Overview and Context
“Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! 4 Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.” (Psalm 43:3-4, ESVUK)
In the context of this passage, we are told that king David was mourning because his enemies were oppressing him, and that he was praying for deliverance from them. But then we are told something extraordinary: in the midst of tribulation and sadness, David was still able to find joy. It wasn’t a worldly joy that could be gained from spending time with loved ones, or from material possessions, but a joy that transcends anything in this world—the joy of being in God’s presence, which he leads us to by his light and truth.
What God’s Holy Hill?
When David mentioned God’s holy hill, he was referring to Zion, the location of the temple. At the time, God’s people worshipped him in his holy tabernacle, which later became the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was an important part in every Israelite’s life, since that was where they went to worship, pray, and present their offerings and sacrifices to God (Exodus 33:7-10; 1 Samuel 1:3, 9-11; Isaiah 56:7). The Lord originally commanded his people to make the sanctuary (tabernacle) so that he could dwell in their midst and lead them to the Promised Land (Exodus 25:8-9). It was a place where the people could freely access God’s presence, and spend time with him.
The Joy of Knowing and Believing in God
In this passage, David was rejoicing in that although his despair over his enemies trying to destroy him was great, the exceeding joy of God’s presence in his life was even greater. It was so great, in fact, that David could sing songs of praise to God, and play songs of worship with the lyre amidst the turmoil around him, because he knew that he could put his hope in God, who is his salvation (Psalm 43:5) (or “Saviour” in the NIV). The exceeding joy of God’s presence goes beyond human understanding—it assures us that no matter what, God loves us and is always on our side; that he is our stronghold, our shield, and our refuge. And yet this joy is only a foretaste of the infinite joy that awaits us in heaven, where we will experience the fullness of God’s presence and glory (Revelation 21:3).
Something Greater Than the Temple
The temple in Jerusalem is now destroyed. It was demolished in 70 AD during the Siege of Jerusalem. But we have something far greater than the temple. As Christians, God has made us his temple, and the Holy Spirit dwells within us (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Therefore, we always have access to God’s presence wherever we go, and in whatever situation we find ourselves in. And because we are God’s temple in which he dwells, this means that we can always experience all the good qualities within him—his love, kindness, mercy, peace, and joy. God, who is our exceeding joy, will always dwell within our hearts, and never forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
God Loves All People
God is our exceeding joy because of how much he loves and cares for us. In fact, God loves us so much that he sent his only Son, Jesus the Messiah, into the world to die for all our sins on the cross, and rose him again from the dead so that we could be sure of this (John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Although our sins have earned us nothing but God’s wrath, we now have peace with him through our faith in Jesus, and have assurance of going to heaven (Romans 5:1-2).
How to Experience God’s Exceeding Joy
When we remind ourselves of what Jesus has done for us on the cross, and how by his merits alone we have been saved and have a place with him in heaven, we experience the exceeding joy of God’s presence within us. It is a joy which assures us that God loves us, that he is with us always, and that the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). Moreover, it is a joy that we can experience continually without end, because God dwells within us, and has made us temples of the Holy Spirit, who guards our inheritance of eternal life until we gain possession of it (Ephesians 1:13-14). As believers in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, we can truly say along with king David that God is our exceeding joy, and put our hope in him.