Psalm 34 Part 1 - David Radiates The LORD Under Difficult Circumstances
Our text for the next two weeks will be Psalm 34. This psalm captured my attention for a couple of reasons.
First, David’s life is spinning out of control and there is no immediate end in sight. This reminded me of how life has been for you and I over the last year. Amazingly, even though David’s life is so terrible, he is responding in a profound way in Psalm 34:1-10. In these verses David reacts in a way that surprises me by beginning with these words, “I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” (v.1)The verse that best expresses David’s disposition is in Psalm 34:5, “Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.”
Like David, if we want to be Christians whose countenance and disposition reflect the LORD more than our circumstances in this world we will need to look to the LORD and trust Him in every situation.
Secondly, David encourages those around him to join with him in magnifying the LORD even though they are miserable and melancholy. In order for this to happen David will have to train and teach them how to fear the Lord; rather than to get caught up in their external circumstances. He says in Psalm 34:11, “Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.” David is around 400 men who are capable of fighting battles; but he calls them children as it relates to their ability to honor God in their reactions under these conditions. We will look more at Psalm 34:11-22 next week.
This morning we will consider Psalm 34:1-10 and look at its historical setting and then draw some applications for us today. Let’s read Psalm 34,
A psalm of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.
I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. 2 My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. 3 Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!
4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. 5 Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. 6 This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. 7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
8 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! 9 Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! 10 The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
11 Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. 12 What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? 13 Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. 14 Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
15 The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry. 16 The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. 17 When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. 18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. 20 He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. 21 Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. 22 The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
For Christmas I was given a two-volume set of biographies about the life and times of George Whitefield. In the foreword to the book Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones spoke of George Whitefield’s unwavering devotion to the Lord that helped to make his ministry so effective.
Lloyd Jones says, “To read the wonderful story of George Whitefield’s life is to be reminded again of what is possible to a truly consecrated Christian, and how even in the darkest and most sinful ages God in His sovereign power is able to revive His work and shower blessings upon His people.”
Lloyd-Jones then says, “I urge all who bemoan the evil of these days and long for ‘days of heaven on earth’ to read it and to learn its lessons...God is still the same and is able to do again what He did in the eighteenth century through George Whitefield and others.”
I am convinced that Dr. Lloyd-Jones could have used those same words to describe this Psalm.
If George Whitefield’s life can be an encouragement to us, then Psalm 34 and David’s example in it will be even more uplifting and beneficial to you and I.
David was an example of a truly consecrated Christian. He was determined to bless, praise, boast in and magnify the LORD in everything. (34:1-3)
In this Psalm we see that God’s power is able to bless His people even in the darkest and most sinful age. Psalm 34:19, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.”
And if we bemoan these evil days and long for ‘days of heaven on earth’ we can be encouraged by considering that what God .has done in so many passed generations He is doing it in our generation. Psalm 34:22, “The LORD redeems the life of His servants, none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.”
The superscription of this psalm is also part of the original text and is inspired and authoritative. It reads, ‘Of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.’
These words let us know about the circumstances that surrounded the writing of this psalm. The events that inspired this psalm are recorded in 1 Samuel 21:10 – 22: 2. It will benefit us to read that passage as we begin. This is what we read,
10 And David rose and fled that day from Saul and went to Achish the king of Gath. 11 And the servants of Achish said to him, “Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances,
‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?”
12 And David took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath. 13 So he changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard. 14 Then Achish said to his servants, “Behold, you see the man is mad. Why then have you brought him to me? 15 Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?”
David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. And when his brothers and all his father's house heard it, they went down there to him. 2 And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.
When David sits down to write this psalm he is contemplating a very difficult time in his life. He remembers a time when his heart was overcome with fear. We are told that he was ‘much afraid” for his life as he stood before this king. It was one of those seasons in life when things were going from bad to worse. David was on the run from King Saul. He had to flee from Jerusalem so quickly that he had no food and no weapons. (1 Samuel 21:1-9)
He goes to Achish hoping to find refuge and instead he realizes that his life is in danger even there. As a result, his heart was mightily afraid, he was exceedingly apprehensive, and his soul was greatly anxious. As he stood before the king of Achish, his heart was terrified, overwhelmed and frightened.
In that moment, David acted like a madman, scratched the gate and let spit drip from his beard. At the sight of this the king said, “Behold, you see the man is mad. Why then have you brought him to me? Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?” David was then driven out of the kings presence and he escaped and fled to the cave of Adullam.
It was there that David was joined by his family and 400 hundred other men and their families. Collectively this group was described in three ways: they were in anguish, they were in debt, and they were bitter in soul.
