A Study of Psalm 63:3
“Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.”
To give thanks is the highest expression of the Christian’s life.
It certainly means that we see God’s name and God’s glory and God’s goodness in the things that pertain to our experience, whether it be as individuals, as families, or as a congregation.
Therefore to give thanks means to praise. It is impossible to give thanks truly without praise; and it is impossible to praise unless we see that God is praise-worthy.
To praise and give thanks requires a heart that is thankful in the Lord; and to really give thanks our thanks must be such, and the reason for our thanks must be such, that it excludes nothing. And the reason for our thanksgiving must be the same to all. All must be all to give thanks, if God is praise-worthy.
Our circumstance are not all alike. There is a great difference between us as we are gathered here. If the reason for our thanksgiving is to be sought in earthly things, in an abundance of food and drink and money, then there is considerable difference between us. Then some, looking merely at these things might say that they have fairly prospered, that they have been fairly successful in business, that they have done fairly well. But others would have to report that they had to be satisfied with the bare necessities of life, which perhaps came to them by way of free relief, or charity.
Yet that ought to make no difference if we are to really give thanks. Else we might as well go home. For, if the reason for our thanksgiving is to be sought merely in things, then those that have prospered will praise, and they that have not prospered will grumble. Some have enjoyed health and strength; others have been thrown upon sick beds and in hospitals, are in pain and agony. There are some who can expect nothing else but death in the near future. But that ought to make no difference. And your thanksgiving is to be real. This is to be intended, or otherwise our thanksgiving will be, in the evil sense, aristocratic. If our thanksgiving is to be real, it ought to include all. So it is with the poet. Notice the poet in the verse following our text says, “Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name,” which means, he will bless as long as he lives and in everything, in all circumstances always. Then we can always give thinks.
Our thanksgiving, if it is to have any meaning, must be a type of our everyday thanksgiving. Then we can always give thanks. And then our thanksgiving must be transcendent, it must rise above the earthly things. Our deepest reason must not be in things. It must be something that transcends the things of this present life, as the poet expresses it in the text, “Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.” Not all can say, “Because we have prosperity and health, my lips shall praise thee”; but we do say, and we will say forever, “Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.”
Theme: God’s Lovingkindness Better than Life.
1. The Fact.
2. The Experience.
3. The Reason for Praise
1. The Fact.
The text compares two things, life and lovingkindness.
It is evident that when the poet speaks of life he refers to all that is implied in this earthly life, taken by itself; for in the deepest, or highest sense, the lovingkindness of God is life. This the Dutch versification has interpreted correctly when it says, “Want beter daan dit tijdlijk leven is Uwe goedertierenheid.” That is still more plain in the original Hebrew; for there we read, “Thy lovingkindness is better than lives,” which is, it is better than all the various places of life. On the one hand, the poet looks at all that is implied in our earthly existence, our earthly life, with all its joys, its pleasures, its gladness, its heaviness, its beauty, with all its various places, with all that it offers to man who travels through life for threescore and ten years, or, if by reason of strength — fourscore years, and of which it is said that the best of them is labor and sorrow; and not only this life with its joy and pleasure, but also with its sorrows, its pains, its suffering, its agony. That life is precious to man. He will hang on to just a few days of life; and for these few days of life, of miserable life, he will pass through the severest misery and agony. Of that life the poet says, and he is comparing it by itself, that the lovingkindness of God is better. The poet for a moment separates the two. He places life on the one hand, and the lovingkindness of God on the other, and says that that lovingkindness of God is better than that life to which we hang on.
The lovingkindness of God is his mercy. The Dutch has the word, “goedertierenheid.” That is a beautiful word. God’s lovingkindness is His mercy; and God’s mercy is that He is from everlasting to everlasting filled with the desire to make His people happy. That is God’s mercy. It is the divine will to bless his people. It is the divine will to make them partakers of His own happiness, and that in the highest sense. That is God’s mercy. Therefore it is that will of God to bless. That becomes manifest in the death and resurrection of Christ, as Peter expresses it, I Pet. 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” That will to bless his people, as it became manifest in the death and resurrection of Christ, is God’s mercy. This becomes all the more merciful because His people are temporarily in misery; and this lovingkindness of God is His desire to bring his people out of that misery, and to lift them up to the highest glory.
That love, that will to bless, that desire of God to bring his people to the highest glory and perfection, is better than life, says the poet.
In the first place, it is because in the deepest sense that lovingkindness of God is life. The lovingkindness of God is for man, life. After all, to live is not to eat and to drink. A cow can do that. Life is not to move about, to walk and to talk, to be active; life is more than that. If we have nothing more than the life of which the poet is speaking, something is lacking. That life cannot satisfy the soul. Prosperity cannot satisfy the soul; it is not life. Life is that we are the objects of God grace; it is the forgiveness of sins, the adoption to children, peace, hope. That life which satisfies the soul is in the lovingkindness of God. God’s lovingkindness is better than life because, in the deepest sense, it is the source of the life that satisfies the soul.
And, in the second place, life and the lovingkindness of God cannot be separated. Lovingkindness is better because it makes of this present life a blessing, while to be without the lovingkindness of God makes of this life a curse. “The curse of the LORD is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just.” (Proverbs 3:33).
