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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Psalms Chapter 63


psa 63:0

Morning Hymn of One Who Is Persecuted, in a Waterless Desert

Now follows Psa 63:1-11, the morning Psalm of the ancient church with which the singing of the Psalms was always introduced at the Sunday service.

(Note: Constitutiones Apostolicae, ii. 59: Ἑεκάστης ἡμέρᾳς συναθροίζεσθε ὄρθρου καὶ ἑσπέρας ψάλλοντες καὶ προσευχόμενοι ἐν τοῖς κυριακοῖς· ὄρθρου μὲν λέγοντες ψαλμὸν τὸν ξβ ̓ (Psa 63:1-11), ἐσπέρας δὲ τὸν ρμ ̓ (Psa 141:1-10). Athanasius says just the same in his De virginitate: πρὸς ὄρθρον τὸν ψαλμὸν τοῦτον λέγετε κ. τ. λ. Hence Psa 63:1-11 is called directly ὁ ὀρθρινός (the morning hymn) in Constit. Apostol. viii. 37. Eusebius alludes to the fact of its being so in Ps 91 (92), p. 608, ed. Montfaucon. In the Syrian order of service it is likewise the morning Psalm κατ ̓ ἐξοχήν, vid., Dietrich, De psalterii usu publico et divione in Ecclesia Syriaca, p. 3. The lxx renders אשׁחרך in Psa 63:2, πρὸς σὲ ὀρθρίχω, and באשׁמרות in Psa 63:7, ἐν τοῖς ὄρθροις (in matutinis).)

This Psalm is still more closely related to Psa 61:1-8 than Psa 62:1-12. Here, as in Psa 61:1-8, David gives utterance to his longing for the sanctuary; and in both Psalms he speaks of himself as king (vid., Symbolae, p. 56). All the three Psalms, Psa 61:1, were composed during the time of Absalom; for we must not allow ourselves to be misled by the inscription, A Psalm, by David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah (also lxx, according to the correct reading and the one preferred by Euthymius, τῆς Ἰουδαίας, not τῆς Ἰδουμαίας), into transferring it, as the old expositors do, to the time of Saul. During that period David could not well call himself "the king" and even during the time of his persecution by Absalom, in his flight, before crossing the Jordan, he tarried one or two days בערבות המדבר, in the steppes of the desert (Sa2 15:23, Sa2 15:28; Sa2 17:16), i.e., of the wilderness of Judah lying nearest to Jerusalem, that dreary waste that extends along the western shore of the Dead Sea. We see clearly from Sa2 16:2 (היּעף בּמּדבּר) and Sa2 16:14 (עיפים, that he there found himself in the condition of a עיף. The inscription, when understood thus, throws light upon the whole Psalm, and verifies itself in the fact that the poet is a king; that he longs for the God on Zion, where he has been so delighted to behold Him, who is there manifest; and that he is persecuted by enemies who have plotted his ruin. The assertion that he is in the wilderness (Psa 63:1) is therefore no mere rhetorical figure; and when, in Sa2 16:10, he utters the imprecation over his enemies, "let them become a portion for the jackals," the influence of the desert upon the moulding of his thoughts is clearly seen in it.

We have here before us the Davidic original, or at any rate the counterpart, to the Korahitic pair of Psalms, Psa 42:1-11, Psa 43:1-5. It is a song of the most delicate form and deepest spiritual contents; but in part very difficult of exposition. When we have, approximately at least, solved the riddle of one Psalm, the second meets us with new riddles. It is not merely the poetical classic character of the language, and the spiritual depth, but also this half-transparent and half-opaque covering which lends to the Psalms such a powerful and unvarying attractiveness. They are inexhaustible, there always remains an undeciphered residue; and therefore, though the work of exposition may progress, it does not come to an end. But how much more difficult is it to adopt this choice spiritual love-song as one's own prayer! For this we need a soul that loves after the same manner, and in the main it requires such a soul even to understand it rightly; for, as the saintly Bernard says, lingua amoris non amanti barbara est.

