The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Psalm 34

Psa 34:1

SUPERSCRIPTION: "OF DAVID. WHEN HE PRETENDED TO BE INSANE BEFORE ABIMELECH, WHO DROVE HIM AWAY, AND HE LEFT": David's terribly difficult time at the court of Achish (1Sa 21). David had fled Saul on the advice of Jonathan, passing through Nob where he retrieved the sword of Goliath, and finally coming to Gath. There he feigned madness, causing Achish to send him away. He then went to the cave of Adullam, where the dispossessed and discontented of Israel flowed unto him, forming the nucleus of his later army. (Psa 56, 57,142 have all been suggested as belonging to this same difficult period.) David's reliance on his own superb improvised play-acting in order to deceive Achish of Gath is not a thing to be admired. How different from the reliance upon the Lord of hosts with which he met Goliath of Gath! Amongst the men now asking that he be slain out of hand would be Goliath's four brothers. These were the more eager because David now came to Gath with Goliath's own unique sword in his hand (1Sa 21:8,9).

ABIMELECH: "But this Abimelech was king of Gath, the same with Achish, 1Sa 21:10; who either had two names; or this of Abimelech, as it should seem, was a common name to all the kings of the Philistines; see Gen 20:2; 26:8; as Pharaoh was to the Egyptian kings, and Caesar to the Roman emperors: the name signifies a 'father king', or 'my father king', or a 'royal father' " (Gill).

ACROSTICS: See Lesson, Acrostics.

PASSOVER LINKS: See vv 7,8,20,21,22.

HIS PRAISE WILL ALWAYS BE ON MY LIPS: That mouth which had dribbled spittle into his beard! The sight of the angel of the Lord (v 7) had changed his tactics (just as Peter's seeing Jesus in the court of the High Priest had changed his temporizing, deceitful tactics). "Always" is a Heb word which suggests the continual burnt-offering, a ceaseless sacrifice to the Lord. The mouth that is continually filled with praise has no room for complaining, foolish talking, jesting, gossip, or criticism (cp v 13).

Psa 34:2

MY SOUL WILL BOAST IN THE LORD: Cp Jer 9:24; 1Co 1:31. Man is not to boast in riches, strength, or honor, but only in knowing God.

LET THE AFFLICTED HEAR AND REJOICE: So glad are they, in fact, that they came to join themselves to David's cause in ever-increasing numbers (1Sa 22:1,2).

Psa 34:3

GLORIFY THE LORD WITH ME: At last David was driven out from Gath and, with so many other desperate men, took refuge in the cave of Adullam. There his first move was to lead these who now joined him in prayers of thanksgiving. This is now a very different David.

Psa 34:4

Faith in the care of God is to be built on past experience. Having learned this lesson afresh, David now seeks to inculcate it in his followers. This v implies that in the crisis of danger he had been feigning madness and praying to the Lord at the same time! "Praise God, and keep your gunpowder dry!"

Vv 4-7: How to build faith on past experience: Deu 1:31; Deu 2 (entire chapter); Deu 7:18; Mar 11:24 (which should read "Believe that you have received"); Psa 37:25; 22:4; 106:13; 2Ti 3:4,11; 2Co 1:10; Gen 50:20; 24:7; 1Sa 17:37; 2Ki 1:13; Mat 16:8,9; Mar 8:16-21.

Psa 34:5

"They looked unto him" (AV). Or, as the mg, "they flowed unto him", as in 1Sa 22:2 (sw Isa 2:2; 60:5; Jer 31:12; 51:44; Mic 4:1.)

ARE RADIANT: "And were lightened" (AV). The juxtaposition of ideas suggests the streams of light flowing forth from Moses (Exo 34:29,35) and Christ (at the Transfiguration) and Stephen (Act 6:15). The verbs here can also be read as exhortations: "Look to him and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed" (RSV; cp NEB). Perhaps also "lightened" expresses the delight of his men at the leader's return.

To look within is to be miserable (Psa 77). To look at others is to be distracted (Psa 73). But to look unto the Lord's anointed is to be "enlightened"!

"Are you radiant today? Do you hide your love for God or can your friends and co-workers see his light shining from within you? It is very easy for us to caught up in the stress of our lives and get lost in fear and insecurity. David reminds us that we should be a beacon for God's love and should be a shining light in the midst of adversity.

