Psalm 34 – Praise from the Cave
This psalm is titled A Psalm of David when he pretended madness before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed. A fugitive from Saul, David went to the Philistine city of Gath but found no refuge there and narrowly escaped. Those events are recorded in 1 Samuel 21:10-22:1. Following that, David went to the cave at Adullam where many desperate men joined him. This joyful and wise psalm seems to have been written from that cave, and sung in the presence of those men.
The structure of this psalm is an acrostic, or nearly so. Each verse begins with another letter of the Hebrew alphabet, except for the letter waw. The purpose of the acrostic format in this psalm mainly seems to be as a device used to encourage learning and memorization.
Abimelech was probably a title given to rulers among the Philistines; the ruler’s proper name was Achish (1 Samuel 21:10).
A. Calling God’s people to praise.
1. (1-2) A life overflowing with praise.
I will bless the LORD at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul shall make its boast in the LORD;
The humble shall hear of it and be glad.
a. I will bless the LORD at all times: Given the title of this psalm and its historical setting, we see David triumphant and relieved at God’s rescue when he was held by the Philistines (1 Samuel 21:10-22:1).
i. “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 this psalm tells us that in his heart he was hiding in the Lord.” (Boice)
ii. Praise shall continually be in my mouth: “Not in my heart merely, but in my mouth too. Our thankfulness is not to be a silent thing; it should be one of the daughters of music.” (Spurgeon)
b. My soul shall make its boast in the LORD: David might have boasted in himself. The 1 Samuel account describes how David cleverly won his freedom by pretending madness, but he knew that the working of the thing was due to God, not his own cleverness.
i. “What scope there is for holy boasting in Jehovah! His person, attributes, covenant, promises, works, and a thousand things besides, are all incomparable, unparalleled, matchless; we may cry them up as we please, but we shall never be convicted of vain and empty speech in so doing.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Yet in a sense, David had little to boast of, from a human perspective. He had to humiliate himself like a madman to escape the Philistines, whom he had foolishly sought refuge among – even bringing Goliath’s sword with him to Gath!
iii. Therefore this is a humble boast of David, boasting in the LORD and even a bit in his own humiliation. “Paul, in his great passage on boasting, may have remembered this saying and this episode, and so recalled his own ignominious escape from another foreign king (2 Corinthians 11:30-33), and the lessons learned in such straits.” (Kidner)
iv. “The seeming idiot scribbling on the gate is now saint, poet, and preacher; and, looking back on the deliverance won by a trick, he thinks of it as an instance of Jehovah’s answer to prayer!” (Maclaren)
c. The humble shall hear of it and be glad: David won his freedom by a radical display of humility. Other humble people would be glad to hear how God blessed and rewarded David’s humility.
i. It’s significant that he calls the people of God in general the humble. It is as if being proud were a denial of God Himself – and in a sense, it is.
2. (3-7) The testimony of the delivered one.
Oh, magnify the LORD with me,
And let us exalt His name together.
I sought the LORD, and He heard me,
And delivered me from all my fears.
They looked to Him and were radiant,
And their faces were not ashamed.
This poor man cried out, and the LORD heard him,
And saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him,
And delivers them.
a. Oh, magnify the LORD with me: David knew there was something magnetic about the true praise of God. When one genuinely praises God, he or she wants to draw others into the practice of praise. If it is good for one to exalt His name, then it is even better to do it together with His people.
i. David thought praising God was to magnify Him – that is, to make Him larger in one’s perception. Magnification does not actually make an object bigger, and we can’t make God bigger. But to magnify something or someone is to perceive it as bigger, and we must do that regarding the LORD God.
