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Further Reflections on Psalm 34 - Parts 2 & 3
Further Reflections on Psalm 34 - Parts 2 & 3
The first part of this Psalm, 1-7, speaks of the personal experience of David, how he escaped by the skin of his teeth from the hands of Achish, king of Gath. It is written: 'He feigned madness before Abimelech (Achish), who drove him away...'. The background to this Psalm is the account of David's escape in 1 Sam 21:10-15. David had nothing to boast about regarding himself. Driven by fear of Saul, David falls into the hands of Achish. The fear of man is a snare. How many troubles we create for ourselves because we fail to trust God and we fear man and his machinations. David feigned madness out of desperation. It was only by God's grace that David escaped. We remember Paul's escape from Damascus; he slipped out in a clothes' basket. Paul says this was his weakness or infirmity, 2 Cor 11:30-33.
Let us note this one thing: there is nothing we can boast about before God. All our pride has to be humbled to the dust. As Christians, we live 100% by the sheer grace and mercy of God.
David's dramatic escape from death leads him to reflect on life itself. He draws a lesson from it, 8-14. This is the second part of the Psalm. The key word here is 'fear the Lord'. If we truly fear the Lord, we will never fear any man. No, not even Saul or Achish. We are safe in God's hands; but we must walk wisely, not hastily or presumptuously. Do you have any fears in life? Fear of the future? fear of providing for your family? fear of failure? fear of the enemy? What you need is the 'fear of God'. David says, 'Come, you children, listen to me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord.' 11.
The trials in the life of a believer are meant to strengthen our faith. Yes, our faith is tested in fears, troubles, afflictions; we go through 'fire and water', but God brings us into a wealthy place. Ps 66:12. Our God is faithful. Psalm 34 says He hears us, answers us; He draws near to us; He rescues us, delivers us; He protects us; He supplies all our needs. Not only does He defend us and deliver us, but He also judges the wicked, our enemies who are bent on destroying us. Yes, the wicked shall be condemned, 21. Ultimately, God holds the fate of everyone in His balance. His eyes are ever towards the righteous, 15; He keeps all his bones -- not one of them is broken. That's how safe we are in God's hands.
David brings home the issue of practical living and practical righteousness. Though there is a righteousness imputed by faith, there is also a righteousness that results in holy living. It is not enough to say that you believe. Is your faith backed up by a good testimony? Most Christians lack a true & living testimony. Pastors who are obsessed with sports and TV shows bring reproach to the name of Christ; but then, anything is possible in this modern Moab called America. There is no separation from the world. In many cases there is no difference between a so-called Christian and an unbeliever.
Practical righteousness is related to the fear of the Lord. If you have the fear of God, then you will, first of all, learn to control your tongue, 13. There will be no back-biting or gossip or slander. Secondly, you will depart from evil and learn to do good (v.14), i.e. be occupied with good works; instead of being a lazy hypocrite who calls himself a 'believer'. The fruit of righteousness is seen in good works. Thirdly, you will be a peacemaker, 14b. It is easy to argue and score a point over others. It is easy to divide people into parties. But those who seek peace and pursue it, are those who pray that the spirit of unity will prevail among brothers in Christ. There must be peace with God and peace with man. We are not controversialists, nor do we seek to win attention to ourselves. So practical righteousness comes with the fear of God and with humble and holy living.
We come to the third and last part of the Psalm, 15-22. David now generalizes on his experience. It is not just he who goes through severe trials, but every believer who loves the Lord must go through afflictions and trials. There is a Cross in every Christian life.
But the Lord is faithful, and merciful. His eyes are always upon us, His ears are open to our cry, 15. He hears and delivers...out of ALL our troubles, 17. Have you noticed the word 'all'? How many times it appears in this Psalm! How absolute are the words 'all' and 'any' and 'none'! We should take courage from the absoluteness of God's mercy and faithfulness and grace.
We come, finally, into the deep experiences of the 'afflictions of Christ'. We are broken-hearted, crushed in spirit, 18. But it is with the broken-hearted that the Lord builds up Jerusalem, Ps 147.2, 3. 'Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all', 19. He protects; He preserves. Not a single bone is broken, 20. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without the heavenly Father knowing it, Matt 10:29. Therefore do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows, Matt 10.31. What tender solicitous care by our loving God!
Through many inward experiences of the Cross we come to a deeper knowledge of Christ.We learn through suffering; we render greater service through suffering. But (shall I say it?) suffering in itself is service to God. It has a meaning and value that the human heart or mind cannot grasp. There are profound passages in Peter's Epistle of Suffering, which those who live shallow, comfortable lives cannot understand.
And while grace does its work, judgment is not set aside. In verses 21 and 22, we read of a Final Judgment which settles all scores, balances all accounts and removes all misgivings. Then everyone who has suffered for Christ will whole-heartedly praise the Lord. As the righteous rejoice in full salvation, the wicked meet with irrevocable condemnation.
© Roland N Oliver/Pratonix