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Psalms Series One

Descent Into Fear

Psalm 34

Back in the days of the Roman Empire during a circus in the Coliseum, a Christian was thrown to a hungry lion. As the spectators cheered, the wild beast pounced. But the Christian quickly whispered something in the lion's ear and the beast backed away in terror. After this happened several times, the emperor sent a centurion to find out what magic spell could make a ferocious lion cower in fear. A few minutes later the guard returned and said, "The Christian whispered in the lion's ear, 'After dinner you'll be required to say a few words.'"

Afraid? It happens to all of us. This lesson we will examine one of the boldest characters of the Bible - King David - and his descent into fear. We do not normally associate David with fear; indeed, we have the impression that the heroes of old were bigger and bolder men than we. This is not so. To cite the one outstanding example, consider Elijah. Remember his encounter with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel? They scream and carry on all day. Finally (probably tired of the comedy) Elijah produces a display which brings to mind Leo Durocher's saying, "It ain't bragging if you can do it."

Remember the scene? He builds the altar and cuts the meat himself. But he gets bystanders to drench the altar in water, not once but three times. With simple dignity he calls upon the Lord - who answers with fire from heaven. Now, I think I would be very confident after that; my motto would be "fear is something I give other people." Perhaps it is to prevent such pride that Elijah is treated so meanly. What is the scorn of an angry queen to a man who can call down fire from heaven? Yet Elijah runs. And he's not the only example.

It seems, therefore, that fear besets us all, even the greatest of us. Today we will see David descending into it - the way we do. Then we will examine his conclusion about it.

{5} So David said, "Look, tomorrow is the New Moon festival, and I am supposed to dine with the king; but let me go and hide in the field until the evening of the day after tomorrow. {6} If your father misses me at all, tell him, 'David earnestly asked my permission to hurry to Bethlehem, his hometown, because an annual sacrifice is being made there for his whole clan.' {7} If he says, 'Very well,' then your servant is safe. But if he loses his temper, you can be sure that he is determined to harm me. {8} As for you, show kindness to your servant, for you have brought him into a covenant with you before the LORD. If I am guilty, then kill me yourself! Why hand me over to your father?" {9} "Never!" Jonathan said. "If I had the least inkling that my father was determined to harm you, wouldn't I tell you?" ‑‑ 1 Samuel 20:5‑9 (NIV)

Here's a common way for us to handle our fears. We lie - and get our friends to help us in it. We will handle the problem ourselves, and use the weapons of Satan to do it. A little polite deception (to save our skins, of course) - what could be wrong with that? Sometimes it's not the step we take but the path we're on that counts. David is on the wrong path, and this will become very clear very quickly. Saul reacts as Saul does; he very nearly kills Jonathan, his own son, in his rage at David. David will not trust the Lord, but rather runs away. In his flight, he advances from a polite white lie to a deliberate deception of others:

{21:1} David went to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. Ahimelech trembled when he met him, and asked, "Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?" {2} David answered Ahimelech the priest, "The king charged me with a certain matter and said to me, 'No one is to know anything about your mission and your instructions.' As for my men, I have told them to meet me at a certain place. {3} Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever you can find." {4} But the priest answered David, "I don't have any ordinary bread on hand; however, there is some consecrated bread here‑‑provided the men have kept themselves from women." {5} David replied, "Indeed women have been kept from us, as usual whenever I set out. The men's things are holy even on missions that are not holy. How much more so today!" {6} So the priest gave him the consecrated bread, since there was no bread there except the bread of the Presence that had been removed from before the LORD and replaced by hot bread on the day it was taken away. {7} Now one of Saul's servants was there that day, detained before the LORD; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul's head shepherd. {8} David asked Ahimelech, "Don't you have a spear or a sword here? I haven't brought my sword or any other weapon, because the king's business was urgent." {9} The priest replied, "The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, is here; it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you want it, take it; there is no sword here but that one." David said, "There is none like it; give it to me." ‑‑ 1 Samuel 21:1‑9 (NIV)

Ultimately this deception will cost the lives of the priest and almost all his family. Ahimelech instantly senses that something is wrong, but David does not confide in him. Instead, he lies blatantly. I wonder how much in terror this priest was (see verse 1). By his intimidation, David involves the priest in the deception. One lie leads to another, and now David is now completely set upon his course.

