Background to the Psalm:
David longs for closer fellowship with the Lord, to: ‘dwell in the house of the Lord’ as it were and be in a very different situation to the one he finds himself in. There’s a sense that this is an experience that every believer may have at some point. Some have argued for this having been two Psalms which have somehow ended up together, but James Montgomery Boice points out: ‘The first half of the Psalm (vv1-6) excludes confidence. The second half (vv7-14) is a very moving prayer.’  The differing halves of the Psalm just reflect a changing mood so there’s no reason not link the two differing themes together.
The structure of the Psalm:
- David places his confidence in the Lord in each and every situation (vs1-3).
- David seeks closer fellowship with God which will act as protection for him (vs4-6).
- David seeks the Lord to intercede for him through study of his Word (vs7-12).
- David states his confidence in the Lord and urges others to have the same confidence (vs13-14).
Some obviations on the text (all quotations ESV):
The Psalm starts with two statements which, due to their nature, suggest the questions that follow them are rhetorical. The first: ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation’ (v1) makes us think of Jesus’s statement: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12). But what did David mean by it here? The answer is in what he writes next which is: ‘whom shall I fear?’ This shows his confidence in the goodness of God as he sees clarity in who God is and what he does, so how is it possible to fear? He follows this statement by stating: ‘The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?’ The beauty of this verse when coupled with Jesus’s statement is that if David has such confidence and security in the nature of God being light, how much more should we have in Jesus as he shows God’s purpose to us through his life, death and resurrection! Many times David had been in a tight corner and under threat, so he language may be poetical, but the description shows there have been times where people of evil intent had sought to do him a great deal of harm! Yet it is they who: ‘stumbled and fall’ (v2) not David!
Derek Kidner notes: ‘the singleness of purpose’ of verse 4. But how are we to understand it? My feeling is that this is not an ambition to give up his Kingship and become a priest, but rather that he’s seeking a closer relationship with the Lord. As Eric Lane points out, Psalm 23 may have been written when David was a Shepherd. But it: ‘ended with the desire to dwell in the house the Lord for ever, which no one takes to mean David aspired to the office of priest everlastingly; everyone interprets it spiritually.’  However there is a more literal meaning in David’s longing.In Psalm 42 David is desperately missing the fellowship and joy of Tabernacle worship. CS Lewis notes that very often in the Psalms for the writers: ‘Their longing to go up to Jerusalem and to “appear before the presence of God” is like a physical thirst.’ He elaborates that: ‘Lacking that encounter with Him (God), their souls are parched like a waterless countryside. They crave to be “satisfied with the pleasures” of His house.’ There was something special about Tabernacle and Temple worship which we would be rash to dismiss in the context of various Psalms. James Montgomery Boice, after highlighting CS Lewis’s views on the subject and noting Jesus’s comments in John 4:23-24, argues that: ‘There is something to be experienced of God in church that is not quite so easily experienced elsewhere. Otherwise, why have churches? If it is only instruction we need, we can get that as well by an audiotape or a book. If it is only fellowship, we can find equally well, perhaps better, in a small home gathering.’ For David, this was quality time, where he was unhurried in his meditation, prayer and fellowship.
The word: ‘For’ in verse 5 establishes a connection with David’s devotion to the Lord and his wish to spend time in the Tabernacle. God is his protection which is picked up again in the phrase: ‘he will conceal me under the cover of his tent’. The last part of the verse, and also verse 6, pictures David in an unassailable place where his enemies cannot reach him. Therefore he will worship the Lord (v6). The centrality of verse 4 is brought to the fore again as David speaks of offering sacrifices illustrating his joyful worship of God. What David infers here is that our worship is a daily and constant thing.
In the second half of the Psalm David turns to prayer. Verses 7-10 are a plea that the close relationship that David has been seeking with the Lord will continue as David seems to be experiencing some sort of opposition or difficulty. Whether verse 10 is to be taken literally seems unlikely. The prayer starts with the request that God hear him and be gracious to him. This is the right attitude to prayer and David reminds us it is only by his grace that we can approach God in prayer.
David now reminds us that any genuine meeting with God can only be found in his Word. The phrase: ‘You have said “seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.”’ (v8) illustrates David’s observance of the Law. As King, David would have had been presented with (or have copied it out for himself) a copy of the Law (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). The Law spoke to everyone in that it illustrated God’s love and devotion towards his people. So this is how David could seek the Lord’s: ‘face’ as he had an intimate knowledge of the character and nature of God.
Verse 9 indicates that David may have felt that he was subject to God’s anger or punishment. But he pledges his devotion to the Lord with the use of his word: ‘servant’. The last part of the verse illustrates the confidence that the Lord will not abandon him but rather will: ‘take me (David) in.’ So David now makes a positive request. The phrase: ‘and lead me on a level path’ (v11) illustrates that David cannot see any stability outside of God’s Law and in verse 12 we come to what is the reason for this prayer of intercession. David is suffering slanderous accusations! He seeks for God to keep a hold on him and not to give him up to his enemies. It might strike us as curious as to why David’s request to the Lord occurs here rather than at the beginning of this prayer in verse 7. Yet there is a sense this whole Psalm has been about this. David seeks the Lord’s protection and will throughout this ordeal. The lesson here is David doesn’t see it as just the Lord’s job to deliver him from his difficulties. The Lord has provided the Law, his Word, for David, so he sees as his responsibility to study it and keep it with the Lord’s help! So David now comes to a twofold conclusion. Firstly, he believes that this closer walk with God is possible in the here and now (v13). Secondly, most likely drawing on his experience from prayer, he urges others to have confidence that the Lord will answer their prayerful petitions. They are to: ‘wait for the LORD!’ and by doing so demonstrate the strength of their faith and confidence in him (v14).
David’s Christ-like example in this Psalm shows that obedience to God’s Word requires God’s help but also a great deal of our obedience. We may suffer intense opposition and the difficulties such as David did. But as David concludes, God is faithful so it is more than worth the effort!
 James Montgomery Boice, Psalms, Volume 1, Psalms 1-41, (Grand and Rapids, Baker books, 1994), 238.
 Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72, An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), 121.
 Eric Lane, Psalms 1-89, The Lord Saves (Fearn, Focus Publications, 2006) 134.
 C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (Glasgow, William Collins Sons, 1961), 47.
 Boice, Psalms Volume 1, 241.