ii. “As not sufficient to do a great work himself, he calleth in the help of others.” (Trapp)
iii. “The Christian, not only himself magnifies God, but exhorts others to do likewise; and longs for that day to come, when all nations and languages, laying aside their contentions and animosities, their prejudices and their errors, their unbelief, their heresies, and their schisms, shall make their sound to be heard as one, in magnifying and exalting their great Redeemer’s name.” (Horne)
b. I sought the LORD, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears: David’s simple testimony is still powerful thousands of years later. David sought the LORD – looked to Him in loving trust. God then heard His servant, with the implication that He heard him with love, sympathy, and action. God responded when He delivered David from all his fears.
i. Commentators are divided regarding whether or not David sinned when he feigned madness among the Philistines, or if he was obedient and guided by God. Morgan observed, “There does seem to be incongruity between David feigning madness to save his life, and this exalted outpouring of praise to God as the Great Deliverer.”
ii. “Wherein, whether he sinned or not, is matter of dispute; but this is undoubted, that God’s favour and his deliverance at that time was very remarkable, and deserved this solemn acknowledgment.” (Poole)
iii. “Even when I was in the enemies’ hands, and playing my pranks as a mad-man amongst them, I prayed secretly and inwardly.” (Trapp)
iv. Even if David sinned in feigning madness, God delivered him and did not abandon him. “It is easy to understand how, in the quietness and solemnity of that cave of refuge, he recovered, and that with new power, his sense of the Divine care and wisdom and might and sufficiency. So he sang.” (Morgan)
c. They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faces were not ashamed: In moving from “I” to “They,” David indicates that this experience was not his alone. Many others have known and will know what it is to set the focus of their loving trust upon God and receive His help.
i. They looked to Him: “The more we can think upon our Lord, and the less upon ourselves, the better. Looking to him, as he is seated upon the right hand of the throne of God, will keep our heads, and especially our hearts, steady when going through the deep waters of affliction.” (Smith, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. And were radiant: The idea is that they draw radiance from God’s own glory. Later, the Apostle Paul would explain much the same thought: But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18). This radiance is evidence that one has truly looked to Him.
iii. “Radiant is a word found again in Isaiah 60:5, where it describes a mother’s face lighting up at the sight of her children, long given up for lost.” (Kidner)
iv. And their faces were not ashamed: David also knew that God would never forsake the one who trusts in Him. God would give him confidence in the moment and vindication in time.
d. This poor man cried out, and the LORD heard him: David again emphasized his personal experience of these truths. He was the one. He was the poor man who cried out to God, and God graciously answered.
· A cry is short, and not sweet.
· A cry is brief, and bitter.
· A cry is the language of pain.
· A cry is a natural production.
· A cry has much meaning and no music.
i. Acting the madman among the Philistines, David certainly was the poor man. “To get the force of David’s words one has only to recall his peril and his abject clowning to save his life.” (Kidner)
e. The angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him: David narrowly escaped death among the Philistines. He was still a hunted, wanted man with King Saul determined to kill him. A rag-tag group of desperate losers gathered to him at Adullam. David was at a genuine low point; yet he was still filled with praise and trust, even knowing that God had an angelic camp all around him.
i. The triumph and joy of this song is so clear that it is easy to forget the life context of the psalm. “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.” (Boice)
ii. David’s protection was real, even if it was invisible. He could not see the angelic presence around him, but it was real. Many times in the Old Testament, the angel of the LORD was an actual material appearance of Yahweh Himself (as in Judges 13). We don’t know if David meant an angelic being sent by God, or God Himself present with the believer. Both are true.
iii. “The fugitive, in his rude shelter in the cave of Adullam, thinks of Jacob, who, in his hour of defenceless need, was heartened by the vision of the angel encampment surrounding.” (Maclaren)
iv. Psalm 34:7 is one passage that gives support to the thought of a guardian angel for everyone, or perhaps at least for believers. One can’t say that this passage proves the idea, but it is consistent with it. “Let the consideration of these invisible guardians, who are also spectators of our actions, at once restrain us from evil, and incite us to good.” (Horne)
3. (8-10) An invitation to share the joyful testimony.
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good;
Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!
Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints!