David now relies on the weapons of the world. He is so nervous, perhaps, that he has forgotten his sword - or perhaps it is locked up in Saul's palace. How delighted he must have been to discover Goliath's sword (fat lot of good it did Goliath!). That sword was made of iron, where Israelite swords were copper or brass or bronze. David now places his trust in Satan's methods - and discovers that there is no security there. He flees to Gath - home of Saul's (and Israel's) enemies - to King Achish. Thinking that Achish will surely grant him sanctuary (on the well know principle of caring for your enemy's enemies), he applies for asylum. But the men of the world know the men of the world - and they don't trust them:

{10} That day David fled from Saul and went to Achish king of Gath. {11} But the servants of Achish said to him, "Isn't this David, the king of the land? Isn't he the one they sing about in their dances: "'Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands'?" {12} David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath. {13} So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard. {14} Achish said to his servants, "Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? {15} Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?" ‑‑ 1 Samuel 21:10‑15 (NIV)

As Hosea puts it, "They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind." (Hosea 8:7) David has stooped to the point of drooling in his beard and acting like a lunatic. This comes from a man after God's own heart?

There is a method here. It is not often thought of, but usually recognized, that there is a difference between a conclusion of laziness and a conclusion of thoughtfulness, even when those two conclusions are the same. If I hand my children a compass and straight edge, and ask them to find a way to trisect an angle, I will likely get the answer (in ten minutes or less), "It can't be done." If I take the same problem to a professor of mathematics, I will get the answer: "It can't be done." Same answer; but the second time I believe it. I might not follow the proof on the blackboard, but I believe the answer.

David is our math professor. He has been down the road of lying to escape his fears, and he knows where it leads. Isn't it funny that the deepest lessons in our lives come from making mistakes? The things we do right don't teach us much (nor make too good a story to tell) but our mistakes speak volumes (and often, so do we.) David's road now leads him to the cave of Adullam. In that dark place, in the lonely hours of the night, David's heart turns toward his Lord. He reasons and repents, and his conclusions are put into Psalms. The result is Psalm 34. The psalm itself is an acrostic - the poetic equivalent of cross-stitch. Each verse begins with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet. It is likely that David did this to make the psalm easier to memorize. Here it is:

{34:1} Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left. I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. {2} My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. {3} Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together. {4} I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. {5} Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. {6} This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. {7} The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. {8} Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. {9} Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing. {10} The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing. {11} Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. {12} Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, {13} keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. {14} Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. {15} The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry; {16} the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. {17} The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. {18} The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. {19} A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all; {20} he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken. {21} Evil will slay the wicked; the foes of the righteous will be condemned. {22} The LORD redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him. ‑‑ Psalms 34 (NIV)

David now gives us his prescription for dealing with fear. "Here's what I should have done."

(Verses 1-3) "I should have been praising the Lord." If we continue to publicly commit ourselves to God (and encourage others to do it with us) we most naturally are less likely to abandon Him in need. More than that, however, we remind ourselves just who is in control. "Men need not so much to be taught as to be reminded."

(Verses 4-5) Lip service is not enough. We must actively seek Him. No recitation of formula prayer will be effective; our lives must be headed His way.

(Verses 6-8) Memory must be brought up. We must remember all the other times that God has delivered us (and David had plenty). A single instance may be discounted, but a lifetime of experience should not be ignored.

(Verses 9-11) A most unpopular thought this: fear the Lord. It is well for us to know who can tempt us into hell - and who will throw us there. (Luke 12:5) But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Indeed, this is so important that David tells us not only to fear Him, but pass it on to your children.

(Verses 12-14) David now gets to the root of why he's in this cave. He's been lying to duck his problems. Stop lying and do it right the first time. Courage is not the absence of fear but its conquest by love.

(Verses 15-18) You can hear his assurance: God does hear the cry of the righteous. So be righteous - and cry out.

(Verses 19-20) We are never assured of an easy, trouble free life as Christians. Indeed, just the opposite is promised. We are also assured that we will be delivered; we shall triumph.

(Verses 21-22) What goes around, comes around. The wicked get what's coming to them - usually from the rest of the wicked. Not so the righteous; they are the prize of the Lord.

The experience impressed David so much that he wrote two other Psalms in that cave (Psalms 57 and 142).

David did acrostics; I can manage but one letter. Perhaps this will make the conquest of your fears easier to memorize:

 

Psalm 34

Recite His praise (vs. 1-3)

Radiant faces seek Him (vs. 4-5)

Remember His blessings (vs. 6-8)

Recall the fear of the Lord (vs. 9-11)

Refrain from lies (vs. 12-14)

Righteously cry out to God (vs. 15-18)

Refuge is in the Lord (vs. 19-20)

Redeemed are His servants (vs. 21-22)

 

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