• The greatest weekend in salvation history was predicted by King David the prophet in Psalm 16 almost a thousand years before it happened. In Gethsemane we see His trust (Psalm 16:1-6); up to Gabbatha, we see him unmovable (16:7-8); at Golgotha, we see His joy (16:9a); in the “Garden Tomb,” we see Him risen (16:9b-10); and in the Glory, we see Him rejoicing (19:11)!

    Click here to download and read “PSALM 16: Gethsemane, Gabbatha, Golgotha,  the “Garden Tomb,” and the Glory.

  • Life of King David, Studies in the Book of Psalms Comments Off on PSALM 63: Longing to Worship the LORD while in the Wilderness

    by Gordon Franz


    Let’s be honest, we do not live in a perfect world, nor is our homeland Paradise. There is a Millennial Kingdom coming when King Jesus will rule from Jerusalem with justice and righteousness, but that day is still in the future. We live in the nasty, here and now where Murphy’s Law is the norm. “If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong!” This world we live in is far from perfect. It is a world where injustice is the norm and unrighteousness prevails.

    King David was in a very inhospitable environment with disastrous circumstances beyond his control when he composed Psalm 63. His son, Prince Absalom, instigated a revolt against him. King David fled eastward from Jerusalem through the Judean Desert, most likely at the end of the summer (cf. 2 Sam. 16:1). David escaped to the Levitical city of Mahanaim, in the friendlier region of Gilead on the other side of the Jordan River (2 Sam. 17:24; CBA 109).

    As we examine this psalm, we will see David’s desire to worship the Lord even though he had been cut off from access to the sanctuary in Jerusalem. He uses three metaphors from his own personal experience to convey this desire and how God might bring it to pass: (a) thirsting for the Lord in the wilderness, (b) satisfaction after a gourmet banquet in the sanctuary, and (c) following the Lord as his Shepherd and trusting in His protection so he can return to the sanctuary and worship the Lord.

    Historical and Geographical Setting
    This psalm’s superscription reads: “A psalm of David when he was in the Wilderness of Judah.” The Wilderness of Judah (Midbar Yehuda) is a specific geographical location within the tribal territory of Judah (Josh. 15:21, 33, 48, 61). It is situated to the east of the cultivated farmland of the Hill Country of Judah and slopes down to the Dead Sea with a vertical drop right before the sea. Its northern limit was the Hill Country of Ephraim, delineated by the present-day Wadi Auja to the north of Jericho, and it extended south about 96 kilometers (60 miles) to the Biblical Negev. The words wilderness and desert are used interchangeably in different translations of the Bible for the Hebrew word midbar. The same will be done In this paper.

    The Wilderness of Judah is easily distinguished on a geological map because it is composed of Senonian soft chalk. The chalk formation is not conducive to agriculture, but grass and flowers do grow there during the rainy season, thus providing food for pasturage.

    The prophet Isaiah describes the wilderness (of Judah) in his comfort passage (40:3-9). The Voice, John the Baptizer (cf. Mark 1:3, 4), was crying out: “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, because the breath [ruach = hamsin winds] of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa. 40:6-8; all quotations from Scripture are from the NKJV). Isaiah is describing the phenomenon of the hot, dry hamsin winds that blow from the Arabian Desert soon after Passover in the spring. This east wind kills all the grass and flowers very quickly. David had used a similar word picture in Psalm 103:15-17.

    Bethlehem, the hometown of David, was in the transitional zone between the agricultural land of the Hill Country of Judah and the pastures of the Wilderness of Judah. As its name, literally House of Bread, implies, there was plenty of fertile soil around Bethlehem in which to grow wheat and barley (cf. Ruth 2), and yet just to the east was the place for shepherding.

    There are three periods in David’s life when he was in the Judean Desert. For each period in the wilderness, there were important lessons for David to learn.

    For young David, the Wilderness of Judah was a place of growing and learning. While tending his family’s flock, he honed his hunting skills by killing a lion and a bear (1 Sam. 17:34-37). There was plenty of time to practice using his slingshot. His preparation paid off when he went big-game hunting in the Elah Valley and bagged the giant, Goliath. There was plenty of time to fine-tune his musical talent as well. The Lord used David’s skillful harp playing to calm the distressing spirit that possessed King Saul (1 Sam. 16:14-23). The Lord would also use David’s musical abilities to bless and instruct the souls of men and women throughout the ages as they sang his psalms, some of which were composed in the Judean Desert.