Psalms 63:1

psa 63:1

If the words in Psa 63:2 were אלהים אתּה אשׁחרך, then we would render it, with Bצttcher, after Gen 49:8 : Elohim, Thee do I seek, even Thee! But אלי forbids this construction; and the assertion that otherwise it ought to be, "Jahve, my God art Thou" (Psa 140:7), rests upon a non-recognition of the Elohimic style. Elohim alone by itself is a vocative, and accordingly has Mehupach legarme. The verb שׁחר signifies earnest, importunate seeking and inquiring (e.g., Psa 78:34), and in itself has nothing to do with שׁחר, the dawn; but since Psa 63:7 looks back upon the night, it appears to be chosen with reference to the dawning morning, just as in Isa 26:9 also, שׁחר stands by the side of אוּה בלּילה. The lxx is therefore not incorrect when it renders it: πρὸς δὲ ὀρθρίζω (cf. ὁ λαὸς ὤρθριζεν πρὸς αὐτὸν, Luk 21:38); and Apollinaris strikes the right note when he begins his paraphrase,

Νύκτα μετ ̓ ἀμφιλύκην σὲ μάκαρ μάκαρ

ἀμφιχορεύσω -

At night when the morning dawns will I exult around Thee,

most blessed One.

The supposition that בּארץ is equivalent to כּאשׁר בּארץ, or even that the Beth is Beth essentiae ("as a," etc.), are views that have no ground whatever, except as setting the inscription at defiance. What is meant is the parched thirsty desert of sand in which David finds himself. We do not render it: in a dry and languishing land, for ציּה is not an adjective, but a substantive - the transition of the feminine adjective to the masculine primary form, which sometimes (as in Kg1 19:11) occurs, therefore has no application here; nor: in the land of drought and of weariness, for who would express himself thus? ואיף, referring to the nearest subject בּשׂרי, continues the description of the condition (cf. Gen 25:8). In a region where he is surrounded by sun-burnt aridity and a nature that bears only one uniform ash-coloured tint, which casts its unrefreshing image into his inward part, which is itself in much the same parched condition, his soul thirsts, his flesh languishes, wearied and in want of water (languidus deficiente aqua), for God, the living One and the Fountain of life. כּמהּ (here with the tone drawn back, כּמהּ, like בּחר, Ch1 28:10, עמד, Hab 3:11) of ardent longing which consumes the last energies of a man (root כם, whence כּמן and כּמס to conceal, and therefore like עטף, עלף, proceeding from the idea of enveloping; Arabic Arab. kamiha, to be blind, dark, pale, and disconcerted). The lxx and Theodotion erroneously read כּמּה (how frequently is this the case!); whereas Aquila renders it ἐπετάθη, and Symmachus still better, ἱμείρεται (the word used of the longing of love). It is not a small matter that David is able to predicate such languishing desire after God even of his felsh; it shows us that the spirit has the mastery within him, and not only forcibly keeps the flesh in subjection, but also, so far as possible, draws it into the realm of its own life - an experience confessedly more easily attained in trouble, which mortifies our carnal nature, than in the midst of the abundance of outward prosperity. The God for whom he is sick [lit. love-sick] in soul and body is the God manifest upon Zion.

