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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 34

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



The ancient superscription ascribes this psalm to David and identifies it with the occasion when he feigned madness to escape from Abimelech. It is an imperfect acrostic, omitting the sixth letter and adding another letter at the last, very similar in this particular to Psalms 25.

We are surprised that five or six reputable scholars point out what they call a mistake in the superscription, insisting that in 1 Samuel 21:11-15, the name of the king from whom David escaped by feigning madness was called Achish, not Abimelech.

Of course, these ancient superscriptions have no claim to having been written by inspiration; and it is altogether possible that there are indeed mistakes in some of them; but in the instance before us, there is a much better explanation of the two names than merely branding one of them as “a mistake.”

“Abimelech was the title of Philistine kings, just as Pharaoh was the title of Egyptian kings.”(F1) No less than a dozen Roman emperors bore the title of Caesar. Could we ascribe an error to Luke because he reported that Paul said, “I appeal unto Caesar” (Acts 25:11), whereas, in fact, he really appealed unto “Nero?”

Allegations of “error” in this inscription are therefore an indication of the ignorance of commentators rather than any kind of a reflection against what is in the superscription. It also should be noted that the dynastic name Abimelech was known when Moses wrote Genesis 20, and Genesis 26, centuries before the times of David.

The fact of the psalm’s being an acrostic is considered sufficient grounds by destructive critics for assigning a date to this psalm long after the times of David and declaring that, “The date of it is post-exilic.”(F2) Such a statement is an unsupported error, an illegitimate child of the critic’s imaginary dictum that the acrostic form of writing psalms was unknown to David, and developed long afterward. This is not true. As Delitzsch said, “The fact of the Psalm’s being alphabetical (acrostic) says nothing against David as the author of it.”(F3) Alexander Maclaren also stated that, “Acrostic structure’s indicating a late date is by no means self-evident,”(F4) adding that it has certainly not been proved.

Some have expressed amazement that David here gave no details of the manner in which God had delivered him out of the hands of Abimelech (Achish), i.e., by feigning madness, a ruse which nearly all the older writers vigorously condemned, as hypocritical.

Spurgeon commented on David’s omission of any reference to his pretended insanity as follows:

David dwells only on the grand fact of God’s having heard his prayer and delivered him. We may learn from his example not to parade our sins before others, as certain vainglorious professors are doing, and who seem to be as proud of their sins as old soldiers are of their battles and wounds.(F5)

This reminds us of certain “witnessing for Christ” that goes on at the present time in some churches, in which members more eloquently confess their sins than they confess the Christ.

Barnes identified the following four paragraphs in the psalm: (1) thanksgiving for deliverance (Psalms 34:1-6); (2) from his experience, he invites others to join in praise (Psalms 34:7-10); (3) special instructions and exhortations for the young to trust in God (Psalms 34:11-14); (4) a general summary of the security, joys, and protection for those who truly rely upon God (Psalms 34:15-22).(F6)

Verses 1-6

“I will bless Jehovah at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in Jehovah: The meek shall hear thereof, and be glad. O magnify Jehovah with me, And let us exalt his name together. I sought Jehovah, and he answered me, And delivered me from all my fears. They looked unto him, and were radiant; And their faces shall never be confounded. This poor man cried, and Jehovah heard him, And saved him out of all his troubles.”

“I will bless Jehovah at all times… continually” (Psalms 34:1). This indicates David’s purpose of praising God under all circumstances. Such continual prayer and thanksgiving are also required of Christians. “Giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus” (Ephesians 5:20) and “Pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God” (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18), are New Testament references to this obligation.

Of course, what is required is a life of consistent prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, not that a child of God should remain on his knees constantly. Any life that remembers and honors God morning, noon, and evening is fulfilling what is required here.

“My soul… shall boast in Jehovah” (Psalms 34:2). Our boasting should never be “in self or worldly goods.”(F7) Not in fame, fortune, success, beauty, strength, youth, family, honors, reputation, or anything else, should the child of God receive in his heart as that which is most prized and appreciated; but the fact that one is privileged to be called God’s child “in Christ,” that is the greatest thing.

