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In a Dry and Thirsty Land

A Meditation on Psalm 63

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;
To see thy power and thy glory,
     So as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.
Because thy lovingkindness is better than life,
     My lips shall praise thee.
Thus will I bless thee while I live:
     I will lift up my hands in thy name.

As the title of the Psalm makes clear, David was in a very difficult situation when he wrote this Psalm—yet that dire situation is not given center stage. What gets attention instead is David’s desire for God. In some of his darkest moments, what David is craving, first and foremost, is not for his circumstances to improve—though he will get to that at the end—but for an experience of the presence of God.
The powerful language he uses enables you to feel, in an almost physical way, his aching desire for God. In a dry and thirsty land, when it would seem normal to crave water, what David craves instead is God. Beautifully illustrating the richly layered imagery of Hebrew poetry, this image of a waterless desert is at the same time an implied metaphor for the intensity of his craving for the presence of God.
Just in case we haven’t gotten the point yet, David makes it explicit—the loving-kindness of God is better than life itself. In his worst predicament, it is the lovingkindness of God that is his hope. This leads to David’s resolution to bless God, to rejoice in him for as long as he had life. Wilderness or no wilderness, world falling apart or put back together again, David was going to lift up his hands and worship God.

My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness;
     And my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips:
When I remember thee upon my bed,
     And meditate on thee in the night watches.
Because thou hast been my help,
     Therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.
My soul followeth hard after thee:
     Thy right hand upholdeth me.

So soon as David makes this resolution, he begins to celebrate the expected result—a result that he has experienced before. Once again, the rich similes of the poetic language make David’s joy in the Lord come to life. Like a meal of the choicest delicacies, David’s inner being waters at the thought of spending time with God. The satisfaction that worship brings to David is like the satisfaction provided by the most succulent delicacies that the finest kitchens could provide.
Yet this joy that David looked forward to experiencing—and remembered experiencing in the past—was not something that required a fine kitchen or a joyous circumstance to produce. It was, in fact, a joy that could be experienced in a bed in the wilderness. Not even sleeplessness could rob him of the delight of worship.
Even as David celebrates and anticipates the joy he will experience from his time with God, he looks back to the very concrete ways in which God has helped him in the past. Because God has been his help before, he can trust in the future and focus on rejoicing rather than worrying. All David needs to be concerned about is following God. God will do all the upholding and preserving that is necessary.

But those that seek my soul, to destroy it,
     Shall go into the lower parts of the earth.
They shall fall by the sword:
     They shall be a portion for foxes.
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.

It is not until the very end of the Psalm that David finally turns to consider those who are his enemies—and when he does, having spent time celebrating and trusting in God, those enemies are no longer a worry. He knows what their end will be—and it is a tremendous contrast to what he has been and will continue to experience in the presence of God. David, on the other hand, will continue to rejoice in God. Those that support him will experience the fruits of David’s relationship with God—and those that continue to oppose him will be shut up for good.
This psalm powerfully impacts our hearts with the transformative joy of delighting in God, regardless of our circumstances. There is a time for grieving. There is a time for calling on God for justice. Yet there is also a time for setting all that to the side and simply rejoicing in and delighting in God and allowing all that troubles us to fade into the distance. In powerful, physical, compact language, we are led to almost taste the joy of spending time with God—a joy that no true believer ever has enough of.