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“This psalm is assigned by the superscription to the occasion when David, persecuted by Saul, fled to the Philistines, and being brought before Achish was driven away by him as a madman (1 Samuel 21:12, see Psalms 7:0). There is no sufficient reason for rejecting the historical validity of this statement. The psalms generally rise above the level of the particular occasion, and dwell on general principles, and so it is here. This psalm is eucharistic and didactic. It is full of thankfulness to the Almighty Deliverer, who defends the penitent against the ungodly. It is a lesson from experience for those who are tempted and afflicted. It is the second of the alphabetic psalms (Psalms 25:0), the letter vau being omitted, and a second pe added at the end.”—Murphy. “This psalm was selected by the ancient Church to be a communion song (Cyrill. Catech. Myst. 5:17); and from the expression, ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good,’ and from its evangelical strain, it was well adapted for this purpose.”—Murphy.
A SONG OF PRAISE
“Every day of a pious man’s life is marked with the monuments and tokens of the mercy of God, so that he has every day to sing a new song. But each separate experience of that kind should fill our heart to such a degree, as to furnish the theme of gratitude and praise for the entire period of our lives. With a feeling of this kind we see David celebrate the deliverance he has just experienced.”—Tholuck. We should praise God—
I. For what He is in Himself. “The Lord ‘Jehovah.’ ” “This is the only name of God in the psalm. The self-existent Creator is the great watchword of the intelligent creation.”—Murphy. Contemplation of God’s character calls forth praise. This praise is,
1. Free. “I will.” It is from the heart It is a life, not form; a delight not a burden.
2. Constant. “At all times;” circumstances alter, but God changes not. In adversity and in prosperity, in the dark hour of sorrow as in the bright moments of joy, God claims our praise. “Continually,” the lamps, the shew-bread, the daily sacrifice, the priests ministering in the tabernacle continually, were witnesses to the perpetuity of spiritual worship (Exodus 25:30; Exodus 27:20; Exodus 29:42).
3. Exulting. “Boast,” “glory,” i.e., “to exult in the possession and enjoyment of some admired and beloved object.”—Alexander. Many glory in their strength, in their riches, in their learning, in their religion. God is the true object of glory. He alone can satisfy and bless the soul for ever (Jeremiah 9:23-24).
4. Influential. “The humble, i.e., the poor and needy, or the meek who bow their hearts to God. The boastings of the worldly are an offence. They have the bad odour of selfishness. But the extolling of the Lord is pleasant to the ear of His people, and strikes a chord of sympathy in their inmost hearts. As one touch of nature makes the whole world kin, so one touch of grace makes the whole Church kin. As one songster in the morning wakens the music of the grove, so one soul hymning the praise of Jehovah calls forth the voices of other kindred souls, till the Church resounds with songs of praise (Psalms 34:3).
6. Social. “O magnify the Lord with me.” It is not that we can add to God’s glory, He is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. Nothing we do can increase or diminish His glory. But His name may be said to grow in glory as it is made known; and His character to stand higher in the sight of men, as He becomes more and more the supreme object of trust and love. “Let us exalt His name together.” Here is the place for union and concert; social worship is the craving of the new heart, and the outgrowth of the new life. In heaven it finds its highest expression, and earth is the likest heaven, where it most abounds.
II. For what He does for His people (Psalms 34:4-7).
1. Personal deliverances (Psalms 34:4). This may refer to God’s rescue of David in the land of the Philistines. He was then in great peril. There were fears on every side. His own conscience was not free, for in his selfish care to save his life he had sinned against truth and against God. But in his straits he sought the Lord. Sin should not deter us from prayer. Rather should the sense of sin make us pray the more earnestly. We have an Advocate with God the Father. There are gifts even for the rebellious. Where sin abounded grace hath much more abounded. “He delivered me from all my fears.” “To have delivered me from all my troubles had been a great favour, but a far greater to deliver me from all my fears; for where that would have but freed me from present evil, this secures me from evil to come, that now I enjoy not only tranquillity, but security—a privilege only of the godly. The wicked may be free from trouble, but can they be free from fear? No; God knows, though they be not in trouble like other men, yet they live in more fear than other men.”—Baker.
2. Brighter days for the afflicted. “They looked,” viz., the afflicted mentioned in Psalms 34:2; or it may only mean generally, “men looked;” others, i.e., besides myself, have in like manner experienced God’s lovingkindness. “Were lightened,” i.e.,” were bright with gladness because He heard them, reflecting, as it were, the light of His countenance” (cf. Psalms 4:6).—Perowne. Here is the look of the soul to God, and the quick response of God, as when the Israelites looked to the serpent of brass and were healed (Numbers 21:9), and sinners look on Him whom they pierced (Zechariah 12:11), and their hearts are melted to penitential sorrow. “Lightened.” “This is the precise answer to a look. The light of the truth, the promise, and the countenance of God, fill and illuminate the eyes of the soul.”—Murphy. How often is this fulfilled. Remember Gideon. Hence, instead of the blush of shame, there is the brightness of joy; instead of the shudder of fear, there is the song of victory. Each one, as he remembers what God has done, speaks as for himself. “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard.”
