Withered Joy And The Splendors Of The Sanctuary—Psalm 63 (Part 2)

As we saw in the first stanza of Psalm 63, while kneeling upon rocks and fenced in by thistles, David locked the eyes of his heart upon the Lord’s steadfast love within the sanctuary. His hope grasped on his future reunion with the Lord in worship. Yet, in the second stanza, in verse 6, David returns from his future hope to his present predicament: “I have remembered you on my bed; I meditate on you through the night watches.” These are sleepless nights for David. As you know, worries and anxieties are nocturnal. While you try to fall asleep, your daily concerns start sipping coffee. All you want is to go to sleep and forget, but your worries and fears rob you of rest. So, David tosses and turns in his sleeping bag. When it is his turn to stand guard at 2 am, the darkness presses in upon him.

With discipline, though, David keeps his mind fixed upon the Lord. He continually mutters to himself the great works of God. David uses those sleepless nights to work on his Bible memorization. He mentions a few of the things he meditates upon: “You have been my help, in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.” David mulls over a remarkable image—the shadow of God’s wings. This is clearly bird imagery, but there are two backgrounds in which this imagery finds a home.

The first is the familial. That is, a mother bird hovers over her young, covering them in the safety and love of her feathers. As Jesus said over Jerusalem, “as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, so I would have gathered you.” Likewise, in the pillar of cloud, God fluttered over Israel during the forty years in the desert. David then takes comfort in this motherly love of God, and responds accordingly. His soul clings to the Lord. He reacts like the young child grasping tightly on his parent’s leg. The mother covers with her wings and the child holds on tight. Next, David shifts to a fatherly image, “your right hand holds on to me.” What do fathers say to their scared kids? “It is alright. I have you.” The father grabs their hand and holds it firmly. This is how David pictures his clinging to the Lord and how God upholds him.

There is, however, a second background fitting for this bird imagery, which is a royal one. In ancient iconography, the wings of the god covered the king to protect and fashion the king after the image of the god. This sculpting referred to God leading his anointed one to the throne for success and to reflect the glory of God. Thus, the phrase “to cling to” or “to cling after” is an idiom for obedience. In Deuteronomy, this idiom is often found for total devotion and obedience to the Lord. So, beyond family intimacy, David announces that God is safely leading him toward the throne, and he affirms his devoted obedience. David’s wilderness wanderings are his crucible before the throne. This is his suffering before glory, the desert test of his righteousness, which is why he again shifts back to the future.

David’s eyes turn from God’s wings to his foes. Many are seeking David’s life. Saul hunts David. Wanted posters are painted on the desert rocks. The Ziphites ratted out his location. Saul’s spies crawl through the desert like scorpions. Yet, David is confident that the Lord will judge his enemies and vindicate him. The enemies will descend into the depths of the earth and will be served up as dinner for the jackals. They will be cursed with that ultimate shame of non-burial and to be food for scavengers.

Where they descend, David ascends, even to the throne—quite the contrast of fates. “The king will rejoice in God.” David peers into the future to see himself as the King. David looks up from his present suffering to gaze on the joy set before him. He sees himself rejoicing in God and his obedience vindicated in exultation. In light of this future, his parched soul does not seem so dry after all. What are a few dry days compared to his glad enthronement to come?

As David peers forward with a confident hope to see himself enthroned, he is not alone. “All who swear by him shall exult” is a way to refer to members of the covenant. David looks ahead to see the king on the throne surrounded by God’s covenant people. In verse 5, David set his sights on feasting with God in the sanctuary. Now, he zooms in on the king and the people rejoicing in God. With these two images overlaid, it becomes clear that David wrote this psalm not only for himself, but also as a family heirloom—he wrote it for his son.

This path from the desert to the sanctuary, from sleepless nights to the throne, was the path for Christ as well. Like David, Christ was driven out into the desolate wasteland. He was banished to a dry and weary land, without water. There were days when David had nothing to eat or drink, but Christ fasted forty days and nights. In that barren land, Christ met his enemy, the Evil One. And how did Satan tempt Jesus? He said to Jesus, “You can turn these rocks to bread; go ahead and eat. Go ahead jump off a cliff, God is not really going to let you get hurt. Look at the glory of all these kingdoms. It can all be yours if you just worship me.” In short, Satan tempted Christ with glory now. “You don’t need to suffer. Why kill yourself over what you can have now?” The Evil One told Christ that the cross was not necessary; he could have the glory an easier way, a quicker way. Satan lured Christ with convenience and immediacy. Like David’s men in the cave who said, “kill Saul now and the throne is yours,” so the Ancient Serpent whispered of Christ’s glory without suffering.

But Christ did not give in. He resisted the temptation. For Satan was right about one thing—Christ could have turned those rocks into food. Imagine that you are starving in the desert, and you could miraculously transform one of those rocks into a juicy ribeye. Who could resist such a temptation? But Christ did. He chose the loyalty of God over life. His soul clung to the Father in obedience, even to the point of death. On the cross, the last drop of water was taken from Christ.

As a common grace, God sends rain on the upright and the wicked alike. But, on Golgotha, no rain fell that day. Not a drop of mercy fell from heaven. Nailed to the cross, and stripped bare, Jesus suffered the ultimate drought. His soul was parched of life; his heart cracked like thirsty ground. But in that moment, Christ remained obedient. He kept the good confession that God is better than life. In his moment of starvation, his food was to do the will of the Father who sent him.

Since Christ was obedient in death, he came into the joy of the resurrection. Jesus was vindicated as the true Son of David in his resurrection and ascension. Where did the resurrection and ascension bring Christ? Well, as here, the resurrection brought Christ to the glory of his throne. The ascension ushered Jesus into the heavenly sanctuary of the Father. Because Christ was faithful in obedience, he has entered his everlasting kingdom. He who was made lowest of all has been glorified above all as the king of kings and lord of lords.

Furthermore, as you gaze at Christ in all his resurrected splendor, he is not alone. Jesus reigns enthroned amid all who swear by his name. He is glorified with his people. As Paul says, “we have been seated in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus.” By the Spirit, you are standing in heaven with your Savior during worship. In worship, you are given a foretaste of your eternal home; you are granted a glimpse of God’s heavenly sanctuary, where we will rejoice with our King and praise his name forevermore.

Moreover, it is this foretaste that gives you the grace and strength to say with David, “The Lord’s steadfast life is better than life.” Yes, this is our confession and comfort. It is our shield as we yet walk through the droughts of life. Many dry spells and discouragements will burden us in life. The fragility of life will be pressed upon us. But, amid it, Christ gives you the assurance that his love is better. To live is Christ and to die is gain.

May this be our confession and devotion to our King. Let this be our comfort: that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. His wings over shade you; his right hand holds you. And he will lead you into your everlasting joy when we finally stand with Christ face to face to sing forth his praise for eternity.

Part 1

©Zach Keele. All Rights Reserved.


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  • Zach Keele
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    Rev. Zachary Keele grew up on a ranch in a small town named Crawford, Colorado. He attended Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania and received his Master of Divinity from Westminster Seminary California. He has served as the pastor of Escondido OPC since 2006.

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