The Point: God provides for those who choose to live under His care.
Taste and See that the Lord is Good: Psalm 34:1-14.
 Of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away. I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.  My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.  Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!  I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.  Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.  This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.  The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.  Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!  Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!  The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.  Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.  What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good?  Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.  Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. [ESV]
“The Psalter contains fourteen psalms introduced by words linking them to incidents in the life of King David [3,7,18,30,34,51,52,54,56,57,59,60,63,142]. These introductions are not always helpful for understanding the psalms they introduce, but sometimes they are, and this is undoubtedly the situation here. The title to Psalm 34 says that it was written of the time when David pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left. The incident to which this refers is recorded in 1 Samuel 21:10-15. David was fleeing from his great enemy, King Saul, and his circumstances seemed to be so desperate that he left his own land and went to the coastal area of the Philistines to seek asylum with Achish, the king of Gath. David must have felt extremely desperate, because Gath had been the home of Goliath, the Philistine champion whom he had killed years before. Just before going to Gath he had received Goliath’s sword from Ahimelech, one of the priests of Nob. We can suppose that the very sight of the sword must have been an offense to the Philistines. Moreover, David seems to have been in danger, because the story says that he was so much afraid of Achish that he pretended to be a madman in his presence, making meaningless marks on the gates of the city and letting the saliva run down his beard. Achish took his acting at face value. Instead of arresting or killing him he simply drove him away, saying Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence [1 Sam. 21:15]. Most commentators believe that this was a sad episode in David’s life, since he obviously had failed to trust God to protect him from Saul and was relying on his own cunning instead. Whether that is true or not, David nevertheless did cry out for help and was delivered, as Psalm 34 makes clear. In 1 Samuel we are told that he escaped from Gath and fled to the cave of Adullam, where the psalm may have been written. Psalm 34 is the third acrostic psalm in the Psalter, each of the verses (with the exception of the last) beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The only variation is the omission of a verse for waw, which is also true of the second of the acrostic psalms, Psalm 25. Psalm 34 is quoted twice in the New Testament and may be alluded to in other passages. Verses 12-16 are quoted by Peter as a promise of God’s blessing for those who live a godly life [1 Peter 3:10-12]. Verse 20 is quoted by John as having been fulfilled at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion [John 19:36]. The psalm is divided into two clear parts: (1) a testimony coupled with encouragement to praise and trust God, and (2) a set of wise observations based on the psalmist’s experiences. Appropriately, Charles Haddon Spurgeon called the first ten verses a ‘hymn’ and the last twelve verses a ‘sermon’.
A Invitation to Praise. The first half of the psalm has three parts, and the first of these [1-3] is similar to the introductory call to worship of Psalm 33. Yet there is a difference. The introduction to Psalm 33 is a forthright call to the upright to praise God; it contains six imperatives. The introduction to Psalm 34, which is a testimony by David to God’s goodness, begins with David himself praising God and only then invites others to join him as they exalt God’s name together. The person who has experienced God’s mercy naturally looks to others to praise God with him. Corporate worship is one of the natural instincts of the new life of Christ in God’s people. David says he will bless the Lord at all times , and this must mean therefore even in times like those of 1 Samuel 21. You and I usually find it easy to praise God in good times, when everything seems to be going our way, but hard to boast in the Lord when our circumstances are difficult. Yet David was prepared to praise God even when he was in fear for his life, had gone down to Gath where he had been forced to play the part of a madman, and was now in hiding in the cave of Adullam. He may have acted like a fool, but he was not so foolish as to neglect praise of Him who was his only true wisdom. He may have been hiding in a dismal cave, but his psalm tells us that in his heart he was hiding in the Lord. The second part of the psalm’s first half [4-7] contains David’s own testimony. It is a good testimony, especially in light of his circumstances. Here again the background provided by the title is instructive. If we read the appropriate chapters of 1 Samuel carefully, we discover that this was the lowest point of David’s life thus far. In the previous chapter he had to part from Jonathan, his friend, after Jonathan had confirmed that his father, King Saul, had determined to kill him. David was alone. He had no bodyguard. He had no armor or weapons. In fact, he was even without food. The first verses of chapter 21 tell how he came to the priests at Nob in order to get food. Ahimelech, the chief priest, gave him consecrated bread after David had explained that it was right to do so. Then Ahimelech gave him Goliath’s sword. When David went to Gath this was all he had. And when he escaped from Achish and hid in the cave of Adullam, he was still utterly alone. It was only later that his brothers and his father’s household heard where he was and went to him as the first of the four hundred men that eventually became the core of his army and his most trusted followers. No wonder David described himself as this poor man . He had nothing. He was not even certain that he would escape alive. So this is a psalm for all who are alone or destitute, if you have nothing at all or are not even sure that you will live long. It is for people who find themselves at the absolute low point in life, which is where David was. Or find themselves between a rock, which in this case was King Saul, and a hard place, which was King Achish. It is for you when everything seems against you. What a great testimony is found in verses 