    The wilderness also afforded David solitude and quiet times to contemplate the Lord, His ways, and His attributes. At night, while tending his flock, he saw the majestic starlit sky and sang, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Ps. 19:1).

    While in the wilderness, David also learned some lessons in shepherding that would be helpful when God called David to shepherd His people Israel (2 Sam. 7:8). Yet David realized it was the Lord who was his Shepherd and He was the One who provided for David, guided, protected, and comforted him until he dwelt in the House of the Lord forever (Ps. 23). The prophet Ezekiel tells us that, in the future, a resurrected David will be the shepherd over a united Israel (34:22-25; cf. Jer. 30:9).

    The second time David spent time in the Judean Desert was during his flight from Saul (1 Sam. 19:18-27:6; CBA 92).

    The final time David was in the Judean Desert was when he fled from his son Absalom (2 Sam. 15-19). The internal evidence of Psalm 63 suggests that the historical setting for this psalm was during this flight. The psalm was composed after David had become king (63:11) and after he had seen the Ark of Covenant (63:2).

    Literary Structure
    There is no consensus among Bible teachers as to the literary structure of this psalm. For the purpose of this exposition, one phrase (actually one word in Hebrew) that repeats itself three times in this psalm will be used as the touchstone for each stanza. That phrase is “my soul” (63:1, 5, 8). The word God (Hebrew El) is found only in verses 1a and 11 and it forms an inclusio (bracket) for this psalm.

    The psalm begins with a superscription that is part of the inspired psalm and states where this psalm was composed. Unfortunately, it does not tell us the circumstance (the when), but the time frame can be discerned by examining the internal context of the psalm.

    The psalmist longs to worship the Lord in the sanctuary in Jerusalem, but he cannot, because he is in the Wilderness of Judah fleeing from those seeking to kill him. His confidence is in the steadfast, covenant love (hesed) of God, because it is better than life itself. The psalmist trusts the Lord to protect him from his enemies so that he will again be able to rejoice and praise the Lord in the sanctuary.


    David’s Declaration of Faith and His Purpose in Life. 63:1a
    David begins this psalm with a declaration of faith:

    O God, You are my God;
    Early will I seek You.

    David declares his faith in the Lord as his personal God. For David, God was not an idol of gold, silver, wood, or stone. He was the living God who acted in history and was intimately involved in David’s life. David had a personal relationship with the Lord. Today, a person can have the same personal relationship with the Lord through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Our personal relationship with the living God begins by realizing that we are sinners because we have offended a holy God. Our sin separates us from God. Yet God reached down to His creatures by sending His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to earth to live a perfect life, not sinning once, and then dying on the cross outside the walls of Jerusalem in order to be the Perfect Sacrifice to pay for all our sins. The Lord Jesus did the hard part to reconcile us to God – He died. But three days later, He was bodily resurrected from the dead to demonstrate that all sin had been paid for, Satan had been defeated, and death had been conquered. Now He offers each of us salvation as a free gift, which one can receive by simply putting one’s faith in the Lord Jesus and trusting Him alone for salvation. When a person puts his or her trust in Christ alone, he or she is born into God’s family and becomes a child of God (John 1:12).

    In this verse we also see David’s purpose and priority in life. He states: “Early will I seek You.” His purpose in life was to seek the Lord and His face. This he could do in the tent sanctuary that rested near his palace in Jerusalem. His priority was to do this early, apparently early in the morning. This passage seems to suggest that the first thing he did in the morning was to leave his palace and visit with the Lord in the tent sanctuary. This pattern can also be seen in the life of the Lord Jesus. He would rise up early in the morning for prayer (Mark 1:35).

    David’s Soul Is Thirsting for God in the Wilderness. 63:1b-4
    In the first stanza, David sings:

    My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You
    In a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.
    So I have looked for You in the sanctuary,
    To see Your power and Your glory.
    Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
    My lips shall praise You.
    Thus I will bless You while I live;
    I will lift up my hands in Your name.

