Psalm 34 is one of the many psalms that David wrote, and before it begins, we’re provided with this useful note which helps us understand historical context:
“When David feigned madness before Abimelech, who drove him away and he departed.”
This is probably a reference to events that are recorded in 1 Sam. 21:10-15, when David was terrified that he would be murdered by a Philistine king. In 1 Samuel, the king’s name is Achish, not Abimelech, but it is not unusual for a man to have multiple names. Gideon, for example, also went by the name Jerub-Baal (see Judges 6). In a panicked effort to save his own life, David acted like a madman before the king of Gath—scribbling on doors, drooling in his beard, and making everyone feel very uncomfortable in his presence. The king’s response to all of this was rather humorous:
Achish said to his officers, “Look at him! Don’t you see that he’s insane? Why bring him to me? Do I have such a shortage of lunatics that you bring this man so that he can show me he is insane? Does this man have to come into my house?” (1 Sam. 21:14-15)
At the king’s orders, David was sent away unharmed. He then composed Psalm 34, in which he rightly credits God for saving his life instead of applauding his own acting skills. As we read this Psalm, we need to realize that we’re catching David in a very relieved, grateful mood. We would expect such a man to be describing life through rose-colored glasses. And he does.
I will bless Yahweh at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. (Ps. 34:1)
This is an exaggeration. David is not going to praise God at all times. There are plenty of times when he’s going to complain about God instead.
My soul will boast in Yahweh; the humble will hear it and rejoice. Proclaim Yahweh’s greatness with me, and let us exalt His Name together. (Ps. 34:2-3)
Godly humility is a heart attitude which causes one to want God alone to be exalted (see Understanding Godly Humility). David is correct in saying that those who are humble of heart will rejoice when they hear him praising God. Well, yes, humble believers love to hear God being exalted in any way. David then calls on fellow believers to praise Yahweh with him—something true believers would love to do.
I sought Yahweh, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. (Ps. 34:4)
David is referring to a specific incident here. He is not talking about his whole life. There will be other times when God will not deliver David from some of his fears.
Those who look to Him are radiant with joy, and their faces will never be ashamed. (Ps. 34:5)
There will be times on earth when believers do feel ashamed due to God’s lack of help. There will be times when we will feel like God has left us high and dry.
This poor man cried, and Yahweh heard him and saved him from all his troubles. (Ps. 34:6)
David is referring to himself here, and to a specific incident of God’s protection.
The Angel of Yahweh encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them. (Ps. 34:7)
Sometimes Old Testament Jews use the term “Angel of Yahweh” to refer to Yahweh Himself, other times to an angelic messenger sent by Yahweh. We also find Old and New Testament Jews expressing too much awe of angelic beings, and this is a mistake we don’t want to make today. As a Christian, you need to keep your focus on God Himself, not on created beings. And while it’s true that God is always with us, His nearness will not always manifest itself in the form of miraculous rescues like the kind David has just experienced.
Taste and see that Yahweh is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! (Ps. 34:8)
God certainly is good in Character, and those who submit to Him will end up very blessed spiritually, and spiritual blessings are the most important kind.
You who are His holy ones, fear Yahweh, for those who fear Him lack nothing. Young lions lack food and go hungry, but they who seek Yahweh will not lack any good thing. (Ps. 34:9-10)
This is just wishful thinking on David’s part. In real life, no one has a perfect life on earth. Some very devoted Christians will deal with terrible suffering, poverty, hunger, etc. Many of us will suffer in the same way that hungry lions suffer—feeling like God isn’t providing for our basic needs.
Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of Yahweh. (Ps. 34:11)
Revering God is the beginning of wisdom. David knows this, and is eager to teach others this principle (see The Benefits of Reverence: Keeping Us Close to a Loving God).
Who is the man who delights in life, loving a long life to enjoy what is good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do what is good; seek peace and pursue it. (Ps. 34:12-14)
Here David promises that long life will be a reward of doing right. Under the Old Covenant, God promised to give the entire nation of Israel a sweet life on earth if the entire nation obeyed Him. Naturally a guy like David wants to see his people take advantage of such a generous offer.
Now under the New Covenant, Jesus tells His followers to expect the world to give them all kinds of grief for following Him. He tells His followers not to expect a perfect life. As Christians, we need to realize that a lot of things changed when Yahweh switched Covenants and stop trying to pretend that the old guarantees are still in effect.
The eyes of Yahweh are on the righteous and His ears are open to their cry for help. (Ps. 34:15)
Yes, Yahweh is always focused on the righteous. He is pleased with them because they sincerely desire to please Him. He always hears their prayers because He hears everyone’s prayers. But it’s important to realize that our behavior doesn’t make God pay more attention to us. God is all-knowing, so there is no prayer that He is unaware of.
The face of Yahweh is set against those who do what is evil, to erase all memory of them from the earth. (Ps. 34:16)
No, God has not condemned every evildoer on the face of the earth. Instead, many are still being invited by Him to repent and receive salvation. As is typical of humans, David wants God to withhold mercy towards those who David personally dislikes.
The righteous cry out, and Yahweh hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. (Ps. 34:17)
Yes it’s true that Yahweh always hears our cries, but He does not always deliver us from our troubles. This is a ridiculous statement for David to make because he writes plenty of psalms in which he expresses his frustration at being persecuted with troubles even though he feels he’s doing everything right.
Yahweh is near to the brokenhearted and He saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Ps. 34:18)
God is always near to us, regardless of how we are feeling. Our being sad doesn’t make God pay extra attention to us. It’s important to realize that we will not always sense God’s Presence with us in some emotional way, nor will we always experience instant salvation from our depression. Sometimes we won’t experience deliverance at all. This doesn’t mean God has abandoned us.
Many adversities come to the one who is righteous, but Yahweh delivers him from them all. He protects all his bones, not one of them is broken. (Ps. 34:19-20)
This is more exaggeration. God certainly does not deliver us from all of our afflictions. On the contrary, He brings trials into our lives on purpose in order to mature us. Being righteous is not a guarantee that we will remain in good physical health.
Evil brings death to the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. (Ps. 34:21)
It’s hating God that gets us into trouble in eternity, not hating God’s human followers. No, humans are not the same as God, and we need to not blur the lines here. We also need to remember that even the “wicked” will be accepted by God if they repent out of their rebellion and submit to Him.
Now while we’re on this earth, we aren’t going to see God conforming to our very carnal definition of “fair” (which means God is supposed to be super gracious with us and utterly merciless towards those we personally dislike). Often the wicked will appear to get away with doing wrong, and even look as though they’re being rewarded for it while those who are trying to obey God feel like they are suffering unjustly.
Yahweh redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned. (Ps. 34:1)
Under the Old Covenant, Yahweh did eternally save all those who sufficiently submitted to Him. But today we live under the New Covenant, which means we must submit to all three of our Gods before we can expect salvation.
When humans get emotional, they get exaggeratory. Certain lines from Psalm 34 are often quoted by Christians to claim promises that God never gave them. It’s important to remember that God isn’t the One talking in this psalm. David is talking, and while he is correct in describing Yahweh as being good in Character, he oversimplifies the way Yahweh works with humans. Before we start claiming David’s statements as rock solid truths, we need to make sure we’re asking Yahweh Himself to show us which principles in this psalm are applicable to our own relationships with Him.
Practicing Discernment: Bible Promises