A Meditation on Psalm 34
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.
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.
Before we dig into Psalm 34, we should note the superscription: “Of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.” This refers to an episode recorded in 1 Sam 21.10-15 (there, the king is called “Achish,” but the discrepancy can be explained by “Abimelech” being a common kingly title or nickname meaning “my father is king”). We should especially notice that David is on the run from King Saul, who wants to kill him. Once David enters Gath, he must fear for his life from two kings!
Now, reconsider the opening lines of the psalm: “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” David praises the Lord even in extreme peril, and even as he is separated from the regular sacrifices of Israel. The opening lines of the psalm remind us to remain faithful to God even amid hardship. Our loyalty to the Lord shouldn’t wax and wane as times grow good or bad for us. Instead, like David, we should remain constant in devotion.
David’s theme begins after the praise: “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” Remember that he is saying this while he’s on the lam. David is writing proleptically—he is writing about something that has yet to happen as if it has already happened, so great is his trust in God.
We have entered a time when this kind of trust in God may be difficult. COVID-19 is already the third leading cause of death in the United States, second only to heart disease and cancer. On Tuesday, March 31st, five times more people died of coronavirus in the US than of flu and pneumonia combined. The chances are that this disease will claim someone that we love.
Will my faith be as strong as David’s if that happens? Will I continue to trust in God even if I fall ill myself?
Let us not be too glib in our thinking. This week is Passion Week. It was during this week around 2,000 years ago that Jesus told Peter, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter couldn’t believe what the Lord told him. “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” Yet, all Peter’s bluster did nothing to change what happened: when he saw trouble, Peter denied being a disciple of Jesus. Will we fare better? We would do well to heed the Lord’s words to the disciples shortly afterwards in Gethsemane: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26.34-35, 41).
Let us remember that our Lord had to die to achieve His great victory over sin. Let us remember that we, His disciples, are called to follow Him to the Cross: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 10.39). Let us take to heart what David writes in Psalm 34: “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.”