This psalm is ascribed to David. The superscription places the setting while he was in the wilderness of Judah. During the time he fled from King Saul, David and his supporters did find refuge there. (1 Samuel 23:15-29) In the concluding verse of this psalm, however, he refers to himself as king, which would fit the time David passed through the wilderness while in flight from his son Absalom. (2 Samuel 15:14, 23)
Away from God’s representative place of dwelling, David’s thoughts centered on the Most High. His words “God, my God,” reflect a close relationship. He looked for God, seeking his favor, guidance, and protection. His “soul” or he himself thirsted for the Almighty. The thirst or intense desire for fellowship with his God was comparable to the need for water in a hot, dry desert. David’s flesh or his physical organism needed refreshment, for he spoke of it as fainting for his God, being affected as when in a dry and exhausted or thirsty land without water. The Septuagint describes the desert or wilderness land as untrodden or desolate and waterless.
Previously, the psalmist had been able to satisfy his yearning for God by going to the holy place. He could speak of beholding him, for the holy place or sanctuary was God’s representative place of dwelling. Worshipers would there praise, thank, and extol the Most High. Accordingly, through their appreciative and reverential expressions about God and his saving acts, his power and glory were seen or revealed. The Septuagint reads, “Thus in the holy place I have appeared to you to see your power and your glory.”
David highly valued his relationship with God. The Most High’s compassionate care, steadfast love, or “mercy” (LXX) were better than life. This may signify that, to the psalmist, the expressions of divine compassionate concern gave meaning to his life. He could not envision life without his God or without the awareness of his presence and concern and love for him. His deep appreciation for God’s steadfast love made him determined to praise him with his lips. Throughout his life, David resolved to bless God, always acknowledging his love and care. In an attitude of prayer, he would raise his arms with outstretched palms, like a suppliant. He would do this in God’s “name” or directed to God himself, the one bearing the name.
So greatly did David find pleasure in praising God that he spoke of his “soul” or himself as if feasting on the choicest part and fatness. Because it brought great joy to him to praise God, he spoke of the praises of his mouth as being with “joyful lips.” During the night when experiencing periods of wakefulness, David’s thoughts would focus on his God. Whenever this might be during the “watches of the night” (which watches the ancient Hebrews counted as three in a twelve-hour period), he would meditate. (See Psalm 1 regarding the term for “meditate.”) According to the Septuagint, he meditated in the early periods of the morning.
What God had done for him gave rise to his meditating. The psalmist continued, “for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I cry aloud [joyfully].” Under God’s protective care as under wings, David rejoiced exceedingly.
David’s “soul” or he himself cleaved to God, being intimately attached to him. Apparently regarding divine support, David spoke of God’s right hand or his hand of favor as supporting or upholding him.
David confidently looked to God to be delivered from the danger in which he found himself. Therefore, regarding those seeking to destroy his soul or deprive him of his life, he said that they would descend to the “depths of the earth” or the realm of the dead. They would perish by the sword, and would become the portion of “foxes” or jackals, scavengers that would feed on their carcasses.
The king (apparently referring to David), however, would rejoice in God. This joy doubtless would stem from divine deliverance. Those swearing by God, doing so in uprightness, would have reason to boast. The Hebrew verb meaning “boast” does not have an object. It may be that the boasting of the individual would be based on having done what is right when swearing truthfully (which could have included swearing allegiance to the king in God’s name). The Septuagint reads, “Everyone swearing by him will be praised.” As for those speaking falsehood or “iniquity” (LXX), which could include those swearing falsely and misrepresenting and slandering others, their mouths would be “stopped up” or silenced.