Psalm 34 — Come, Rejoice, and Learn the Lord is Good

34 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: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad.

3 O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.

4 I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.

5 They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed.

6 This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.

7 The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.

8 O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.

9 O fear the Lord, ye his saints: for there is no want to them that fear him.

10 The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.

11 Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord.

12 What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good?

13 Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile.

14 Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.

15 The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.

16 The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.

17 The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles.

18 The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.

19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.

20 He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken.

21 Evil shall slay the wicked: and they that hate the righteous shall be desolate.

22 The Lord redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate.

We all learn from experience, but experience can be a difficult taskmaster. God appoints spiritual trials, and even afflictions, for our benefit and maturity. In other words, He chastens those He loves. We are weakened by our trials, but when we are weak, He is strong. We are humbled and made poor by our trials; but grace is given to the humble, while the proud press on toward perdition. They follow the common way that leads to destruction versus the straight and narrow way that leads to life. We have an invitation to praise God and learn from Him on this straight way. Our teacher is David, the anointed son of Jesse and persecuted son-in-law of King Saul. At the time he wrote Psalm 34, he was afflicted on many fronts as recorded in 1 Samuel 21:8–22:1. Life, lived the right way is not easy.

From the Cave of Adullam in the Judean Wilderness, David reflected on how everything seemed to have gone wrong. Goliath of Gath was dead, but King Saul wanted David dead. He went undercover and secured resources by deceit from the priest, Ahimelech; and then he departed to where he could evade Saul’s dogs of war. It was a bad choice to seek asylum from King Achish of Gath, the arch enemy of Israel. Therefore, David feigned insanity and escaped from the Philistines to his wilderness hideout near En Gedi.

Psalm 34 is linked to these historical events in the life of David. It offers his reflections in hymnic praise (vv. 1–10) and testimony (vv. 11–22). This wisdom Psalm displays a number of didactic techniques: an acrostic; proverbs; admonitions; etc. Plural imperative verbs highlight the call to the believing community to fear the Lord. The message is redemption for those who trust refuge in YHWH.

The historical setting offers the context of the content (Title). The date and place can be determined from the simple statement of this setting. There are thirteen Psalms with titles that explicitly claim their historical context in David’s life events. Abimelech is a title for Philistine kings, and being translated it means, “my father is king.” Some suggest the title is a later addition, but this is not necessary. If Psalm 34 is purely didactic, not historical, then the title is misplaced. We can accept the title and embrace the suggested context.

David claimed to praise YHWH without ceasing (v. 1). To bless the Lord is to ascribe one’s praise to Him. God is worthy of His peoples’ praise in all times. No doubt saints have seasons of fair weather and foul. Praise is warranted, regardless. To set the Lord before me forever includes: an imperative to pray without ceasing and a permanent practice of the presence of God. Of course, Spirit-filled believers have an Internal Friend who truly sticks closer to them than a brother. Praise is a customary work of angels reported in Scripture. Redeemed man joins in the heavenly choir of praise.

David maintained the essence of praise: boasting, and its impact on the humble (v. 2). My soul is a personal confession echoing Paul’s encouragement for Christians to boast in the Lord. David’s audience is marked by rejoicing upon hearing Gospel utterances. These are the humble poor who have learned self-less promotion of another. I will declare all your works, O God!

David invited Israel to join in making much of YHWH (v. 3). Sixteen times we observe “the Lord” replacing the divine name YHWH in Psalm 34. The call to worship YHWH is corporate. The summary of imperatives is: bless; praise; boast; magnify; and exalt His name. His name is representative of His character and the nature of His work, which are reasons to praise Him. Praise is the product of knowledge granted to us by His grace. When we grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, our praise of Him is enhanced.

David established an economic principle of fearlessness derived from prayer (v. 4). Only God’s people call upon His name for help, I sought the Lord, and He hears, answers, and delivers them. The world, ruled by the god of this world, is a frightening place. YHWH saves from all my fears. Fear is a prime motivator in human decision making. Once in awhile another motive, like greed, prevails over fear. However, if we were to generally ask, “Why do people do what they do?” The default answer is fear. Therefore, salvation from fears is one blessing from God.

David expressed some benefits for those who look to the Lord (v. 5). Moses met God face to face and he shined, and the Psalmist may be alluding to this image. For those who keep their eyes on Jesus, they looked to Him, and His Spirit shone in their hearts, and they were radiant. Paul must have glowed with a face that was never ashamed. He knew whom he believed, and he was convinced. He persuaded the Romans, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation for those who believe (Rom. 1:16).”

