Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 29th, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 34

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary


Like Psalms 25:0 this is an alphabetic Psalm with each stanza beginning with a consecutive letter of the alphabet. Interestingly, like Psalms 25:0 (which see) it omits the letter Waw, and has a second P which commences the last stanza, with, in both cases, the P resulting in the use of the verb ‘to redeem’. We have no certain explanation as to why this should be although it is clearly deliberate. The intention was probably simply in order to highlight the fact that the singers were His redeemed people.

Alternately it could be that the author’s name began with P and that he was signing off with it and wanted to indicate that he felt that he himself had been redeemed. This might then indicate that the same man wrote both Psalms. A further alternative is that we might see it as having a dual reference as mysteriously indicating ‘redeemed from the Philistines’, although, having said that, there is no real reason that we know of for connecting Psalms 25:0 with the Philistines. But such ideas are all highly speculative and pure guesswork.

The Psalm is one of thanksgiving and praise. Its heading is a further mystery. It indicates that the Psalm was written having in mind David’s deliberate change of behaviour before the ‘king’ of Gaza, a Philistine city, when he feigned madness (1 Samuel 21:10-15), but there is not a great deal in the Psalm to indicate that, which may be seen as a strong argument for its genuineness. However, having said that, Psalms 34:4-5 could have had that deliverance in mind on behalf of David and his men, and ‘this poor man’ in Psalms 34:6 could refer to himself in his desperate expedient, with Psalms 34:7 then indicating how he felt that YHWH had protected him. So it is not wholly devoid of connection.


‘A Psalm of David; when he changed his behaviour before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed.’

As mentioned above the only connection between the heading and the Psalm is found in Psalms 34:5-7. Certainly it must have been a dreadful shock for David and the few fugitives who had fled with him when they arrived in Gaza hoping to find refuge there, only to face the fact that some of the leading figures were intent on seeking his life (1 Samuel 21:11 onwards). To feign madness when he was eventually brought before the king of Gaza must have been humiliating for him, although he and his men no doubt had a good laugh about it afterwards. That he was willing to do it demonstrates the extreme tension that he must have felt. ‘I sought the Lord and He heard me and delivered me from all my fears. They (he and his companions) looked on him and were lightened, and their faces were not ashamed (as they would have been had He failed to fulfil His promises of protection)’ (Psalms 34:4-5). And thinking back to when he was alone in the king’s presence feigning madness and scrabbling on the floor, the description ‘poor one’ (Psalms 34:6) must have seemed an apt description. Furthermore on escaping back to his companions we can well imagine that he felt that YHWH had surrounded him with His angels (Psalms 34:7). How else could his precarious plan have succeeded? The lesson well learned may then explain the remainder of the Psalm.

There is also a seeming problem with the name Abimelech, for the king in question was Achish of Gath (1 Samuel 21:10-15), but if Achish was at the time the leader of the coalition of five Philistine states he may well have been given the ancient title ‘Abimelech’ (my father is king, or Melech is my father), which appears to be a throne name of certain Philistine kings (Genesis 20, 26).

What is more to the point are evidences of wisdom teaching in the Psalm from Psalms 34:11 onwards. ‘You children’ was a common address by Wisdom teachers (Proverbs 4:1; Proverbs 5:7; Proverbs 7:24 and regularly), and ‘the fear of YHWH’ a prevalent expression among them (Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10; Proverbs 15:33, etc.). See also the ideas in Proverbs 10:27; Proverbs 13:3; Proverbs 21:23. On the other hand David need not have written it immediately, and his later court may well have included renowned and godly wisdom teachers, while this would also help to explain what led on to Solomon’s growth in the subject and subsequent ‘worldwide’ fame.

The Psalm may be summarised as follows:

1) Words In Praise Of YHWH (1-3).

2) He Rejoices In The Delivery Of Himself And His Men (4-7).

3) He Calls On The People To Taste Of YHWH, And To Learn To Fear Him (8-11).

4) He Points Out To Them The Way To True Life (12-14).

5) He Stresses YHWH’s Deep Concern For His Own And His Deep Hatred Of Evil (15-20).

