of those psalms might also be the period in which David fled from Absalom.
1Murdoch Campbell, From Grace to Glory: Meditations on the Book of Psalms (Edinburgh and Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1970), p. 109.
2Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), p. 224.
3J.J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, p. 486. Original edition 1878-1879.
What three types of people might be found at a typical Christian gathering? Which of these three types was David, and how can you tell?
Why did David long so intensely for God?
Reflection: Do you have the kind of longing for God that David did?