We are the victors. We know how the story ends! Use this day to let your light shine so that others may come to know your God" (MT).

"He who trusts in God has no need to be ashamed of his confidence; time and eternity will both justify his reliance" (CHS).

Re Christ: Cp Paul's words about the glory of God to be found (lit and fig) in the face of Jesus Christ: 2Co 3:18; 4:6.

Psa 34:6

THIS POOR MAN CALLED: And his cry was "Al Taschith", "Destroy me not" (see Psa 57 title). The abrupt change in this v to 3rd person singular suggests the poss of it being a Hezekiah addition, as in a number of other psalms of David. (Note v 7 and also that "the Lord... saved him" is the name Isaiah.)

Psa 34:7

This is parallel to Exo 12:23: the angel of Yahweh hovering over or encamping around those who fear him is Passover language. What God did for His people -- in delivering them out of Egypt -- was to be remembered, throughout all their generations, by all their descendants -- natural and spiritual! This was so they might never forget that what He had done once He could do again!

The phrase "angel of Yahweh" is used only twice in the Psalms. The other reference is Psa 35:5, an example of judgment to contrast with the mercy shown here. Compare Act 12, where an angel of Yahweh appears twice: once in mercy (vv 7-11: delivering Peter out of prison) and once in judgment (v 23: smiting the vile Herod). Angelic agency is often unseen, yet it is recognized by the eye of faith!

THE ANGEL OF THE LORD: As in Luk 22:43, and Mat 26:53, this is an allusion to the 12 legions of angels who guarded Israelite homes in Egypt on Passover night.

ENCAMPS: The Hebrew is "hanah", a military encampment, and is the root word of the place name Mahanaim (which signifies two camps). This was the site of Jacob's protection by the unseen hosts of angels (Gen 32:1,2). As the pillar of fire by night and the cloud by day, so the angel of the Lord -- a "ministering spirit" -- remains with and protects those that fear him: Mat 18:10; Heb 1:14; Psa 91:11; 103:20.

AROUND: Suggests that here angel is used as a collective noun, or that the angel signified here is the captain of a great host or company. How else could ONE angel encamp AROUND...?

"Some Psalms have hearts -- in fact, most of them have -- but in some they are quite obvious. You can almost see them steadily beating in some deeply embosomed word or in some central, power-motivated sentence. They are places to which we repair when, weary and footsore at the end of the day's pilgrimage, we seek rest and repose. Such is the seventh verse of Psalm 34, and the powerful word is 'encampeth'. It is essentially an eventide word; whether we are on a pilgrimage or on the battlefield of life, at sundown we must pitch tent... For the time being we must give in and let someone else take up the struggle. But who? After we have crept into our little tent at eventide, do we ever think of drawing back the flap and looking out again? We ought to, for there, in the far-stretching realm of the Eternal's unseen things, we should see the Angel of the Lord encamping with us. There he stands erect, sword drawn, his shining never-sleeping eyes watching" (NPH).

Psa 34:8

Should vv 8-18 be read as David's exhortation to his desperate followers joining him in the outlaw life?

TASTE: A passover allusion, to the feast itself! Sig to consider seriously and thoroughly (Rev 14:5). Adullam is noted for its springs of clear, pure water -- a welcome treat in a barren wilderness. The cave and its surroundings are a place of impressive beauty and grandeur, so that we might easily picture David gesturing about him, calling upon his men to taste and see that the Lord has been good to us in providing us safe shelter. To "taste" may also especially connote the first venture into faith, as it appears to do in both Heb 6:5 and 1Pe 2:3, with the implicit exhortation that one should progress beyond a casual sampling of God's goodness to a fuller appreciation. Cp similar ideas in Isa 55:1 and Luk 14:16,17. (But note also the warning of Heb 6:4-6 (where also note "enlightened", as in Psa 34:5.)

TAKES REFUGE: The word suits the context very well (cp v 22). How the psalms harp on this supreme virtue of faith! David might well say this, having remembered nearly too late his own extraordinary lapse from trust in God.

Psa 34:9

A "saint" is one who fears the LORD! To think that David would refer to these rough, coarse desperados by such a word!

Psa 34:10

Examples of hunger as a means of turning men back to God: Amo 4:6; Luk 15:14-16.

LIONS: David's hungry band of marauders: cp 1Ch 12:8. A very apt figure if written in the wilds of the "outback"!

