Open your Bibles to Psalm 34 for this Psalm 34 Commentary.
Psalm 34 is an acrostic praise psalm.
It’s acrostic because each new verse starts with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet – starting with Aleph and ending with Tau. But there’s actually one letter missing – the waw or what we would transliterate as “W.” And then actually the last verse starts with a pe or what we transliterate as “P.”
And Psalm 34 is a praise psalm starting with a call to praise, then moving to take the majority of its verses to give reasons that we should praise the Lord, and finally ending with a concluding praise.
What Psalm 34 also very interestingly features is a superscription that we’ll read now.
KJV Psalm 34:1 <A Psalm of David, when he changed his behaviour before Abimelech; who drove him away, and he departed.>
This was a situation in the life of David where he had just discovered with certainty Saul’s murderous intentions for him. So, he decided to flee to Gath and came before the king of Gath named Achish – Abimelech might be a title for Philistine kings – like Pharaoh was for the king of Egypt.
But when David discovered that the servants of Achish were leery of him he decided to pretend to be insane. The trick worked and he was allowed to leave.
I see this episode as not the most noble time in David’s life. He attempted to flee his own country to go over to the preeminent enemy of God’s people – the Philistines. That decision seems premature and not very well-thought out because he ends up immediately having to deceive Achish into thinking he was crazy. It’s just not a highlight of David’s life.
And yet, David is now going pen a psalm praising the Lord for this ugly situation in his life. And we too can praise the Lord – even when we remember something good he did in the midst of some really bad decision we’ve made.
And when we can do that, I think we demonstrate an appropriate amount of humility. That even when a situation make us personally look really bad – we can use it – not to glory in our shame – but to make God look as good as he truly is.
Psalm 34 Commentary Call to Praise | 1-3
So, with that, David begins his call to praise the Lord in verses 1-3.
I will bless the LORD at all times:
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul shall make her boast in the LORD:
Now, David begins by declaring his settled intention of praising the Lord for the deliverance he experienced from the Philistines.
And the focus is very much on David. Notice all of the personal pronouns – “I will bless,” “My mouth,” “My soul.”
But then the call to praise expands out to others.
the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad.
3 O magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together.
So, David expands his praise to include the humble. In other places that word is translated afflicted. He then challenges them to join in exalting and magnifying the Lord with him.
So, that’s the call to praise. David isn’t ashamed of calling on others to praise the Lord with him for a situation that does not shine an especially-positive light on him personally.
Psalm 34 Commentary Reasons to Praise | 4-21
And that leads us to verses 4-21 where David enumerates the reasons that he himself is praising the Lord – and why he’s calling on others to do the same.
Psalm 34 Commentary What God Did for Him and Others | 4-7
And for the next four verses you have David alternating what God did for him and what God does for others.
Verse 4 is what God did for David personally.
4 I sought the LORD, and he heard me,
and delivered me from all my fears.
So, David prayed and God answered. God rescued him from what he was fearing at the time – which was the Philistine king and the possibility of death at his hands. And of course, David found himself confronted by this foreign king because David was fleeing death at the hands of his own king – Saul, as well.
God delivered David from both of those fears.
So, David has spoken of what God did for him. Now, in verse 5 he expands his view to what God has done for others.
5 They looked unto him, and were lightened:
and their faces were not ashamed.
That word translated lightened is found two other times in the Old Testament. And both times it describes Israelites enjoying the blessings of God in the Millennial Kingdom of Jesus Christ.
Verse 6 is back to what God did for David personally.
6 This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him,
and saved him out of all his troubles.
And just like in verse 4 we have this reference to the Lord hearing David.
But instead of the Lord delivering David from all his fears as he said happened back in verse 4, here in verse 6 the Lord saved David from all his troubles. But the same basic idea is being communicated in those two verses.
And then finally, verse 7 goes back to what God does for not just David but all those who fear him.
7 The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him,
and delivereth them.
Interesting to note the reference to fear in verse 7. Because you remember that in verse 4 David said that God had delivered him from all his fears when David sough him. So, we see that the fear of God is a fear that we don’t want to be delivered from.
There are fears that are destructive and harmful and – frankly – ungodly. But the fear of the Lord isn’t like that. It’s clean and pure and right. God will deliver you from every fear that is inappropriate for you to have. But the fear of the Lord is one fear that no one needs to be delivered from.
And this isn’t the last reference to the fear of the Lord. We’ll see that mentioned again in verse 11 where David endeavors to teach us the fear of the Lord.
