A Psalm of David, when he was in the Wilderness of Judah.
O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands and call on your name.
My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,New Revised Standard Version
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
when I think of you on my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.
When we read that David wrote this psalm in the desert of Judah, we are allowed some wonderful insights into the context of this psalm at this point in David’s life. He was years beyond being the least of Jesse’s boys, left to care for the sheep when the high priest Samuel came to visit. He had already slain Goliath with his slingshot, and he had been honored with a position in King Saul’s court.
This had been an amazing success story due to the wonders God had worked through David, but the rise to power quickly gave way to a stunning fall from the good graces of the king. Due to Saul’s jealousy and anger, David was exiled from Israel and hunted by the king’s army. He had to sever all contact with his family and friends, and instead attached himself to neighboring tribes that were considered to be enemies of Israel.
I am certain these events created emotional and spiritual struggles in David’s life, but we read that David responded in faith and hope to circumstances that challenged his beliefs and well-being.
When David wrote about the desert in this psalm, he wrote not only of the physical reality but of the spiritual and emotional reality as well. Surviving in the wilderness was a great accomplishment—finding sufficient water and food, staying safe from the elements and wild animals, and evading the trained soldiers who were pursuing him. David also had to endure the emotional wilderness of being separated from friends and families and the spiritual wilderness of being banished from the organized worship of God. However, David’s faith was strong enough and insightful enough to find and worship God apart from the established religious centers and wise religious leaders. David recognized what many of his people had not: God was the God of the earth, not confined to the boundaries of the twelve tribes of Israel. David found great strength in the presence of God even in the territories of Israel’s enemies, and it was this strength that allowed David to survive the desert. David found, and we should hold fast to the promise, that there is no place on earth too desolate or too distant for the presence of God.
Because of God’s grace, David is able to look with fondness and anticipation on when he will be able to worship again in the tabernacle of God. The normal human reaction is to reject those who reject us. For David to find God in the wilderness meant that David understood that he did not need the holy places of Israel for God’s blessings in the way that the priests taught. However, rather than to distance himself from the pain of rejection by Israel, David maintained, through grace, a love and a longing for the tabernacle and the evidence of God’s presence with the tribes since the days of Moses. David avoided bitterness and anger, maintaining in his life the presence and purity of God’s love.
David even used terms like “joy” and “feast” to describe his circumstances. The midnight watches, guarding against an attack from Saul’s troops, weren’t a burden, they were an opportunity to spend time with God. David chose to see in the metaphorical shadows around him evidence of God’s wings shielding him from those who would harm him. He chose to sing, and God blessed David for his choice.
This Psalm gives us an example of a victorious life, focused on God’s love and goodness and rejoicing in God’s blessings, no matter what our circumstances. We draw hope from the assurance that God works everything out to what’s best for us, whether it is to live in the desert or in the king’s mansion.
Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.