    David uses hyperbolic language to describe his longing for the presence of the Lord in His sanctuary. The Judean Desert is depicted as a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. David, when he was a shepherd in the Judean Desert, knew where all the springs and waterholes were. In the summertime, even when it is extremely dry, there is water in the desert. It may be scarce, but there is water nonetheless. Yet this language expresses the fact that David is totally cut off from the Lord and His sanctuary in Jerusalem. The people with David, however, were hungry, weary, and thirsty when they got to Mahanaim (2 Sam. 17:29).

    In the rainy months (October to April), the Judean Desert gets between 100 millimeters and 350 millimeters (4-14 inches) of water. Most of the rain falls in the Hill Country; rainfall tapers off to about 100 millimeters near the Dead Sea (Rasmussen 1989: 42). There are five sources of water in the wilderness. Three of the sources are natural: rainwater, springs, and waterholes that collect run-off water. The other two sources are man-made: wells and cisterns dug by the inhabitants of the area (Hareuveni 1991:57-66).

    I have the utmost respect for the sun and dry heat in the Judean Desert in the summer. The air is so dry that your perspiration evaporates almost instantaneously, which means that one may be unaware that he is dehydrating. Therefore, it is very dangerous to be in the Wilderness of Judah without adequate water.

    The first summer I was in Israel, I experienced what David describes. Several fellow students and I walked the approximate 14 kilometers (8 ½ miles) down the Wadi Qelt from Ma’aleh Adumim to Jericho on Shabbat (the Sabbath). Each of us had brought one canteen of water. In the blazing summer heat, it was not enough. By the time we got to the oasis of Jericho, each of us had a headache and was very thirsty. I’ll tell you, freshly squeezed orange juice never tasted so good!

    Later, when I was a field-trip instructor in Israel, I always encouraged my students to drink plenty of water. I informed them that I knew where all the toilets were in Israel and would be glad to stop if they ever needed to use them. I would quip, “It is easier to stop for toilets than it is to take you to the hospital because of dehydration!” Water is essential for survival in the Judean desert. Now, when I hike in Israel during the summer months, I leave early in the morning, wear a hat, and take two or three one-and-a-half-liter bottles of water with me.

    In the second verse, David reminisces about the power and glory of God in the sanctuary. Early in his reign, after he had conquered Jerusalem, David brought the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem from Kiryat Jearim (2 Sam. 6:12-23) and placed it in a tent dwelling (2 Sam. 7:2, 6). He had the desire to build a house for the Lord, but was not allowed to build it because he was a man of war and had blood on his hands (1 Chron. 22:8; 28:3). Yet God made a covenant with David that stated that his son would build a house for the Lord and that one of his sons would sit upon the throne of David forever and ever (2 Sam. 7:12-16). After this unconditional covenant was made, David went into the tent and sat before the Lord and prayed (2 Sam. 7:18-29). More than likely, David saw the Ark of the Covenant, God’s strength and glory, on this occasion (cf. Ps. 78:60-61; 96:6; 132:8).

    When David fled from Absalom, the Levites brought the Ark of the Covenant out of Jerusalem. David insisted that they take it back. He said to Zadok: “Carry the Ark of God back into the city. If I find favor (chen) in the eyes of the LORD, He will bring me back and show me both it and His dwelling place. But if He says thus: ‘I have no delight (hephzati) in you,’ here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him” (2 Sam. 15:25-26).

    David resigned his fate to the Lord but was fully confident in His sovereignty and lovingkindness. In verse three, David declares that the LORD’s “lovingkindness is better than life.” The Hebrew word for lovingkindness is hesed and it has a powerful word picture associated with it. Like a stork (hesedu) that lovingly watches over and guards its young so the Lord is lovingly loyal to the covenants that He made with His people Israel. He is faithful to His people, even when they are not faithful to Him. He watches over His people, provides for them, and protects them because He made unconditional covenants with Abraham and David. Because he understood this important attribute of God, David said that, even with parched lips, he would praise the Lord. He blessed the Lord by lifting up his hands and would do this for the rest of his life (63:4; cf. Ps. 104:33; 146:2; 1 Tim. 2:8)

    David’s Soul Is Satisfied in the Lord as after a Gourmet Banquet. 63:5-7
    In the second stanza, David sings:

    My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
    And my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips.
    When I remember You on my bed,
    I meditate on You in the night watches.
    Because You have been my help,
    Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice.