3. Divine guardianship for the godly to the end. “The angel of the Lord.” This remarkable phrase occurs only twice in the psalms, here, and in the next psalm. It denotes one who is at the same time the angel of Jehovah and Jehovah Himself (Genesis 16:7; Exodus 23:20). “He is God manifest to man, and mediating for man.”—Murphy. “Encampeth.” There may be reference here to what Jacob said when the angels met him (Genesis 32:1-2). “This is God’s host, and he called the name of that place Mahanaim” (two camps). The angel host is under the headship of Christ, and charged with the care of His people. “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation!”
THREE VIEWS OF RELIGION
I. What religion is. Plainly it is something belonging to the soul, not a ritual, but a life. It is also something personal, as between the soul and God, and not any service which can be rendered for us by priest or proxy. It is suggested here that religion consists in—
1. Personal faith that God is good.
2. Personal devotedness to God as good.
3. Personal communion with God as good.
“Religion in the understanding is the knowledge of God (Hosea 4:1); of His will and commandments; it is the knowledge of His ‘mystery’ or secret counsel revealed in Christ (Ephesians 1:17). When the Jewish law had been given, religion was practically a ‘walking in the law of the Lord’s (Psalms 119:1; cf. Luke 1:6); when the Christian revelation has been made it is an ‘acknowledgment of the truth which is after godliness’ (Titus 1:1). But in this truth, in that law, it seeks a Person; it is fundamentally the maintenance of a real relation with the Personal God, or with a Divine Person, really incarnate in Jesus Christ. Accordingly religion, both Jewish and Christian, is described as a covenant; it is a bond or understanding between the nature, or the soul, and God, or still more, from the point of view of a faith which worketh by love, it is personal communion with God (1 John 1:3). Thus religious life is more than feeling, than knowledge, than obedience to a moral code. It is the sacred bond freely accepted, generously, enthusiastically, persistently welcomed, whereby the soul engages to make a continuous expenditure of its highest powers in attaching itself to the personal source and Object of its being.”—Canon Liddon.
II. What religion does. It is thoroughly practical. It is God’s power in the soul, and worketh in every one to bring us nearer and nearer to Himself.
1. Establishes right relations between the soul and God. Right relations are of great importance. It is so among men; much more with God. If the relations of the soul to God are wrong, all is wrong. If the relations of the soul to God are right, all will be right Now, in religion, “the heart is made right with God.” There is “trust” (Psalms 34:8). There is reverential “fear” (Psalms 34:9). There is holy aspiration and endeavour, the continual seeking of God (Psalms 34:10).
2. Effects a moral transformation of character (Psalms 34:9). “Fear the Lord, ye His saints.’ “This is the moral consequence of becoming acquainted with God and His goodness.”—Murphy. Those who are in a right relation to God, and who love and trust Him, are not only “His saints” in respect to consecration, but they become more and more “His saints” as regards character.
3. Ensures the highest blessedness of being (Psalms 34:10). “The young lions are here the representatives of those who glory in their own strength and resources.”—Murphy. The meaning is, “that while the most powerful and least scrupulous of men may be reduced to want, the people of God shall be abundantly and constantly provided for.”—Alexander. (cf. Job 4:10-11; Psalms 57:4; Nahum 2:12-13; Ezekiel 19:2; Ezekiel 38:13; Isaiah 40:30-31). “They shall not want any good.”
III. What Religion deserves (Psalms 34:10). This is the language of experience. It breathes faith, and hope, and love. It is an appeal to the deepest feelings of the heart It implies that if men would only make trial of religion for themselves, they could not fail to be convinced of its supreme excellence.
1. Earnest study. We are bound to investigate. That only is truth to us which commends itself to our own conscience. Our faith should stand, not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. “Search the Scriptures.” Remember how the Boreans were praised for their independent and earnest examination of the truth (Acts 17:11). Surely that which is the most wondrous thing in the world, and which concerns us all so nearly, should be personally and profoundly studied.
2. Personal Trial. “Taste and see.” Nothing is so convincing as experience. Only by trial can we truly realise what religion is and what it does. It is one thing to hear honey called sweet, and another thing to know that honey is sweet, because we have tasted it for ourselves. “He that believeth hath the witness in himself” (cf. 1 John 5:10).
3. Hearty commendation. It is the duty of every godly man to commend religion to others. Loyalty to God and love to our brethren alike bind us to this. We should be careful to give a just representation, such as will attract instead of repel. By our humility, our patience, our love, our trust in God, and our purity in the sight of men, we should be true witnesses for our holy religion, true preachers of Christ.
“O taste and see that God is good.” This voice comes to us from nature, sounds throughout the Scriptures, and is echoed by the godly of all generations. Let us take it up for ourselves. “The inquiry of truth, which is the wooing of it, the knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it, and the belief of truth, which is the enjoyment of it, is the sovereign good of human nature.”—Bacon.
AN ADULLAM SERMON
We may imagine that these words formed the substance of an address on some quiet Sabbath in the Cave of Adullam.
