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Psalms Series Two

Teaching the Young

Psalm  34

Lesson audio

One particular type of Psalm is called Didactic – which is to say, a teaching Psalm. Here is an example of that type. It is specifically designed to be instructional and easy to memorize – at least in Hebrew.

Magnify the Lord

First, a little background. This Psalm has 22 verses, the same number as the letters in the Hebrew alphabet. In Hebrew, it is an acrostic. Each verse starts with the next letter in the alphabet, which is an aid to memorization. That’s one reason it’s classified as didactic; it was intended to be memorized by children.

The background of the Psalm is noted at the top. Briefly, it is a Psalm about the lessons David learned from his brief sojourn with King Acish. David was running away from Saul. He stops on the way to obtain Goliath’s sword from the high priest, and figures he will present himself and his services to the enemy of his enemy, Acish. That’s David relying on the world’s methods, not God. Acish’s lieutenants are not fooled and insist that David must go. In terror, David feigns insanity. It’s a narrow escape.

Incidentally, you will see that the king in question is named Abimelech. Some have thought that this is a scribal error; others note that the word “Abimelech” means “father of the king.” It then could well be an official title for Acish

Magnify

Psalms 34:1-3 NASB A Psalm of David when he feigned madness before Abimelech, who drove him away and he departed. I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. (2) My soul will make its boast in the LORD; The humble will hear it and rejoice. (3) O magnify the LORD with me, And let us exalt His name together.

David begins with the praise and blessing of the Lord. In any relationship, the first step is to truly know and recognize who the other person is. So David commands the following:

·         First, that we should bless the Lord and praise him at all times. Our constant praise of his name cements our relationship to him, for it acknowledges who he really is.

·         Is there strength? Decide now whose strength you will rely upon – indeed, boast about. If you are constantly telling the world how wonderful (and no doubt humble) you are, God will allow you to handle things in your own strength. If you tell the world how great God is, things change.

·         We are to exalt his name together. The praise and blessing of God is not a solitary activity; one of the purposes of worship is to praise and bless God for who he is and what he has done.

Rescue

Psalms 34:4-7 NASB I sought the LORD, and He answered me, And delivered me from all my fears. (5) They looked to Him and were radiant, And their faces will never be 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 encamps around those who fear Him, And rescues them.

There is an interesting change of pronouns here.

  • First, David tells us of how he (singular) sought the Lord. It’s as if to say that even if no one else seeks the Lord, one is sufficient. The Lord will deliver that one from all his fears.
  • But then “they” looked to the Lord. They (plural) were “radiant,” it says. It is the look of those who see God (the pure in heart). They will not be ashamed – for God delivers them as well.

See the picture David paints. It is not the king or the warrior who cries out to God, but the poor man. It is the humble who are heard by God – and then rescued. David pictures it as being the angel of the Lord (often a figure of the pre-incarnate Christ) encamping around him. He sees the unseen, the legions of heaven, and knows that God’s providential care will be given to him.

Passing the Faith Along

All well and good so far; but this is an instructional Psalm, so we need to instruct.

Experience

Psalms 34:8-10 NASB O taste and see that the LORD is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! (9) O fear the LORD, you His saints; For to those who fear Him there is no want. (10) The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; But they who seek the LORD shall not be in want of any good thing.

This is a very important concept: the experimental nature of faith. We are familiar with the experience method – that faith must be absolute before any results will be obtained. It’s often preached that way. But it is also true that God invites his followers to “taste and see.” Experimental faith is not condemned – but given as a method of learning about God. Two cautions:

  • That’s faith in God – not necessarily his people. Remember that we have both the weak and the hypocrites among us.
  • You are blessed as you take refuge in him. That’s not you giving him advice; that’s God sheltering you.

Note too that this is a relationship that is based on the fear of the Lord. We are so accustomed to the “good buddy Jesus” relationship that we forget who the awesome God is. But if you take refuge in him, did you really want refuge with a good buddy, no stronger than you? Or did you seek the refuge of the awesome and powerful Jehovah?