    Although David was thirsty because of the dryness of the wilderness, he was satisfied and content because his confidence was in the Lord and His promises. As the king lay awake that night contemplating the lovingkindness of the Lord, he was reminded of the sacrifices that were offered in the sanctuary. He said he was satisfied as with “marrow and fatness,” in other words, the best and richest food. David could be contemplating a banquet in his palace, but it is more likely that he was thinking about the sacrifices in the sanctuary. The “fatness” (chlev) was the result of the pleasant Bar-B-Q aroma of burning animal fat on the altar. The Mosaic Law prohibited people from eating any fat (Lev. 7:23-25) because all the fat was for the Lord (Lev. 3:16). Don’t worry; God does not have a problem with cholesterol! We do. David’s palace was not that far away from the sanctuary, and, if the wind were blowing just right, he could smell the sweet-smelling aroma of burning fat.

    As David lay awake that night in the Plains of the Wilderness (2 Sam. 17:16) near Jericho, he was trying to sort out the day’s events. He was thankful to the Lord for His help in getting his family and followers out of Jerusalem before Absalom’s army was able to approach the city and do any harm to it. He remembered the goodness of God and meditated on the Lord Himself.

    The word meditate is the same word used in Psalm 1:2: “But his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His Law he meditates day and night.” It is in the Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy) that the Lord and His ways are revealed. The word meditate is a pastoral word that David gleaned from observing his sheep. Sheep have four stomachs. The sheep would eat the grass and flowers in the fields, and the foliage would go down into one stomach. Later, while the sheep was resting in the shade, it would regurgitate, which is the same word that is translated meditate, the foliage, chew it over again, and send it back down to another stomach.

    I am sure David had large portions of the Torah memorized so that at night he could bring to mind those passages that spoke of the Lord and apply them to his present situation. God is an avenging God. “’Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19; cf. Deut. 32:35). When David heard that Ahithophel was conspiring with Absalom, David prayed: “O Lord, I pray, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness” (2 Sam. 15:31).

    David rejoices in the shadow of God’s wings. Some commentators have suggested the wings were a reference to the cherubim above the mercy seat in the sanctuary. Moses used a similar word picture in Psalm 91:4: “He [the Almighty] shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge.” David uses this word picture in other psalms (Ps. 17:8; 36:7; 57:1). I think David’s word picture came from nature. Perhaps that evening David had seen a partridge in the wilderness gathering her young under her wings when she felt threatened by the people with David, or, in the heat of the afternoon, the young might have sought shade under their mother’s wings.

    The Lord Jesus uses a similar illustration in His Olivet Discourse. He said: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who were sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37).

    Twice in this stanza David praises the Lord with rejoicing in spite of his terrible circumstances. The Lord Jesus might have had this psalm and David’s circumstances in mind when He instructed his disciples: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12). David was a prophet (Acts 2:30). This was the same lesson that James the son of Zebedee recounted in the opening verses of his epistle: “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (1:2).

    David, as he fled over the back side of the Mount of Olives, was cursed by Shimei at Bahurim (2 Sam. 16:5-14). David’s servants wanted to behead Shimei, but David forbad them. He said: “Let him alone, and let him curse; for so the LORD has ordered him. It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing this day” (16:11-12). When the revolt was over, Shimei sought forgiveness from King David and it was granted to him (2 Sam. 19:16-23). On his deathbed, however, David instructed his son Solomon to kill Shimei (1 Kings 2:8-9). Solomon eventually carried out this instruction when Shimei reneged on an oath he had made to the Lord at Solomon’s request (1 Kings 2:36-46).

    David’s Soul Follows His Shepherd as a Defenseless Lamb. 63:8-10
    In the third stanza, David sings:

    My soul follows close behind You;
    Your right hand upholds me.
    But those who seek my life, to destroy it,
    Shall go into the lower parts of the earth.
    They shall fall by the sword;
    They shall be a portion for jackals.

    David turns to his younger days for the word picture of a defenseless lamb following close by its shepherd for protection. The right hand of God is always the hand of power and protection. David was advised by his commanders to stay within the walls of Mahanaim while they went out to fight Absalom’s army. The revolt ended with the slaughter of twenty thousand Israelites in the woods of Ephraim and the death of Absalom at the hands of Joab (2 Sam. 18:1-18, 28). The dead went into the “lower parts of the earth,” another description of Sheol, the place of the departed spirits (cf. Luke 16:19-31; Hades is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Sheol).

