This psalm is simply titled A Psalm of David. As with many of David’s psalms, it is impossible to confidently state which period of his life it comes from. It speaks of trouble from enemies, adversaries, false witnesses, and violent men, but this was true of many periods of King David’s life. There is such a marked change between the first half and the second half of this psalm that many suggest that it was two different psalms stitched together. Alexander Maclaren said this idea “has much in its favour”; but it neglects how the experience of the man or woman of God can change so much even within a day or a song.
A. David’s confidence in and desire for God.
1. (1-3) A proven confidence.
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
When the wicked came against me
To eat up my flesh,
My enemies and foes,
They stumbled and fell.
Though an army may encamp against me,
My heart shall not fear;
Though war may rise against me,
In this I will be confident.
a. The LORD is my light and my salvation: Like many psalms, King David wrote this from a season of trouble. Yet it is a song of confidence and triumph: because David was not in darkness or ultimate peril because the LORD was his light and salvation.
i. God Himself brought light to David’s life. He did not despair in darkness and all that it represented. His life was filled with the LORD, and his life was filled with light.
ii. God Himself brought salvation to David. He probably meant this as rescue both in the immediate and the ultimate senses. God had rescued him time and again, and would do so into eternity. “The Hebrew word for salvation means ‘deliverance’ explicitly, and again this probably has to do with deliverance from the king’s immediate enemies.” (Boice)
iii. “Although God is often associated with light in the Bible, this verse is the only direct application of the name light to God in the Old Testament.” (Boice) John 1:5 and 1:9 say this specifically of Jesus.
iv. Light and salvation were also wonderfully promised to the Gentiles through the person and work of the Messiah (Isaiah 49:6; repeated in Acts 13:47).
b. The LORD is the strength of my life: David was a skilled, experienced warrior and must have been a man of impressive physical strength. Nevertheless, he looked to the LORD as the strength of his life. David knew something of what the Apostle Paul would write many years later: Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might (Ephesians 6:10).
i. “The very names of Jehovah as ‘Light,’ ‘Salvation,’ ‘the Stronghold of my life,’ imply darkness, danger, and besetting foes.” (Maclaren)
ii. If we rarely know what it is to have God be the strength of our life, perhaps it is because we trust in so many other things for strength. We find it easy to trust in our wisdom, our experience, our friends, and our resources. David knew a strength greater than all of those.
c. Whom shall I fear?…Of whom shall I be afraid? David used the poetic tool of repetition to make his point and bring together parallel ideas. Because God was his light, his salvation, and his strength, there was really no reason to fear or be afraid.
d. When the wicked came against me…they stumbled and fell: David remembered how God had proven Himself reliable in the past. There were times when the wicked or even an army came against him, yet God still showed that He was David’s light, his salvation, and his strength.
i. David’s confidence in God was battle-tested. He did not have fair-weather faith that lived in always-easy circumstances. This isn’t the joy of a man in a comfortable monastery; this is the song of a man who knew God’s goodness even in danger and despair.
ii. 1 Samuel 17:44 relates that Goliath told the young David, Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field! Perhaps David remembered that when he wrote, When the wicked came against me to eat up my flesh, my enemies and foes, they stumbled and fell.
iii. They stumbled and fell: “God’s breath blew them off their legs…. This was literally true in the case of our Lord in Gethsemane, when those who came to take him went backward and fell to the ground; and herein he was a prophetic representative of all wrestling believers who, rising from their knees shall, by the power of faith, throw their foes upon their faces.” (Spurgeon)
v. In this will I be confident: “Because of his confidence in the Lord, the psalmist is not afraid. In his inner being there is no fear. This confident confession in God’s saving love is similar to Paul’s confession in Romans 8:31-39.” (VanGemeren)
2. (4) David’s desire for God’s presence.