THOSE WHO SEEK THE LORD LACK NO GOOD THING: "We are not to seek God for selfish ends, but in the self-effacing power of divine love. But the glorious paradox is that the more we selflessly seek God's pleasure and glory, and the less we seek our own, the more inevitably and inexorably will pleasure and glory pursue us, and force themselves upon us" (GVG).

Psa 34:11

MY CHILDREN: Sig followers or disciples (Mar 10:24; Joh 13:33). Such a form of address is at the same time affectionate and authoritative. In the words that follow is the code of conduct laid down for David's growing army.

THE FEAR OF THE LORD: Psa 111:10; Pro 1:7; 2:2-5; 8:13; 14:26,27; 15:16,33; 16:6; 19:23; 23:17.

Psa 34:12

See Lesson, Peter's use of Psa 34.

WHOEVER OF YOU LOVES LIFE: "The only hope of salvation is complete dedication of the life to God. This consists of three things:( 1) Resolute determination to learn as much as possible about God and His desires, from His Word; (2) Resolute determination to eliminate from the life everything out of harmony with God's holiness and perfection; (3) Resolute determination to do everything God desires. There will be many mistakes, and failings, and self-disappointments: but faithfully and prayerfully adhered to, this is Life" (GVG).

Psa 34:13

This expresses David's rueful repentance for the guile he employed at Nob and in Gath. Exhortation re the tongue: Jam 1:26; 3:2-10; 4:11; Pro 6:17,24; 12:13; 17:4,20; 18:21; 21:23; Tit 3:2.

"True eloquence consists in saying all that should be said, and that only."

"Isn't it surprising how many things, if not said immediately, seem not worth saying ten minutes from now?" (AL Shepard).

Psa 34:14

TURN FROM EVIL: The Lord's special appeal to Judas: "That thou doest, do quickly" (Joh 13:27) might better be translated 'That thou doest, be done with it quickly.'

SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT: " 'Peace with God': three lovely conceptions, even alone, but superlative when conjoined -- tranquility, togetherness, divinity. What higher joy? What nobler goal? Serenity, fellowship, spirituality -- man's divine heritage, his proper destiny. How sadly is the model marred, the image distorted, the likeness hideously deformed. What unclean beasts in human form are natural men. But the ideal remains, and can and will be attained by a divine few: peace with God, perfect peace, the peace of God that passeth all understanding. May we have the wisdom to lay hold upon it" (GVG).

Psa 34:16

FACE (of God): In Psalms, always ref God's presence in ark/tabernacle/temple: see VL, Psalms, God's face.

TO CUT OFF THE MEMORY OF THEM FROM THE EARTH: A further warning to Judas? And what a ct with: "Do this in remembrance of me"!

Psa 34:17

Paul quotes this v, or its repetition in v 19, in 2Ti 3:11.

Psa 34:20

HE PROTECTS (KEEPETH) ALL HIS BONES: David's bones were kept; Saul's were scattered (Psa 53:5; 1Sa 31:9-13)!

Passover allusion: These words echo the ruling about the Passover lamb: Exo 12:46; Num 9:12.

NOT ONE OF THEM WILL BE BROKEN: "Not one of them (ie all his bones) is broken." This figure of the members of Christ's body is frequent and powerful: Psa 139:16; 35:10; 6:2; 22:14. We are all one in Christ; hence v 3: "Magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together." Inconsistency with Psa 51:8 ("the bones which thou hast broken")? No! for this last v speaks of "bones" of sin broken by God.

(NT) Bones as members of a spiritual "body": 1Co 12:12-27; Eph 4:4,16; 5:30. See, of course, Joh 19:33-36 -- where Christ is the Passover lamb (Joh 1:29; 1Co 5:7) is spared the breaking of his "bones" (Exo 12:46).

Psa 34:21

EVIL WILL SLAY THE WICKED: Is this a metonymy for one of the Lord's angels of evils, the destroying angel who slew the firstborn in Egypt? Exo 12:23; note Psa 78:49 RV ("angels of evil", and context).

Psa 34:22

Why should the acrostic form of the psalm be extended by an extra v beginning with Pe (for Pesach, or Passover) except as a further reminder that this is a Passover psalm? If also this psalm was edited at the time of Hezekiah (v 6n), that v becomes esp powerful because the Assyrian army was destroyed at Passover by an angel of the Lord (Isa 37:36).

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