If you do, it will not be long before you note that God treats you differently. David makes the point in metaphor; you’d think the king of beasts would always be able to feed the cubs. But even when food is that scarce, God provides.

Advice to the children

Psalms 34:11-14 NASB Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. (12) Who is the man who desires life And loves length of days that he may see good? (13) Keep your tongue from evil And your lips from speaking deceit. (14) Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it.

Having learned the lesson, David now wants to pass it on.

  • “Come, and listen.” This is not something the kids are going to pick up by osmosis. It’s important; they need to come to dad and listen attentively. Put down the video game, kid – this is something you need.
  • He offers them the means to a long and good life. This is not something you do because you have to; you do it because it works.

So – what does he recommend to the kids? They have the example – here are the do’s and don’ts.

  • Do “depart from evil.” In other words, watch who you hang around with. What are they doing? What kind of people are they?
  • Do “keep your tongue from evil.” Just because you can shoot your mouth off doesn’t mean you should. Often enough you say something which commits you to evil you did not intend. Speak the truth in love.
  • Do good. Examine your ways and ask if what you are doing is a good thing. You’re going to be doing something; make it a good something.
  • Seek peace. This must have been hard for David, who was a warrior since his youth. But it must be so; always look to resolve the conflict. Blessed are the peacemakers.

You can see David’s experience with Acish in this. He went to join the enemies of his people, telling them he would help them against Saul. Later, he realizes the error of his ways – and God’s rescue from a tight place.

Righteous versus evil

Psalms 34:15-22 NASB The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous And His ears are open to their cry. (16) The face of the LORD is against evildoers, To cut off the memory of them from the earth. (17) The righteous cry, and the LORD hears And delivers them out of all their troubles. (18) The LORD is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit. (19) Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all. (20) He keeps all his bones, Not one of them is broken. (21) Evil shall slay the wicked, And those who hate the righteous will be condemned. (22) The LORD redeems the soul of His servants, And none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.

We need so often to be reminded of how God treats the righteous (even if the righteous are fretting over it):

  • He sees and hears what’s going on. You don’t have to explain it to him – but you often have to acknowledge it. Don’t bother with giving him advice. He already knows better than you. You should acknowledge that, too.
  • He comforts his people. Often enough in the time of trial we ask for instant rescue. Rescue comes when God finishes bringing you through trial. In the meanwhile seek his comfort and be blessed by it.
  • He delivers. One way or another, he delivers the righteous. At any given moment the wicked look to have total sway, but be patient. It will pass.
To the evil

The hard part for most of us is that it seems that God is ignoring the evil and the destruction they cause. He does not – but his purposes must be served as well. It may be that he is giving them time to repent. It may be that he wants to use them as a bad example to you (a cheap lesson). It may be that there is some other divine purpose; why was the American Civil War so bloody? Many at the time thought it the nation’s punishment for the Mexican War.[1]

In fact, God doesn’t ignore the evil, but is rather flint-faced toward them. You think your prayers are unheard? How do you think God deals with the self-righteous in prayer?

There is a key to God’s treatment of the evil here. “Evil shall slay the wicked.” What goes around, comes around. The universe is a moral place. The instrument by which God destroys the evil is often another set of evil people.

In the end

Ultimately, at the last judgment, there will be a divine reckoning. May we point out the kind of people God will rescue on that day?

  • They are those who are his servants. Not just the hangers-on, the uninvolved, but those who served.
  • They are those who took refuge in him. Those who trusted their own strength will see just how puny that strength is when Christ returns. Those who cast their cares on Christ will see that return as pure joy.

BUT – in the meanwhile, there will be trouble. It is the life of the Christian to constantly have troubles and just as constantly have joy. For in times of trouble God rescues his children, and his children rejoice in that fact.

 


[1] One such person was Ulysses S. Grant.

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