The superscription of this psalm tells us at what occasion it was composed. It was when David changed his behavior before the face of Abimelech, the king of Gath. The record of this history you will find in I Sam. 21.
The events recorded there date from the period when David had to flee continually before the face of Saul. At one such occasion David hurried to the country of the Philistines, more particularly, to the people of the city of Gath. Its king was named Achish. Now you will note that in Psalm 34 the name of this king is given as Abimelech. That does not seem to agree. The solution is easy. Achish was the proper name of this king and Abimelech was his title. All the kings of the Philistines were called Abimelech, which means literally, My father is King, just as all the kings in Egypt were called Pharaoh’s and of the Amalekites Agag. Later in Roman history you will remember that all the kings were called Caesar and even in our modern times we speak of the Shah of Persia, and not so long ago of the Czars of Russia. Therefore Achish in I Sam. 21 and Abimelech in Psalm 34 are the same person.
Well, when David found refuge in Gath, he could not remain there for any length of time before they recognized him as the dangerous warrior and enemy of the Philistines. The people said: Is not this the man of whom the maidens sang: Saul hath slain his thousands but David his ten thousands? And David became sore afraid. He lost sight of God and saw only Achish, the wicked king of Gath.
Psalm 34 reflects this misgiving on the part of David. He speaks of troubles and fears. We can well imagine that David was sore afraid.
But he found a way out. He acted as if he were insane. He began to scratch at the walls of the city and let his spittle drip into his beard. And he achieved the desired results. Achish asked grumblingly of his servants: Do we lack mad men in this city? Let him be gone at once. And David fled to the cave of Adullam. There his kinsfolk and a veritable host of stragglers came to him and he became their captain.
Such is the history. David was in trouble and cried unto the Lord who heard him and delivered him out of all his troubles.
The first part of the psalm, up to verse 10 is a song of praise and the remainder of the psalm is as it were a sermon. The experience at Gath he will use as a means to teach his companions the way of God’s deliverance.
He begins his hymn by stating that the praises of Jehovah shall be forever in his mouth. Wherever he is, he will speak a good word about and to his God. Such is the literal meaning of to bless. To bless means that you speak good words, comfortable words about a person or to a person. It means that you utter beautiful words. Our English word Eulogy is derived from the Greek word for to bless.
Such endeavor is exactly what we need in order to answer to the purpose for which we were created. That’s all we will do unto all eternity in heaven. That will make us happy too. That is the only occupation which makes for happiness. Bless God, praise His name and let your soul boast in the Lord and I assure you that you will be a happy person.
And that is not all.
You do that before the face of men and your song of praise will breed emulation. The humble will hear your song and be glad. I am reminded of a phrase in the New Testament which is used several times: And the people seeing this or hearing this gave praise to God. Indeed, when you do the right thing, and that is to praise Jehovah, you will cause gladness for others.
Henceforth we see David in the cave of Adullam. It is a motley throng that surrounds him. Some are in debt and are hunted as a partridge upon the mountains; some are discontented, in bitterness of soul, some were in distress. But David stands in their midst and calls them to the only endeavor that is worthwhile. Listen: O magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt His name together.
From the beginning of time the people of God have liked to praise God in unison. In the time of Enos men began to call upon the name of the Lord. And in our time we still like to go to church so that we may praise His name together. The older I become the more I like to go to church. Slowly on I begin to understand that our church-life is a little bit of heaven.
Listen, David is going to tell the dwellers in the cave of his narrow escape in Gath. I was in terrible fear, I was sore troubled: death itself stared me in the face. But this poor man cried unto God and he was heard. David further describes that ascent unto the throne of God. He likens it to the rushing stream of water. (See the Dutch translation of verse 6). And God heard: He delivered, He heard his pitiful cry and his burden was taken away. He was lightened and his face was not ashamed.
Ah, David knows the solution. The Angel of the Lord is round about those that fear the Lord. There was no real danger. It was not necessary for David to act as though he was insane. God was for him and therefore there could not be anything or anybody really against him. What wondrous safety. The literal meaning of the word that is translated by deliver really means to snatch away as from the brink of a precipice. That is what happened at Gath.
And the experience of such wonderful deliverance awakens the desire to share it with all God’s people. Hence we find David full of exhortations. He says: O taste and see that the Lord is good; O fear Him! And by implication we may read in the following verse: O seek Him!
O what fools men are! Millions will seek the earth and sin, but they will never ask, seek for the living God.
