A Lesson in God’s Faithfulness through David’s Failure!

Psalm 34

Background of the Psalm:

The events that inspired David to write Psalm 34 are found in 1 Samuel 18-21. David had killed Goliath and was the hero of all Israel.  Saul was jealous as, due to his disobedience, Samuel had prophesied that his kingship would be given to another (15:28).  In Saul’s mind David’s the main contender so his life was under threat.  Due to Jonathan’s friendship David escapes, but he’s in a desperate situation and makes a bad decision.  Abimelech the priest is nervous when David turns up as word had probably got out that Saul had made attempts on David’s life.  But David spins a story that he’s on a ‘secret mission’ and needs provisions and weapons.  The priest only has the consecrated bread but is assured that David and his men have all behaved themselves.  He also has Goliath sword.  Having got food and a weapon David is on his way.  But David has lied and has looked to his own ingenuity rather than looking to the Lord!

Looking to put some distance between Saul and himself David heads for Gath in Philistine territory.  Perhaps he’s thinking he can hire himself out to King Achish as a mercenary.  But the problem of being the hero of all Israel is that David is easily identified by the King’s officials (21:11).  David, in desperation, pretends to be mad in the hope that the King will think he’s a harmless loony and fortunately it works.  The King has David thrown out and David escapes to the cave at Adullam where he is among family and where various people in trouble or with some kind of grievance (probably against Saul) join him (22:1-2).

 The structure of the Psalm:

  • David praises God for his deliverance the benefits of that deliverance (vs1-10).
  • The tone of the Psalm changes from a prayer of praise to a sermon (vs11-22).
  • This covers: the fear of the Lord – how it is practised (vs11-14).
  • The Lords attitude towards those who follow him which is seen in their deliverance vs15-22).

Some observations on the text (all scriptural quotations ESV):

David starts by praising God (v1). The phrase: ‘I will bless the LORD at all times’ could be phrased ‘at every time’.[1]  David uses ‘Yahweh’ the covenant name of God.  So David rejoices as God has been faithful in keeping his promises.  He can boast that God had acted and delivered him from all his: ‘fears’ (v4).  David’s state in verse 6 was due to his sin, but that did not stop him crying out to God (no doubt in repentance).  Verse 7 has a stunning statement: ‘The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.’ This picture of God’s protection is David’s reason for praising God.  The ‘angel of the Lord’ is singular, but ‘encamps’ is plural.  God is so powerful and there is nothing outside his influence and sovereignty.  Phillip Eveson notes he: ‘acts like a protective shield to deliver his people.’[2]  The angel of the Lord can refer to the pre-incarnate Christ.  Jesus, when praying for his disciples, prayed: ‘not one of them has been lost’ (John 17:12) and when praying for all believers he prayed: ‘Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me, where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world’ (John 17:24).

The next part of the Psalm applies this message with evangelistic zeal! Imagine David in that cave at Adullam with his not so merry men.  “Learn from my mistake” he says “I fouled up, but God was faithful.”  David wants others to have his experience of God’s faithfulness.  But they must trust God and take refuge in him (v8) and ‘fear’ him (v9).[3]  Maybe a lion growls in the distance so he uses it as an illustration. Even a Lion can get hungry and weak but: ‘those who seek the LORD lack no good thing’ (v10).In verses 11-14 David addresses those listening as ‘children’ (v11) reinforcing the instructive element of this Psalm.[4]  The person who wants to live to honour the Lord will refrain from falsehood and seek a path through life that pleases God.  The interesting thing is this comes at a time of danger and failure in David’s life, but it increases his zeal to live in a way that pleases the Lord (vs12-14).  David reminds those listening the Lord is looking out for them, but he is against the wicked (vs15-16).Verse 17 starts to draw a conclusion. The first part of verse 17 contains a statement which is fundamental to understanding prayer. ‘When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears them.’ The second part contains the statement that the Lord: ‘delivers them out of all their troubles.’ But is that true?  For a start, no one is righteous before God?  The Old Testament has a different view of righteousness.  This is not: ‘the righteousness of God’ (2 Corinthians 5:21) that we have due to Christ’s substitution; this refers to being visibility moral and upright.  But can we expect our prayers will always be answered in the positive when we are going through trouble of some sort?

I believe these verses are supposed to be understood in a broader context. Verse 18 is the key as this verse reflects God’s care for: ‘the broken-hearted’ as he: ‘saves the crushed in spirit.’  The New Testament context is found in Matthew 5:3-10 where Jesus teaches his disciples of the benefits those who are going through a tough time will receive.  Jesus is teaching his disciples, so these promises are made to believers.  How the Lord delivers his people is found in verses 19 and 20.

Verse 19 seems to duplicate verse 17, except its context is singular. But now David makes a remarkable claim that God: ‘keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken’ (v20).  This seems hard to believe!  Maybe David escaped with no broken bones but he’s still in danger as when he writes these words as he’s hiding from Saul.  Michael Wilcox notes: ‘The Lord promises deliverance from such things, but that is not the same as exemption from them’.[5]  But John applies it as a prophecy fulfilled when Jesus was crucified as he did not have any of his bones broken (John 19:31-37).[6]  The apostle Peter preaching on the day of Pentecost, states that: ‘this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosening the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.’  Acts 2:23-24).  So God delivered Jesus: ‘a righteous man’ completely and in that sense verse 19-20 is fulfilled.  The last part of the Psalm (vs21-22) contrasts the fate of the ‘wicked’ to the future state of the ‘righteous’.  The wicked, who make things for God’s people, will be condemned but those who love the Lord will be redeemed!

For us this means Jesus paid the price for our sin on the cross. Whatever David originally meant by these words, he understood that God was actively protecting him.  So he could end the Psalm on a note of confidence by stating that: ‘none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned (v22).  Philip Eveson notes that God’s: ‘covenant name “the Lord” (Yahweh) appears in almost every verse of the Psalm’,[7]  That’s a reminder that God will always keep his promises!

[1] Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Leicester, Inter–Varsity Press, 1973), 139.

[2] Philip Eveson, Psalms, From Suffering to Glory, Volume 1, Welwyn Commentary Series, (Darlington, Evangelical Press, 2014), 218.

[3] Although I do believe that the element of physical fear can also be applied here as we need to remember who God is.  Hebrews 10:31 is certainly written from this perspective!

[4] David addresses them as ‘children’ which is not is not dissimilar to the teacher instructing his pupils as ‘sons’ in Proverbs 4:1 which Peter Craigie sees as a better translation here.  Peter Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, Word Books Publisher, 1983) 280.

[5] Michael Wilcox, The Message of Psalms 1-72, Songs for the People of God, (Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press, 2001), 118.

[6] This is also reminiscent of the Passover lamb that was not to have any bones broken (see Exodus 12:46).

[7] Eveson, Psalms Volume 1, 221.

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