Introduction: J.A. Alexander, an expositor of the Psalms, said that Psalms such as the one before us, (with every letter in the Hebrew language acrostically arranged, i.e., each stanza beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet), are known to be arranged around one central theme. What, then shall we say is the theme of Psalm 34? It is my prayer, as we answer that question in this week’s notes, that we would be drawn deeply into this Psalm of David, rejoicing with him in God’s abundant care for us in our weakness: (even in times of sinful failure – such as David in his feigned insanity displays in our Psalm’s title).

Monday: read Psalm 34:1 and 1 Samuel 21:10-15. As the title of Psalm 34 indicates, the historical setting here is not one of which David could be proud. In his weakness and difficulty believing God could protect him from the violence of King Saul, David feigned insanity, bringing dishonor upon himself and upon his God in the eyes of the Philistines and their king in Gath. Of this regrettable event, Charles Spurgeon writes in The Treasury of David:

“The Lord hath by right a monopoly in his creature’s praise. Even when a mercy may remind us of our sin with regard to it, as in this case David’s deliverance from the Philistine monarch was sure to do, we are not to rob God of his meed of honor because our conscience justly awards a censure to our share in the transaction. Though the hook was rusty, yet God sent the fish, and we thank him for it. At all times, in every situation, under every circumstance, before, in and after trials, in bright days of glee, and dark nights of fear. David would never have done praising, because he was never satisfied that he had done enough; always feeling that he fell short of the Lord’s deservings. Happy is he whose fingers are wedded to his harp. He who praises God for mercies shall never want a mercy for which to praise.” 

Meditate and Pray: How thankful to God we are for this wonderful Psalm, produced out of David’s shameful failure! How we need to see how God brings forth good even from our lowest points! Instead, we too often entertain feelings of self-reproach after our failings are exposed! But – once God has forgiven our transgression, do we really need to attempt further penitence by moaning in our bosoms about our sin? Do we not need to move beyond, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” to “Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:24-25).

Tues/Weds: read Psalm 34:1-3 and 34:15-20. In spite of David’s extraordinary failure before the Philistines, it is beautiful to read how determined he is to give God constant praise and blessing in verses 1-3, even boasting inwardly and with his mouth about God’s great work on his behalf. The reason for such a goal of ‘constant praise’ is to somehow respond appropriately to God’s constant watch-care in Psalm 34:15: “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry.”

Isn’t that a beautiful way to give thanks for God’s vigilant concern? Such a divine turning of the eyes towards us in our plight reminds us of Psalm 33:18: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy.” God also promises to keep us in his gaze in Psalm 32:8, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go: I will guide you with my eye.”

Meditate and Pray: Here, then, is a picture for us to meditate upon! Picture God, as a loving concerned father, letting his eyes rove to and fro on the path that lies before us. We don’t see where the next step will land, but he is already looking at where we should place our foot, and ensures that we can follow his gaze to that footstep’s resting place! Sing about such ‘eye-to-eye’ guidance with hymn # 600:

He leadeth me, O blessèd thought!
O words with heav’nly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, where’er I be
Still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.

(refrain) He leadeth me, He leadeth me,
By His own hand He leadeth me;
His faithful follower I would be,
For by His hand He leadeth me.

Sometimes mid scenes of deepest gloom,
Sometimes where Eden’s bowers bloom,
By waters still, over troubled sea,
Still ’tis His hand that leadeth me.

(refrain) He leadeth me, He leadeth me,
By His own hand He leadeth me;
His faithful follower I would be,
For by His hand He leadeth me.

Lord, I would place my hand in Thine,
Nor ever murmur nor repine;
Content, whatever lot I see,
Since ’tis my God that leadeth me.

And when my task on earth is done,
When by Thy grace the vict’ry’s won,
E’en death’s cold wave I will not flee,
Since God through Jordan leadeth me.

Thurs/Fri: read Psalm 34:1-20. There is a remarkable emphasis on teaching or instruction in Psalm 34. Though the word ‘maschil’, (which is used in Psalms that have one central teaching purpose – such as Psalm 78), is not used of Psalm 34, it is nonetheless a Psalm full of instruction on the subject of trusting God at all times for all needed provisions and deliverances.

For example, consider the ultimate speaker in this Psalm. Yes, it arose from David’s experience as God’s anointed Old Testament king. But it speaks on a higher level of a king who would experience ultimate deliverance even through the sufferings of death. We know this from Psalm 34:20, which speaks of one delivered so successfully by God that, “not one bone is broken” – all because of the skill and adequacy of God’s delivering power!