6) He Declares The End Of Sinners And Of His Servants (21-22).

Verses 1-3

1). Words In Praise Of YHWH (1-3).

Psalms 34:1-3

A ‘I will bless YHWH at all times,

His praise will continually be in my mouth.

B My soul will make her boast in YHWH,

The meek will hear of it, and be glad.

G Oh magnify YHWH with me,

And let us exalt his name together.’

The Psalmist commences, as Psalmists so often do, with praise and worship to YHWH. They were clearly aware that it was their responsibility and privilege to approach Him in this way. Before going into detail they recognised that they should remind themselves of Who He is. And here the praise is ‘at all times’ and ‘continually’. He will even praise when everything is against him. Missionaries used to describe it as ‘praising the Lord through gritted teeth’.

So he declares his intention to give YHWH full praise and gratitude, acknowledges that the truly spiritual (the meek) will hear of it and be glad because they rejoice when YHWH is worshipped, and it makes them realise that they have a godly leader, and then calls on these truly spiritual people to join with him in his worship. All are to come as one, worshipping YHWH together. All have equal status before Him. And together they are to ‘magnify’ YHWH. But how can mere men magnify and make great YHWH of hosts? By acting like a magnifying glass or a microscope, and bringing to men’s attention the greatness of the One of Whom we speak. We can ‘ascribe greatness to our God’ (Deuteronomy 32:3) and exalt Him by proclaiming His glory.

Verses 4-5

2). He Rejoices In The Delivery Of Himself And His Men (4-7).

Psalms 34:4-5

D ‘I sought YHWH, and he answered me,

And delivered me from all my fears.

H They looked to him, and were radiant,

And their faces will never be confounded.’

If the heading of the Psalm is seen as an indicator this may well reflect David’s relief that his subterfuge before Achish worked. No doubt as he scrabbled on the floor feigning madness he had been flashing pleas to YHWH. And here we learn of his profound gratitude when he safely left the king’s presence, delivered from all his fears (the tension must have been huge). His prayers had been answered.

And we can quite understand that when he went back to his companions (1 Samuel 21:5), who must have been waiting in some trepidation, desperately calling on YHWH, and they saw that he had come away with his life, their faces became radiant as they looked to YHWH with praise and gratitude. Compare how the people’s faces were to be ‘lightened’ in Isaiah 60:5 when they saw God working out His deliverance. And David then adds with confidence that while they remain true to YHWH and His Anointed they will never be confounded. We can compare with this Peter’s appearance at the door of the house where people were praying for his deliverance in a similar situation (Acts 12:12-17). They too were filled with joy, and no little amazement.

And for us all it is an indication that if we are loyal to Him, and look to Him, He will deliver us from all our fears, when we seek His face. We too will thus be able to look to Him and be radiant, and be confident that we will never be confounded while He is our Lord. We too will hear His voice saying, ‘Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of YHWH has risen upon you’ (Isaiah 60:1; Isaiah 60:5).

Verses 6-7

Z ‘This poor man cried, and YHWH heard him,

And saved him out of all his troubles.

CH The angel of YHWH encamps round about those who fear him,

And delivers them.’

David was duly humbled by his experiences, which, although he may not have realised it, were preparing him for greater things. And when he thought back on how he had escaped from Saul, and now from Achish, he recognised his own weakness and helplessness in both situation, calling himself a ‘poor man’, lowly in the sight of God and of men. He recognised himself for what he was. There was no pretence or arrogance with David. He openly acknowledged his own undeserving, and that he stood with the meek of Psalms 34:2. But he also recognised the goodness of YHWH towards him, and was full of gratitude. Isaiah tells us in a similar vein that ‘God dwells in the high and holy place -- with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite one’ (Isaiah 57:15).