They were in anguish and distress. The pressures of life were pressing in on them from every direction. In the Old testament this word is most often used when speaking about the distress caused by the enemy attacking a city over a long period of time causing great famine and anguish. The enemy would surround the city and cut off all of its resources and then waited for the city to run out of all supplies. When all of the resources were depleted, hopelessness and death would be inevitable. (Deut. 28:55-57) These people found themselves in this sort of situation.
They were in debt. The creditors were demanding payment of a debt that they could not pay and they demanded it at an interest rate that they could never overcome.
They were bitter in soul. They were angry, discontented, irritated, inflamed.
This s the same word used of Esau when he became bitter that Joseph had stolen his blessing. (Genesis 27:34 – “As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, ‘Bless me, even me also, O my father!’”)
It is used of Hannah in 1 Sammuel 1:10when she was greatly distressed and she wept bitterly over her barrenness. (She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.)
Job spoke of this bitterness when he said in Job 10:1, “I loath my life; I will give free utterance to my complaint; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”
Imagine for a moment that you were there with David and these distressed, impoverished and bitter people. You too would be hopeless, poor and needy, and angry and bitter. Life is hard for you and it is getting harder with every passing day.
What would the demeanor of the camp be like? Would the morale of this camp be high or low?
What would that camp sound like? Would there be laughing or weeping? Would the people there have short tempers and murmuring spirits like the Israelite's who wandered in the wilderness? Would there be the planning of revolts and scheming against the rulers in the land?
What would the demeanor of the camp be like? Would the morale of this camp be high or low? Would you be constantly worrying or would there be a sense of relief that you are right where you need to be?
At some point, David would walk before all of these people and begin to speak. What should he say in that moment? What would he need to say in that moment?
We know from the larger context that there will be many more hard times ahead for this group of people. For example, the very next person who walks into this camp will be the sole survivor of a family of priests whose town and all the people in it had been killed by king Saul. We read in1 Samuel 22:18-19 of Abiathar testifying and saying, “And Doeg the Edomite turned and struck down the priests, and he killed on that day eighty-five persons who wore the ephod. And Nob, the city of the priests, he put to the sword; both man and woman, child and infant, ox, donkey and sheep, he put to the sword.”
Why did that happen to them? Because David had come to the city to meet with the priests. He asked for a few things and they had given him food and the sword of Goliath. (1 Samuel 21:1-9) When Saul heard of the kindness shown to David they were killed and the city was destroyed.
This group of people who are now with David will be shown no mercy if Saul finds them with him.
David gets up before them and speaks to them in a surprising way. He tells them what they need to hear by saying, “I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” (v.1) He is like Joseph who stood before the nation of Israel and said, “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness...choose this day whom you will serve.” (Joshua 24:14-15)
To the bitter in soul he says, “My soul makes it’s boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.” (34:2)
David says to those who are dis-content, “Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together.” (34:3)
To the distressed he says, “I sought the LORD and He answered me and delivered me from all of my fears.” (34:4)
To the bitter of soul he says, “Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” (34:5)
To the indebted he says, “This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.” (34:6)
David says to those who are afraid, “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, and delivers them.” (34:7)
David says to those who find themselves lacking provisions and possessions, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.” (34:8)
To the impoverished he says, “Oh, fear the LORD, you saints, for those who fear Him have no lack.” (34:9)
To the distressed he says, “The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.” (34:10)
To these destitute outcasts David says, “Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.” (v.11)
What an encouragement this would have been for each and every person that was there. These people heard more than a good speech. If the humble would hear they would be glad (v.3). David is putting on display the impact that our faith can have on us as individuals and also for all of us as we gather together.
I am sure that David was growing through all of this in character and faith; but I don’t think that what we see in David here is completely new. David sincerely worshiped the LORD in every circumstance, looked to Him often and radiated on his disposition and demeanor that he trusted the LORD (34:5).
Do you remember the words of 1 Samuel 21:12? We read, “So he changed his behavior before them and pretended to be a madman”. In that moment, David had to pretend to be something he was not. What we see in Psalm 34 is a pretty good picture of what he really was.
He blessed the LORD at all times
His praise was continually in his mouth
His soul boasted in the LORD
He sought the LORD
He looked to the LORD
He prayed to the LORD
He tasted that the LORD was good
He took refuge in the LORD
He feared the LORD
This is the man that God uses to teach these distressed, indebted and embittered people. He will teach us too.
As we celebrate this New Year we will either reflect God in the midst of these times or will we reflect distress and bitterness. David has shown us that we can stand in the midst of these circumstances and worship, praise, magnify the LORD.
Will you be a David or a Whitefield to this generation?