Of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.
1 I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.
3 O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.
4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.
5 Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.
6 This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD, and was saved from every trouble.
7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
8 O taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.
9 O fear the LORD, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want.
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
11 Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
12 Which of you desires life, and covets many days to enjoy good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.
14 Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.
15 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry.
16 The face of the LORD is against evildoers, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
17 When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears, and rescues them from all their troubles.
18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD rescues them from them all.
20 He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.
21 Evil brings death to the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22 The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
Psalm 34 is another acrostic poem (each line beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew Alphabet) where the teacher passes on a robust life of trust in God’s faithfulness and presence. Its form points to the psalm being an A to Z (or Aleph to Taw) exposition of what a whole life under God’s care looks like. Faith becomes something passed on from the speaker to the hearer as they impart the wisdom they have learned from their experience of life. What they are handing on is not a naïve faith that cannot endure heartbreak, struggle and disappointment but a fully embodied faith which learns to trust in the LORD’s seeing, hearing, and action in the difficult times.
The beginning begins in blessing, a blessing that comes continually from the poet’s mouth. The blessing is not conditional upon the feelings of the moment, nor is the psalmist’s faith dependent upon never enduring hardship. Praise is the appropriate action for the one who trusts and fears the LORD. They can praise based on their experience of God’s dependability. The faithful one has learned to boast in the LORD, and it is God’s strength and power that is their foundation. As Psalm 33 reminds us it is not armies, or strength, or military might that is the place where we are to put our trust but instead we magnify the LORD and exalt his name. This places the speaker and hearers in a place where they can acknowledge, “Praise does not make God greater, but it acknowledges that God is greater than I.” (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 324) The life of faith learns peace by trusting in the strength and protection and trustworthiness of their God.
The poet invites those hearing into their experience of faith. Faith has an experiential component, and here the psalm can look back upon times where the speaker cried out and they were heard. The psalmist trusted in the LORD and feared the LORD and the LORD extended protection around them. Taste and see that the LORD is good, one of my favorite lines of this psalm, is an invitation to come and experience, or in the words of the lectionary gospel reading from John for this week, to “come and see.” (John 1: 46) This may have originated as a portion of a sacrifice of thanksgiving where the invitation to taste and see the blessings of God may have been an invitation to the table. There is value in taking the time to reflect upon the provision of God throughout our lives and, whether at times like Thanksgiving or simply as a portion of a prayer before a meal, to be reminded that the things that we taste and see are ways in which God has provided for us. Happiness resides in being able to accept the things that one has as a gift rather than something one is entitled to.
The young lions, those beasts which are the strongest and seem to be able to seize their security for themselves, suffer want and hunger in contrast to the faithful ones who trust in the LORD’s provision. The continual call of instruction to those who are hearing, like a parent to a child, of what it means to fear, love and trust God above all things becomes the center of handing on this embodied and experienced faith. Those desiring to experience a fullness of life throughout their days are encouraged to seek the paths of righteousness and faithfulness in contrast to the ways of deceit and evil. They are to depart from evil, seek peace and pursue it for the LORD will actively watch over the righteous.
This care of the LORD takes on the familiar human senses. The LORD will see since the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, God will hear because God’s ears are open to their cry and the LORD’s face will be set against those who work against God’s ways. Being a faithful one does not guarantee a life free of heartbreak or affliction, yet the LORD is present amid those experiences and does not allow those experiences to separate the faithful on from God’s steadfast love. Even though the wicked may seem to prosper there is a trust that evil itself will bring down the wicked. Perhaps this is a part of arc of the moral universe bending towards justice that Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders could speak of. At the foundation of this faith is a belief that goodness ultimately triumphs over evil, that righteousness will persevere long beyond wickedness and that God’s will shall eventually be done on earth as it is in heaven. I’m going to close with a quote from Peter C. Craigie I found helpful in hearing this psalm:
The fear of the Lord establishes joy and fulfillment in all of life’s experiences. It may mend the broken heart, but it does not prevent the heart from being broken; it may restore the spiritually crushed, but it does not crush the forces that create oppression. The psalm, if fully grasped, dispels the naiveté of that faith which does not contain within it the strength to stand against the onslaught of evil. (NIB IV: 815)