I mentioned the last time that our services of worship always begin with a call to worship, which is a verse or short passage from the Bible which summons us to worship the Lord. And very often, the call to worship not only includes the summons to worship God, but it gives a reason or reasons for worshipping him. And I mentioned that the last time, because the last time we were studying Psalm 33 which begins with a call to worship:
Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
play skilfully and shout for joy.
And then, in the rest of that psalm, the psalmist gives us reasons to worship the Lord.
I mention that again because Psalm 34 also begins with a call to worship. In verses 1 to 3, David praises the Lord and he calls on others to exalt the Lord with him. And in the following verses, David gives a reason why they ought to praise the Lord. He tells us about a time when the Lord rescued him from danger. And so, in view of God’s mercy and help, let’s praise the Lord together.
And so, this psalm is a psalm of praise to the Lord. At least, verses 1 to 10 are a psalm of praise to the Lord. Verses 11 to 22 are different, because in those verses David teaches us. He says in verse 11:
Come, my children, listen to me.
And he goes on to teach us about the fear of the Lord and about living for the Lord.
So, this is a two-part psalm. The first part is a psalm of praise to the Lord. The second part is about living for the Lord. And, of course, those two parts are related, aren’t they? Those who have experienced God’s mercy and help not only want to praise him, but they also want to live their lives for him. And so, let’s turn to this psalm in order to study it together.
Verses 1 to 3
And so, in verses 1 to 3, David praises the Lord and calls on others to join him in exalting the Lord. ‘I will extol the Lord’, he says in verse 1. Extolling the Lord means praising the Lord. And according to verse 1, David declares he will praise the Lord at all times and his praise will always be on his lips. So, he wants to praise the Lord continually. And furthermore, he wants everyone who is afflicted to hear him. He wants the afflicted to hear, because they will learn from him that they can look to the Lord for the help they need. Those who are afflicted and troubled and in danger can listen to what David has to say about the Lord; and they too will rejoice because they will discover from David that the Lord is a God who is willing and able to deliver from trouble all those who trust in him. And so, David calls on you and me to glorify the Lord with him and to exalt his name together. In other words, let’s boast about God and his greatness and his glory.
Verses 4 to 7
That’s the call to worship. And in verses 4 to 7 David tells us why he praises the Lord. And the reason he praises the Lord is because the Lord delivered him. He says in verse 4 that he sought the Lord and the Lord answered him and delivered him from all his fears. So, there was a time when David was afraid. And at that time, he cried to the Lord for the help he needed. And the Lord not only heard him, but the Lord answered him and rescued him.
Well, we don’t need to guess what occasion David is referring to, because the title of the psalm tells us what occasion he’s referring to. The title of the psalm says: ‘Of David.’ When he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left. Do you remember this story? We read it in 1 Samuel 21. Before David became king of Israel, he had to flee from King Saul who wanted to kill him. And we read that David went to Gath, which was a Philistine city. It’s unclear why David fled to a Philistine city, but presumably he thought that he would be safe from Saul in Gath. However, the servants of the Philistine king reminded the king that David was their enemy. After all, didn’t the people of Israel use to sing: ‘Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands’? The used to sing that David had slain many more Philistines than Saul ever did. Well, this was now a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire, because while David may have escaped from Saul, he was now in greater danger from the Philistines. And so, according to 1 Samuel 21, David pretended to be insane, It says he acted like a madman, making marks on the door of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard. And the king of Gath was taken in by his act. Instead of taking vengeance on him, he drove David away. So, that’s the historical background to Psalm 34.
I should perhaps add that if you look up 1 Samuel 21 you’ll see that in 1 Samuel the king of Gath is referred to by the name Achish, whereas in Psalm 34 he’s referring to by the name Abimelech. That’s because Abimelech was a kind of official name. All the kings of the Philistines were known as Abimelech just as all the kings of Egypt were known as Pharaoh. Amimelech was his official name and Achish was his personal name.