And there is nothing that pays such wonderful dividends as the service of God. Taste God and you will see that He is God! Trust Him and you will be blessed! Fear Him and you will have no want! Seek Him and you will not want any good thing. God in His blessed revelation (and that is Jesus) is the only thing you really need, without which you will have nothing but hell.
But David knows. He has experienced all this and more. And love is not narrow. He will share it with the children of God. From verse 10 on he will preach to them; he will teach them the fear of the Lord.
In the first lesson he tells us the way to real and abiding happiness. If you desire life, if you love to live that life eternally, if you want to see God, you must pursue a definite course.
Negatively you must hate evil and positively you must love goodness.
You must hate evil to such an extent that you keep your lips and tongue from the works of the devil, which is the making of the lie.
Oh no, it does not mean that you always and ever speak the pure truth of God. It does not mean that you live a sinless existence. No, but it means that you are turned against the original root sin of all sin: the lie of the devil. You know that lie: ye shall be as gods! It means that you hate the lie and fight against it every day. And that you cling to the truth of God and that is Jesus.
If you desire life and if you desire it for all eternity, you must do good. You must seek peace and pursue it. The very phraseology suggests that this course is not easy. It is the fight of faith which every Christian is privileged to fight in the power of God. Peace is not our natural sphere. Very rebellion is our atmosphere by nature. Rebels against God and rebels against all authority. But through the regenerating influence of God’s Spirit we are able to fight against the indwelling rebellion, killing it, mortifying it and thus growing in gracious obedience which is the atmosphere of real peace, of real tranquility and harmony with the heart of our God.
Such people are really happy and blessed.
Listen to David: he will describe such happiness.
God’s eyes are upon the righteous and His ears are open to their cry. Remember here what the occasion was for this psalm and it speaks the more strongly. Righteous David was in real danger of his life. His cry arose, interpreting all his fears. Rut he found out that even in the city of Gath God is the only Sovereign. He heard the cry of David and hastened to his help.
How different is the experience of the wicked. God’s face is against them. That is awful. Even if a man’s face is against you, you feel embarrassed, ill at ease, miserable. Let a man frown at you, raise his voice, glare his contempt or anger at you and your cheeks are blanched, your breath is shortened, your heart is pounding within you.
Rut this is God!
His Face is against the wicked. And while we can do nothing more than afflict the bodies of men. God can cut off our remembrance from the earth.
And history bears witness. Where is Cain and Esau and Judas, the unholy triumvirate? Where is their remembrance? Even their names shall be annihilated.
How glorious is the comfort for the sorrowing saint on earth. They have the light of God’s Spirit. By the light of that Spirit they see their sins and guilt. And slowly their hearts are breaking. They love God and they have sinned against Him. True remorse and sorrow is born of the love of God. They become contrite in spirit. And the night hears their oft-repeated cry: Oh my God, be merciful to me, the sinner!
Even though it seems as though the Lord could have no communion with such sinners as we are, the very fact that you are contrite in spirit and brokenhearted is proof that He is very near you. The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart, and saveth such that be of a contrite spirit. Such nearness was experienced by many when Jesus walked upon the earth. He would say: Be of good courage, my son, thy sins are forgiven thee! Methinks there is no sweeter music!
Oh then we are able to bear the cross. Our afflictions may be many; they are many. But if I may know that my God is near me, that my sins are forgiven and.my guilt removed; then I can sing my song of praise and thanksgiving. Then it is heaven in my soul.
This God is very careful over His saints: He keepeth all the bones of the righteous, not one of them is broken. That is true of all the righteous, but it was fulfilled in Jesus. John tells us in his Gospel that this Scripture was fulfilled after Jesus’ death when the soldiers came with hammers to crush the last spark of life out of our Lord; but finding Him already dead, they did not break His bones. Indeed, the fight was finished; Christ had paid all the debt of God’s righteousness; therefore His bones might not be broken.
So the Lord has a special care for His own. No pain or suffering will He allow to come nigh unto them, unless it must be for their eternal and spiritual welfare. And in such case their suffering and tears are blessings in disguise.
How different with the wicked. Evil shall slay them. Do you not note that the punishment is already in the transgression? If you hate the righteous and their righteous Father in heaven; if you do evil all the day long, you will never be a happy man. The more you sin, the more miserable you become. Evil slays the wicked already here below. But in the revelation of the just judgment of God he will be declared guilty.
But when God’s people arrive before the great white throne in the revelation of that same judgment, God will show within them the glory of His own work. Take courage, ye righteous! In that day the Lord will turn your hearts inside out and the whole universe will see that Jesus dwelled in you, that you trusted in your God, that you sought Him and found Him and that your deepest hunger and thirst was to see the glorious Face of God!