Things are after all only means, even though it is true that we have come to look at them as ends. Things are means. They are means for us to bring us unto God; and they are means for God to lead us on to glory. And, if they are not means for us to serve God, they are means for us to seek our own damnation, and for God to seal our damnation. Things are means. They are means which we use; and which, as we use them, we use under God’s demand. We use that to His glory; or if we do not use them to God’s glory, they seal our damnation. They are means which, if God uses them in his lovingkindness, are blessings; but, if He uses them in his wrath, they are a curse. The lovingkindness of God is better than life because that lovingkindness causes also the present life to be a blessing.
The lovingkindness of God is also better than life because it is constant. That lovingkindness of God is unchangeable. You can come with it to the sick and tell then the lovingkindness of God is unchangeable; and, if it is the reason for our thanksgiving, it need not make a difference. We do not have to say, “I have many reasons to be thankful,” meaning of course that we also have many reasons for which we cannot be thankful. The lovingkindness of God is constant. Things change, today we have prosperity, tomorrow we have not; and. if the reason for our thanksgiving is in things, we may be thankful today, but what are we to do tomorrow when these things slip away from us? Today we have health and strength, but tomorrow there is sickness and suffering; and, if the reason for our thanksgiving is in things, we will give thanks when we have health and strength, but what are we going to do when sickness and pain come? Things change; and there is but one thing that is transcendent, that changes not — the lovingkindness of God.
That lovingkindness of God is better than life because it is eternal. Life is not. Life is but for fifty, sixty, or seventy years. If our thanksgiving is in things, it is only for a time. I don’t say that things may not be the occasion for our thanksgiving. Certainly we give thanks and praise God for these things. But we do not find our joy in them. They are not an end for us. But if the reason for our thanksgiving is in the lovingkindness of God, it lasts forever.
2. The Experience.
And the poet looks at it also from the point of view of experience. There is a little difference between the Dutch versification and the versification as we have it in our English Psalter. The Dutch simply states it as a fact when it says, “Want beter dan dit tijdlik leven; is uwe goedertierenheid.” But our English Psalm looks at it from the point of view of experience when it says, “the lovingkindness of my God, is more than life to me.” The lovingkindness of God is always better than life; but the poet means to say that is so to me. The lovingkindness of God is better than life to me. And because that is so, therefore this entire song is a song of joy. That is what the poet says. He begins by saying, “Thou art my God, earnestly will I seek thee.” That is nothing essentially different than saying, “Thy lovingkindness is better than life to me.” The wicked do not say that. The wicked do not say, “Thou art my God, earnestly will I seek thee.” That is not the language of the wicked. That is only possible for him that says, “Thy lovingkindness is better than life to me.” It is that for me.
And then notice how the poet continues. He is in trouble. He says, “My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee.”
But under what circumstances?
In a dry and a weary land where no water is, the poet says. That was first of all literally so.
The poet was in the desert; and what does he say?
Does he say, “my soul thirsteth for prosperity?”
No he say, “My soul thirsteth for thee.” Because thy lovingkindness is better than life to me, my soul thirsteth for thee in a dry and weary land.
And then he says, “I have looked upon thee in the sanctuary, to see thy power and thy glory.” In a dry and thirsty land, the poet desires to see God’s glory because the lovingkindness of God is better than life to him. And so the poet continues and says, “My lips shall praise thee; I will bless thee while I live; I will lift up my hands in thy name — Because they lovingkindness is better than life to me.” And notice, that it is in a dry and weary land that the poet says, “MY soul shall be satisfied with marrow and fatness.” That is a different kind of marrow and fatness than the marrow and fatness of the fool who builds barns and says to his soul, “Soul thou hast much good laid up for many days.” That is a different kind of marrow and fatness from the marrow and fatness of the ungodly that says, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
But the lovingkindness of God does satisfy the soul with marrow and fatness. We don’t always experience that. Is it not true, even though the lovingkindness of God has become our experience, that we often act like the children of the world and say to our soul, “Thou hast much good?” And, if these goods are taken away from us, do we not say to our soul, “Now grumble?” It is true; and it is a shame; but it is no wonder. We have but a small beginning of that true obedience. There is so much in us that is still carnal. And when that carnal element begins to speak in us, and to dominate, we say with the wicked, “Let us eat and drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” And we do not say in such circumstances, “The lovingkindness of God is better than life to me.” We do not say that often. We only say it in principle; and it is for us a fight to say it.
It behooves us, when we come together to give thanks, that we humble ourselves and give thanks in confession of sins. And that we say, “Lord teach us to say, ‘Thy lovingkindness is better than life to me.'”
3. The Reason for Praise
And finally, notice that the poet says, “Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.”
To praise is to tell the goodness of the Lord. That is all that we can do with Him. We cannot give Him something; He is the overflowing fountain of all good. All we can do is praise Him. To praise is to say that God is good, that is, that He is the implication of all that is perfect. To praise means that we say that God is glorious in His power and wisdom, and majesty; it means that He is blessed in His mercy, and love and lovingkindness, and long-suffering. To praise means that we count the many manifestations of the lovingkindnsss of God. And that we exclude nothing. And that we tell him and others that He is good, because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.
And when the poet says, “My lips shall praise thee,” he means, his lips as the expression of the inmost heart. Mere lips work is not pleasing to God; God desires truth within. And the poet says, “My lips shall praise thee — because thy lovingkindness is better than life.” If it is not, then we cannot praise. If our rejoicing is in the things which we have, there will be grumbling, dissatisfaction. But because the lovingkindness of God is better than life, we have reason, we have the supreme reason, the constant reason, the everlasting reason, to praise. “Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.”
By Herman Hoeksema