Psalm 34 is an invitation to feast.
A happy and exuberant invitation from David to us. You see, he was rescued by God in the past and now he wants us to look, to taste, to see, to enjoy, to fear, and to know this God who rescues too. David wrote many Psalms, but in only 14 of them do we find a heading given telling us the background details. Psalm 34 is one of those 14. See the heading, there we read, “OF DAVID, WHEN HE CHANGED HIS BEHAVIOR BEFORE ABIMELECH, SO THAT HE DROVE HIM OUT, AND HE WENT AWAY.” Long ago, back in 1 Samuel 21, David was on the run from King Saul. Remember David’s early life before he was king when he was a servant of Saul? Saul grew jealous of him and tried to spear him a handful of times, and after David escaped Saul sent a group of thugs after him to chase him down and kill him. David was so desperate to escape from his enemy Saul that he fled to another enemy, the Philistine city of Gath. And Gath just happened to be the city Goliath was from, remember Goliath? The giant David defeated in battle and then humiliated by cutting his head off? Well, to make things more interesting David just so happened to have Goliath’s sword with him. So there’s no way he can go through Gath unrecognized, not a chance he can hide there. But he tries. He is recognized, and the people tell the king about him. Achish was the kings name but notice how it says Abimelech in the heading? This isn’t an error, Abimelech was likely a name for kings in that day, similar to how each king of Egypt is called Pharaoh. So having been recognized and brought before the king, what is David going to do? In his desperation and terror he decides to act like a madman, so he scratches on the door and lets spit drool all down his beard. What happened? The king of Gath fell for it, didn’t want any more madmen in town, and kicked David out of the city.
This whole bizarre episode made such an impact on David that he wrote two Psalms about it. Psalm 56 is his prayer to God when the Philistines captured him, and Psalm 34 is his praise to God on thinking back about how God saved him from this. And here in Psalm 34, David wanted to his hearers to remember this Psalm, so he uses a certain method to help the memory, a Hebrew acrostic. Meaning each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, in order from first to last.
But so much more is in view here than just David. God Himself, the One who inspired David to write these words, is after our hearts too. So this is more so God’s invitation to us to feast on Him deeply and to know Him truly!
So as we approach Psalm 34, I’ve divided it in half. In v1-10 David calls us to rejoice with him and leads us in a great song of praise, while in v11-22 David calls us to learn with him and teaches us with a great sermon. Let’s dig in…
Rejoice with Me (v1-10)
“I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together! I sought the LORD, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, and delivers them. Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints, for those who fear Him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.”
David begins in v1-3 with a call to the community not just to praise the Lord, but to praise the Lord with him. Look how he puts it. v1 is a call to ‘bless’ the Lord. Does he really mean that? How can we bless God who is Himself eternally blessed as well as the source of all blessing we receive from Him and experience here? Well I think it’s clear enough. To bless the Lord is to praise the Lord, to bless is to boast, to magnify, and to exalt the Lord. All of these words in v1-3 are getting at the same reality or action. This doesn’t mean blessing or giving God something He doesn’t already have, no. This is recognition, this is acknowledgement, confession, a declaration to God about how great God truly is. And this isn’t something David wants to do only in the temple as they’re gathered together for worship with the rest of the nation, he desires this continually, he desires this would be his permanent posture before God, and only in this will he be glad.
But again, why not keep this to himself? Why does he want others, why does he want us to join him in blessing God? Because he desires we share his joy. It’s like being in a restaurant and eating something so good you have to grab someone else’s fork, load it up with the deliciousness on your plate, and turn to the person next to you and say, ‘You’ve got to try this!’ David has been so pleased and satisfied with God and in God that he can’t help but invite others into the same enjoyment, the same beauty, and the same delight. Simply put, here in v1-3 David’s words reveal David’s deepest joy, and he is quick to invite others to join him in it. Question: what do your words reveal about you? What do your words reveal about what you deeply love?
I remember a time early on in college someone told me about these new sandals that had just come out called Chacos and that I had to get a pair. Apparently everyone in the hiking and climbing community had a pair. I didn’t immediately go out and buy them, but I did eventually. And when I did I was won over quickly. It was as if I had hiking boots on but they were sandals, and they were comfortable, and the more I wore them the more comfortable they became. When I learned they made flip flops that functioned in the same way it was even better. Here were a pair of flip flops I could run in easily. And sure enough, I began telling others about them all the time. ‘Have you seen my sandals?’ ‘ Have you heard of Chacos?’ ‘You’ve got to get a pair!’ I told others so often that I grew convicted within that I was being a more faithful evangelist for Chaco sandals than I was for the gospel. I had to repent because I realized I was bit too smitten with my new sandals. I still wear them today, no better sandal, but let’s be honest, they’re just sandals! Church, our words reveal the deepest joys in our hearts. David’s lips revealed His joy in the God who saved him, and he couldn’t help but invite others to join him! May our words ever reveal that our deepest joy is the Lord, may His praise ever be on our lips, and may we ever be inviting others to join us in this.