Now as to the כּן in Psa 63:3 - a particle which is just such a characteristic feature in the physiognomy of this Psalm as אך is in that of the preceding Psalm - there are two notional definitions to choose from: thus = so, as my God (Ewald), and: with such longing desire (as e.g., Oettinger). In the former case it refers back to the confession, "Elohim, my God art Thou," which stands at the head of the Psalm; in the latter, to the desire that has just been announced, and that not in its present exceptional character, but in its more general and constant character. This reference to what has immediately gone before, and to the modality, not of the object, but of the disposition of mind, deserves the preference. "Thus" is accordingly equivalent to "longing thus after Thee." The two כן in Psa 63:3 and Psa 63:5 are parallel and of like import. The alternation of the perfect (Psa 63:3) and of the future (Psa 63:5) implies that what has been the Psalmist's favourite occupation heretofore, shall also be so in the future. Moreover, בארץ ציה and בּקּדשׁ form a direct antithesis. Just as he does not in a dry land, so formerly in the sanctuary he looked forth longingly towards God (חזה with the conjoined idea of solemnity and devotion). We have now no need to take לראות as a gerundive (videndo), which is in itself improbable; for one looks, peers, gazes at anything just for the purpose of seeing what the nature of the object is (Psa 14:2; Isa 42:18). The purpose of his gazing upon God as to gain an insight into the nature of God, so far as it is disclosed to the creature; or, as it is expressed here, to see His power and glory, i.e., His majesty on its terrible and on its light and loving side, to see this, viz., in its sacrificial appointments and sacramental self-attestations. Such longing after God, which is now all the more intense in the desert far removed from the sanctuary, filled and impelled him; for God's loving-kindness is better than life, better than this natural life (vid., on Psa 17:14), which is also a blessing, and as the prerequisite of all earthly blessings a very great blessing. The loving-kindness of God, however, is a higher good, is in fact the highest good and the true life: his lips shall praise this God of mercy, his morning song shall be of Him; for that which makes him truly happy, and after which he even now, as formerly, only and solely longs, is the mercy or loving-kindness (חסד) of this God, the infinite wroth of which is measured by the greatness of His power (עז) and glory (כבוד). It might also be rendered, "Because Thy loving-kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise Thee;" but if כּי is taken as demonstrative (for), it yields a train of thought that that is brought about not merely by what follows (as in the case of the relative because), but also by what precedes: "for Thy lips shall then praise Thee" (ישׁבּחוּנך with the suffix appended to the energetic plural form ûn, as in Isa 60:7, Isa 60:10; Jer 2:24).

Psalms 63:4

psa 63:4

This strophe again takes up the כּן (Psa 63:3): thus ardently longing, for all time to come also, is he set towards God, with such fervent longing after God will he bless Him in his life, i.e., entirely filling up his life therewith (בּחיּי as in Psa 104:33; Psa 146:2; cf. Baruch 4:20, ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις μου), and in His name, i.e., invoking it and appealing to it, will he lift up his hands in prayer. The being occupied with God makes him, even though as now in the desert he is obliged to suffer bodily hunger, satisfied and cheerful like the fattest and most marrowy food: velut adipe et pinguedine satiatur anima mea. From Lev 3:17; Lev 7:25, Grussetius and Frisch infer that spiritualies epulae are meant. And certainly the poet cannot have had the sacrificial feasts (Hupfeld) in his mind; for the חלב of the shelamim is put upon the altar, and is removed from the part to be eaten. Moreover, however, even the Tra does not bind itself in its expression to the letter of that prohibition of the fat of animals, vid., Deu 32:14, cf. Jer 31:14. So here also the expression "with marrow and fat" is the designation of a feast prepared from well-fed, noble beasts. He feels himself satisfied in his inmost nature just as after a feast of the most nourishing and dainty meats, and with lips of jubilant songs (accus. instrum. according to Ges. 138, rem. 3), i.e., with lips jubilant and attuned to song, shall his mouth sing praise. What now follows in Psa 63:7 we no longer, as formerly, take as a protasis subsequently introduced (like Isa 5:4.): "when I remembered...meditated upon Thee," but so that Psa 63:7 is the protasis and Psa 63:7 the apodosis, cf. Psa 21:12; Job 9:16 (Hitzig): When I remember Thee (meminerim, Ew. 355, b) upon my bed (stratis meis, as in Psa 132:3; Gen 49:4, cf. Ch1 5:1) - says he now as the twilight watch is passing gradually into the morning - I meditate upon Thee in the night-watches (Symmachus, καθ ̓ ἑκάστην φυλακήν), or during, throughout the night-watches (like בּחיּי in Psa 63:5); i.e., it is no passing remembrance, but it so holds me that I pass a great part of the night absorbed in meditation on Thee. He has no lack of matter for his meditation; for God has become a help (auxilio, vid., on Psa 3:3) to him: He has rescued him in this wilderness, and, well concealed under the shadow of His wings (vid., on Psa 17:8; Psa 36:8; Psa 57:2), which affords him a cool retreat in the heat of conflict and protection against his persecutors, he is able to exult (ארנּן, the potential). Between himself and God there subsists a reciprocal relationship of active love. According to the schema of the crosswise position of words (Chiasmus), אחריך and בּי intentionally jostle close against one another: he depends upon God, following close behind Him, i.e., following Him everywhere and not leaving Him when He wishes to avoid him; and on the other side God's right hand holds him fast, not letting him go, not abandoning him to his foes.