One thing I have desired of the LORD,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD,
And to inquire in His temple.
a. One thing I have desired of the LORD: The tone of the song suddenly changes from celebration to contemplation. The experience of the goodness and greatness of God made David think about how wonderful it is to seek Him and to experience His presence.
i. “One purpose dominated his prayer and life. It was never long absent from the Psalmist’s thought. The men of one idea are irresistible.” (Meyer)
b. That I may dwell in the house of the LORD: David wished he could live in the tabernacle itself, surrounded every day by the presence and beauty of God.
i. In these few verses we note the many ways David referred to the house of the LORD. “David seems to be ransacking the Hebrew language for nouns to describe it: ‘the house of the Lord’ (Psalm 27:4) ‘his temple’ (Psalm 27:4), ‘his dwelling’ (Psalm 27:5), ‘his tabernacle’ (Psalm 27:5-6).” (Boice)
c. To behold the beauty of the LORD: David knew there was beauty in the nature and presence of God, beauty that could be perceived by the seeking eye of faith. He could think of no greater occupation than to fill his mind and heart with the goodness and greatness of God.
i. There is richness in God, revealed to the seeking heart, that many people never know. It is a shame that David knew this under the Old Covenant, and so many of us – with a greater covenant and greater promises – never know it.
ii. “The character of God is attractive, and fitted to inspire us with love for him, and to make us, as it were, run after him.” (Gray, cited in Spurgeon)
iii. Alexander Pope, a famous writer, once wrote: “Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; the proper study of mankind is man.” He thought it was more important for us to learn about ourselves than about God.
iv. An even more famous writer, Charles Spurgeon, responded to Pope’s statement: “It has been said by someone that ‘the proper study of mankind is man.’ I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.” (This came from Spurgeon’s first published sermon, titled The Immutability of God, delivered on January 7, 1855 – when he was 20 years old.)
d. And to inquire in His temple: In God’s presence, David wished to go from contemplation to inquiry. He wanted to know more of God and more of His ways.
i. It wasn’t that the earthly structure so fascinated David; he wrote this when the tabernacle tent served as a rather humble temple for Israel, before the wonderful building that Solomon built. “It was not the earthly temple itself that charmed David but rather the beauty of the Lord that was to be found at the temple in a special way.” (Boice)
ii. “The two acts complete the joyful employment of a soul communing with God: first perceiving and then reflecting upon His uncreated beauty of goodness.” (Maclaren)
3. (5-6) The blessings of God’s presence.
For in the time of trouble
He shall hide me in His pavilion;
In the secret place of His tabernacle
He shall hide me;
He shall set me high upon a rock.
And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me;
Therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle;
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the LORD.
a. For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion: David knew that there was special blessing and protection for the one who earnestly sought God. It wasn’t a promise to prevent all trouble, but to give security and blessing even in the midst of it.
i. “God’s dwelling is a ‘tent,’ where He will shelter His guests. The privilege of asylum is theirs.” (Maclaren)
b. He shall set me high upon a rock: David believed that a life spent seeking God would know a measure of safety and security, even in the presence of enemies all around.
i. My head shall be lifted up: “Two things make the head hang down – fear and shame; hope easeth the Christian’s heart of both these, and so forbids him to give any sign of a desponding mind by a dejected countenance.” (Gurnall, cited in Spurgeon)
c. Therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy: David’s life was filled with celebration and gratitude for all God had done. He would sing praises to the LORD who blessed him with His presence and rescued him so often.
i. “Sacrifices of joy, or of shouting and resounding, i.e. of thanksgiving; which were accomplished with the sound of trumpets and other instruments, Numbers 10:10; 1 Chronicles 16:41, 42; Psalm 33:3.” (Poole)
B. A prayer.
1. (7-10) Seeking the faithful God.
Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice!
Have mercy also upon me, and answer me.
When You said, “Seek My face,”
My heart said to You, “Your face, LORD, I will seek.”
Do not hide Your face from me;
Do not turn Your servant away in anger;
You have been my help;
Do not leave me nor forsake me,
O God of my salvation.