    The bodies of the dead were eaten by scavengers. The Hebrew word shaliem is translated foxes or jackals. In the context, jackals makes more sense because jackals are the vacuum cleaners, or scavengers, of the desert. On a number of occasions as he wandered in the Judean Desert, David would have seen dead animals. Later, when he walked past the same place, the animal carcass would be gone. Jackals had been there and cleaned up the mess, bones and all. The only thing to be seen was the jackal poop! David is saying that his enemies would not be afforded a proper burial with their families, as was the Israelite custom and practice.

    Absalom’s body, however, was placed in a pit in the forest of Ephraim and covered with a huge pile of rocks (2 Sam. 18:17). This was to keep the jackals away, but it also symbolized the death of a rebellious son who should have been stoned to death (Deut. 21:18-21).

    David’s Declaration of Praise because His Critics Are Silenced. 63:11
    David concludes this psalm by singing:

    But the king shall rejoice in God;
    Everyone who swears by Him shall glory;
    But the mouth of those who speak lies shall be stopped.

    David speaks of himself in the third person as “the king.” His victory, however, was bittersweet. The revolt had been suppressed, but his son was dead. On a personal level, David mourned the death of his son (2 Sam. 18:33-19:7), yet he says in this psalm that, because the revolt was over, the king rejoiced.

    David and his followers had sworn an oath to the Lord and were victorious because they feared Him (Deut. 6:13; 10:20). But those who had not sworn by the Lord were speechless (Ps. 38:12; 41:5-8). This is a euphemistic way of saying they died. Ahithophel hung himself and Absalom was killed by Joab and his men (2 Sam. 17:23; 18:14-15).

    Singing Psalm 63
    The songwriter David Strasser adapted the first part of this psalm in his composition of the lyrics for the song “Step by Step.”

    O God, You are my God
    And I will ever praise You!
    O God, You are my God
    And I will ever praise You!

    I will seek You in the morning,
    And I will learn to walk in Your ways.
    And step by step You’ll lead me,
    And I will follow You all of my days.

    Lessons from the Psalm for Our Daily Life
    There are several lessons that we can learn from this psalm that should encourage us in our daily walk with the Lord.

    The first lesson is set forth by the eloquent late fourth century AD preacher, John Chrysostom (“golden-mouthed”) of Antioch-on-the-Orontes, when he commented: “That it was decreed and ordained by the Primitive Fathers that no day should pass without the public singing of this psalm.” Based on the phrase, “early will I seek you” (63:1), this psalm was sung on a daily basis during the morning liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox churches. Without being legalistic or ritualistic, perhaps this practice of singing, or reading this psalm, at the beginning of our daily quiet time would sharpen our focus on the Lord in spite of any adverse circumstances in which we might find ourselves. Also, David and the Lord Jesus set apart the early morning hours for prayer and communion with the Father. We should follow their example and set apart a portion of our day for Bible reading and prayer.

    The second lesson we can learn from this psalm is that David resigned his fate to a sovereign God who was in control of the affairs of history. He was content with whatever the Lord had in store for his future; whether he lived or died he would be content because the lovingkindness of the Lord was better than life. He knew that if he died, he would be with the Lord forever. The Apostle Paul had the same attitude. When he wrote to the Philippian believers, he said: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21; cf. Acts 20:24).

    The third lesson we can learn from this psalm is that David rejoiced in the Lord in spite of his terrible circumstances. This he could do because he remembered the Lord and meditated on Him and His ways. Our contentment and joy is based on Christ’s unfailing lovingkindness and mercy toward us and is not based on our circumstances. The Lord Jesus is always faithful to us and can be trusted to get us through our difficult circumstances. Thus, we can live joyfully and triumphantly in the midst of unpleasant circumstances. We are reminded of the words of the Lord Jesus when He said to “rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (Matt. 5:12). Similarly, James tells us to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2).

    The fourth lesson to be learned is that God will eventually vindicate His children and set things in order. David was confident that those who sought his life would have a reversal of fortune and God would judge them. This lesson is probably the most difficult to learn because we have no control over our future. We see Christians being martyred for the cause of Christ, and God does not seem to act on their behalf. Ultimately, God will set things in order, if not in this life, then He will do so in the future. For those who are martyred, there is the crown of life (James 1:12; Rev. 2:10).

