I love the Psalms in the Bible. They are experiential and they are real. They engage me at a heart level. I especially find it intriguing when the circumstances behind a certain psalm are known. This is the case with Psalm 34. The backdrop for Psalm 34 is 1 Samuel 21:10-15. In 1 Samuel 21 King David is on the run. He was anointed as the 2nd king of Israel back in chapter 16-but Saul, the 1st king of Israel, refuses to give up the throne. More to the point Saul is seeking to kill David. The desperation level grows so high that David even turns to the common enemy of Israel, the Philistines, for protection. But even the Philistines recognize that this is the same David who has been victorious over them in battle several times-now might be their time for revenge. So David does something even more extreme-he feigns insanity to repulse the Philistines and get them to banish him from their camp. The ploy works-except now David ends up hiding in a cave-from both Saul and the Philistines. So how does a beautiful psalm of worship fit into this bizarre scenario?
First, let me make a couple of other observations. The greatest enemy of faith is fear. Why? Because fear amplifies our circumstances and it leads to condemnation. Either we will condemn ourselves or we will condemn what or who we consider to be the source of our trials. Fear can either paralyze us or tend us toward trying to take total control of a situation. We know David was experiencing some fear over this situation because he brings up the word twice in this little psalm. But he contrasts circumstantial fear with the fear of the Lord. I believe that David is preaching to himself through this psalm. He needs to realign his focus to confront his fears.
I believe that Psalm 34 divides neatly into two sections. The first section encompasses verses 1-10 and focuses on praise. The second section includes verses 11-22 and draws our attention to the need for wisdom. The praise section draws out God’s unique character as a deliverer, a savior, a protector, a place of refuge and a provider. But how does praise help someone in time of trial and danger? Praise automatically takes our attention off of ourselves and puts it on God and His character. We begin to see that God is greater than our circumstances and able to deliver us from our fears.
Wisdom helps us to know how to rightly and practically navigate through our circumstances. If we will keep our language away from speaking evil, turn ourselves away from evil and seek peace-we can see a good result. The psalm tells us that the Lord is favorable to the righteous but against those who do evil. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. The Lord is able to redeem the situation and us. To be redeemed means that we can be set free from the slavery of our situation. Ultimately we have a great redeemer in the person of Jesus Christ. Two passages from the New Testament bear this out and relate to the essential points of this psalm. Romans 8:1-2 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” 1 John 4:18-19 states, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.”
It seems over the past two years I have struggled with many fears-some founded-most not. I need the experiential instruction of Psalm 34. What circumstances are you facing today that are about to drive you crazy? That are causing you to live in fear? That are taking your eyes off of God? Cozy up to Psalm 34 and spend some time in verbal praise to God for who he is. Ask him for the wisdom you need to navigate your circumstances, recognizing that your Redeemer lives!