Now, who is the Angel of the Lord? He’s the one who conversed with Hagar. He prevented Abraham from actually sacrificing his son. He appeared to Moses in the burning bush. He confronted Balaam on the way to his attempt to curse Israel. He appeared to Gideon and to Samson’s parents. He’s the one who carried out God’s judgement on David’s proud sin of numbering the people. He appeared to Elijah and strengthened him. He killed 185,000 Assyrians in one night. And there are several more references to this being known as the Angel of the Lord.
He’s somewhat of a mysterious figure. But there are two facts about him that we should know. One is that he is separate from the Lord. The Lord sends him, for example.
But the other fact is that oftentimes he speaks as if he were the Lord.
And for these reasons, some have thought that he is a pre-incarnate manifestation of Jesus Christ.
So here in Psalm 34 – do people fear this Angel of the Lord – Jesus Christ, possibly – or do they just fear the Lord? I think the answer is both. To fear the Angel of the Lord is to fear the Lord. They’re that connected and inseparable.
And it’s interesting that David – who had previously had an encounter with this Angel that was very negative – remember that the Angel of the Lord was killing a lot of people in Jerusalem because of David’s sin… Well, this man who had a bad experience with this Angel – now he’s extolling this Angel’s protecting qualities.
God can be both dangerous and protective at the same time. It just depends on how we approach him and what the actions in our lives elicit from him.
Disobedience can bring fearful consequences. But trust and obedience allows us to see the Lord’s goodness.
Psalm 34 Commentary God is Good and Provides | 8-10
And that’s where David goes in verses 8 and 9. In these verses, we have David calling on his audience to trust and fear the Lord and to experience his goodness.
8 O taste and see that the LORD is good:
blessed is the man that trusteth in him.
We can note two things about that word taste. First of all, it usually is associated with food in the Old Testament. It was an action that we see associated with the manna from heaven and with honey and with other food in general.
It’s one thing to say that the Lord is good, just like saying that an apple is good without ever tasting one. But David is wanting us to go beyond that and actually experience the Lord’s goodness in our lives.
The other interesting fact about this word is that we’ve seen it in this psalm already. But it wasn’t translated as taste there. In verse 1 it was translated as behavior. David changed his behavior, we’re told. So, the word can relate to perception or sense.
So, even when David had that experience where he ended up altering his good sense to appear to be insane – he tasted and perceived God’s goodness.
And part of God’s goodness that David wants us to taste is his provision to those who fear him, according to verse 9.
9 O fear the LORD, ye his saints:
for there is no want to them that fear him.
Again we have this note of the fear of the Lord that we saw in verse 8. There, we were told that the Angel of the Lord camps around those who fear him and he delivers them. And of course, if that’s the case, then this kind of person will lack nothing.
Now, in contrast to the provision that those who fear the Lord receive from him, even the ablest predators in nature can go hungry, according to verse 10.
10 The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger:
but they that seek the LORD shall not want any good thing.
The idea is that lions are the predators that you would assume would be able to find food. They’re fierce and powerful and strong and deadly. And if they’re young then they should have even less trouble finding prey. But there are times when even these beasts can’t find anything to eat.
In contrast, the Lord’s people will not want any good thing. Why? Because we have the Lord – whom we’ve just been encouraged to taste and see that he is good. And if we do, we won’t want which is the same word in Psalm 23 – the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
Psalm 34 Commentary Wisdom | 11-21
Then it seems that David takes on the role of a wisdom teacher – sounding much like Solomon does in the book of Proverbs.
11 Come, ye children, hearken unto me:
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
Again, notice that mention of the fear of the Lord. We’ve seen it in verses 7 and 9 and now here in verse 11.
Psalm 34 Commentary What a God-Fearer is Like | 12-14
So, in verses 12-14, David decides to start teaching us the fear of the Lord by describing what a person is like who really reverences and fears displeasing the Lord.
12 What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days,
that he may see good?
And this is an invitation to us. Do we want a quality life? Do we want to prolong our days enjoying what God has given to us in this life? Do we want to be able to continue to taste and see the Lord’s goodness in this world?
If so, then David gives the following instructions to us in verses 13 and 14.
13 Keep thy tongue from evil,
and thy lips from speaking guile.
14 Depart from evil, and do good;
seek peace, and pursue it.
So, if we want a good life, fearing the Lord – these things should characterize us. Our speech needs to be above reproach. We should be engaged in good, turning from evil, and living in peace with God.
We’ll see in a moment that David testifies in verse 16 that the one who does evil will have God’s opposition. So, if you love life you won’t be engaged in that kind of activity.
And just like the Lord – whom you’ve tasted and seen to be good – and whom if you seek you won’t lack any good thing – we must do good like our good Lord.
The peace that we’re to pursue I think is speaking more of peace with God – seeking to be in harmony with God. But it probably also spills over into how we treat our neighbors.