    The final and probably most important lesson for the believer in the Lord Jesus who is walking close to the Lord is that there is no spiritual refreshment to be gained from watching most of the popular television shows or movies, listening to contemporary secular music, or even reading the latest fiction book if it is devoid of spiritual content and Biblical truth. Refreshment and satisfaction for the soul are found only in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in the Word of God. It is only when we are content and refreshed that we can come together corporately to truly worship and sing praises to the Lord Jesus Christ. Our sole focus must be on Him.

    Works Consulted

    Aharoni, Yohanan; Avi-Yonah, Michael; Rainey, Anson; and Safrai, Ze’ev
    2002    The Carta Bible Atlas. Jerusalem: Carta [abbreviated as CBA].

    Cerosko, Anthony
    1980    A Note on Psalm 63: A Psalm of Vigil. Zeitschrift fur die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 92: 435-436.

    Cohen, A.
    1974    The Psalms. London: Soncino. 11th Impression.

    Delitzsch, F.
    1973    Commentary on the Old Testament. Psalms. Vol. 5. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.

    Har-el, Menashe
    2003    Landscape, Nature, and Man in the Bible. Jerusalem: Carta.

    Hareuveni, Nogah
    1991    Desert and Shepherd in Our Biblical Heritage. Lod: Neot Kedumim.

    Kidner, Derek
    1973    Psalm 1-72. An Introduction and Commentary on Books 1and 2 of the Psalms. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity.

    Kissane, Edward
    1953   The Book of Psalms. Vol. 1. Dublin: Browne and Nolan.

    Perowne, J. J. Stewart
    1976    The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

    Rasmussen, Carl
    1989    Zondervan NIV Atlas of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

    Tate, Marvin
    1990    Word Biblical Commentary. Psalms 51-100. Vol. 20. Dallas, TX: Word.

    Van Gemeren, Willem
    1991    Psalms. Pp. 3-880 in Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Vol. 5. Edited by F. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

  • Life of King David Comments Off on THE LORD IS MY MASADA

    by Gordon Franz

    I should preface my comments about the passages on Masada in the psalms by recounting a story.  While teaching at the Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem, I was invited to speak to a Christian tour group in one of the local hotels.  The tour host never took his groups to Masada because, as he put it, “The site is post-resurrection [of Jesus], thus unimportant.”  One elderly lady in the group asked me quite piously and condescendingly, “You don’t take your groups to Masada, do you?”  I knew where that question was coming from.  I smiled and said, “Of course I do, it’s a very important Biblical site.  King David visited the site on at least three occasions and composed several psalms that mention Masada!”  The shocked look on her face was one of those priceless Kodak moments! J  She told the group leader of our conversation.  He examined the passages and from that point on, he took his groups to Masada.

    David at Masada

    The word “Masada” in the Hebrew Bible is generally translated “stronghold” or “fortress” in the English Bibles.  The French geographer, F. M. Abel, associates Masada with this Hebrew word (1938:2:380).  David visited the site on at least three occasions.  The first time he saw it was when he was fleeing from Saul.  After his family joined him in the cave of Adullam (I Sam. 22:1, 2), David decided to take them to the Land of Moab and ask the king of Moab to let them stay under his protection in his land.  David and his entourage would have gone past Masada as they forded the Dead Sea at the Lisan (“tongue”).

    As David passed by, he would have noted the strategic and military value of Masada.  The mountain plateau was situated 360 meters above the plain floor on the southeastern edge of the Wilderness of Judah, opposite the Lisan of the Dead Sea.  Strategically, from the top of the site, David would have a commanding view of the Dead Sea region and the eastern slopes of the Wilderness of Judah.  If there was any large troop movement by Saul, or even the Philistines, he could quickly escape across the Lisan to Moab.  Militarily, he also noticed the site had steep sides all around it with only one accessible path to the top on the eastern side of the mountain, today called the “Snake Path.”  It was easily defensible from any attackers because of its elevation and the single path to the top.  The defenders on top could easily roll down boulders of rocks to stop any attackers.

    David made good on his observations and stayed at the “stronghold” (Masada) after he left his parents in Moab.  As long as there was water on top of the mountain, David felt safe and secure and did not want to leave.  It was not until the prophet Gad came and told David to leave, that he left for the Forest of Hereth in the Land of Judah (I Sam. 22:4, 5).