When my father and my mother forsake me,
Then the LORD will take care of me.
a. Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice: The celebration of the first half of this psalm might make us think that it was all easy for David. One might think that when trouble came there was no struggle, either with self or God. Yet David showed us that even he – the one who sought God with such passion – sometimes felt that God did not hear him immediately.
i. “Note his anxiety to be heard. Pharisees care not a fig for the Lord’s hearing them, so long as they are heard of men, or charm their own pride with their sounding devotions; but with a genuine man, the Lord’s ear is everything.” (Spurgeon)
b. When You said, “Seek My face”: God invited David to seek Him; yet there was a sense in which David felt that God was hiding from him (Do not hide Your face from me). David didn’t become angry with God or turn against Him; in his disappointment he sought God all the more diligently and desperately (Do not leave me nor forsake me).
c. You have been my help; do not leave me nor forsake me: David used God’s past help as a reason to ask and expect future help.
d. When my father and mother forsake me, then the LORD will take care of me: David knew that the love and care of God could go beyond even the closest human bonds. David probably did not expect his parents to forsake him; yet even if they did, God would not.
i. David sent his parents to Moab for protection in 1 Samuel 22:3-4. Perhaps, without their ever intending it, this made David feel forsaken by his parents.
ii. Boice points out that from a parent, we want acceptance, to be heard, guidance, and protection. God can fulfill each of these for all, including someone who never received these from a parent.
2. (11-13) A believing prayer for guidance.
Teach me Your way, O LORD,
And lead me in a smooth path, because of my enemies.
Do not deliver me to the will of my adversaries;
For false witnesses have risen against me,
And such as breathe out violence.
I would have lost heart, unless I had believed
That I would see the goodness of the LORD
In the land of the living.
a. Teach me Your way, O LORD: This was a simple prayer for a life of true discipleship. David didn’t want to live his way, but the LORD’s way.
b. And lead me in a smooth path, because of my enemies: David didn’t ask for an easy path, but instead a level or even place, a place of secure standing. It’s the same word used in Psalm 26:12 to describe an even place.
i. “The simplest meaning of the word rendered plain [smooth], is level, or even.” (Morgan)
ii. David had many adversaries, false witnesses against him, and violent men opposing him. In asking for a smooth path, he wasn’t asking for an easy life but for a stable and secure place to stand against the storms of this life.
iii. My enemies: “The word enemies is rendered by Thirtle ‘watchful foes,’ and that exactly conveys the idea. It is that of enemies lying in ambush, waiting to catch him unawares, to attack him treacherously. The plain path for which he asks is one, traveling along which there shall be no pitfalls or lurking places for these foes.” (Morgan)
c. I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living: David’s seeking after God, and his knowledge of the Lord, led him to this triumphant statement. He would have given up (lost heart), but he knew that the good God would find a way to show His goodness in this life (as well as the next).
i. Some speculate that David meant the life to come when he wrote of the land of the living. One can fairly say that this is the land of the dying, “in which there are more dead than living, more under ground than above it; where the earth is fuller of graves than houses; where life lies trembling under the hand of death; and where death hath power to tyrannise over life! No, my soul, there only is the land of the living where there are none but the living; where there is a church, not militant, but triumphant; a church indeed, but no church-yard, because none dead, nor none that can die; where life is not passive, nor death active; where life sits crowned, and where death is swallowed up in victory.” (Baxter, cited in Spurgeon)
3. (14) An encouragement to others.
Wait on the LORD;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the LORD!
a. Wait on the LORD; be of good courage: Here King David spoke to you and to me, to his readers. From the reservoir of his experience he can encourage us to seek after God (Wait on the LORD) and to take courage in Him (be of good courage).
i. “Wait at his door with prayer; wait at his foot with humility; wait at his table with service; wait at his window with expectancy.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “To wait for Jehovah is ever to find the plain path, however rough that path may be.” (Morgan)
b. And He shall strengthen your heart: This profound promise is for us. Across the centuries David spoke to us, telling us to be confident that there is strength in the LORD for those who seek Him and trust Him.
c. Wait, I say, on the LORD: As in Isaiah 40:31, the idea behind wait…on the LORD is not a passive sitting around until the LORD does something. Yes, God gives us strength; but we don’t expect it to come as if He were pouring it into us as we sit passively. He brings it to us as we seek Him, and rely on Him, instead of relying on our own strength. If we are weak, it is because we do not wait…on the LORD.
i. We should wait on the LORD:
· As a beggar waits for handouts at the rich man’s door.
· As a student waits to be taught.
· As a servant waits on his master.
· As a traveler waits for the directions of the guide.
· As a child waits upon his parent.
ii. “Many of his promises bear a long date; but they are sure and infallible. Wait, therefore.” (Trapp)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – email@example.com