“O Magnify Jehovah with me” (Psalms 34:3). “We cannot add to God’s glory; he is infinite, eternal, and changeless. Nothing that feeble men can do is capable of either increasing or diminishing the glory of God. However, his name may be said to grow in glory as it is made known; and his character will stand higher in the sight of men as he becomes more and more the supreme object of trust and love.”(F8)

“I sought Jehovah, and he answered me” (Psalms 34:4). What a strange affinity these words have with Jonah 2:2. The surprise and shock of the child of God when God answers his prayer is equaled only by the joyful remembrance of it.

“They looked unto him, and were radiant” (Psalms 34:5). There is indeed a radiance in the countenance of Christians that is clearly discernible, contrasting sharply with the “fallen countenances” of the wicked. The New Testament tells us that when the rich young ruler decided against Jesus, that, “His countenance fell” (Mark 10:22). Fallen countenances are visible by the hundreds every day on every street corner.

But there is a spiritual likeness in the face of every true Christian to that of Moses whose face shone when he came down from the mountain, and like Stephen when he addressed the mob that murdered him in Jerusalem, of whom Luke tells us that, “All that sat in the council saw his face as it had been the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).

“This poor man cried” (Psalms 34:6). The poor man here is none other than David himself. Yes, he was indeed poor, hated and driven from the court of King Saul, hunted like a wild beast, deserted by friends and neighbors, everyone afraid to be seen in his presence or to come near him. Yes, at the time of this psalm David was indeed poor.

Verses 7-10

“The angel of Jehovah encampeth round about them that fear him. And delivereth them. Oh taste and see that Jehovah is good: Blessed is the man that taketh refuge in him Oh fear Jehovah, ye his saints; For there is no want to them that fear him. The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger; But they that seek Jehovah shall not want any good thing.”

“The angel of Jehovah” (Psalms 34:7). The angel of Jehovah is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament. He appeared to Joshua as, “The Captain of the host of the Lord” (Joshua 5:14), and also in the remarkable visions of Zechariah 9:8. “He is not merely an angelic messenger, but is in some sense identified with God himself.”(F9)

We are amused that some scholars are concerned about how “The angel of Jehovah” (in the singular) could “encamp around” them that fear the Lord. Apparently, some writers have never heard of the ubiquitousness of the Almighty, who is in fact everywhere throughout his whole universe at one and the same time! As Delitzsch noted, “The angel of Jehovah, being a spirit not limited by space, can furnish protection on every side.”(F10) Also, we might add, this protection is available not only for just one of God’s saints in a given location, but is provided for all the saints on earth wherever they live. Is anything too hard for God?

What a great comfort it is to know that, “This great and mighty divine being from days of old, who so often dealt with the patriarchs and figured so effectively in the history of Israel is indeed our protector.”(F11)

“Taste and see that Jehovah is good” (Psalms 34:8). God has made it possible for men to know whether or not his word is true. The person who receives it, obeys it, and trusts its promises will shortly come to know, “Whom he has believed,” having “tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:5), and as Peter said, “Ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1 Peter 2:3).

“For there is no want for them that fear him” (Psalms 34:9). See under Psalms 34:10, below, where this thought is repeated.

“The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger” (Psalms 34:10). Some interpreters would see this as a metaphorical reference to the rich, or to the privileged of earth, but such a view is totally unnecessary. “In God’s animal creation, even the strongest sometimes suffer hunger and want; but those who fear God shall not want any good thing.”(F12)

“Shall not want any good thing” (Psalms 34:10). Dahood states that the Hebrew here will bear the rendition, “shall not have a deficit,” and that it “is an economic term.”(F13)

Verses 11-14

“Come ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of Jehovah. What man is he that desireth life, And loveth many days, that he may see good? Keep thy tongue from evil, And thy lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil, and do good; Seek peace, and pursue it.”

“I will teach you the fear of Jehovah” (Psalms 34:11). “David was a famous musician, a statesman, and a great soldier; but he does not say, `I will teach you to play on the harp,’ or `how to handle the sword, or the spear, or to draw the bow,’ nor, `to know the maxims of state policy,’ but `I will teach you the fear of the Lord.’“(F14)

The knowledge that David here proposed to teach the young is the best knowledge of all; it is better than knowing all of the sciences, all of the arts, and all of the secrets of making war. Today, many a learned man is simply an ignoramus unless he also knows the Lord.

