“Because Your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise You.” —Psalm 63:3
David wrote this song at a very difficult time in his life, when he was in the desolate wilderness of Judea. Scholars believe he most likely wrote it as he was traveling to the Jordan, forced to flee Jerusalem as his son Absalom led a revolt against him. At this point in his lengthy career, David had tasted both exhilarating highs and devastating lows. He had experienced the poverty of living in wilderness caves, as well as all the wealth and physical comforts available to a powerful king; yet he proclaims in this song that God’s steadfast love is better than life. That means ALL that this earthly life could possibly offer! He declares that this love satisfies him more deeply than the richest of foods, the most extravagant of feasts (v. 5). Can we say the same?
Perhaps we can better join David in praising the Lord’s steadfast love if we understand more fully what it means. The Hebrew word translated “steadfast love” in this verse is chesed. It is used nearly 250 times in the Old Testament, and is also translated “mercy,” “lovingkindness,” and “goodness.” None of these words fully express the meaning of chesed, however, which has no parallel word in the English language.
“Chesed is a love that cannot be sentimentalized; it has the attributes of strength, steadfastness, loyalty, and devotion that stem from a covenant between God and man…it has been described as a ‘life-long love’ that is based on a covenantal relationship—a steadfast, rock-solid faithfulness that endures to eternity.” 1
Because we serve a holy God, also implicit in that covenant is His passion for righteousness and holiness. Another commentator states, “His demand for righteousness is insistent, and it is always at the maximum intensity. The lovingkindness of God means that His mercy is greater even than that.”(emphasis mine) 2
Such a love! A love that is based not on circumstance or worthiness, but rather on God’s covenant with His children, rock-solid and eternal. A steadfast mercy that extends even past God’s demand for righteousness.
But that’s not all there is to the concept of chesed. There is also a high calling for us in the same word, seen in verses such as Hosea 6:6 where God says,
“For I desire love [chesed] and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
A covenant is a relational two-way street! It asks for steadfastness and loyalty on my part, mirroring what God has initiated. While I thank God that His covenant of chesed is not dependent on my faithfulness, nevertheless it is apparent from this verse that God also deeply desires that I show Him steadfast, loyal love—chesed—just as He lavishes it on me. Indeed, it blesses God’s heart when I delight myself in Him and hope in Him alone (Ps. 37:4, Ps. 147:10-11).
We may know and understand this truth, and yet it is sometimes hard to fully live it out in the midst of the circumstances of life that bombard us, particularly in these difficult days. How was David able to have that relational “better than life” experience with the chesed love of God, even in his worst moments?
Sometimes I get so involved with whatever I’m doing that I forget to stop and re-hydrate myself with some water. Perhaps you’ve done that, too! Suddenly I get to the end of the day and realize how parched and drained I’m feeling, and it occurs to me that I haven’t had a drink in far too long. Getting that cold bottle of water and gulping it down, relishing in the relief of thirst that it brings, is so satisfying! Interesting, isn’t it, that something that seems so colorless and tasteless can bring such life and refreshment? In the same way, we can easily become “soul-parched” through a lack of focus. The distractions of work, family, Netflix, phones…the list is endless…pull us away from the thirst-quenching joy of connecting with Jesus, which in comparison to the entertaining distractions around us may at first seem colorless or tasteless.
David had learned how to keep his focus on God, in both good and bad times; and he had learned through experience that out of all of life’s pleasures, God is the only Wellspring who can ultimately satisfy. Regardless of the demands or distractions surrounding us, we can learn the same! Francois Fenelon, a 17th century theologian, said
“The less time one has, the more carefully it should be managed…one moment will suffice to place yourself in God’s presence to love and worship Him, to offer all you are doing or bearing, and to still all your heart’s emotions at His feet.”
The more I delight myself in Him and practice immersing my thoughts in His unfailing chesed, the more I find that what once seemed “tasteless and colorless” surprisingly fulfills and satisfies, and my heart can chime in with David’s song: “Your steadfast love is truly better than life!”
“[God’s] compelling love surrounds us every minute. He’s in front of us, behind us, relentlessly pouring His love into our lives…May we pursue our God with even a fraction of the energy with which He pursues us.” —Joni Eareckson Tada