David preached salvation for the poor (v. 6). Poor can mean afflicted, and James warns the church that the rich often persecute the poor (James 5:1–6). Woe to the rich when the poor man cried and the Lord heard him. If YHWH hears, He saved him out of all his troubles caused by the oppression of the rich. Christians should not labor for wealth by storing up treasures on earth; but we are commanded to make friends using the mammon of unrighteousness (Lk. 16:9). In other words, invest in people and their orientation to growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

David introduced angels as protectors (v. 7). Angels are referenced three hundred times in the Bible. The angel of the Lord is referenced fifty times in the Hebrew Scriptures. The majority of the references reveal his role as a divine messenger. Zechariah 12 reveals another role as a warrior. This captain of hosts is also seen, in Joshua 5:13–15, on the banks of the Jordan and in advance of the Conquest. Those who fear Him experience the angel of the Lord as he encamps around them and rescues them. Fear, as a theme, reappears in contrast to the state of natural man (v. 4). Fears are consolidated into one fear of God. The result allows us to question with David (Ps. 23) “Whom shall I fear?”and with Paul, “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?”

David heralded an invitation to come to YHWH for protection and blessing (v. 8). Saint Columba of Scotland wrote this verse and then breathed his last breath. YHWH is good. He does not change, “O taste and see!” The church has made Eucharistic use of this verse for obvious reasons. The ashre form “blessed” (Ps. 1, 32, 33) should make us look to the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5). Psalm 34 and Matthew 5 are both addressed to the persecuted believer. Imputed righteousness invites persecution but blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.

David established another economic principle of provision for God fearers (v. 9). The direct address to His saints is a call for them to fear YHWH. Trusting God is not easy because the world promotes self-sufficiency. Casting our cares on Jesus includes our submission to His plans to set us apart, making us holy to the Lord. Protection has already been noted (v. 7), but here is provision for those who fear Him. The extent of God’s promise of provision is profound, “there is no want.” There is no prosperity gospel or theology here. With food and clothing, be content, is how Jesus viewed this; for not even the Son of Man had a place to lay his head.

David illustrated his point of divine provision for those dependent on YHWH (v. 10). Imagine the carcass of an ibex hanging in the cool of the cave. The lions outside, with a keen sense, roared at David. They too wanted him dead! Young lions do lack and suffer hunger is rich imagery to contrast God’s gracious provision for they who seek the Lord. Every good gift and every perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights, and God’s people shall not be in want of any good thing. The church in the West, gluttonous and materialistic, is poor in thinking it is rich. Its false gospel preached to the other regions of the world, “God wants you to be rich,” conflicts with the Lord Jesus’ assessment of the church at Laodicea, “…you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked (Rev. 3:17).” YHWH promises to meet our basic needs with good things. Everything else is fluffy temptation.

David moved from praise to testimony and extended an invitation for an education (v. 11). The imperative to learn is a blessing from one generation to the next. “Come, you children” is literally “sons” with the sense of students. The promise, I will teach you, is complemented with the subject matter, the fear of the Lord. Parents, your obligation to teach your children is found in Deuteronomy 6. We know the fear of the Lord from what the Bible tells us about the Lord; therefore, understand the content of your teaching is the Scriptures.

David used a rhetorical question to inquire who wanted long life (v. 12). Life, as it is in Christ Jesus, is abundant and eternal. Israel was implored to choose life, as it was found in obedience to the Law of Moses. Long life, or length of days, is good. Without exception life spans are seventy years or eighty with strength. Still, the exceptions are there in brevity and elongation. The Lord knows the number of our days; but we must live each day in a manner worthy of our calling as ambassadors for Christ in the world (2 Cor 5:20), laboring for the elect to come to salvation (2 Tim 2:10). We are preachers of good news, and there is life in our words. Preach the Word!

David warned of the dangers of deceitful speech (v. 13). He was a victim of slander from Saul’s house. Keep your tongue from evil may have been a remorseful reflection from his encounter with Ahimelech, even Achish. David had stopped trusting YHWH to deliver him. He sunk to the level of his persecutors. James wrote of the danger of misusing the tongue and the trouble caused by improper verbage (James 3).

David encouraged active avoidance of darkness and aggressive advances toward shalom (v. 14). Thus, learn to depart from evil by guarding your words; and to do good means that every intention of every word is the pursuit of peace with God and one’s neighbor. Peace is not a passive by-product of avoidance; rather, it is Christ whom we pursue in every conversation.