“What man is he that desireth life” (Psalms 34:12)? David’s method of teaching here follows the classical pattern of throwing out a question and then providing the answer. “This method was a habit with David.”(F15) We have already encountered it in Psalms 15, Psalms 24, and Psalms 25. Notice that David here gives preeminence to the avoidance of sins of the tongue, reminding us of the words of James who said that, “If a man stumbleth not in word, the same is a perfect man” (James 3:2).

The few things mentioned here by David are merely a few token things that suggest a truly righteous life in its fulness and obedience of the truth. This type of figure of speech is frequently used in the New Testament. One or two, or a very few, related things are mentioned as a metaphor standing for the whole list! This type of metaphor is called a synecdoche, In the New Testament, the most famous example of this is, “We are justified by faith,” not meaning, of course, that we are justified by “faith alone,” but by all of those Christian qualities of which `faith’ is a prominent part.

Verses 15-19

“The eyes of Jehovah are toward the righteous, And his ears are open unto their cry. The face of Jehovah is against them that do evil, To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. The righteous cried, and Jehovah heard, And delivered them out of all their troubles. Jehovah is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart, And saveth such as are of a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous; But Jehovah delivereth him out of them all.”

The principal burden of these verses is to provide motivation and encouragement for the young people David was teaching to fear the Lord.

“The face of Jehovah is against them that do evil” (Psalms 34:16). “All men sin, but the reference here is to those who will not repent and who have no intention of turning away from their evil deeds. God will not even hear them when they pray (John 9:31).”(F16)

“Nigh unto them… of a broken heart” (Psalms 34:18). Our Lord himself was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and he is the ever ready comforter and Saviour of those whose hearts have been broken by the soul’s tragic encounter with the wicked world in which we live.

“God saveth such as are of a contrite spirit” (Psalms 34:18). Again the marvelous words of Kipling come to mind:

“The tumult and the shouting dies; The Captains and the Kings depart.
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget; lest we forget!”
- Rudyard Kipling (The Recessional)

“Many are the afflictions of the righteous” (Psalms 34:19). The Bible is loaded with admonitions that echo these words. “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” “They that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” “Wickedness shall wax worse and worse.” Alas, “We must, like the Captain of our Salvation, be made perfect through suffering (Hebrews 2:10).”(F17)

Seeing, therefore, that the righteous are destined to suffer during the years of our probation, we should strive to remember that the Lord himself was “made perfect” by it; and that he suffered “for us.” Moreover, we should never forget that:

“Our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory!” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

This verse says that our sufferings are “working for us.” May we have the grace to believe it!

Verses 20-22

“He keepeth all his bones: Not one of them is broken. Evil shall slay the wicked; And they that hate the righteous shall be condemned. Jehovah redeemeth the soul of his servants; And none of them that take refuge in him shall be condemned.”

“All his bones… not one… is broken” (Psalms 34:20). In this verse, David doubtless had in mind the passage in Exodus 12:46, in which Moses’ instructions for the eating of the Passover carried the injunction, “Neither shall ye break a bone thereof.” Evidently, David’s knowledge of the typical nature of the Passover led him to the inspired statement here that for the truly righteous, it would also be true that “not a bone should be broken.” At any rate, the deduction was true enough; and Christ, the only truly righteous One, saw the complete fulfilment of this in his own person on the Cross.

The apostle John’s Gospel relates how Pilate’s order to break the legs of Jesus was frustrated, “That the Scriptures might be fulfilled” (John 19:36), “A bone of him shall not be broken” (Exodus 12:46; Psalms 34:20). In all probability, John had both these Scriptures in mind.

These last two verses were accurately summarized by Leupold, as follows:

“The outcome for the ungodly will always be this, `Evil shall slay the wicked, and they that hate the righteous shall pay the penalty.’ On the other hand, those that seek to live in the fear of the Lord, are here designated as `His servants.’ They have this assurance, that, `The Lord redeems the life of his servants, and that all who take refuge in him shall not pay the penalty.’“(F18)

“Jehovah redeemeth” (Psalms 34:22). This word `redeem,’ according to Dahood, “Is a metaphor depicting Jehovah as paying ransom money (to Death) to assure his saints of life.”(F19) Job 5:20 also has a statement that seems to say the same thing. “In famine, he will redeem thee from death.”

There are many things, perhaps, which our finite minds shall never comprehend about how Jesus ransoms us from death; but it is a fact, gloriously stated by our Lord himself:

“For the Son of Man also came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 34". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/psalms-34.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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