4-7. And what a helpful set of instructions! It gives a sequence. First, there is trouble. David speak of his many fears  and all his troubles . Second, there is prayer. He says, I sought the Lord  and this poor man cried  to the Lord. Third, there is deliverance, the answer to his prayers. He says, the Lord answered me and delivered me . Again, the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles . Fourth, his life became radiant with the joy of being in the care of such a good God: those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed . I notice, because the end of the psalm points in this direction, that David’s circumstances did not immediately change. He was still a fugitive. He was still in danger. For a time at least he was still alone. But God did deliver him from Achish; that is, he preserved his life. And his grim circumstances did begin to change. That is important. The promise of prayer does not mean that God will change every difficult thing in your life. But He will preserve you for as long as He has work for you to do, and He will transform even the difficult circumstances by His presence and perhaps by the presence of others whom He sends to be with you. Moreover, He will do this even if you are unable to see it for a time. We have the promise of verse 7: The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. This was David’s situation in the cave of Adullam. He did not yet see how the Lord was going to deliver him, but he relied upon the promise of God’s deliverance. Deliverance is an important theme in this psalm, occurring four times. In verse 4 we are told that the Lord delivers us from our fears. In verse 7 the Lord is said to deliver us from our enemies. In verse 17 and 19 the Lord is seen delivering the righteous from their many troubles and afflictions. The psalm does not say that we will not have fears, enemies, and troubles. But it does promise deliverance from them by God’s power. The angel of the Lord is the commander of the Lord’s hosts who appeared to Joshua before the conquest of Canaan [Joshua 5:13-15], possibly a preincarnate manifestation of the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. This figure is mentioned in the Psalter only here and in Psalm 35:5-6. Verse 8 encourages us to try God out, almost physically, just as we would some great treat of delicacy. Does that seem indelicate or impious to say? To compare God to good food? Maybe. But although God is more than this image suggests, He is certainly not less. Our problem is not that we think of Him too literally but that we do not think of Him literally enough. We need to experience the goodness of God. But how does God become a part of you, a part of your thinking, of what you really are? It is by faith, and faith means believing God and acting upon that belief. In other words, it is exactly what David is speaking of in this stanza, though in other words. He wants us to act on what we know of God and His goodness, for only then will we actually experience for ourselves how good God truly is.
The Fear of the Lord. With verse 11 we begin the second half of the psalm. This half has its greatest biblical parallels in the wisdom material that opens the Book of Proverbs [chapters 1-9]. In fact, its theme is the theme of Proverbs, namely, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom [Prov. 9:10]. Earlier the psalmist said, The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him . Now he is going to teach us what that right fear is. There are two parts to this last half of the psalm. Part one provides instruction [11-14]. Part two is a summary of what has been said in the earlier verses [15-22]. What is the fear of the Lord? Most writers make a distinction between what we mean by fear and what we call reverence. This is correct, of course. But this is not how David defines the fear of the Lord in this section. He defines it, not by an emotion or attitude but by action, using words later picked up by the apostle Peter to describe the essentials of a moral life in 1 Peter 3:10-12. David is saying that the fear of the Lord is doing right, that is, that it involves obedience. Moreover, since the fear of the Lord is the enjoyment of the Lord, the way to enjoy the Lord, to taste and see that He is good, is to obey Him. Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it [13-14]. David instructs us that the fear of the Lord consists of a twofold action: a turning away from evil and a seeking or pursuing what is good.” Boice, pp. 292-298].
I. The psalmist calls the congregation to join him in praising the Lord for delivering him from all his troubles and to experience the goodness of the Lord for themselves [1-10].
A. He calls the people to praise the Lord with him so that the afflicted will be glad [1-3].
B. He tells how the Lord answered his prayer and delivered him from his troubles [4-7].
C. He urges the people to experience the protection and provision from the Lord for themselves [7-10].
II. The psalmist instructs the congregation on how to achieve a long life with the Lord’s blessing [11-22].
A. He urges the people to learn from him [11-12].
B. He instructs the people on how to achieve a long life under God’s blessing [13-22].
1. They must not speak treacherously but seek peace [13-14].
2. They must know that the Lord shows favor to the righteous but not to the wicked [15-16].
3. They will be encouraged to know that the Lord hears the prayers of the righteous who are broken-hearted [17-18].
4. They will be encouraged to know that He delivers the righteous unharmed [19-20].
5. They will be encouraged to know that those who hate the righteous will be destroyed and condemned, but the servants of the Lord will be redeemed and never condemned [21-22]. [Ross, p. 747].
Questions for Discussion:
1. List the great blessings God promises to His people in this psalm. Now list the things we must do in order to receive and enjoy these blessings. Are you receiving God’s blessings? If not, then ask Him to enable you to earnestly seek Him and be obedient to His commands.
2. What instructions does David give us concerning how we are to praise God? Why does David call upon others to join him in magnifying the Lord and exalting His name?
3. What do you think David means by inviting his readers to taste and see that the Lord is good ? How can the goodness of God be a means of strength in the problems that you face? Ask God to increase your ability to taste and see that He is with you and that He is good.
4. What is David’s counsel in 11-14? Note how David connects fearing God with obeying God. Look at how Peter uses these verses in 1 Peter 3:8-12. What do we learn from these verses concerning the proper way to fear God?
Psalms, Volume 2, James Boice, Baker.
Psalms, Volume 2, John Goldingay, Baker.
Psalms, William VanGemeren, EBC, Zondervan.
A Commentary on the Psalms, Allen Ross, Kregel.