    The second time David and his men went to Masada was after he spared Saul’s life at Ein Gedi.  The Bible says, “And Saul went home, and David and his men went up to the stronghold” (I Sam. 24:22).  Here was the “parting of the ways” between Saul and David.  Saul goes northwest, back to his palace at Gibeah of Saul, and David goes south to the stronghold situated 18 km to the south of Ein Gedi.

    The third time we know of David at Masada is after he was anointed king of all Israel in Hebron.  The Bible says, “All the Philistines went up to search for David.  And David heard of it and went down to the stronghold” (II Sam. 5:17).  Notice the topographical indicators in this passage.  Hebron (Tel Rumeida) is situated 944 meters above sea level.  The base of Masada is 300 meters below sea level.  David literally went down to Masada.

    Masada was extensively excavated by Professor Yigael Yadin in the early 1960’s.  Most of the excavations concentrated on the Early Roman period remains built by Herod the Great and used by the Sicarii at the end of the First Jewish Revolt in AD 73.  Yadin, however, also found 10th century BC, Iron Age pottery scattered on the surface (1966:202).  Perhaps some of the 10th century pottery was left by David and his men.  Yadin, however, is unconvinced by this idea (1965:115).  One of his field supervisors, on the other hand, considers the possibility that David and his men did stay at Masada (Meshel 1998: 48; Yadin 1966: 6).

    Masada in the Book of Psalms
    David composed at least four psalms in which he mentions Masada.  The first psalm is Psalm 18.  This psalm was written on the “day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul” (18: superscription).  In it he sings, “I will love You, O LORD, my strength.  The LORD is my rock and my fortress (Masada) and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold (lit. “high tower”)” (18:1, 2; see also II Sam. 22:2-3).

    The second psalm is Psalm 31.  Again David sings, “In You, O LORD, I put my trust; Let me never be ashamed; Deliver me in your righteousness.  Bow down Your ear to me, Deliver me speedily; Be my rock of refuge, a fortress (Masada) of defense to save me.  For you are my rock and my fortress (Masada); Therefore, for Your name’s sake, Lead me and guide me” (31:1-3).

    The Hebrew word “Masada” is also used in Psalm 66:11 and is translated into English as “net” (NKJV; NASB) or “prison” (NIV).

    The third psalm that uses Masada is Psalm 71.  It is uninscribed, but most likely written by David.  In it he sings: “In You, O LORD, I put my trust; Let me never be put to shame. … Be my strong refuge, To which I may resort continually; You have given the commandment to save me, For you are my rock and my fortress (Masada)” (71:1, 3).

    The fourth psalm composed by David that mentioned Masada is Psalm 144.  In this psalm he sang: “Blessed be the LORD my Rock, Who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle –  My loving-kindness and my fortress (Masada), My high tower and my deliverer, My shield and the One in whom I take refuge, Who subdues my people under me” (144:1, 2).

    One other psalm mentions a “stronghold.”  Psalm 91 is uninscribed, but some commentators attribute it to Moses and suggest it is a continuation of Psalm 90.  The superscription of that psalm says: “A Prayer of Moses the man of God.”  In Psalm 91 it starts out: “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress (Masada), My God, in Him I will trust” (91:1, 2).

    This would have been a psalm David knew by heart.  He understood theologically that the LORD was his fortress / stronghold and his trust was in God.  Perhaps when he saw Masada for the first time, it reminded him of the Lord.  After staying there on several occasions, he came to realize, as secure as this rocky plateau may seem, the Lord truly was his Masada!


    Abel, F. M.
    1967    Geographie de la Palestine.  Vol. 2.  Paris: Librairie Lecoffre.

    Meshel, Ze’ev
    1998    Governments-in-Exile.  Biblical Archaeology Review 24/6: 46-53, 68.

    Yadin, Yigael
    1965    The Excavation of Masada 1963/64. Israel Exploration Journal 15/1-2: 1-120.

    1966    Masada.  Herods Fortress and the Zealots Last Stand.  Jerusalem: Steimatzky.  Reprinted 1984.

  • Life of King David Comments Off on Mephibosheth: An Overcomers Forerunner

    By Gordon Franz

    This “testimony” of Mephibosheth was written for the Winter 1985 issue of The Overcomer a periodical of the Christian Overcomers of NJ, an organization serving physically disabled youth and adults.

