Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left.

See 1 Sam 21:10-14.  Fleeing Saul, David had found refuge with Abimelech (Achish), Philistine king of Gath.  When the latter realised what a precious hostage he had, he imprisoned David.  David feigned insanity (did he lead Abimelech to conclude, ‘He’s only pretending to be David’?) and thus secured his release.  The account in 1 Samuel implies that this was all due to David’s astuteness; but this psalm attributes it to God.

Since the name Abimelech replaces that of Achish (1 Sam), this is thought to be an historical inaccuracy (so Harper’s Bible Commentary).  But it is likely that the former is the royal name, and the latter his personal name.

The psalm is a not-quite-perfect acrostic (one letter is used twice; another is not at all).  There is a quotation (plus further echoes) in 1 Pet 2,3.  It is the basis for the hymn ‘Through all the changing scenes of life’.

The underlying theme is one of testimony: ‘God helped me; he can help you, too.’

Wilson (NIVAC) suggests that in some ways this psalm is a prototype of the Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12).

Psa 34:1 I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.

I will extol – or, rather, ‘bless’.  In what sense it is possible for us to ‘bless’ God, who is the source of all blessing?  It has something to do with giving back to God the good he has given to us.

At all times – In testing times, as well as easy times (cf. v19).

How many times do we congratulate ourselves for solving our own problems, rather than thanking God, as David does here, for his providential mercies?

Psa 34:2 My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.

The afflicted – rather, ‘the humble’ (Kidner).

Psa 34:3 Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together.

In other words, ‘I have reason to praise him; join me’ (Kidner).  The invitation is the addressed to the ‘humble’ of v3.

Psa 34:4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Here, in v4f, the thought is, ‘This was my experience; it can be yours.’ (Kidner)

‘The term translated “sought” (drš) is never used of seeking someone or something whose location is unknown. When one seeks God in this fashion, one does so knowing full well where he is, but is seeking either a restored relationship with him or, most commonly, information, guidance, or direction from him.’ (NIVAC)

Psa 34:5 Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.

Radiant – ‘a word found again in Isaiah 60:5, where it describes a mother’s face lighting up at the sight of her children, long given up for lost.’ (Kidner)

‘When we look to the world we are darkened, we are perplexed, and at a loss; but, when we look to God, from him we have the light both of direction and joy, and our way is made both plain and pleasant.’ (MHC)

Psa 34:6 This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.

Psa 34:7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.

The angel of the Lord – ‘the ever-present, rescuing agent…The Angel is particularly associated with occasions when the Lord wishes to show himself to chosen people and is one of the OT indications of diversity within the unity of the Godhead.’ (NBC).

Encamps – ‘lives in a mobile home so as to move with the people of God in their earthly pilgrimage.’ (NBC)

‘God makes use of the attendance of the good spirits for the protection of his people from the malice and power of evil spirits; and the holy angels do us more good offices every day than we are aware of. Though in dignity and in capacity of nature they are very much superior to us,—though they retain their primitive rectitude, which we have lost;—though they have constant employment in the upper world, the employment of praising God, and are entitled to a constant rest and bliss there,—yet in obedience to their Maker, and in love to those that bear his image, they condescend to minister to the saints, and stand up for them against the powers of darkness; they not only visit them, but encamp round about them, acting for their good as really, though not as sensibly, as for Jacob’s (Gen. 32:1), and Elisha’s, 2 Ki. 6:17. All the glory be to the God of the angels.’ (MHC)

Psa 34:8 Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

This verse is echoed in Heb 6:5; 1 Pet 2:3.

Psa 34:9 Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing.

Psa 34:10 The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing – See also the previous verse (‘…lack nothing’).  This ‘certainly does not mean never to be in want or never to suffer pain and uncertainty. If that were the case, the psalmist would never speak of the blessed ones as the poor who call on Yahweh for deliverance from their troubles.’ (Wilson, NIVAC)

‘Man naturally aspires to be independent of God, and to raise himself our of the reach of want and adversity. He cannot trust God to provide for himself and his family, but desires to tak ethis charge on himself. Unlike the sheep of Christ’s pasture, who go in and out as he leads them, and look to him to feed them, he emulates the wild beasts who roam through the forests in quest of prey for themselves and their young ones. Ever anxious to accumulate, he has neither time nor inclination to think of anything else, till, in some unexecpted hour, he is obliged to spare time to die. Christian, canst though envy such a man, even when he succeeds to his heart’s desire in accumulating wealth, – Wilt thou learn of his ways? It is really better for thee, and for thy children, to receive, as you need it, the supply of your wants. It is better he should provide for you in answer to your prayers, than that you should try to provide for yourself in opposition to his command.’ (Fuller)

Psa 34:11 Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

Psa 34:12 Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days,

Psa 34:13 keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.

Psa 34:14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

Psa 34:15 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry;

Psa 34:16 the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.

Psa 34:17 The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.

Cf 2 Tim 3:11.

Psa 34:18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psa 34:19 A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all;

A righteous man may have many troubles – Although it was a persistent belief that there was a direct cause-and-effect link between sin and trouble (cf. Jn 9:1-12).

‘This does not mean that we never suffer as a consequence of our own distorted decisions and sinful actions. Certainly alcoholism, uncontrollable rage, deceit, sexual promiscuity, and dishonesty—to name but a few of our sinful failings—can pay back severe and destructive consequences on us and all those around us. But to equate all suffering with the consequences of sin is to miss the point Jesus made so long ago, both in the account of the blind man and in the Beatitudes: The righteous suffer undeservedly, but in their suffering they have opportunity to glorify God and to receive his blessing!’ (Wilson, NIVAC)

‘The wise person will take occasion from his new troubles to check his original guidance very carefully. Trouble should always be treated as a call to consider one’s ways. But trouble is not necessarily a sign of being off track at all; for as the Bible declares in general that “many are the afflictions of the righteous” (Ps 34:19 KJV), so it teaches in particular that following God’s guidance regularly leads to upsets and distresses which one would otherwise have escaped. Examples abound. God guided Israel by means of a fiery and cloudy pillar that went before them (Ex 13:21-22); yet the way by which he led them involved the nerve-shredding cliffhanger of the Red Sea crossing, long days without water and meat in “that vast and dreadful desert” (Deut 1:19), and bloody battles with Amalek, Sihon and Og (Ex 17:8; Num 21:21-23)-and we can understand, if not excuse, Israel’s constant grumbling (see Ex 14:10-12; 16:3; Num 11:4-6; 14:2-3; 20:2-5; 21:4-5).’ (Packer, Knowing God)

Psa 34:20 he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.

See Jn 19:33-36.

Psa 34:21 Evil will slay the wicked; the foes of the righteous will be condemned.

Psa 34:22 The LORD redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him.

 

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