"Lead Me to the Rock That Is Higher Than I" (Psalms 61-64) August 5-10
Psalms 61-64, all psalms of David according to their superscriptions, form a cluster of four royal prayers linked together by interweaving themes, especially "the common theme of strong reliance on God for deliverance in the face of great-perhaps mortal-danger" (Zondervan NIV Study Bible, Psalms introduction, "Significant Arrangement of the Psalter"; and note on Psalms 61-64).
Neginah in the superscription of Psalm 61, which may be part of a postscript to Psalm 60, is probably correctly translated in the NKJV as "stringed instrument."
Overwhelmed at his circumstances (verse 2), the details of which we are not given except that it involves some enemy (verse 3), David feels cut off from God: "From the ends of the earth I call to You" (verse 2, NIV). He seeks to be led to the "rock that is higher than I" (verse 1). By "rock" he means God Himself, as he did earlier in Psalm 18 (verses 2, 31, 46). The imagery of God as a Rock of protection occurs early in Scripture in the Song of Moses (see Deuteronomy 32:4). David uses it again in the next Psalm (62:2, 6-7) and in other psalms (71:3; 144:1). "This is a particularly apt image [of God] for David, who many times had to hide in the mountains for security (see 1 Sam. 26:1, 20)" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Psalm 18:2).
Indeed, it seems that David is now led to the Rock as he has asked-for the rest of his psalm exudes confidence in God's protection and blessing.
David likens the shelter of God's tabernacle to the shelter of a mother bird's wings (verse 4). David will repeat this imagery of finding refuge under God's wings in Psalm 63:7 (see also 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 91:4). There is probably also a figurative tie-in here to the wings or hem of a garment-symbolism employed in the book of Ruth for taking in marriage (as Christ takes His people in marriage). God's people thus become part of His household and family-the primary idea behind abiding in His tabernacle (His dwelling) forever.
The vows David had made to God (verse 5)-his promises to remain devoted and faithful to God, to obey and serve Him-were genuine. And for that God would reward him with the heritage of all who fear and honor God's name (same verse)-not just long life (verse 6) but eternal life in God's presence (verse 7). The King of Israel living forever here is understood in Jewish interpretation as a prophecy of the Messiah, as it likely is, but it also applies to David himself. God's "mercy and truth" would preserve King David as well as the future messianic King (verse 7; see also 25:10; 85:10, 15; 89:14; Proverbs 20:28; Isaiah 16:5). Consider that Jesus Christ came "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14; see also verse 17)-fulfilling the messianic expectation of these passages.
David closes his prayer by saying that he will use the eternity God is giving him to forever extol and obey God (Psalm 61:8). What remarkable devotion!
Jeduthun, in the superscription of Psalm 62, was, as noted in the Bible Reading Program comments on Psalm 39, one of David's three choir leaders (1 Chronicles 15:41-42; 25:1, 6; 2 Chronicles 5:12) who was also known as a seer or prophet (35:15)-often thought to be synonymous with Ethan (1 Chronicles 6:44; 15:19), representing the Levitical family of Merari. The name Jeduthun also appears in the superscription of Psalm 77.
Psalm 62 has three stanzas (verses 1-4, 5-8, 9-12)-the first two of which begin almost the same (verses 1-2, 5-6). David here says that he will silently wait for God's deliverance and refers to God, as in the previous psalm, as his rock of protection and source of salvation. As the end of verses 2 and 6 declare, he will "not be greatly moved"-that is, "shaken" (NIV).
David's need here is urgent. Arrogant foes conspire to "cast him down from his high position" (verse 4)-to topple him from the throne-through deceit and intrigue. He asks them how long they will attack him (verse 3a). The meaning of the second part of verse 3 is not clear however. Either he is announcing to the conspirators what will befall them as in the NKJV: "You shall be slain, all of you, like a leaning wall and a tottering fence." Or he is further lamenting their attack on him, referring to himself as the vulnerable one: "Would all of you throw him down-this leaning wall, this tottering fence?" (NIV; see also NRSV; Tanakh).
In any case, David is confident of God's protection and ultimate deliverance. He gives others the advice he himself follows: to trust God at all times and pour out one's heart to Him (verse 8)-for God is an unfailing refuge. Men, no matter what their position, are inconstant and unreliable-and not the place to put one's trust (verse 9). It is futile to hope in their evil way of doing things or to trust in the wealth they pursue as a source of help in all of life's circumstances (verse 10). Real power belongs to God (verse 11)-along with mercy to those who serve Him and the means to compensate each person according to the choices they make in life (verse 12; compare Matthew 16:27).
That God has spoken once and David heard it twice (Psalm 62:11) is explained as a form of expression in Old Testament times. As The Nelson Study Bible notes on verse 11: "It is a convention of wisdom literature to use a number and then raise it by one (Prov. 30:11-33). The point here is that David has heard the message with certainty."