The kind of person that is constantly at war with their neighbors and acquaintances – you typically have a hard time perceiving that man to be wise. Somehow, wisdom and fearing the Lord is going to spill over into your relationship with your acquaintances.
And this emphasis of doing good and being at peace with one’s neighbor isn’t just an Old Testament concept. The Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 3:10-12 urges Christians to be engaged in peace with their neighbors. And he urges us toward that activity so that we’ll have a good testimony before the lost and thereby glorify God our savior.
Psalm 34 Commentary God’s Posture Toward People | 15-21
Well, then from verses 15-21 David speaks of God’s posture towards two groups: the righteous and the wicked.
Psalm 34 Commentary 15-16
In verses 15 and 16 the righteous have their prayers heard by God while God is antagonistic to the wicked.
15 The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous,
and his ears are open unto their cry.
So, God’s eyes and ears are directed toward the righteous – those who fear him.
But on the other hand…
16 The face of the LORD is against them that do evil,
to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
This hearkens back to verse 14. “Depart from evil” David warned there. Now we see why. If you’re the kind of person who “does evil” – that’s you life, doing evil – then God’s posture toward you is one of antagonism and opposition.
David’s trying to teach us the fear of the Lord. Does it make you fear when you really grasp the concept that the almighty God – who created and controls everything – can be “against” you?
Psalm 34 Commentary 17-21
Well, then in verses 17-21 God is near to the righteous. He hears their prayers and delivers them from their problems.
While God will destroy the wicked – who hate the righteous.
17 The righteous cry, and the LORD heareth,
and delivereth them out of all their troubles.
So, the Lord hears the righteous just like he heard David back in verse 6. He delivers the righteous from all their troubles just like he saved David from all his troubles back in verse 6 and delivered him from all his fears back in verse 4.
And the average person reading this psalm might tend to think that the righteous are rather self-righteous. They’re good and not evil – look at how great they are. But that’s not the perception that the righteous have of themselves. Look at how these people – I trust you and me – are described internally in verse 18.
18 The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart;
and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.
God isn’t near to those who think they’re fine. He’s near to those whose hearts are broken. Our external deeds of goodness must come from a heart which knows how bad it truly is and is broken by that fact.
God doesn’t save people whose spirit is proud and lifted up and haughty. He saves those whose spirits are contrite – or another way to say that is crushed or even destroyed.
And I’m sure if that describes you and me, we tend to view these as bad things. To have a broken heart – to have a crushed spirit. Those realities don’t quite fit the peppy spirit of this age. The world wouldn’t tend to view someone with a crushed spirit and broken heart as someone who is spiritual.
And yet these qualities are those that God looks for in an individual whom he will be near to and whom he will save.
What causes these sorrowful characteristics in the life of the righteous? Verse 19 identifies it as affliction.
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous:
but the LORD delivereth him out of them all.
Being righteous and having afflictions are not incompatible realities. In fact, David testifies here that if you are righteous you are going to have afflictions. And not just some afflicitions – many afflictions.
But we can rest assured that in those afflictions you and I will see again and again the Lord delivering us from them.
20 He keepeth all his bones:
not one of them is broken.
So, the heart of the righteous is often broken with afflictions and yet it says here that his bones are not.
And John the Evangelist seems to use this verse along with verses describing the Passover lamb to speak of what happened to Jesus when the Roman soldier didn’t break his legs on the cross.
And remember the context of this verse in Psalm 34. This is what a righteous man is like and how God responds to him. Of course, there has never been any ore righteous than Jesus Christ. And so, how fitting that on the cross, God kept all of his bones and made sure that none of them was broken.
In contrast to the righteous, though, verse 21 declares God’s posture toward the wicked.
21 Evil shall slay the wicked:
and they that hate the righteous shall be desolate.
That word evil is the same word behind afflictions in verse 19. The righteous experience much evil or calamity or affliction. But they have God to deliver them. The wicked are different. They have evil or calamity or affliction too. But what they don’t have – that the righteous do – is God.
And that’s one reason they tend to hate the righteous as this verse mentions. And yet, they won’t get away with it. Because that phrase be desolate is also translated often in the KJV as guilty. They will be guilty before the Lord. The Lord isn’t ignorant of their plans against the righteous. He’ll hold them accountable.
Psalm 34 Commentary Conclusion | 22
22 The LORD redeemeth the soul of his servants:
and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate.
So, the man who tastes and sees that the Lord is good and who trusts in the Lord from verse 8 is back in view here at the end of this psalm.
And this kind of person won’t be desolate. We just saw that word in verse 21 where we considered that it can also mean guilty. Those who trust in the Lord will never be guilty before him.
So, let’s praise the Lord for his redemption of us – his servants – and the fact that we will never be viewed by him as guilty.