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Psalm 63: The Lamb and the Lion

In Psalm 63, David the minstrel king likens himself to Israel, and his sufferings and hope not only take on the form of his nation’s history but also of its sacred architecture.

Is the historical referent of this psalm David’s flight from his “father” Saul (1 Samuel 24:1, 16) or his escape from his son Absalom (2 Samuel 15:13-23)? Since the psalm was written after David had succeeded Saul (he refers to himself as “the king” in 63:11), it seems to recount David’s sufferings during the former event. Even if its composition was indeed inspired by the later betrayal, David as king departed Jerusalem with a considerable entourage (2 Samuel 15:16-17) so his sufferings in that case were considerably different in nature.

However, both events reveal David’s unwillingness to “grasp” kingdom by his own hand, unlike Adam in Eden and indeed unlike Israel in Canaan concerning the coronation of their first king (1 Samuel 8:1-9). Like Jesus, David trusted in God to give him a throne in due time. He also trusted God to return him to the throne if it were the Lord’s will. David, who was otherwise a man of blood on God’s behalf, would not unsheath his sword against either a false father or a false son. He was a lion on the earth but a lamb before heaven.

This makes David unlike just about every ruler in human history, and he shines as one of a long line of “second born” sons, a pattern which began with the rivalry between Cain and Abel and culminated in the conflict between the kingdom of Herod and the kingdom of Jesus (Matthew 11:12). Just as Jacob fled from Esau into the wilderness, so David fled from Saul. Although Amalek (Edom) was the first or “prime” nation from Isaac (Genesis 14:7; Numbers 24:20), Israel was chosen as God’s firstborn, a firstborn from the dead. This refers to Isaac as a child from the barren womb of Sarah, but also to a period of testing as an experience of death-and-resurrection, that is, priesthood-and-kingdom, the united ministries of the lamb and the lion. All those who govern with God’s power are living sacrifices.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossian 1:17-20)

Although Saul was the first king of Israel, David was the first “priestly” king, which is why the Lord made a covenant with him concerning his dynasty (2 Samuel 7:12-16). The first shall be last, and in David’s case, the last born became the firstborn.

David understood himself to be a “prince” chosen by God, just like Jacob and Moses. All three men were shepherds (that is, trained as “priest-kings”), so in identifying his own “wilderness” trials with those of Israel, David makes a natural connection. Matthew does exactly the same thing in his Gospel concerning the origins and initial ministry of Jesus.1See Peter J. Leithart, Jesus as Israel: The Typological Structure of Matthew’s Gospel.

Moreover, David understood himself to be the head of a glorious body, the firstfruits of a holy batch (Romans 11:16), a legal representative and advocate for his people before God.

And Samuel said [to Saul], “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.” (1 Samuel 15:17)

To avoid becoming like Saul, a king like the kings of the Gentiles who was enamoured by the comradeship of Amalek, David maintained a submission to a higher throne, and a willingness to be disciplined as the son of a higher Father (2 Samuel 7:14-15; Proverbs 3:12; Hebrews 12:6-11).

Overview

Our first task is to observe the overall structure of the psalm, which as usual serves as an allusion to the pattern of biblical covenants. Once this is done, the logic behind the progression of the content begins to emerge.

TRANSCENDENCE
A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.
HIERARCHY
O God, you are my God; earnestly 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.
ETHICS (Priesthood)
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;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
ETHICS (Kingdom)
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
ETHICS (Prophecy)
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings
I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.
OATH/SANCTIONS
But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
they shall be a portion for jackals.
SUCCESSION
But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
[ESV]

Analysis

Creation
Genesis / Initiation – Ark of the Testimony (Sabbath)

A Psalm (Transcendence)
of David, (Hierarchy)
when he was (Ethics)
in the wilderness (Oath/Sanctions)
of Judah. (Succession)

  • The title of Psalm 63 echoes the fivefold covenant pattern, and thus prefigures to some degree the contents of the entire psalm. However, in this first “title” stanza (Genesis), David is the one under the sword at Oath/Sanctions as an Adam betrayed, yet it is his enemies who end up under the sword in the Oath/Sanctions stanza (Joshua).
  • At the centre of the stanza is a Hebrew word which is related to Yahweh, the name of God given in reply to Moses at the burning bush. This ties the Law, the Lampstand, and the theme of kingdom together at the Testing step of the matrix.