Who is this one so preserved even in deadly affliction? Well, John 19:33-36 tells us: When the Roman soldiers came to Jesus to break his legs in order to hasten his death on the Cross, they saw Jesus was already dead after piercing him with a spear, and so left him alone, thus fulfilling the word of prophecy in Psalm 34:20: “Not one of his bones shall be broken.”

Prayer of Application: “O Lord, please persevere in writing the lesson about the benefits of our trials upon our hearts. Give your Spirit mighty persuading power as he works in our hearts – that our trust might grow stronger precisely at those times when we see the least evidence of your nearness! Help us at such times to realize that you can and will preserve every essential part of our being; calling; mind, heart and strength. Amen.”

May the Lord teach us this lesson through the aid of hymns such as the following by F.W. Faber:

Workman of God! O lose not heart,
But learn what God is like;
And in the darkest battlefield
Thou shalt know where to strike.

Thrice blest is he to whom is giv’n
The instinct that can tell
That God is on the field, when He
Is most invisible.

Sat/Sun: read Psalm 34:1-5; 34:19-22 & Psalm 78:1-4. Having established that Psalm 34 is full of instruction (compare Psalm 32 and Psalm 78 which are entitled, ‘maschils’ from the Hebrew to ‘instruct’), and having discovered that Psalm 34 is also a Psalm about the Messiah, we come to the very encouraging conclusion that it is none other than Christ Himself who is our instructor in this Psalm – an idea we can expand upon as follows:

  1. Christ is chiefly concerned in Psalm 34:2, 5 to instruct the “humble” or “bowed down” – (i.e., as the Hebrew indicates, those afflicted with trials which cause them to literally stagger under their weight). Christ’s reasoning with such afflicted ones is that, “if God delivered me from the Cross without the breaking of my bones in verse 20, so that my life could in the end be a wholesome and acceptable sacrifice, then He can bring you out of your afflictions with your soul and body preserved in the end – as a living sacrifice for God’s glory, (Romans 12:1-2)!”
  2. As our instructor in Psalm 34, Christ teaches us in a way that is characterized by meekness – as seen by his willingness to teach us from his very own lips! This is what Psalm 34:1-3 declares when they say of our Savior, that he will with his own lips and mouth praise, boast of and magnify the Lord – in such a way that the meek and oppressed will rejoice at his words!

Meditate and Pray: How different our Savior’s instruction is than typical world leaders throughout history! They tell us to be content with sound-bytes; tweets; vague platitudes and faulty promises. With such empty words, the mighty in this world talk down to us! But Christ stoops to teach us with his very own mouth. We conclude this week’s notes, then, with further reflection on the humility of our Savior’s instruction, using comments on Psalm 78:1-2, from Spurgeon’s The Treasury of David:

“Was it not sufficient for the Psalmist to say, (Psalm 78:1), Give ear to my words? Obviously. Why then is there any notice taken of the words of my mouth? Because in this world those who prescribe laws to their subjects are also those who scorn to address them with their mouth. Such is the custom of kings, princes, pontiffs, both Roman and others. For the higher every one rises in dignity, the less he considers it becoming to him to speak to the people, to teach and instruct them by word of mouth. They think they owe nothing to the people, but are altogether taken up with this, that they may be looked up to as princes, and so retain a certain secular majesty of command…

…But, (in Christ’s case), using one’s own mouth to teach the ignorant, is a singular proof of love and affection, such as becomes the preceptor, pastor and teacher. This Christ most constantly employed, because he was touched with affection towards the lost sheep, and came as a shepherd to seek them. The manner of earthly princes he therefore rejected, as Christ instead clothed himself with that paternal custom which becomes the shepherd and teacher, going about and opening his mouth in order to give instruction. See Matthew 5. Rightly, therefore, was the prophet not content with saying,  Give ear, O my people, to my law: he adds, Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. Thus he indicates that he was about to address and instruct them with paternal affection.”  (Musculus)

Concluding Prayer: Oh, Lord, as we begin a new year, cause us as elders, pastors, teachers and parents to adopt a lowly, sweet and gentle manner of teaching your flock. Keep us from lording it over those entrusted to our care. At the same time, as we speak the Word of God to our hearers, please clothe us with the necessary authority so that what we say in your name might be not only truthfully spoken, but warmly received. Thank you for giving us a Savior so committed to edifying and comforting us with his teaching. Help us as your sheep to always recognize the gentle voice of our shepherd, and not to be led astray by wolves in sheep’s clothing. Amen.