I. The Congregation
We learn from 1 Samuel 22:1-2, that David fled from Achish to Adullam in Judah. And “every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him, and he became a captain over them; and there were with him about four hundred men.” What a strange gathering! What diversities in age, and conduct, and experience! But they had much in common. They were involved in the same cruel fate, and animated with the same resolve, to stand by each other, and to struggle to the uttermost for life and liberty under their chosen leader.
II. The Preacher.
David was a man singularly fitted to address such an audience. His manly presence, his chivalrous nature, his romantic history, his fame as a soldier and poet, his identification with the poor and the oppressed, and with all that was noblest in his country’s history, and above all, his simple faith, must have given him an extraordinary position and power. While his men felt that he was truly one of themselves, they must have also felt that he was raised above them, with a higher character and destiny. He seemed to them born to be a king of men. With what rapt attention and eager hopes would they hang upon his lips.
“Children.” The word expresses both authority and tenderness. As Venema, in substance expounds, he might have called them children, “because he was about to be their teacher, and they his disciples; and again, because they were young men, in the flower of their age, and as sons, would be the builders up of his house; and still more, because as their leader, to whose discipline and command they were subject, he had a right to address them as his children.”—C. H. S.
III. The Sermon.
1. The subject was supremely important. “The fear of the Lord.” They had common trials, attachments, and hopes, but beyond these, they needed religion—the fear of Jehovah—to unite their hearts in the truest sense, and to make them strong.
2. The treatment was singularly appropriate and effective.
He invites their attention. “Hearken unto me.”
He addresses their understanding and conscience. “I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”
He appeals to their affections and hopes. “What man is he that desireth life and loveth many days, that he may see good?”
He demands the obedience of their hearts and lives (Psalms 34:13-14). The tongue must be kept from evil, and the lips from guile. This could not be done without the renewal of the heart, and earnest personal effort. They had many temptations, wrongs to exasperate them, the prosperity of their enemies to make them envious and revengeful, and the hard struggle for existence to make their life bitter. Some might say, they could only succeed by fraud and violence, by returning evil for evil But not so. Let them trust in God and do the right Let them keep themselves pure, and be followers of peace. Only thus could they enjoy the favour of God.
“Life is happiness; good days are happy days. Happiness consists in enjoying God’s favour. His favour is life, His loving-kindness is better than life. To have His eye resting complacently on us, to be the objects of His love and care, to have His ear open to our prayers, to have Him, infinitely powerful, wise, and good, always ready to listen to our petitions, and supply our need; this is life, this is happiness. While, on the other hand, to have His face set against us, to have His countenance covered with frowns, to have Him looking out at us as He did, out of the pillar of cloud, on the Egyptians struggling with the billows, this is misery.”—Dr. J. Brown on 1st Peter.
GOD AND HIS PEOPLE
In the sight of God society is divided into two classes. The principle of classification is not rank, wealth, learning, or worldly power, but character. On the one side are the righteous, and on the other the wicked. The difference between them is vital. They are utterly opposed in their principles and conduct, and God recognises this in His treatment of them. It is the old, old story, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.” God’s people are—
I. The objects of His Fatherly regard (Psalms 34:15). “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears are open unto their cry.” The eyes and the ears are the great sources of intelligence. The terms as applied to God may imply—
1. Perfect knowledge.
2. Abiding sympathy.
3. Gracious interposition. As a father watches his child, and is ever ready to act for its good, so our heavenly Father deals with His people. They are individually the objects of His unceasing care. The awful contrast is depicted in the condition of the wicked (Psalms 34:16). God is against them, and they are doomed to destruction.
II. The subjects of His holy discipline (Psalms 34:17-21). They have trials as well as joys. This world is to them often a scene of suffering. But they are not forsaken. God is with them. They have the sense of His love to cheer them. They have the promises of His Word to comfort them. They have the ministers of His providence and Spirit to chasten and to profit them. And evermore the throne of grace is open to them, to which they may com boldly in the name of Jesus, “that they may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
The whole of God’s dealings with His people are disciplinary. They are weak and sinful, and God dealeth with them as with children. He is training them through suffering for glory. Affliction leads to prayer, prayer leads to increased faith, and increased faith to more of love, and patience, and humility, to wider sympathies, and nobler aims, and holier joys. “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart.” What a comforting word! The Lord is nigh in all His tenderness and pity, in all His power and grace. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth them out of them all.”
Mark, again, the terrible contrast. “Evil shall slay the wicked, and they that hate the righteous shall be desolate.” Afflictions are to them calamities instead of chastisements. Under them they grow worse instead of better. Whatever seemed to be good in them is destroyed, and in the end they are left alone and hopeless in their misery and guilt.
III. The recipients of His redeeming grace (Psalms 34:22). From first to last God’s purpose is to do them good. And all is of grace. The righteous did not of themselves merit God’s love and His deliverances. What He has done for them in providence and in grace has been done for them in and through Christ, and unto the praise of the glory of His name for ever and ever.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 34". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14