Division
Exodus / Delegation – Veil (Passover)

O God, my God, (Initiation: Ark of the Testimony)
you will I seek diligently. (Delegation: Veil)
My soul (nephesh) thirsts, (Presentation: Bronze Altar)
———————– (Purification: Lampstand)
My flesh (basar) faints, (Transformation: Incense Altar)
In a dry and famished land (Vindication: Laver and Mediators)
Where is no water. (Representation: Shekinah)

  • The Exodus stanza presents David as a Tabernacle in the wilderness. Since the Tabernacle was a microcosmos, this once-and-future-king is formed but not filled. He is not without form, but he is “void,” that is, empty. At the centre, the light of lamp no longer burns within him, and at the end, the twelve springs of Elim (which represented Israel’s ministry among the 70 “palm tree” nations) have not been discovered. The holy fire and living water of the glory cloud have departed from his tent.
  • There are further allusions to Exodus. Firstly, the progression from God above, to the land, to the waters under the land, is intended to remind us of Exodus 20:4. Secondly, the actual law itself, given on the original Day of Pentecost (the central feast in the order found in Leviticus 23) is missing. David is hungry and thirsty not only for water and food but also for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). His use of the Covenant pattern in this case possibly indicates that by righteousness he actually means vindication in the court of God against those who have treated him as a covenant-breaker. Thirdly, the original meaning of the word to “seek diligently” carries the idea of waiting for dawn. This corresponds to the position of the veil in the Tabernacle sequence at Delegation, a veil which is opened at Vindication by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement.
  • David also leaves out the central line of this second stanza to correspond it to Genesis 1:6-8, which is also bereft of a central line, indicating an emptiness between the waters below and the waters above. Day 2 is the only event which is not described by God as “good.” Since Genesis 2 recapitulates the Creation account in social terms,2See Covenant Structure in Genesis 2 here, the emptiness is that of a man caught between heaven and earth without the life of God (Adam as bloodied head: nephesh, Genesis 2:7) and without the resurrection (Eve as fragrant body: basar, Genesis 2:23-26).

Ascension
Leviticus / Presentation – Bronze Altar (Firstfruits)

So, you in the sanctuary (Creation: Ark)
I have seen, (Division: Veil)
Seeing your power (Ascension: Altar – Tribes)
and your glory, (Ascension: Table – Levites)
Because more pleasing (Testing: Lampstand)
is your covenant loyalty, (Maturity: Incense Altar)
than life, (Conquest: Laver and Mediators)
my lips shall praise. (Glorification: Shekinah)

  • The move to Levitical themes explains David’s shift in subject matter from the wilderness to the sanctuary. This section is split into two stanzas, corresponding to the Bronze Altar (Land, Day 3a) and the Golden Table (Firstfruits, Day 3b). A similar split exists within the first stanza itself in the placement of the Lord’s power (over the four-cornered Land) and glory (in enthronement/ascension).
  • At the centre of this stanza, “more pleasing” is the word used in Genesis to describe what God saw as “good.” What was empty in stanza 2 is filled in stanza 3, but the remainder of the stanza reveals that true filling results from the faithfulness of God. The placement of God’s covenant loyalty (hesed) at Maturity gives it a “bridal” spin.
  • The “life” in line 6 (as Day 6) is Adamic, referring to the High Priest in the open veil, “uncovered” before God. Unlike Adam and Saul, David’s confession before God is pure. This relates to David’s “nakedness” of kingly attire before the Ark of the Lord in 2 Samuel 6:14.3For more discussion of the significance of this event, see Stones and Fruit: Divination and Procreation.