His experience had brought him out into a large place, for it had made him realise that while Achish had been surrounded by his fierce warriors, he himself had had even mightier protection. He had been under the protection of the Angel of YHWH, Who had delivered him from all his troubles, in spite of their magnitude. It had brought home to him that all who feared YHWH were ‘surrounded’ by the Angel of YHWH, the very active presence of YHWH, and could therefore be sure of deliverance. Compare how Paul also tells us that ‘your lives are hid with Christ in God’ (Colossians 3:3). We too are ‘surrounded’ by the Angel of YHWH . We are reminded here of the three men thrown into the fire because they stood firm for God, only to find themselves accompanied there by one who was like the Son of God Who kept them safe from harm (Daniel 3:25).

The Angel of YHWH is mentioned a number of times in the Old Testament. He can speak of himself as YHWH, and yet is in some ways differentiated from YHWH (see Genesis 16:10; Genesis 16:13 in context; Genesis 21:17-18; Genesis 22:11; Exodus 23:20; Judges 13:16-18; Zechariah 1:12-16; Zechariah 3:1-2). He is called ‘the Angel of His presence’ (Isaiah 63:9). And there is inter-personal communication between the Angel and YHWH (Zechariah 1:12). In this figure we have revealed to us, along with the mention of ‘the Spirit of YHWH’, a first indication of the triunity of God.

Verses 8-11

3). He Calls On The People To Taste Of YHWH, And To Learn To Fear Him (8-11).

Psalms 34:8-11

T ‘Oh taste and see that YHWH is good,

Blessed is the strong man (gbr) who takes refuge in him.

Y Oh fear YHWH, you his saints,

For there is no want to those who fear him.

C The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger,

But those who seek YHWH will not want any good thing.

L Come, you children, listen to me,

I will teach you the fear of YHWH.’

David’s experience now turns his thoughts to all who fear YHWH. They too can taste and see that YHWH is good, by taking refuge in Him, just as he had when in the presence of Achish. It is such a one who will be truly blessed (compare Psalms 27:13). It is an indication of His love towards us that He allows us to put Him to the test in this way as long as our heart is true. He is not unwilling to be put to the test by a genuinely seeking heart (see 1 Peter 2:3). It is only the testing of the rebellious that causes Him to be angry (Exodus 17:2). Note the term ‘strong man’ (gbr). The ‘poor man’ of Psalms 34:6 has now become strong because he is taking refuge in YHWH.

Then confident that all who ‘taste and see’ will discover the truth of his words and experience the goodness of YHWH, he calls on them as ‘His holy ones’ (those who are His holy people (Exodus 19:5-6) and have genuinely separated themselves to Him and to the covenant) to fear YHWH, recognising that for those who do so there will be no lack. If we ‘seek first the Kingly Rule of God and His righteousness’ everything will be added to us (Matthew 6:33). It was as true in the Old Testament as it is in the New.

The ‘young lions’ are the young lions approaching their full strength who have no responsibility but to look after themselves. They do not yet have a pride to look after. All the animals fear them and leave any carcases to them as soon as they approach, and they can keep anything that they find for themselves. Thus they have everything going for them. And yet even they can sometimes suffer hunger, in spite of their great strength and ferocity. Even they can seek food and not find it. But how different it is for those who are strong in YHWH (Psalms 34:8). Those who seek YHWH will not lack for any good thing. Whatever the circumstances He will provide for them (compare again Matthew 6:33). Note that the promise relates to ‘good things’, that is what God thinks is good for them. It is not a rain cheque on God. It is a guarantee to meet what He sees as their real needs (compare Matthew 7:11 where the same idea in mind).

‘Come, you children, listen to me, I will teach you the fear of YHWH.’ The Psalmist now calls his ‘children’ to listen to him while he teaches them the fear of YHWH which has been described in 9. The young lions go hungry because they do not fear YHWH but the children of the lion of Judah (Genesis 49:9) will not need to do so if they fear YHWH.

It was a difficult decision as to whether to link this stanza with the previous ones or the ones that follow, for the pattern of Proverbs might be seen as suggesting the latter (see Proverbs 4:1; Proverbs 5:7; Proverbs 7:24; Proverbs 8:32 and compare for the idea Proverbs 14:26). And certainly the moral exhortations which follow might be seen as teaching ‘the fear of YHWH’, a phrase which occurs fourteen times in Proverbs. But there are three things which make this doubtful:

1) In no case in Proverbs is such an exhortation followed by a question, as it would be here. Always there it continues with further exhortation.

