Thirsting For God
A psalm of David. When he was in the Desert of Judah.
You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.
I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
This psalm has been one of the most beloved of all the psalms, playing a central role in Christian spirituality from the earliest days of the church. Saint John Chrysostom (A. D. 347-407) wrote, “that it was decreed and ordained by the primitive [church] fathers, that no day should pass without the public singing of this psalm.” He also said , “…the spirit and soul of the whole Book of Psalms is contracted into this psalm.” (Cited by J. J. Stewart Perowne, The Book of Psalms) The ancient church began praying the Psalms in public worship with Psalm 63. They called it “the morning prayer” because of its reference to thinking of God in the “watches of the night”, and the etymological relationship between the Hebrew word translated “earnestly I seek” and the word for “dawn”. As twilight passes into the new day David eagerly seeks God, a seeking for God that marks David’s life.
The setting for this psalm is critical as David composes it in “the Desert of Judah”. He is once again in a desert wilderness fleeing his son Absalom’s rebellion against him (II Samuel 15:13-30). David sings of God, not in the Tabernacle or his palace, but in desert wastelands along the western shores of the Dead Sea.
This psalm is particularly memorable because it contains not one petition or request of God, but rather, focuses on David’s earnest quest to be with God. While we might be pleading with God to get us out of our mess, David wants to just spend time with God. This has long been David’s priority, “for all the days of my life to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him” (Psalm 27:4b). Faced with great danger fleeing Absalom David longs only to be in God’s presence.
Hiding out in some desert cave or wash David calls to mind times of worshipping God in the “sanctuary” where he experienced God’s “power and glory”.
“David’s choice to reflect upon God in the sanctuary (v. 2) and to remember him (v. 6), instead of opting to petition God to return the king to the sanctuary….gives sharp point to the role reflection and remembering play in the spiritual life of the pious.” (Bruce Waltke and James Houston, The Psalms As Christian Worship)
In making time to reflect upon God and to remember, David becomes a model for us. Perhaps it is waking up thirsty “in a dry and parched land” that moves him to express his soul’s longing as thirst for God. “I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you.” As thirsty as David is for water, he is even thirstier for God. A. W. Tozer, in The Pursuit of God, writes of the soul’s burning desire for God:
Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heart of their desire for God. They mourned for Him, they prayed and wrested and sought for Him day and night, in season and out, and when they found Him, the finding was all the sweeter for the long seeking.
David mixes metaphors, first talking about his soul’s intense thirst for God, then his satisfaction with God as one “fully satisfied as with the richest of foods.” Spending time with God is as satisfying to David’s inner being as eating the finest foods would be to his craving body. He experiences living in God’s love as even “better than life.” Being loved by another person can truly change one’s life. But how much more, being loved by God! It is life at its highest and best! So more than David wants to escape from his problems or to be rescued from Absalom, he wants to spend time in God’s presence.
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