Leviticus / Presentation – Golden Table (Firstfruits)

TRANSCENDENCE
Thus, will I bless you, (Creation)
HIERARCHY
while I live, (Division)
ETHICS: Priesthood
in your name I will lift up my hands, (Ascension)
ETHICS: Kingdom
as with marrow and fatness (Testing)
ETHICS: Prophecy
shall be satisfied my soul, (Maturity)
OATH/SANCTIONS
and with joyful lips (Conquest)
SUCCESSION
my mouth shall praise. (Glorification)

  • David now moves from the Bronze Altar to the sacrifices upon it, as represented by the loaves and wine (or in the wilderness, beer) upon the Golden Table. The literary placement allows David to allude not only to the temporary prohibition upon the fruit of the “kingly” tree of the knowledge of good and evil (judicial discernment, or wisdom) but also the corresponding temporary Levitical prohibitions upon the “glorious” foods of the Gentile kings. The marrow and fatness allude to those parts of the sacrifice which belonged to the Lord: the blood and the fat (Leviticus 3). In the ascension offering (Leviticus 1), the entire animal belonged to God, but in the peace offering, God dined with His legal representatives as He did upon Sinai (Exodus 24).
  • An identical pattern is played out in Israel’s sinful desire for meat rather than manna, in Daniel’s temporary refusal of the kingly portion, and also in Jesus’ testing in the wilderness. The one who obeys God’s commands concerning priestly training will receive kingly delicacies at God’s hand. That is also the message behind the forbidden animals which Peter was commanded to slay and eat. Priesthood before heaven always precedes true kingdom over the earth. And of course, here David alludes to him and his men eating the Showbread while fleeing from Saul because God considered them to be warriors under a vow, Nazirites on a campaign of holy war. Likewise, the disciples picked and ate heads of grain on the Sabbath. They themselves would be slain and offered as part of the Firstfruits Church.

And the priest answered David, “I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread—if the young men have kept themselves from women.” And David answered the priest, “Truly women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition. The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey. How much more today will their vessels be holy?” (1 Samuel 21:4-5)

He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:3-8)

It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless. (Revelation 14:4)

  • David knew that his fasting before God in priestly submission would lead ultimately to feasting with God in His kingdom.
  • The placement of “lips” at Oath/Sanctions refers to David’s religious confession as an adult Israelite, his self-maledictory “amen” under the Mosaic vow of obedience at Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:3; cf. Revelation 1:6; 3:14; 22:20) where the people spoke with one voice. The sin before the flood related to the eradication of worship and sacrifice altogether, but the sin after the flood related to the establishing of false worship, which demonstrates that evil learns. The literal translation of Genesis 11:1 is “one lip and one word.” A joyful profession from the lips is the evidence of a circumcised heart and a good conscience before God (Romans 10:9-10; 1 Peter 3:21). Unlike his unfaithful forebears, David would not be cut off in the wilderness. This leads us to the subject matter of David’s next stanza.

Testing
Numbers / Purification – Lampstand (Pentecost)

When I remember (Transcendence: Past)
on my bed (Hierarchy: Past Shadowed)
in the night watches (Ethics: Discernment)
I meditate (Oath/Sanctions: Future Shadowed)
on you. (Succession: Future)

  • At the centre of the psalm, the king alludes to the creation of the “heavenly kings” on Day 4, the seven “eyes” of the lampstand (Genesis 3:5-7; Matthew 6:22; Luke 24:31; Revelation 5:6), and the dark night of the soul as a refining fire at Testing. The word for “watch” or “wake” (shakad) is related to the word for “almond” (shakeid) which explains why the lampstand was fashioned to resemble an almond tree.