But that’s just an aside. The point is that 1 Samuel 21 is the historical background to Psalm 34. However, Psalm 34 adds a detail which is not mentioned in 1 Samuel 21, because David tells us in Psalm 34 that not only did he pretend to be insane, but he also sought the Lord. That is, he sought the Lord’s help by praying to the Lord and crying out to the Lord to rescue him. David pretended to be insane. But at the same time, he prayed to the Lord to direct the heart of the king so that the king would decide to let David go. And the Lord heard him and answered him. Those who look to the Lord are radiant, says David in verse 5; and their faces are never covered with shame. Their faces are radiant with joy because the Lord helps those who look to him for help. This poor man called — and he’s referring to himself, isn’t he? He’s the poor man. So, David is saying:
I called; and the Lord heard me; and he saved me from all my troubles.
And then he adds in verse 7 how the angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear the Lord. In various places in the Old Testament we read about the angel of the Lord, who sometimes seems to be identical with the Lord and who sometimes seems to be distinguished from the Lord. Whether the angel of the Lord is the Lord himself or his angel, the point is that the Lord protects his people who trust in him and he delivers them. David was afraid because the Philistines knew who he was and what he had done and they were ready to kill him. And David called on the Lord for help and the Lord heard him and answered him and saved him.
Verses 8 to 10
And so, no wonder he wants to extol the Lord at all times; and no wonder he calls on others to exalt the name of the Lord with him. He wants to praise the Lord, because the Lord saved him when he was in trouble.
And having told us his own story, David goes on in verses 8 to 10 to exhort us to trust in the Lord. Taste and see that the Lord is good, he says in verse 8. You put a plate of new food in front of small children; and they’ll turn up their nose at it. Just try it, you say. Just taste it and you’ll see how good it is. You may even discover that this is the best thing you’ve ever eaten. Taste it and see! Well, taste and see that the Lord is good. In other words, trust in him and you’ll discover just how good and kind and faithful he is. But you won’t discover that about him unless you trust in him for yourself.
And blessed are those who take refuge in him. In other words, those who trust in him are filled with joy, because they discover that he is indeed a refuge and a strength and an ever-present help in time of trouble.
Fear the Lord, he says, because those who fear him lack no good thing. To help you understand what that means, think of the Pharisees and teachers of the law who came to the Lord Jesus to question him. They were proud and did not give him the honour he deserves; and they went away empty. But when others went to the Lord, humbly, confessing their need, and giving him the honour he deserves, he gave them what they needed.
Young lions may grow weak and hungry, says the psalmist, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. Well, it’s difficult to imagine a time when young lions will go hungry, because they can normally rely on their mother to feed them and to provide for them. But even if something happened so that young lions became hungry — say there was a famine in the land — nevertheless the Lord will remain faithful to his people and will provide for them.
And so, that’s the first part of the psalm. David declares how he will praise the Lord always; and he calls on others to praise the Lord with him. And he wants to praise the Lord because the Lord rescued him when he was in danger. And he invites us to trust in the Lord as well and to discover for ourselves how good and kind the Lord is.
Verses 11 to 22
In the second part of the psalm, David teaches us the fear of the Lord. Do you see that in verse 11? He means he will teach us how to live humbly before the Lord and how to live a life that is pleasing to him. So, how should we live?
Well, in verse 13 he refers to our speech: keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. So, put a guard on your mouth so that you will not say anything evil or deceitful. That’s the first thing.
And then, in verse 14, he refers to our actions: turn from evil so that you have nothing to do with it, but will run away from it whenever it appears. Just as you’ll turn away immediately from an unpleasant smell or an unpleasant sight, so you’re to turn away from whatever is evil. And instead of doing evil, you’re to do good, just like your Heavenly Father who does good to all.
And you’re to seek peace. Well, these verses are quoted by the Apostle Peter in his first letter; and when I preached on that passage I made the point that peace can be so elusive, so hard to find and so hard to keep. It’s like a wasp in the house and whenever you get close to it, it flies far away. And so you need to seek peace and purse it with determination. And you’re to do whatever is in your power to live at peace with other people, including even your enemies.
