Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The figure of the first verse misunderstood (see Note) led to the inscription referring this psalm to the wandering period of David’s life, a reference entirely out of keeping with the contents of the poem, even if it were Davidic. The conjecture is far more probable which makes it the sigh of an exile for restoration to the sacred scenes and institutions of his country, now cherished in memory; and so truly does it express the sentiments which would be common to all the pious community of Israel, that we need not vex ourselves with an enquiry, for which the data are so insufficient, into the precise individual or even the precise time to which it first refers. The last verse seems to carry us back to the troubled times immediately before the destruction of Jerusalem, when the existence of monarchy was trembling in the balance, and when some of those already in exile might be supposed to be watching its fortunes with feelings in which hope contended with misgiving, and faith with fear. The poetical form is irregular.
A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah. O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is;(1) Early will I seek thee.—LXX. and Vulgate, “to thee I wake early,” i.e., my waking thoughts are toward thee, and this was certainly in the Hebrew, since the verb here used has for its cognate noun the dawn. The expectancy which even in inanimate nature seems to await the first streak of morning is itself enough to show the connection of thought. (Comp. the use of the same verb in Song of Solomon 7:12; and comp. Luke 21:28, New Testament Commentary.)
Soul . . . flesh.—Or, as we say, body and soul. (Comp. Psalm 84:2, “my heart and my flesh.”)
Longeth.—Heb., khâmah, a word only occurring here, but explained as cognate with an Arabic root meaning to be black as with hunger and faintness.
In.—Rather, as. (Comp. Psalm 143:6.) This is the rendering of one of the Greek versions quoted by Origen, and Symmachus has “as in,” &c
Thirsty.—See margin. Fainting is perhaps more exactly the meaning. (See Genesis 25:29-30, where it describes Esau’s condition when returning from his hunt.) Here the land is imagined to be faint for want of water. The LXX. and Vulgate have “pathless.” The parched land thirsting for rain was a natural image, especially to an Oriental, for a devout religious soul eager for communion with heaven.
To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.(2) To see thy power . . .—The transposition of the clauses in the Authorised Version weakens the sense. Render, So (i.e., in this state of religious fervour) in the sanctuary have I had vision of thee in seeing thy might and glory. The psalmist means, that while he saw with his eyes the outward signs of Divine glory, he had a spiritual vision (the Hebrew word is that generally used of prophetic vision) of God.
Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.(3) Because.—Such a sense of the blessedness of Divine favour—here in its peculiar sense of covenant favour—that it is better than life itself, calls for gratitude displayed all through life. “Love is the ever-springing fountain” from which all goodness proceeds, and a sense of it is even more than the happy sense of being alive. The following lines convey in a modern dress the feeling of this part of the psalm:—
“So gazing up in my youth at love,
As seen through power, ever above
All modes which make it manifest,
My soul brought all to a single test—
That He, the Eternal, First and Last,
Who in His power had so surpassed
All man conceives of what is might,
Whose wisdom too showed infinite—
Would prove as infinitely good.”
R. BROWNING: Christmas Eve.
Thus—i.e., in the spirit in which he now speaks. For the attitude of the uplifted hands, see Note, Psalm 28:2.
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips:(5) Satisfied.—This image of a banquet, which repeats itself so frequently in Scripture, need not be connected with the sacrificial feasts.
When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches.(6) Remember.—Better, remembered.
Night watches.—According to the Jewish reckoning, the night was divided into three watches: the “beginning,” or head (rôsh); the “middle” (tikhôn, Judges 7:19); and the “morning” (boker, Exodus 14:24).
Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.(7) Because . . .—Better, For thou hast been my helper; and under the shadow, &c. (For the image see Psalm 17:8; Psalm 36:7; Psalm 57:1; Psalm 61:4.)
My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me.(8) My soul . . .—Literally, my soul cleaved after thee, combining two ideas. (Comp. Jeremiah 42:16.) The English phrase, “hung upon thee” (comp. Prayer-Book version), exactly expresses it.
They shall fall by the sword: they shall be a portion for foxes.(10) Shall fall.—See margin. But more literally, they shall pour him on to the hands of the sword, where the suffix him is collective of the enemy, and the meaning is, “they shall be given over to the power of the sword.” (Comp. Jeremiah 18:21; Ezekiel 35:5.)
Foxes . . .—Rather, jackals. Heb., shualîm. (See Note, Song of Solomon 2:15.)
But the king shall rejoice in God; every one that sweareth by him shall glory: but the mouth of them that speak lies shall be stopped.(11) Sweareth by him.—This is explained as meaning, “swear allegiance to him as the king,” on the analogy of Zephaniah 1:5. And this suits the context. On the other hand, the natural way to understand the phrase, “swear by” or “in him,” is to refer it to the only oath allowed to the Israelite,” by the name of Jehovah” (Deuteronomy 6:13; Isaiah 65:16; comp. Amos 8:14), in which case we must explain by Deuteronomy 10:20-21, “Swear by his (Jehovah’s) name; He is thy praise.” Those who are loyal to Jehovah, who appeal to Him in all troubles, will find this promise true, “They shall glory,” while the unfaithful and false, not daring to make the solemn appeal, will have their mouth stopped. (Comp. Romans 3:19.)