Psalms 63:9

psa 63:9

The closing strophe turns towards these foes. By והמּה he contrasts with his own person, as in Psa 59:16., Psa 56:7., the party of the enemy, before which he has retreated into the desert. It is open to question whether לשׁואה is intended to be referred, according to Psa 35:17, to the persecuted one (to destroy my life), or, with Hupfeld, to the persecutors (to their own destruction, they themselves for destruction). If the former reference to the persecuted be adopted, we ought, in order to give prominence to the evidently designed antithesis to Psa 63:9, to translate: those, however, who..., shall go down into the depths of the earth (Bttcher, and others); a rendering which is hazardous as regards the syntax, after המּה and in connection with this position of the words. Therefore translate: On the other hand, those, to (their own) ruin do they seek my soul. It is true this ought properly to be expressed by לשׁואתם, but the absence of the suffix is less hazardous than the above relative rendering of יבּקּשׁוּ. What follows in Psa 63:10-11 is the expansion of לשׁואה. The futures from יבאוּ onwards are to be taken as predictive, not as imprecatory; the former accords better with the quiet, gentle character of the whole song. It shall be with them as with the company of Korah. תּחתּיּות הארץ is the interior of the earth down into its deepest bottom; this signification also holds good in Psa 139:15; Isa 44:23.

(Note: In this passage in Isaiah are meant the depths of the earth (lxx θεμέλια τῆς γῆς), the earth down to its inmost part, with its caverns, abysses, and subterranean passages. The apostle, however, in Eph 4:9 by τὰ κατώτερα τῆς γῆς means exactly the same as what in our passage is called in the lxx τὰ κατώτατα τῆς γῆς: the interior of the earth = the under world, just as it is understood by all the Greek fathers (so far as my knowledge extends); the comparative κατώτερος is used just like ἐνέρτερος.)

The phrase הגּיר על־ידי חרב here and in Jer 18:21; Eze 35:5 (Hiph., not of גּרר, to drag, tear away, but נגר, to draw towards, flow), signifies properly to pour upon = into the hands (Job 16:11), i.e., to give over (הסגּיר) into the power of the sword; effundent eum is (much the same as in Job 4:19; Job 18:18, and frequently) equivalent to effundetur. The enallage is like Psa 5:10; Psa 7:2., and frequently: the singular refers to each individual of the homogeneous multitude, or to this multitude itself as a concrete persona moralis. The king, however, who is now banished from Jerusalem to the habitation of jackals, will, whilst they become a portion (מנת = מנות), i.e., prey, of the jackals (vid., the fulfilment in Sa2 18:7.), rejoice in Elohim. Every one who sweareth by Him shall boast himself. Theodoret understands this of swearing κατὰ τὴν τοῦ βασιλέως σωτηρίαν. Hengstenberg compares the oath חי פרעה, Gen 42:15. Ewald also (217, f) assumes this explanation to be unquestionable. But the Israelite is to swear by the name of Jahve and by no other, Deu 6:13; Isa 65:16, cf. Amo 8:14. If the king were meant, why was it not rather expressed by הנשׁבּע לו, he who swears allegiance to him? The syntax does not help us to decide to what the בּו refers. Neinrich Moeller (1573) says of the בו as referred to the king: peregrinum est et coactum; and A. H. Franke in his Introductio in Psalterium says of it as referred to Elohim: coactum est. So far as the language is concerned, both references are admissible; but as regards the subject-matter, only the latter. The meaning, as everywhere else, is a searing by God. He who, without allowing himself to turn from it, swore by Elohim, the God of Israel, the God of David His anointed, and therefore acknowledged Him as the Being exalted above all things, shall boast himself or "glory," inasmuch as it shall be practically seen how well-founded and wise was this recognition. He shall glory, for the mouth of those who speak lies shall be stopped, forcibly closed, viz., those who, together with confidence in the Christ of God, have by falsehood also undermined the reverence which is due to God Himself. Psa 64:1-10 closes very similarly, and hence is placed next in order.

Next: Psalms Chapter 64