And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.” Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.” (Jeremiah 1:11-12)

  • The point is that even in his suffering, David was enable to “see” the face of God, to discern the spiritual light in his physical darkness based upon the promises of His Master. This is what was expected of Adam, who faithlessly judged the words of God to be darkness and the words of the serpent to be those of an angel of light.
  • The stanza relates somewhat to the meaning of “mindfulness,” that is, living in the moment. The past and the future are invisible to us, obscured by a “twofold shadow.” But for the saints, true mindfulness requires remembering God’s faithfulness in the past and His promises concerning the future. Since the structure of the psalm recapitulates the journey of Israel from Egypt to Canaan, the “bed” is the “veil” of the Red Sea which now hid Egypt from their eyes, and the “meditation” is the “veil” of the Jordan which hid Canaan from their eyes, but was yet to be opened. Due to the fractal nature of the Bible, the allusions made possible in the arrangement of so few words is astounding. A similar “veil” allusion is found in the structure of the first century history, with the tearing of the Temple veil as the first event and the destruction and removal of the entire Temple (with Jerusalem “circumcised” like Jericho) as the second.


Maturity
Deuteronomy / Transformation – Incense Altar (Trumpets)

Because you have been (Transcendence)
my help, (Hierarchy)
in the shade (Ethics)
of your wings (Oath/Sanctions)
will I rejoice. (Succession)

  • The dual nature of the Ascension stanzas is matched chiastically by dual Maturity stanzas. Instead of land and fruit on earth, the Altar of Incense represents the holy people and spiritual fruits offered in heaven as a corroborated testimony, given by two witnesses. The name “Deuteronomy” means “second law,” and it refers to the making of a new covenant (or new tablets) made by God to replace the previous covenant which was broken.
  • David’s allusion here is to the new generation of Israel which would inherit the land, leaving their unfaithful Egyptian-hearted parents behind in the wilderness. This is why he alludes to the “wings” or “corners” of the blue-tasselled Israelite robe, given to remind the people of Israel of their obligation to keep the laws of Moses (Numbers 15:37-39). We should also remember that Saul tore a “wing” from the robe of Samuel after he was rejected as king (1 Samuel 15:27), and that David cut off a “wing” from Saul’s robe to testify of his unwillingness to seize the actual kingdom from him (1 Samuel 24:4). And of course, a Son of David would eventually rise with healing in His wings to counter the “wing of abominations” of the Herodian high priesthood (Daniel 9:27; Malachi 4:2; Matthew 9:20; 23:37-39).
  • As the Trumpets stanzas, the subjects here are a robe and a sword. God is David’s robe (priesthood) and David is the sword in God’s right hand (kingdom). The two stanzas also reflect God’s objective work in David’s life and David’s subjective “bridal” response in following God.
Follows hard (Transcendence)
my soul (Hierarchy)
after you. (Ethics)
Upholds me (Oath/Sanctions)
your right hand. (Succession)

  • David now alludes to the faithfulness of God’s “eyes,” the dual testimony of the spies Caleb and Joshua, in contrast to the “wicked congregation” whose bodies would fall in the wilderness (Numbers 14:20-38). Like them, David was on a “Covenant mission,” a chiastic there-and-back-again, and so understood the purpose of his suffering as preparation for greater authority (word), deeper worship (sacrament) and a better inheritance (government).4For more discussion on Covenant as mission, see Bible Matrix II: The Covenant Key.
  • The tenfold nature of these combined stanzas indicates that they allude to the giving of the Ten Words to Israel by Moses in Deuteronomy. In this case, each stanza works vertically from top to bottom, through odd “priestly” numbers and then even “kingly” numbers. I suggest mediating on the correspondences for a few minutes. A few I would point out are a) “nephesh” corresponds to the promise of long life in the land, b) “wings” corresponds to David’s refusal to seize the kingdom, and c) David’s refusal to use the sword to gain or keep his throne related to his desire for a pure testimony before God. The testing of Adam follows an identical pattern, but because of his failure, Adam remained under the angelic sword instead of bearing it on God’s behalf as His legal representative.5For more discussion on this arrangement of the Ten Commandments, see God-In-A-Box.
Forming
(Head – Adam – Priest)
Filling
(Body – Eve – People)
TRANSCENDENCE 1
Word from God
No false gods
“Because you have been
2
Word to God
No false oaths
“Follows hard
HIERARCHY 3
Man’s Work
Sabbath / Land
my help,
4
Father and Mother
Fruit of Land and Womb
my soul (nephesh)
ETHICS 5
No Murder
Sons of God / Knife
in the shade
6
No Adultery
Daughters of Men / Fire
after you.
SANCTIONS 7
No Theft
False Blessings
of your wings
8
No False Witness
False Curses
Upholds (holds, grasps) me
SUCCESSION 9
Coveting Shelter
Formed House
will I rejoice.”
10
Coveting the Sheltered
Filled House
your right hand.”