David emphasized YHWH’s attentive gaze and alert audio surveillance of His people (v. 15). YHWH’s eyes are on the righteous, who received imputed righteousness by His grace (Romans 4–5). The righteous suffer in an unrighteous world of sin, and they have no option but to cry into His ears. YHWH hears, answers, and delivers His people. Acts 12 provides a setting where many in the church were persecuted by Herod. Corporate prayer resulted from this persecution. YHWH heard the intercession and delivered Peter from imprisonment by the angel of the Lord.

David contrasted YHWH’s interest in the wicked and their forgotten demise (v. 16). The face of the Lord shines on believers, but it is against evildoers. Man wants to make a name for himself. He builds skyscrapers (Gen. 11) as monuments to his great achievements. The judgment of God is against the unrighteousness of the ungodly, and He cuts off the memory of them from the earth. Man is forgotten dust in a world that is doomed to pass away. The name of the Lord is a strong tower that will not pass away. We proclaim Him as we praise Him!

David noted the favorable outcome for those who call upon the Lord for deliverance (v. 17). YHWH does not just have the capacity to hear their cry; but He has the propensity to deliver them out of all their troubles. YHWH’s deliverance can look foreign to us because we do not view events from His perspective. The “all” here is comforting. The promise suggests your predicament, present and future, is already in the process of resolution. It may take a lifetime, but Jesus saves us from “all” our troubles.

David pronounced the close vicinity of YHWH to those in the depths of distress (v. 18). When we suffer in the depths of distress and despair, He is there, for the Lord is near. Where can you go and not find Him present? YHWH is omnipresent. Your situation, which makes you brokenhearted, is an invitation for Him who saves those who are crushed in spirit. Here is hope for the hopeless. The omniscience of the One who loves you guarantees His providence prevailing in your circumstances. How low can you go? Consider the cross.

David exposed the affliction/deliverance motif endured by God’s people (v. 19). Estranged from his wife, hated by his father-in-law, forsaken by his countrymen, despised by his neighbors allowed David to write, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” Suffering is natural to the Christian because we follow the Lord and join in His sufferings. We are not alone. Righteous Lot endured Sodom. Isaac suffered the well stealers. Nehemiah had Sanballat. Elijah wept alone in a mountain cave because of Jezebel. Jesus had Judas. In the world you will have troubles, but do not despair because the Lord delivers him out of them all. There again is the precious “all” that leaves our probability of deliverance at 100%. Who can lose so great a salvation when troubles and afflictions are all met with a perfect rate of deliverance?

David articulated YHWH’s preservation prowess (v. 20). Here we begin our summary close. Christians are drawn to the cross with this verse because He keeps all his bones. Jesus was mistrial-ed, mistreated, mistaken in identity, misused for political ends, but not one of them is broken. This bone imagery reminds us that we are sore afflicted in innumerable ways, brokenhearted, but somehow, He keeps us all together. We may be a pile of dry bones (Ezek 37), but we believe these can live. The Lord says so.

David explained the self-destructive economy of evildoers (v. 21). Ironic for the wicked is their downfall. We might say people who play with fire eventually get burned, for evil shall slay the wicked. The antithetical relationship between the righteous and the wicked is in view. It is the wicked who hate the righteous so to be condemned. God’s Word is ignored. God’s law is broken. God’s plan of salvation is mocked and reviled. There is now full condemnation for those outside of Christ Jesus. The wrath of God is revealed against them (Rom. 1:18), and these are reasons for their hatred toward believers. Condemnation is removed by redemption and justification. Redemption is one work of Christ on the cross. We trust in the blood of Christ.

David explained the redemptive economy for those who now have no condemnation (v. 22). Jesus is our redeemer, for the Lord redeems the soul of His servants. This is particular redemption. Universalism is rejected. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1), for none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned. We are not held in our guilt because all our sin, guilt, and shame is imputed to Christ on the cross.

In summary, we were invited to praise YHWH (vv. 1–3), and we were given a case for doing so (vv. 4–22). If we fear God, take refuge in Him who is near and who is good, then we will know His protection, provision, and preservation. In conclusion, praise to God is warranted by His character and His gracious providence in the lives of His people. I will bless the Lord at all times!

David Norczyk

Spokane Valley, Washington

June 23, 2021

Some random theologian out West somewhere, Christian writer, preacher