Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Psalm 34

Psalm 34 (NET) reads:

Written by David, when he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, causing the king to send him away.

I will praise the LORD at all times;
my mouth will continually praise him.

2 I will boast in the LORD;
let the oppressed hear and rejoice!

3 Magnify the LORD with me!
Let's praise his name together!

4 I sought the LORD's help and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.

5 Those who look to him for help are happy;
their faces are not ashamed.

6 This oppressed man cried out and the LORD heard;
he saved him from all his troubles.

7 The LORD's angel camps around
the LORD's loyal followers and delivers them.

8 Taste and see that the LORD is good!
How happy is the one who takes shelter in him!

9 Remain loyal to the LORD, you chosen people of his,
for his loyal followers lack nothing!

10 Even young lions sometimes lack food and are hungry,
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

11 Come children! Listen to me!
I will teach you what it means to fear the LORD.

12 Do you want to really live?
Would you love to live a long, happy life?

13 Then make sure you don't speak evil words
or use deceptive speech!

14 Turn away from evil and do what is right!
Strive for peace and promote it!

15 The LORD pays attention to the godly
and hears their cry for help.

16 But the LORD opposes evildoers
and wipes out all memory of them from the earth.

17 The godly cry out and the LORD hears;
he saves them from all their troubles.

18 The LORD is near the brokenhearted;
he delivers those who are discouraged.

19 The godly face many dangers,
but the LORD saves them from each one of them.

20 He protects all his bones;
not one of them is broken.

21 Evil people self-destruct;
those who hate the godly are punished.

22 The LORD rescues his servants;
all who take shelter in him escape punishment.

Psalm 34 is a praise psalm to YHWH for His acts of deliverance. In v. 2 the psalmist writes, "let the oppressed hear and rejoice!" In v. 6 he adds, "This oppressed man cried out and the LORD heard; he saved him from all his troubles." The psalm emphasizes the Lord's faithfulness to the oppressed who cry out to Him.

The psalmist points out that it is "the Lord's loyal followers" who are protected and who lack nothing (vv. 7, 9). (This is how the NET translates the phrase "those who fear the Lord.") How do you fear the Lord? The psalmist says by not speaking evil words (v. 13), not using deceptive speech (v. 13), turning away from what is evil (v. 14), doing what is good (v. 14), and striving for an promoting peace (v. 14). Those who do such things show their loyalty to YHWH. He, in turn, will be loyal to them.

So, we get a short description of the OT ethic here in Psalm 34. (Granted, this is not an exhaustive list, just what was on the psalmist's mind as he penned the words.) First, there is the ethic of speech. I don't think the psalmist is talking about profanity here. Verse 13 is literally, "Guard your tongue from evil, and your speech from words of treachery/deceit." I think this is talking about slander and deceit. I like the image of treachery in this verse. When we lie to someone we betray them. Why would God be loyal to someone who is treacherous to his brother? We can seriously hurt people with our words, and the psalmist reminds us that God isn't fooled. Second, there is pursuit of good. Verse 14 says to do what is "right," (Hebrew tov, most often translated "good" as in creation when God said "it is good") and to promote "peace" (Hebrew shalom, better translated as tranquility and prosperity, not just absence of violence).

I feel that it is the church's responsibility to promote shalom in our community. That is why our church participates in so many community development projects. It matters to God that there are poor people around us who aren't experiencing shalom. Part of our "fearing the Lord" is promoting shalom for the people around us who don't get it. [Shameless plug for's a great way to promote shalom globally.]

"Father, I thank you that You hear the oppressed. I pray that we would hear the oppressed as well. You are good, and we confess that we rely on You for protection, deliverance, and vindication. We await Your redemption of Your world, and we ask for the strength to represent you well in the mean time. Amen."

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