2) The change from ‘you’ (plural) in Psalms 34:11, to the singular ‘man’ and ‘he’ in Psalms 34:12, to you (singular) in Psalms 34:13, while possible, also counts against it, especially when we consider the abrupt movement from Psalms 34:11 to Psalms 34:12 (not ‘which man of you’ but ‘what man is he’).

3) There are better parallels in the Psalm which definitely seem to link the stanza back to what has gone before. Thus ‘I will teach you the fear of YHWH’ parallels and complements ‘O fear YHWH you His saints, for there is no want to those who fear Him’ (Psalms 34:9), especially when combined with the mention of ‘fearing Him’ in Psalms 34:7, while ‘you children’ can be seen as paralleling ‘you His saints’ and as being admirably contrasted with the ‘young lions’ (Psalms 34:10).

Indeed this stanza may reasonably be seen as satisfactorily capping off the two exhortations in Psalms 34:8-9, while at the same time contrasting the young lions in Psalms 34:10 with his ‘children’ (the young lions with the children of the lion of Judah, see Genesis 49:9).

Verses 12-14

4). He Points Out To Them The Way To True Life (12-14).

Psalms 34:12-14

M ‘What man is he who desires life,

And loves many days, that he may see good?’

N Keep your tongue from evil,

And your lips from speaking guile.

S Depart from evil, and do good,

Seek peace, and pursue it.’

The Psalmist now raises the question as to how a man may enjoy a long and true life. This is the Old Testament equivalent to the quest for eternal life, the life that is God-given (compare Psalms 16:11, ‘you will show me the path of life, in your presence is fullness of joy, and at your right hand are pleasures for evermore’; Psalms 30:5, ‘in His favour is life’). And he then describes the kind of man who will find that life. The idea in mind here is found in Leviticus 18:5, ‘You shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments, which if a man do, he will live in them. I am YHWH.’ The thought was to have the quality of life that would extend life. Such a person would both live long and see much good. The words are literally, ‘loving days for seeing good’. They want to live long for the good that they can do.

He then outlines in detail something of what such living would involve. They were to keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking guile. In other words, their tongues were to speak in openness and honesty and for men’s genuine good. Their ‘yes’ was to be ‘yes, and their ‘no’ was to be ‘no’ (Matthew 5:37). There must be no deceitfulness and lying, no tale-bearing, no backbiting and cruelty of word. Every word should be surrounded by love. This emphasis on spoken words becomes a New Testament theme. ‘The tongue -- is a little member -- which is set on fire by Hell’ (James 3:5-6). So ‘let your words always be with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer every man’ (Colossians 4:6). Because ‘for every idle word that men shall speak, they will give account of them in the Day of Judgment’ (Matthew 12:36).

They were to ‘depart from evil and do good’. Compare Isaiah 1:16-17, ‘wash yourselves thoroughly, make yourselves clean, put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do well’. It is not enough just to ‘stop sinning’. The real test of whether we have become His is whether our lives make a positive contribution towards good. ‘By their fruits you will know them’ (Matthew 7:16; Matthew 7:20). For ‘to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin’ (James 4:17).

‘Seek peace, and pursue it.’ Finally they were to search out peace, and then chase it as hard and as persistently as they could like the hunter his prey. All dissension, all disharmony, and all bitterness was to be disposed of and removed. ‘Let us follow after things which make for peace’ (Romans 14:19). ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God’ (Matthew 5:9).

Verses 15-20

5). He Stresses YHWH’s Deep Concern For His Own And His Deep Hatred Of Evil (15-20).

Psalms 34:15-20

GH ‘The eyes of YHWH are towards the righteous,

And his ears are open to their cry.

P The face of YHWH is against those who do evil,

To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.

TS The righteous cried, and YHWH heard,

And delivered them out of all their troubles.’

Q ‘YHWH is near to those who are of a broken heart,

And saves such as are of a contrite spirit.

R Many are the afflictions of the righteous,

But YHWH delivers him out of them all.