And then David encourages us by teaching us in verse 15 that the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous. That is, the eyes of the Lord are on those who seek to do what is right. And his eyes are on them in order to watch over them and to help them and to hear and answer their prayers. On the other hand, the face of the Lord is against those who do evil to cut off their memory from the earth. Whereas he watches over his people to help them, he stands opposed to his enemies who do not fear him or give him the honour he deserves. They cannot expect help from him, but the Lord’s people can look to him, because — according to verse 17 — the Lord hears them and he delivers them from all their troubles. And he’s close to the broken-hearted and he saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, David says in verse 18, but the Lord delivers them from them all. He protects his bones so that not one of them will be broken. Evil will slay the wicked, David says in verse 21, but the Lord redeems his servants. That is, the Lord delivers his servants so that they will never be condemned.
This was David’s testimony. And David was a man who had many troubles and many afflictions. You can see that for yourself if you read about him in the Old Testament, where we’re told about some of the troubles he faced. Do you remember? When he was still a young man, King Saul was against him and wanted to kill him, even though David had done nothing wrong. Then — after Saul died and David was anointed king of Judah — his rivals set up another king to oppose him. And then — after that threat was overcome and David became king of the whole of Israel — his own son, Absalom, plotted against him and David had to flee from Jerusalem for safety. His wife Michal despised him when she saw his devotion to the Lord; and a man called Shimei cursed him and hurled abuse at him whenever he was fleeing from Absalom. And, of course, throughout his life he faced the Philistines and other enemies who were against him.
David was a righteous man, a man after God’s own heart who loved the Lord and who sought to do what is right. But his life was far from being trouble-free, because it was a life filled with trouble and heart-ache and sorrow and sadness and disappointment and afflictions.
And yet, this was David’s testimony:
A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.
David could say that, because that was his own experience, because whenever he was in the city of Gath and his life was in danger, the Lord heard him and answered him and saved him.
That was David’s testimony. And it’s the testimony of all of God’s people. Our life here on earth is filled with many troubles. Most of us know that from personal experience. And if you haven’t yet learnt it from personal experience, then you will learn it from personal experience, because the world as we know it is not the way it was meant to be. After Adam and Eve sinned against the Lord in the Garden of Eden, the Lord made clear to them that life in this world will be filled with sorrow and sadness and with hardship and pain until we die and our bodies return to the dust. This is our life.
But David discovered the wonderful truth that though the righteous may have many troubles, the Lord delivers them from them all. Think about your own life and all the times you were in trouble and you wondered how you would cope and how you would manage and what would happen to you. And yet, here you are today. Here you are today, because the Lord helped you. He gave you the strength to keep going and he brought you through whatever you were facing. That’s what David discovered when he was in the city of Gath and was surrounded by his enemies. And that’s what all of God’s people discover.
And the reason we can expect good from the Lord and not evil is because of the Lord Jesus Christ, who came into the world as one of us and who did all that was necessary to make peace with God for us and for all who believe in him. We owed God a life of perfect obedience; and for us the Lord Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience. We deserved to be punished by God for our disobedience; and for us the Lord Jesus suffered the punishment we deserve. And through faith in him, we are pardoned and reconciled to God and can now expect good from the Lord and not evil. And so, when we seek his help in prayer, he hears and answers us and delivers us. When we call out to him, he hears and saves us. He encamps around us to deliver us. He’s near to us when we’re broken-hearted; and he saves us when we’re crushed in spirit. Though we will face many troubles, we can count on him to deliver us by either rescuing us from out of our troubles or by giving us the strength we need to endure them. And even those believers who faced troubles and trials and sorrow and suffering and who died, they too can testify to the fact that the Lord delivered them, because those believers who died are now with their Lord in heaven above, where they’re enjoying rest from all their troubles and everlasting peace in his presence.
All of us are sinners and we deserved to be condemned by god forever. But for those who trust in Christ, there is now no condemnation either in this life or the next, but only peace with God and the hope of everlasting life in a new and better world to come.
This is God’s promise to us, which Christ has secured for us by his life and death and resurrection. We have peace with God so that we can look to him for the help we need to face all of this life’s troubles and trials. And we have the hope of everlasting life with God in a new and better world to come. And while we go on living in this world, what should we do? Well, we should praise the Lord for his mercy and help. And we should fear the Lord, by walking humbly before him, and by keeping our tongue from evil, and by doing good and seeking peace, because this is the will of the Lord for us and for all his people.