Read: Psalm 34(title); 1 Samuel 21:10 – 22:1
The background of Psalm 34 is provided in the title given to the psalm, which refers to the time in David’s life when he fled alone to Gath and had to feign madness in order to escape being killed. The reference to “Abimelech” in the psalm’s title, rather than “Achish” is explained by the fact that “Abimelech” was the generic title of all Philistine kings (just as Pharaoh was the generic title for the kings of Egypt); Achish was the king’s given name. The post-Temple era Jewish commentary called the Midrash supplies the information that King Achish’s bodyguards were none other than the giants who were Goliath’s brothers, and that they immediately recognized the sword that David was carrying as Goliath’s, and identified David as their arch-enemy. To escape this tight spot the Midrash says that David asked the Lord for a real dose of madness, so that it would appear authentic. According to the Midrash, God not only granted David’s request for himself, He also sent bouts of madness to Achish’s wife and daughter, which created a situation in which lunatics were raving both inside and outside of the palace, which provoked Achish’s exasperated comment in 1 Samuel 21:16, and caused him to command to have David driven away. God provided several miracles to David in the course of the events in Gath: 1) the miracle of either granting temporary madness, or of making feigned madness appear as genuine; 2) the miracle of Achish’s driving David out, instead of logically taking the occasion of David’s madness as an opportunity to kill him; 3) the miracle that Goliath’s brothers (or possibly sons) did not take up their role as avengers and pursue and kill David; 4) the miracle that when David fled to the cave of Adullam his brothers and those in his father’s house heard of it and gathered there to him, so that he was no longer alone, and his career as an outlaw leader could blossom.
Matthew Henry observed that, while the psalm was inspired by a specific event, there is “little in it that is peculiar to the occasion, but that which is general, both by way of thanksgiving to God and instruction to us.”
Think About It: David’s decision to flee to Gath proved to be extremely foolish. What were the circumstances that led to this decision? What might have motivated David to flee alone into the very heart of enemy territory? What did David do subsequent to his escape from Gath, and how did that contrast to his previous decision to run away by himself? What can I learn from this event that can help me make wise decisions?
Prayer: Lord, please help me to make wise decisions, especially when I am under pressure.
Read: Psalm 34:1 – 3; Ephesians 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:18; Jeremiah 9:24; Daniel 4:37; Luke 1:46; Romans 15:6; Galatians 6:14
Reflecting on God’s miraculous intervention which allowed his escape from Gath, David responded with words of worship and praise to God. David’s worship consisted of blessing the Lord, which means giving God the credit which is His due for all the good things He has done. David’s worship consisted of a commitment to continual praise. Having just experienced God’s miraculous deliverance, David’s praise was to be expected. But David went beyond the joy of the moment and committed himself to a life of praising the Lord. David’s worship consisted of boasting in the Lord and of magnifying the Lord. The Hebrew word translated “magnify” means to grow up, or to make great. David’s praise made God’s role in things big, as in fact it was, and always is. David’s worship involved inviting others to join him. He wished for the humble to hear his praise and be glad, and he invited all of us to exalt the Lord’s name with him.
Think About It: Do I give God the credit that is due to Him for all the good He has done? Is my praise continual, moment by moment and day after day, or do I relegate praise to just those times when I become aware of receiving God’s favor? Do I make my boast in the Lord, or is my concern to take credit for myself? In my worship, do I make it clear that I appreciate the huge role God has played in my salvation? Do I join with others, and invite others to join with me, in worship?
Prayer: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12)
Read: Psalm 34:4 – 6; Luke 11:9; Exodus 34:29; Isaiah 60:5; Philippians 4:6 – 7
Having praised the Lord, David went on in Psalm 34:4 – 6 to describe how God had answered his prayers. The Lord heard him and delivered David from everything that he feared; the Lord answered David’s prayer and saved him from all his troubles. David was not just being poetic when he wrote the touching sixth verse of Psalm 34; he was referring to a time in his life when he was, as far as he knew, penniless, friendless and homeless. David’s experience with answered prayer at this time when he was bereft was the basis of his affirmation in Psalm 34:5 that those who look to the Lord will never be ashamed.
Think About It: What verbs are used to describe the actions of the supplicant in Psalm 34:4 – 6? Do I seek the Lord? Do I look to Him for help? Do I remember to cry out to Him for what I need? What verbs in Psalm 34:4 – 6 are used to describe God’s actions on behalf of those who cry to Him for help? How have I experienced assurance that God heard my prayer? When have I most recently experienced God’s answer to my prayers? What is the most memorable experience I have had of God’s delivering me from my troubles?
Prayer: I praise you, Lord, for hearing my prayers, answering my prayers, and delivering me from all my fears.
Read: Psalm 34:7 – 10; 2 Kings 6:15 – 17; Matthew 18:10; Hebrews 1:14; 13:2; 1 Peter 2:3; Psalm 23:1; Psalm 84:11; Ephesians 3:17; Philippians 4:19; 1 Timothy 6:6 – 8
David continued in Psalm 34:7 – 10 with practical instruction on the benefits of fearing the Lord. The person who fears the Lord has the benefit of angelic protection, the privilege of finding refuge in the Lord, and the assurance of God’s provision
Think About It: According to 2 Kings 6:15 – 17 and Hebrews 13:2, will I necessarily be aware of the presence of angelic protection? How do Ephesians 3:17, Philippians 4:19, and 1 Timothy 6:6 – 8 help explain what Psalm 34:10 promises? Does God promise to give me everything I want? What do I really need?