In v1-3 David makes a great boast about God, and as he moves on in v4-7 he backs up his boasting in the Lord with a personal testimony. But take care to see how he gave his testimony. David had sinned greatly, but did he sing about his own sinfulness, as if he were proud of his former sin? No, sin isn’t the main theme of his testimony, the God who saved him is. Yes David had great fears, but what did he do about them? Did he run away from them? Did he try to drown them out with something else? No, he faced them, he felt the weight of them, and turned to the Lord because of them. How did he turn to the Lord, what did it look like? He sought the Lord in v4 and cried out to the Lord in v6. What happened? Again, in v4 the Lord answered and in v6 the Lord heard. Resulting in, v4, the Lord delivering him and, v6, the Lord saving him. What then happened to David because of such rescue? See it in v5. His face grew radiant and he was not ashamed. Fascinating result don’t you think? In other words, God saved David from his enemies and was so moved in soul that his face was transformed. How? His face beamed forth in a confident joy and shame disappeared. Joy and shame, two things that drive so much of our actions, so much of our behavior, and habits. They rise and fall like two scales on a balance, joy pushing out shame or shame pushing out joy. And as is so often the case, it’s our face that reveals which one is heavier in us. We might think we can hide what we’re really feeling on the inside, but the reality is our faces will eventually out us.
This is wonderful, but I think we can go a bit deeper. David is radiant in the redemption God has worked for him. Why? v7, the angel of the Lord encamps around him. Enemies may rise, foes may attack, troubles and fears may grow in us or come near us, but ultimately…what? Does David find rest in great fear and trouble by just being needy and running to the Lord for help? No. David finds rest in great fear and trouble by having a greater fear, by fearing One who is greater than all things, by fearing the Lord. This fearing the Lord on one hand looks like an awareness of the difference between God and us, knowing that God is pure, we’re sinful, knowing that God is infinite, we’re finite, and knowing that God is sure, we’re fragile. But on the other hand fearing the Lord looks like an awareness of the security we have in God, that He is stable, steadfast, faithful, immovable. So there is both a trembling before God and resting in God in this fear of God.Here in v7 we see it is the God-fearers, those who trust the Lord in all of life, whom the Lord encamps around and makes safe in life.
David is clearly loving all of this. And as wondrous as this all is, notice v1-7 leads somewhere. Out of and from such a secure joy in God what does David say next? He gives a grand invitation in v8, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” David could’ve just said ‘believe the Lord is good and does good’ and that would’ve been great. It would’ve been true, through and through. But, as Scripture so often does, it calls out to us powerfully and personally, it has feet that chase us and hands that grab ahold of us. This call is a call to come and feast, “Oh taste and see…” Taste and see what? Not only ‘the Lord’ but ‘the Lord’s goodness.’ You see what he’s up to here? I could tell you that honey is sweet. I could describe its sweetness to you down at the molecular level. I could make a solid argument and persuade you of honey’s sweetness and you truly could believe that honey is sweet. I could then turn on Winne the Pooh and prove all of this to you there. But it’s altogether different to taste honey’s sweetness for yourself.In a similar but far greater manner, God is not glorified fully by His glory being seen, or believed in. Rather, God is glorified fully when we see the greatness of His glory, believe in the greatness of His glory, and then rejoice in His great glory! The Christian life is very logical, but it’s more than mere logic, more than mere agreement, more than just believing the Christian worldview makes the most sense out of all the other options. The Christian life is these things, but if we’re not seeing and savoring God as beautiful in the gospel of Jesus Christ, we’re not as we ought to be. Church, David is no snake oil salesman here, he’s inviting us to infinite satisfaction in the Lord. Only a madman would deny this offer.
He’ll prove this with one more example in v9-10 with the image of young lions. Throughout the Psalms the image of young lions is a prideful image, used many times describing those do not seek or fear the Lord, but instead are a cause of fear to others as they prey on the helpless and weak in this world. David’s point is that the prideful and seemingly self-sufficient might look powerful and strong in this world but they lack what they need the most. While those who might look needy and weak in this world but look to the Lord and fear Him, they will lack no good thing.
David’s beginning call here in v1-10 is an invitation to feast on the Lord, and it has everything to do with the fear of the Lord. Now as he moves on that very idea is expanded on in v11-22. We’ve rejoiced with him, now let’s learn from him.
