The background for Psalm 34 is somewhat unintended for the reason I was drawn to this text, but it is at the very least interesting and at the most it is highly important to this particular Psalm. If you turn to Psalm 34, you will see that there is a title given, “A Psalm of David when he pretended madness before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed.” This title is not man-made, but is part of the true Hebrew text. Psalm 56 has the same incident as its background and is titled, “A Michtam of David when the Philistines captured him in Gath.”
The incident is recorded in 1 Samuel 21:10-15 and a quick summary would be:
David fled from Saul and sought refuge in Gath, but those people soon turned on David. David feared that Abimelech, king of Gath, would kill him so he pretended madness so that the king would send him away which Abimilech did.
Some time later David, by inspiration, wrote Psalm 34 in response to the narrow escape.
In v4 “All my fears” surely refers to the incident in Gath. David blesses the LORD with this song and calls the congregation to praise God with Him, yet as Psalm 1 has told us- there is much instruction in the lines of a Psalm.
Some of the teaching moments in this Psalm deal with Faith, Fear, and Familiarity.
READ Scripture- This is the Word of God
vv5-7 Exodus AllusionsA. “They looked to Him and were radiant”
a. They are the humble, those that have sought and looked to the LORD.
b. Sought/Looked are metaphors for prayer. Those who have trusted in God have been radiant as opposed to a sad countenance (ashamed). Radiant much like Moses.
c. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai he “did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with (the LORD).” Ex. 34:29
B. “The Angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him”
a. This is a reference to God’s protection and provision. God’s presence is all around those who fear Him.
b. This has special significance in reference to the Exodus as well. In Ex. 23:20ff God says, “Behold, I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared.”
c. There is also a great illustration in 2 Kings 6 of Elisha being protected by God’s angels. The Syrian King sent an army to surround the city and kill Elisha, yet Elisha could see the army of God though no one else could. Then Elisha prayed that God would show his servant that their support was greater than the Syrian forces. V17 says, “Then the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
These Exodus allusions lead us to a great statement of the Bible, “Taste and See that the LORD is good!” The humble seek and look to God thus experiencing His goodness.
Point 1: “Taste and See” = Faith
A. Taste = See = Trust = Fear // These four combine together to teach us a lesson on faith.
B. We must put our faith in God to experience His goodness. This is a beatitude- “Blessed…”
We are happy, satisfied, and to be envied when we trust in Him. Faith is so rich in experience that it is as if we have tasted His goodness and seen His goodness with our own lowly eyes.
C. Lions are mighty carnivores who easily provide for themselves, yet even if lions went hungry the people who seek the Lord will not lack any good thing!
D. Faith allows us access into the blessings of God. In this Psalm some blessings have been named: gladness, prayers heard, deliverance from fears, radiance, salvation from troubles, protection, happiness, provision, good things.
John 1:12 “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” That is faith- receiving God and His Word and also believing in His name. Then God gives us the right to become His children. Not the will of flesh or the will of man, but of God- He does these things when we simply trust.
Now we know that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge and it is a principle part of faith. The Scriptures seek to teach the fear of the LORD.
Point 2: Fear of the LORD
To Fear the LORD is to:
1. “Keep your tongue from evil, And your lips from speaking deceit.”
2. “Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it.”
A. If you seek a long life then it must be done this way. But many evil people have lived long lives. Many unbelievers have lived long lives. So it is not necessarily this way is it?
B. v12 says “that he may see good” There is a difference in living a long life and living a long life while seeing good. The good life is marked by seeking peace and pursuing it. Then good may come. It is the fear of the Lord. If you fear the LORD you will pursue peace at all times.
We have had our lesson on faith and fear, now we turn to familiarity.
Point 3: The Face of the LORD is Against Those Who Do Evil (Familiarity)A. There is obviously an intimacy that the LORD has with the righteous for the Scripture says, “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous.” BUT there is also an intimacy that God has with those whom He condemns- v16 says, “the face of the LORD is against those who do evil.” Something personal happens in judgment.
B. The Bible, especially the OT, is full of verses that express this same idea.
Proverbs 10:7 “The memory of the righteous is blessed, But the name of the wicked will rot.”
C. “To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth” = It has been said this way before,
“We can be left utterly and absolutely outside – repelled, exiled, estranged, finally and unspeakably ignored.”
D. v21b “And those who hate the righteous shall be condemned”
a. First, it is clear that there are those who hate the righteous.
John 15:18-23 “18 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He who hates Me hates My Father also.”
b. Second, it’s clear that the wicked will be condemned/destroyed by their own poison.
Psalm 37:12-15 “12 The wicked plots against the just, And gnashes at him with his teeth.
13 The Lord laughs at him, For He sees that his day is coming.
14 The wicked have drawn the sword And have bent their bow,
To cast down the poor and needy, To slay those who are of upright conduct.
15 Their sword shall enter their own heart, And their bows shall be broken.”
If something personal happens in judgment then surely there is something very personal between God and the righteous, for they are His people.
Point 4: The Eyes of the Lord are on the Righteous (Familiarity)
A. The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart And saves such as have a contrite spirit.
1. Isaiah 57:15 “For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, With him who has a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
2. Psalm 51:17 “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise.”
3. This is what Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3)
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
B. God looks sympathetically upon the humble. Those who have come to the realization that there is no escape from their own sins and they turn to God. That is poor in spirit. There is no room for arrogance or self-reliance. We must turn to God with repentance and brokenness.
Until v19 it seems that the righteous will have no problems, but now we read “many are the afflictions of the righteous.” YET the LORD delivers the righteous from them all.
“He guards all his bones; Not one of them is broken” = David uses this as a figurative expression of God’s protection and provision, but it is literally and truly fulfilled in Jesus.
Whether David knew all of the implications of what He wrote in verse 22 (by divine inspiration) I do not know, but I do know that we can read and celebrate these words with added gratitude.
“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”