Prayer: Lord, thank You for Your protection and Your faithful provision; help me to learn to be content with what You provide.
Read: Psalm 34:11 – 14; Isaiah 1:16 – 17; 1 Peter 3:10 – 12; James 1:26, 3:5 – 8; Romans 12:18, 14:19; Hebrews 12:14
David gave a good working definition of what it means to fear the Lord in Psalm 34:11 – 14. Psalm 34:12 contains a bit of an edge: we had better learn to fear the Lord if we want to live a long time and see good. The alternative – a short and evil life — is only implied. David, who said in Psalm 34:11 that he “will teach you the fear of the Lord” went on in subsequent verses to mention three actions that express fear of the Lord.
In Psalm 34:13 he defined fear of the Lord as involving control of the tongue: keeping our tongue from speaking evil, and from deceit.
In Psalm 34:14, David defined the fear of the Lord as turning away from evil and doing good. One of the key words in the Wisdom literature of the Bible is “understanding” – (Hebrew be’nah) which means is application of knowledge by a person who stands in fear of the Lord. Understanding is action oriented: Job 28:28, “to depart from evil is understanding”; Proverbs 14:29, “he that is slow to wrath has great understanding,” Proverbs 6:32, “he that commits adultery lacks understanding.” In a more abstract sense, understanding is the capacity to do good, e.g. Psalm 147:5, “Our Lord, His understanding is infinite.” Proverbs 9:10 emphasizes that having knowledge of the Holy One IS understanding–to truly know God is to fear (stand in awe of) Him, trust Him, and obey Him.
In Psalm 34:14 David defined fear of the Lord as “seeking peace and pursuing it.”
David made it clear that “fear of the Lord” was more than feeling an emotion; it involved moral choices and outward actions.
Think About It: Based on Psalm 34:14, is it ever possible to “do evil that good may come”? What do James 1:26 and 3:5 – 8 add to my understanding of the importance of controlling my speech? Why is this a difficult thing to do? What do Matthew 5:21 – 24; Romans 12:18; 14:19; and Hebrews 12:14 add to my understanding of the importance of seeking peace and pursuing it? Is there any circumstance in my life right now where there is conflict that I need to seek to resolve?
Prayer: Lord, may my actions reflect the awe and respect that I feel for You.
Read: Psalm 34:15 – 18; 1 Peter 3:12; John 9:31; Proverbs 10:7; Jeremiah 23:30; 44:11; Psalm 124:1; Exodus 17:14
David explained in Psalm 34:15 – 18 who the Lord looks after and who the Lord is against. In Psalm 34:15, David said the Lord looks toward the righteous, and He hears their cry. In Psalm 34:17, David repeated the promise that the Lord hears when the righteous cry for help, and then added the promise that the Lord delivers them out of all their troubles. In Psalm 34:18 David said the Lord is near to the brokenhearted (the Hebrew means literally “the heart smashed into pieces”) and He saves those whose spirits are contrite or crushed. In contrast, in Psalm 34:16 David said the Lord turns His face against those who do evil and cuts off their memory from the earth. For examples of this, see Exodus 17:14 and Leviticus 20:1 – 6.
Think About It: How can I be sure that the Lord is really on my side? If the Lord is on the side of the righteous, how can I have any confidence that I am righteous enough for God to hear me and help me (Romans 1:17; 1 Corinthians 1:30)? Have I ever had my heart broken? Did I feel the nearness of the Lord at that time? If I didn’t feel His nearness, does that mean He wasn’t near to me?
Prayer: Thank You Lord, for being near to me when my heart is broken, and for saving me when my spirit is crushed.
Read: Psalm 34:19 – 22; John 16:33; 19:33, 36; 2 Timothy 3:11 – 12; Romans 8:1
David contrasted the afflictions of the righteous with the afflictions of the wicked and concluded this psalm of praise and teaching with a wonderful promise. David did not promise that the Lord’s care for the righteous meant they would never suffer affliction, but rather that the Lord would deliver the righteous from affliction and the Lord would limit the damage.
Psalm 34:20 takes a prophetic, messianic turn. John 19:36 indicates that the words of this verse were fulfilled by Jesus, who although sorely afflicted, died without having a bone broken.
In contrast to the righteous, who are delivered out of affliction, Psalm 34:21 says that when the wicked suffer affliction it causes them to perish. The wicked are further defined in Psalm 34:21 as those who hate the righteous, and their “perishing” is said to involve condemnation. It is important to distinguish between physical death and the “perishing” that involves condemnation. Everyone, righteous and unrighteous, must suffer physical death (Hebrews 9:27). Those who are in Christ by grace through faith do not face condemnation when they die, but pass into eternal life (Romans 8:1; John 11:25 – 26). Those who die apart from faith in Christ must face condemnation (John 3:18).
We see in Psalm 34 not only a prophecy fulfilled in Christ’s manner of death (Psalm 34:20), but also a foreshadowing of the gospel (Psalm 34:22).
Think About It: How do I respond when I suffer affliction? Does affliction drive me away from the Lord or draw me closer to Him?
Prayer: Lord, I pray to be delivered from affliction, but if You lead me to it, lead me through it; may it draw me closer to You.