SH He keeps all his bones,

Not one of them is broken.’

Note the interplay of ideas in these verses. ‘The eyes of YHWH are towards the righteous and His ear is open to their cry -- the righteous cried, and YHWH heard and delivered them out of all their troubles -- many are the afflictions of the righteous, but YHWH delivers him out of them all.’ Those who are His righteous ones are never overlooked or forgotten’ He hears their cry, and they are characterised by being of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. They know how to forgive and be forgiven.

‘The eyes of YHWH are towards the righteous, and His ears are open towards their cry.’ Compare ‘my cry before Him came to His ears’ (Psalms 18:6). All God’s faculties are at work in watching over His own, as characterised by their righteousness. His eye is continually on them and towards them. They are the apple of His eye (Psalms 17:8). Compare Psalms 33:18. And His ears are equally busy on their behalf. They are open to their cry (see Psalm 118:62). For the whole compare 1 Peter 3:12.

‘The face of YHWH is against those who do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.’ But there is no comfort in his words for the selfish, the wrongdoer and the unbelieving. For in their case ‘the face of YHWH’ is against them. In their case He is active to bring them into judgment. Instead of lives which count and live on in their reputation and in men’s memories, their lives will be cut off and forgotten. They will have done nothing worth remembering. If we would build a monument, let it by lives whose effects will echo down the ages, because their influence goes on and on in those who have been affected.

‘The righteous cried, and YHWH heard, and delivered them out of all their troubles.’ The Psalmist returns to the righteous and will now concentrate on them. The evildoers are already forgotten. He now looks back and, as it were, sees the accomplishment of what he had promised. The righteous had cried, and YHWH had heard, and He had delivered them out of all their trouble. Strictly it is ‘they cried’ with the righteous read in from Psalms 34:15. It was as certain as if it had already happened.

‘YHWH is near to those who are of a broken heart, and saves such as are of a contrite spirit.’ Lest any be in doubt he now characterises the righteous. They are those whose hearts are broken over their sins and their failures, and whose spirits are contrite. It is they who dwell with YHWH in His high and holy place (Isaiah 57:15), and as a result He ‘saves them’. Salvation is of YHWH, and is reserved for those who are open towards Him.

‘Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but YHWH delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken.’ The point here is not that no one who is righteous will ever break a bone in their bodies, but that their afflictions will not be ‘bone breaking’. They will not be crushed. Through them all they will be kept ‘whole’. For YHWH gives the righteous no guarantee that they will avoid affliction. Such things will come on them, sometimes even because they are righteous. But when they do they will find that YHWH’s eye is on them (Psalms 34:15), and He is there to help. ‘I will not leave you without strength, I will come to you’ (John 14:18). And in the end He will deliver them out of them all.

‘He keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken.’ Unbroken bones characterised the offerings that were made to YHWH. They had to be perfect and complete. See Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12. So the point here is that spiritually the truly righteous will come through unscathed, whatever life throws at them. A combination of these verses is cited in John 19:36, stressing the perfection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Verses 21-22

(6). He Declares The End Of Sinners And Of His Servants (21-22).

Psalms 34:21-22

T ‘Evil will slay the wicked,

And those who hate the righteous will be condemned.

P YHWH redeems the soul of his servants,

And none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.’

The Psalmist finally summarises all that has gone before with a verdict on the unrighteous and the righteous, the latter especially being highlighted by the letter that commences the stanza. It is the letter of redemption. The unrighteous will be slain by evil. That is, they will come to a bad end (compare Psalms 73:17). And this will especially be so of those who are antagonistic towards the righteous. They will be condemned. But in contrast YHWH is ready to pay any price in order to deliver the righteous. None of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned. ‘There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit’ (Romans 8:1). Note the combination of redemption and taking refuge. Both words indicate what the needy state had been of those to be delivered. They are what they now are because of His mercy. And it is redemption that is the key word that begins the stanza. It is free to them because of the price that He would pay (compare Isaiah 55:1-3; Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 44:22; Isaiah 51:11; Isaiah 59:20; Jeremiah 31:11).

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 34". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/psalms-34.html. 2013.
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