Conquest
Joshua / Vindication – Laver, High Priest & Sacrifices (Atonement)

TRANSCENDENCE
But those that seek (Initiation: Sacrifice Chosen – Light and Darkness)
HIERARCHY
to destroy my soul, (Delegation: Sacrifice Cut – Waters of the Abyss)
ETHICS: Priesthood
Shall go into the depths of the land. (Presentation: Sacrifice Lifted Up – Adamic Dust)
ETHICS: Kingdom
They shall fall (Purification: Holy Fire – Governing Stars Fall)
ETHICS: Prophecy
by the hand of the sword – (Transformation: Unholy Smoke – Brimstone Hosts)
OATH/SANCTIONS
A portion for jackals (Vindication: Sin Unatoned, Uncovered, Eaten by Beasts)
SUCCESSION
they shall be. (Representation: A Perpetual Testimony to God’s Wrath)

  • The reason for David’s sudden move to words of vengeance is explained by the fact that he has faithfully left vengeance to God (Deuteronomy 32:25; Romans 12:19). The judgment upon them will be “covenantal,” a “de-creation” according to the measure of the task which they were given and the Word which they have broken. The sevenfold sequence of Creation/Sacrifice structures the stanza but it is ironic. Like Jezebel in later history, David’s enemies would be food for the dogs, moreover, the dogs of the wilderness.
  • Dividing the Ethics into the Triune Office allows David to allude to past judgments by God. At Priesthood, he calls to mind the judgment of the sons of Korah who were swallowed up by the earth. At Kingdom, he alludes to the destruction of Sihon and Og, the kingly “cherubim” who guarded the lands east of the Jordan. At Prophecy, he alludes to the offering up of Jericho as an ascension (whole burnt offering) to God. Perhaps he also speaks of Saul’s threefold failure before being rejected as king: Failing to wait seven days for Samuel to offer a sacrifice (the lust of the flesh), making a rash vow that could have cost his son’s life (the lust of the eyes, 1 Samuel 14:29), and failing to execute Agag king of the Amalekites (the pride of life).

Glorification
Judges / Representation – Rest and Rule (Booths)

TRANSCENDENCE
But the king
HIERARCHY
shall rejoice in God.
ETHICS
By him (Covenant Head)
shall glory (Holy Fire)
everyone that swears. (Covenant Body)
OATH/SANCTIONS
The mouth shall be stopped
SUCCESSION
of those who speak lies.

  • Psalm 63 ends with David as the qualified, vindicated and enthroned legal representative of God. Unlike Adam, and like Jesus, he himself becomes the “Amen” for all those who follow him. Like Adam, and unlike Jesus, the liars will never be heard from again, judged by the claiming sword in the mouth of the king. It is no accident that the book of Revelation, the ultimate word on the enemies of the Son of David, follows the same pattern as this final stanza.6For more discussion, see Moses and the Revelation: Why the End of the World is not in Your Future.

For David S.


If you are new to this method of interpretation, please visit the Welcome page for some help to get you up to speed.

References   [ + ]

1. See Peter J. Leithart, Jesus as Israel: The Typological Structure of Matthew’s Gospel.
2. See Covenant Structure in Genesis 2
3. For more discussion of the significance of this event, see Stones and Fruit: Divination and Procreation.
4. For more discussion on Covenant as mission, see Bible Matrix II: The Covenant Key.
5. For more discussion on this arrangement of the Ten Commandments, see God-In-A-Box.
6. For more discussion, see Moses and the Revelation: Why the End of the World is not in Your Future.

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