    Thank you for allowing me to share my testimony with you this evening. As some of you noticed, I came to this banquet in a special chariot (archaeological note: this was the ancient forerunner to the wheelchair!). For thirty-six years I have had to get around in this or on the back of a donkey, depending on the roads.

    My life had a storybook beginning. When I was born, I was a healthy and happy baby. My dad was crown prince and my grandfather, king of the nation. They named me Merib-baal (“contender against Baal”) because they wanted me to grow up to love the LORD God of Israel and fight against Baal, a false god of our Canaanite and Philistine neighbors. What more could I ask for? I had everything going for me, the future looked bright! Yet one day double tragedy struck.

    The first tragedy was that my father, Prince Jonathan, and two of my uncles were killed in a battle with the Philistines on Mount Gilboa (I Sam. 31:2). During the same battle my grandfather, King Saul, committed suicide and soon after the Philistines mutilated his body (I Sam. 31:4, 9, 10).

    The second tragedy occurred when news of the defeat reached the palace. My nurse picked me up and started to flee but accidentally dropped me, leading to a paralysis of the lower legs. The doctors did all they could, but to no avail. The diagnosis was permanent paralysis. I would never walk again! (II Sam. 4:4). Emotionally, this was a very trying time for me, even at the tender age of five years old. My life was changed. I was different than other children my age.

    The next few years were the most difficult for me. My uncle, Ishbosheth, did not want me around while he struggled with my father’s best friend David for the throne. I think he felt threatened that someone might want to make me king instead of him. I was sent off to live with a family in Lo-Debar. Some of you know about that place. No respectable person in his right mind would want to live there! The city is situated in the Jordan Valley which is unbelievably hot in the summer; there is no pasture land anywhere, hence its name. It is only eight miles from the Philistine stronghold of Beth-shan! Talk about living conditions, it was unbearable! During the summers, I would often dream and long for the cool breeze that floated through the palace of Gibeah in the Hill Country of Benjamin. All the talk of royalty was over after the “high society” people sent me off to the middle of nowhere.

    Well, it was not all that bad. I did meet a very caring young lady and we got married. (Historical note: they married in their early teens back then). The LORD blessed us with a son, Micha, whose name means “Who is like the LORD” (II Sam. 9:12).

    Toward the end of my teenage years the isolation I experienced and my struggles took a dramatic turn for the better. By this time, King David secured the throne, consolidated the kingdom and built a lovely palace in his new capital Jerusalem. He inquired as to whether any relatives of my grandfather were still alive. He wanted to show them kindness for the sake of my father. A former servant named Ziba told him of my whereabouts and condition.

    I was very thankful for David’s attitude and the way he treated me. First, he reached out to me and accepted me for who I was, not what I was. He saw me as a person, not a problem and welcomed me to his family with open arms. Second, David did not pamper me or spoil me even though I ate at his table. He gave me the responsibility of administering the land and servants that formally belonged to my grandfather. To this day, I am an active contributing member of this society (II Sam. 9).

    Some of you are probably wondering how I got my nickname “Mephibosheth” which means “exterminating the idols.” After I settled in Jerusalem, I got involved in spiritual things. I could not move fast, but I could move, so I would go around smashing idols of Baal and other pagan gods which were in the shrines on the hill tops in the kingdom. Then I would try and turn the hearts of the people back to the Lord God of Israel (Deut. 11:8-32). Mind you, I had the full backing and blessing of the king when I did this. My paralysis slowed me down, but did not stop me. I am still involved in the work of the Lord, even with my handicap.

    I would like to close with the words of a song with which you are all familiar. It was written by King David when he fled from his rebellious son Absalom. Humanly speaking, David has lost everything. I think we can all relate to that experience sometime in our life. Through the trying time, David could still say:

    The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

    He makes me to lie down in green pastures;

    He leads me beside still waters.

    He restores my soul;

    He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

    Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

    I will fear no evil; for You are with me;

    Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

    You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

    You anoint my head with oil; My cups runs over.

    Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;

    And I will dwell in the House of the LORD forever.


Recent Comments

  • Nicely done Gordon! At last, a place to send people who are...
  • It's incredible how Mr Cornuke keeps finding things in the w...
  • Obviously Mr.Cornuke hasn't studied Torah or the Bible very ...
  • Thanks for this cogent and concise summary, Gordon. The body...
  • Gordon, You did an excellent work to support the traditiona...