When David turned a test into a testimony. – Psalm 34
Psalm 34 is classified as an individual hymn of thanksgiving. There are fifteen individual hymns of thanksgiving that occur in the book of psalms. In them, psalm singers give thanks to God for deliverance from various life-threatening situations: illness, enemies, and dangers. Psalm 34 consist of 22 verses and while the liturgy of today’s Eucharist dwells on eight of them, I will also take you into a journey of the whole psalm. Please READ THE TEXT AND KEEP IT OPEN WHILE YOU FOLLOW THIS EXPLANATION. Then you will experience the miraculous healing in this psalm.
In Psalm 34, David praises God for deliverance from a life-threatening situation. How do we know this? If you look at your Bible you will see a title to the psalm or as we call it a superscription. In this case the superscription includes the name of the author and the circumstances that caused him to write the psalm. Most psalms include a superscription but scholars believe that the superscriptions were not originally written with the psalms that they accompany, but were added later.
This superscription places the psalm within a particular life situation of King David: “when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.” Ironically, the Bible doesn’t include a story of David pretending to be insane before Abimelech. So how did this title get it all wrong? The only story in the biblical text that might be associated with Psalm 34’s superscription is found in 1 Samuel 21:10-15 which tells us of David feigning mental illness before Achish, king of Gath (Philistines). David fled from Saul and went to King Achish, not Abimelech but Achish recognized him and David was afraid for his life, so he feigned madness to disguise his true identity. It is possible that the person adding the superscription inadvertently substituted Abimelech’s name for Achish’s name.
Before we dwell into the psalm itself, we must acknowledge the psalms literary style which is unique. Psalm 34 is an alphabetic acrostic. What is that you may ask? Acrostic poems and psalms were the works of highly skilled literary artists. These psalms begin the first verse with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet (alef) and each successive verse with the next letter of the alphabet. In short, they summarized all that could be said or that needed to be said about a particular subject, summing it up from alif to tav, from A to Z. The acrostic model is one of several models of Hebrew poetry and were most likely memory devices to aid in private and public. To write an acrostic psalm requires great ability and discipline, so it isn’t unusual that the psalmist skips a letter or two, as this psalmist does in this case.
Now that we have some understanding into the context and its literary style, we can look at the psalm itself. Verses 1-3 provides details of David’s experience that prompted the testimony. A testimony of praise then follows. David was tested but he turns his test into a testimony and he is effusive with the praise of the Lord. “I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” From verse three we know that the result of his testimony has drawn many worshipers to the Lord for he says, “Oh magnify the Lord with me LET US exult his name TOGETHER.” One should never underestimate the power of a testimony.
Through David, we are reminded that as Christians our testimonies are not boring. These testimonies involve the action of God; the one whose ears are turned to us, the one who has delivered our forebears, and the one who is ready to deliver us if we are bold enough to ask. And, we are reminded that when God does deliver us, we are to share that story so that our individual praise can become a communal praise.
David testifies that he ‘sought the Lord and he was answered and delivered.” Here is an interesting point. David is not celebrating his deliverance from his enemies; he is not saying I called to God and he destroyed my enemies. Rather he testifies that the Lord took away his FEAR of his enemies (verse 4, from my fear he delivered me”). Time and time again the Bible teaches us (Psalm 23) that the Lord walks with us in the valley of darkness and does not take away the darkness nor the valley. This is the consolation of the Christian; the Lord is with me in my distress.
Yet this “answering” and “deliverance” was brought about by the mighty hand of God. In Hebrew, ‘answering’ is translated as yashah or ‘help’ and ‘delivered’ reads as natsal or to be snatched or pulled away. David’s cry to the Lord is met with God who snatches David’s fear. It is for this reason that David says, (verse 5) “Look to him and be radiant or in Hebrew nahar which translates as ‘bubbling’. In short, God never took away David’s situation but simply snatched away his fear of the situation and so David is bubbling with joy even in a difficult time.
It is this confidence in God that prompts the rest of the psalmist to call on the listeners to fall in line with God’s moral law and to “depart from evil, do good, seek peace and pursue it.” (verse 14). Yet there are those who seek evil and the “face of the Lord is against evil doers.” (verse 16). However, the psalmist reason for acknowledging such conflict is not to demonize evil (at the same time it does not negate their sin); the reason of the psalmist is to maintain solidarity with the victims of evil. It is for this reason that verse 16 teaches us that the believer must leave judgment in the hands of God. Vengeance is not ours but the Lord’s. Verse 21 which is one of the closing verses of the psalm reminds us that, “evil brings death to the wicked and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.” Remember that this condemnation is not and cannot be by us but by God alone. Therefore, even the thought of personal vengeance is a sin.
Interestingly, the psalm acknowledges that even the righteous suffer, a question that many good people ask; what have I done to deserve this? Look at the number of times the word ‘righteous’ is mentioned in verse 15, 17, 19 and 21. It is the righteous who cry for help, whose spirits are crushed, who are burdened with afflictions yet we are told in verse 19 that the Lord rescues them from ALL. The all includes a suggestion of even social exclusion (1Peter 3:14,4:15-16) because of the testimony given, because of their religious beliefs. We are told in verse 20 “that he keeps (the righteous) all their bones; not one of them will be broken. A prophecy that was fulfilled with our righteous Lord on the cross in John 19:36 and a promise that we can cling to.
Take comfort in this psalm. David turned his test into a testimony and so can we.
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