In its introductory note on Psalm 63, The Expositor's Bible Commentary says, "In spirit it is close to Psalm 42:1-2 [given the reference to thirsting for God and longing to be in His presence] and fits well with Psalms 61 and 62 as a collection of psalms bound by a common concern for closeness and fellowship with the Lord."
According to its superscription, Psalm 63 was written when David "was in the wilderness of Judah"-and verse 6 tells us that people were then seeking to kill him. The setting is likely when he was living in the Judean wilderness while on the run from Saul, and we earlier read this psalm in that context (see the Bible Reading Program comments on 1 Samuel 23:1-14; Psalm 63). It is possible, however, that it was written much later, when David fled during Absalom's rebellion and stayed for a brief period in the wilderness (see 2 Samuel 25:23-28; 16:2, 14; 17:16, 29). Advocates of this view cite David's reference to himself in Psalm 63:11 as king. Yet, as was pointed out in the earlier Bible Reading Program comments, even as Saul pursued him, David knew he was the rightful king, having already been anointed so by Samuel. Moreover, he was looking to the future in this verse.
At the opening of the song, David expresses his faith in God and how earnestly he desires to be in His presence. The NKJV translation of the second line of verse 1 reads, "Early will I seek You," while the NIV reads, "Earnestly I seek you" (as does Green's Literal Translation). The Jewish Tanakh just has "I search for you." Expositor's explains that the phrase "earnestly I seek" (NIV) is derived from a root word related to the word for "dawn." This relatedness "gave rise to the tradition of treating Psalm 63 as a morning psalm with the translation 'early will I seek You' [but] The NIV correctly emphasizes the eagerness rather than the time of the 'seeking,' as the verb [elsewhere] denotes a diligent search for godly wisdom as most important to life (cf. Prov. 2:1-4; 8:17-21)" (footnote on Psalm 63:1, emphasis added).
It is also interesting in verse 1 to note the parallelism of "soul thirsts" and "flesh longs" or "body longs" (NIV). Expositor's states: "The longing for God consumes the whole being. The NIV rendering 'soul...body' reflects the M[asoretic] T[ext], but it should be remembered that the Hebrew for 'soul' (nepesh) signifies one's whole being, as does 'body' (lit[erally], 'flesh'; cf. 84:2)" (same footnote). Note that the word "soul" or nephesh here does not refer to some inner immortal spirit personage, as many today imagine, but the whole living being. While other verses do refer to a spiritual component within human beings-which together with the workings of the physical brain forms the human mind-that spirit is not conscious apart from the body. This is why a future resurrection is required for an awakening of consciousness.
David compares his longing to enter the sanctuary of God with his continuing thirst for water in the desert, again recalling Psalm 42. God's lovingkindness (hesed, also meaning loyal love, covenant faithfulness or mercy) is "better than life" (verse 3), so David finds great satisfaction in praising and blessing Him (verse 5).
David refers to his meditations during the "night watches." Among the ancient Israelites, the night was divided into three watches of four hours each, and at times David focused his thoughts on God to pass sleepless hours (verse 6). Because God had helped him in the past (verse 7), David trusts that he will continue to remain sheltered under God's wings (as in 61:4) and even rejoice there (63:7). And he will go forward with God as a little child whose parent holds his hand while walking to keep him from falling (verse 8).
David declares that his enemies will not succeed in killing him because they will die instead (verses 9-10). Everyone who "swears by" God (verse 11)-in this broad context meaning that they live by promissory commitment to God and follow through (see Deuteronomy 6:13)-will receive honor. But those who live by deceit-including those who are hypocritical in their faith-will be silenced.
In Psalm 64, last in the group of four psalms here, David prays for protection from those plotting against him and meditates on the sudden judgment that awaits the wicked.
The rebels "encourage themselves" by scheming and coming up with the "perfect plan" (compare verses 5-6). By saying that the inward thought and heart of man are "deep" (verse 6), David seems to be saying that they are hidden deep down where no one would see, following the question in verse 5. But Someone does see. The Nelson Study Bible states: "The arrogance of the wicked in their plots against the righteous is a continuing theme in the Psalms (Ps. 9;10; 12). Who will see [they think to themselves]: The wicked do not know, or do not care, that there is One who sees (73:11), and who will repay (75:7)" (note on Psalm 64:5-6). Jeremiah quoted God as saying: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings" (Jeremiah 17:9-10).
Indeed, David believes that God will punish the wicked based on the principle of just retribution. Their "arrows" or "bitter words" (verses 3-4) God will shoot back at them (verse 7). "He will make them stumble over their own tongue" (verse 8) is not a reference to stuttering but that their own words will ultimately trip them up and bring them down. In essence, what they plan to do to others will "come back to bite them" and bring about their own downfall (compare Galatians 6:7).
This will be a lesson to all (Psalm 64:9). In addition to fearing God, they will "declare the work of God," passing on to others what they have witnessed, and "wisely consider" what He has done (same verse). In light of God's faithfulness, David in verse 10 encourages the godly to trust and rely on Him.