A Better Thanksgiving (Psalm 63)

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Just speaking of Thanksgiving is often enough to make us salivate with anticipation. The turkey and ham, the stuffing and potatoes, the pie and ice cream—you can virtually taste it right now, can't you? Of all the holidays celebrated, Thanksgiving takes the proverbial cake in terms of celebratory feasting. In a sense, it almost ruins the ordinary meals we eat because of how supreme it is. Can you imagine a superior meal? Yet, Scripture shows us that indeed, there is a better banquet.

Psalm 63 depicts the reflections of King David while out in the Judean wilderness. Having fled Jerusalem on account of his son Absalom trying to usurp the throne, David took off east towards the Transjordan region to find temporary safety and relief (cf. 2 Sam. 15).[1] A lack of food and water meant that the wilderness of Judah was a largely uninhabited area, perfect to find refuge from enemies. But that same barrenness also posed a threat to those who would travel there. No stranger to this situation, David found himself again learning to trust God under difficult circumstances. Granted, this time he was under the discipline of God for his egregious sins. Years prior, David had authorized the murder of Uriah, Bathsheba's husband, and God was issuing boomerang-like discipline to David through the murderous intentions of Absalom and his mutinous followers.

Hunger (Psalm 63:1-2)

O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.

David began the Psalm by explaining his desperation. In the past, David learned to go directly to God with his difficulties, and this time was no different. Only the one true God could offer him the aid he needed. All of David's hope and comfort are expressed in the first phrase, "O God, You are my God" (Psa. 63:1). Simply put, to know the one true God is to have eternal life (cf. John 17:3), and David certainly knew his God. Thus, on the basis of that relationship, David said to God, "I shall seek You earnestly." The Hebrew verb used here is related to the word "dawn," representing a person eagerly awaiting the beginning of a new day after hours of darkness).[2] Do you remember the anticipation you felt as a child the night before your birthday, or on Christmas Eve? If so, you can relate to David's sentiment here.

But David also stated that his soul "thirsts" and his flesh "yearns" for God (the reference to his soul and his flesh indicate that he was longing for God with his entire being, material and immaterial). Being out in the wilderness provided the perfect illustration of David's predicament—the desperation of a traveler's search for water paralleled David's search for divine comfort. And like a stomach growling without a meal, so was David's soul in difficult times. He was spiritually hungry and only God could fill him up.

How do you feel when you find yourself in a difficult situation? Just as hunger pangs signal a need for physical nourishment, so too does a trial in life trigger a need for spiritual nourishment. David knew who to turn to, and openly confessed his need for aid. And ultimately, this was the very purpose for which God was disciplining him. Of course, it's unlikely that you have found yourself in exile while hiding from a potentially murderous son. Yet, that situation in David's life ought to give you great comfort because it means you can surely come to God in your lesser circumstances.

Help (Psalm 63:3-8)

Because Your lovingkindness 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 in Your name.
My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.
When I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches,
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.

Once David expressed his need, he set his mind on the truth that would sustain him. In verse 1 he spoke of his thirst and hunger, and in verse 5 he recognized the God-given provisions. Rather than offering him a small snack or a miniature meal, David recognized that the divine chef only serves up top-tier entrees. Stating, "My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness" (Psa. 63:5), David used those two words to refer to the choicest parts of an animal sacrifice.[3] In other words, communion with God was like a supreme banquet in both quantity and quality—a better Thanksgiving meal than we could ever imagine.

His soul was parched no more as he contemplated the blessed reality of knowing the God who loved him with a covenant love that was better than life itself: "When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches. For You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy." (Psa. 63:6). In fact, David understood the love of God to such an extent that he knew his relationship was secure. While he "clung" to God (the same word used of Ruth clinging to Naomi found in Ruth 1:4), he also understood that it was actually God who was upholding him (cf. Psa. 63:8). Likewise, the security of our salvation is one of the softest pillows on which to sleep.

Have you considered the meal God has prepared for you? If you are a Christian, you can rest assured that God is working all things for your good, to conform you to Christ (cf. Rom. 8:28). Even discipline, like in David's case, offers assurance that you are indeed children of God (cf. Heb. 12:10). When your soul is hungry, when you are in a trial of life, remember that "help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth" (Psa. 121:2).

Hope (Psalm 63:9-11)

But those who seek my life to destroy it,
Will go into the depths of the earth.
They will be delivered over to the power of the sword;
They will be a prey for foxes.
But the king will rejoice in God;
Everyone who swears by Him will glory,
For the mouths of those who speak lies will be stopped.

Finally, with his soul renewed, David's outlook on life changed. He transitioned from hunger to hope, based on God's help. No longer looking to his own difficulties, his eyes were again set on the God who loved him and would care for him. In this case, David had the confidence that his enemies would be destroyed, and to such an extent that their bodies would be left as "prey for foxes"—apparently, even wild animals would be feasting (Psa. 63:10). In the end, David was able to rejoice, as do all those who have given their allegiance to God (cf. Psa. 63:11).

Psalm 63 is unique in that David's words do not contain any requests—only trust, praise, and gratitude.[4] What better Psalm to consider for Thanksgiving? This holiday offers a time of festivity and feasting, physical nourishment for an aching stomach. Yet, spiritual nourishment for an aching soul can't be found in this food. Turkey satisfies our stomach, and pumpkin pie satisfies our sweet tooth, but only the Lord Jesus Christ satisfies the soul. He is the bread of life and the living water, the one who fills those who hunger for righteousness (cf. John 6:35, 4:14, Matt. 5:6). Teach your children Psalm 63, and tell them about a better Thanksgiving.


References:

[1] Steven J. Lawson, Holman Old Testament Commentary: Psalms 1-75 (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), 316.

[2] Robert Davidson, The Vitality of Worship: A Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 199.

[3] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary: Unleashing God's Truth, One Verse at a Time (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 640.

[4] Don Green, “Satisfied in God Alone” (presentation, Midweek Service, Truth Community Church, Cincinnati, OH, May 30, 2017).