Learn from Me (v11-22)
“Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and His ears toward their cry. The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The LORD redeems the life of His servants; none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.”
Like a father speaking to his children, or like a teacher speaking to his students, David now instructs us on the ‘fear of the Lord.’ He begins by stating the obvious: everyone desires and wants a full, happy, and long life. But then he states the not so obvious with three negatives and three positives. The full and happy and long life is possible to be lived. What does it look like? Where can we find it? How do I go about living it? Three negatives define it first: 1) keeping your tongue from evil, 2) turning away from evil speech and 3) evil deeds. Now the three positives: 1) do good, 2) turn towards peace and 3) pursue peace. You could interpret this as saying ‘Do you want a good life? Do good, and good will come to you.’ But I don’t think that is what’s in view here. Rather, does this turning away from evil and turning toward good, does that pattern remind you of anything? It reminds us what repentance looks like. Those who turn away from sin and turn towards the Lord, trusting Him and fearing Him, those are the ones who have a full and happy life. And more so look how he describes this in v15-18. Those who repent are righteous, it is they who endure, it is they who experience the attention of the eyes and ears of the Lord, they are delivered when in trouble or crushed in spirit, and they are saved ever kept near the Lord. While the wicked who don’t repent experience having face of the Lord against them and their very memory being cut off.
But again, we could interpret this wrongly. Thinking it’s teaching that the righteous, because of their righteous living, never have any issues or trouble in life. That can’t be right though. Remember this very Psalm was birthed out of a great moment of trouble for David, a righteous man. And more so look at 19-22. It’s as if David anticipates we might arrive at the wrong conclusion, so he keeps instructing us and reminds us that many are the afflictions of the righteous. Even so, the Lord will ultimately and eternally deliver us, He’ll keep our bones. So affliction in life points us ahead to glory, where all our wounds will be healed. But contrast that with what affliction is and does to the wicked. “Affliction will slay the wicked…” In other words, sin is its own punishment. “Give the ungodly rope enough, and they will hang themselves.” In a very Psalm 1 type manner, David here brings us to a final crossroads and puts us to decision. There are two ways to live with two destinations to arrive at. One is desolation, the other is celebration. One is condemnation, the other is redemption. One road leave us guilty, the other leaves us righteous. God is against the one, and God is with the other. What way will you choose?
Church, through the pen of David God has sent us a great invitation to us today, and in this He’s chased our hearts. He’s called us out to rejoice with David and learn from David. Will we?
To end I’d like to point you to two things:
The Christ: No one in all of history, past – present – future, experienced the realities of Psalm 34 more than Jesus. Yes these are David’s words, but they ultimately point to Christ. In His life He tasted and saw His Father’s goodness, He feared the Lord, He kept His tongue from evil and His lips from speaking deceit, He sought peace and pursued it, yet the Father’s face turned away from Him as He bore the sins of many. He cried out and was not delivered. His afflictions were indeed many. But as He rose those afflictions were routed, death was broken, and redemption began.
The Christian: now that Christ has come and has fulfilled the words of Psalm 34, all who come to Christ in faith, and drink of Christ, and feast on Christ, as He’s offered to us in the gospel, truly taste and see the goodness of the Lord. And what do you know, the apostles just so happen to use Psalm 34 to describe the Christian life. 1 Peter 2:1-3 says, “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
In other words, if you’ve tasted that the Lord is good, grow up. What does growing up as a Christian look like? It looks like turning away from sin and turning towards the feast offered to us in Christ. It looks like living the Psalm 34 life.
Church, may we ever be turning to the Lord and ever be feasting on Him!
 James Johnston, The Psalms: Rejoice, the Lord Is King, Vol. 1, ed. R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2015), 347.
 Nancy DeClaisse-Walford, Rolf A. Jacobson, Beth Laneel Tanner, The Book of Psalms – NICOT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2014) 321.
 Derek Kidner, Psalms, 1-72 (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 1973) 156-160.
 Johnston, The Psalms (Psalms 1 to 41), 348.
 Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David – vol. 1 (Mclean, Virginia: MacDonald Publishing, reprint) 123.
 Kidner, Psalms, 157.
 DeClaisse-Walford, Jacobson, Tanner, The Book of Psalms, 325.
 Johnston, The Psalms (Psalms 1 to 41), 351–52.
 DeClaisse-Walford, Jacobson, Tanner, The Book of Psalms, 326.
 Johnston, The Psalms (Psalms 1 to 41), 353.
 Spurgeon, Treasury of David, 127.
 William S. Plumer, Psalms (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 2016), 428.