Through Lent we have been slowly making our way through Psalm 63. We have mostly focused on the experience of David out in the desert, desiring, praising, experiencing, trusting God. But as I hinted in my last post, for us the psalm has to be read in light of the New Testament. We may like David trust that one day our enemies will fall under God’s just judgement – but we know that trust may only be realised on the last day.
But what gives us the confidence that God will act in our favour? That we too can have such a rich encounter with God as King David all those centuries ago? It is the last verse of the psalm which not only draws David’s prayer to an end, but also points forward to the hope that we can experience in Christ. Some scholars might see this as a late, pious addition to David’s own writing but this misses completely the point of what he is saying:
But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by God’s name will praise him,
while the mouths of liars will be silenced.
Crucial to interpreting the psalm is the question: who is the king?
In David’s case the king in question could be no other than Saul. It might seem odd that David would express a hope in just government when Saul himself was trying to kill him. Yet David himself recognised Saul as the Lord’s anointed (see e.g. 1 Sam 23:5). In this light he could only pray that Saul would reflect the just rule of the Lord – just as in the same way Paul commanded Timothy to pray for kings and all those in authority.
However as we know Saul failed to live up to his God-given responsibility. His miserable death on the battefield, rejected by God and humiliated by the Philistines, was a tragedy that David rightly lamented (2 Sam 1). So did this clear the way for David – who had already been anointed by Samuel (1 Sam 16) – to become this just king?
Well, David was an improvement. But even he proved to be less than ideal. His affair with Bathsheba, which culminated in the murder of Uriah the Hittite, plus the lack of effective discipline over his sons, all served to undermine his kingdom. Yes, later generations would look back at David and see him as some kind of ideal. But that in a sense only served to prove how much worse were the later kings of Israel, and Judah.
So David’s prayer for the king acquires a prophetic element, as the search is on for the king who will act perfectly in accordance with the Lord’s wishes. Who will be this king who will be the source of praise to those who swear by Him, and confound those who do not obey the truth?
The surprising answer is found in a disused quarry just outside the walls of Jerusalem some thousand years later. For those who arrested, sentenced and crucified Jesus the idea that this caprenter from Nazareth could be a king was nothing but a joke. It had a punchline involving a purple robe and a crown of thorns.
Yet Jesus Himself saw the cross as nothing less than the means of His glorification, and of opening up the path to salvation to all:
Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.
But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.
The cross is nothing less than the means of glory for God’s righteous King where Satan – the father of lies – is defeated, and where Jesus becomes a strong tower and refuge who all who trust in Him. That is astonishing world-changing message of Good Friday.
And it takes us back to the beginning of the psalm. Because, you see, the psalm does not describe a single process we go through which leads to trust in Jesus. It describes a state of ongoing, continued openness to God as we seek day by day to grow closer to the King who has died and rescued us.
So as we gather round the cross and reflect in wonder at all that Jesus has done for us, let us pray that we gain a deeper understanding this Easter and a stronger desire to know Him more – whatever our circumstances.
O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.