There is no want to those who fear Him.
The young lions lack and suffer hunger;
But those who seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing.
a. Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good: After telling of his own experience, David challenged the reader (or singer) of this psalm to experience God’s goodness for himself or herself. It could only come through a personal encounter, in some ways similar to a taste or to see.
i. Taste and sight are physical senses, ways in which we interact with the material world. In some ways, faith is like a spiritual sense, and with it we interact with the spiritual world. To taste and to see are like trusting God, loving Him, seeking Him, looking unto Him.
ii. “Taste, i.e. consider it seriously, and thoroughly, and affectionately; make trial of it by your own and others’ experiences. This is opposed by those slight and vanishing thoughts which men have of it.” (Poole)
iii. “As he that feels the fire hot, or as he that tasteth honey sweet, ye need not use arguments to persuade him to believe it; so here, let a man but once taste that the Lord is good, and he will thenceforth, as a new-born babe, desire the sincere milk of the word.” (Trapp)
iv. “Both Hebrews 6:5 and 1 Peter 2:3 use this verse to describe the first venture into faith, and to urge that the tasting should be more than a casual sampling.” (Kidner)
v. “There are some things, especially in the depths of the religious life, which can only be understood by being experienced, and which even then are incapable of being adequately embodied in words. ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good.’ The enjoyment must come before the illumination; or rather the enjoyment is the illumination.” (Binney, cited in Spurgeon)
b. Blessed is the man who trusts in Him: David was sure that the one who did taste and see – or, who trusted in God – would not be forsaken. God would make him blessed.
c. Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints: David thought that to fear the LORD was much like trusting Him and experiencing His goodness. This fear is the proper reverence and respect that man has for Deity. If you really experience God’s goodness, if you really experience the blessedness of trusting Him, you will also have an appropriate fear of the LORD.
d. Those who seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing: Even one as strong as the young lions may lack and suffer hunger; but David testified of God’s greater provision.
i. “The word ‘lions’ may be a metaphor for those who are strong, oppressive, and evil.” (VanGemeren)
ii. “Were there lions prowling around the camp at Adullam, and did the psalmist take their growls as typical of all vain attempts to satisfy the soul?” (Maclaren)
iii. David experienced a good thing from God in his deliverance among the Philistines. He knew that the good thing was not due to his own strength or might; it was the goodness of God extended to those who seek the LORD.
iv. “Although God doth usually take a special care to supply the wants of good men, and hath oft done it by extraordinary ways, when ordinary have failed, yet sometimes he knows, and it is certainly true, that wants and crosses are more needful and useful to them than bread, and in such cases it is a greater mercy of God to deny them supplies than to grant them.” (Poole)
v. “Paul had nothing, and yet possessed all things.” (Trapp)
B. Teaching the people of God.
1. (11-14) Living in the fear of the LORD.
Come, you children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
Who is the man who desires life,
And loves many days, that he may see good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
And your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil and do good;
Seek peace and pursue it.
a. Come, you children, listen to me: Following David’s deliverance from feigned madness among the Philistines, many who were in distress, in debt, or in discontent gathered to him at the cave at Adullam (1 Samuel 22:1-2). It’s reasonable to think that David taught these men his own recent lessons of faith, including the fear of the LORD.
i. As David describes the fear of the LORD, it is rooted in action, not religious feelings. “David is saying that the fear of the Lord is doing right, that is, that it involves obedience.” (Boice)
b. Who is the man who desires life: David taught his unusual group of followers what one must do to see God’s blessing on his life – to live in the fear of the LORD.
· Keep your tongue from evil: David taught his men – rough as they were – that they should not speak evil.
· And your lips from speaking deceit: David taught them that a particular form of evil to avoid is that of lying and deceit.
· Depart from evil and do good: David spoke to his men about simply directing the life away from evil and toward good.
· Seek peace and pursue it: David taught his men to think not only in terms of war and battles, but in terms of peace, and the pursuit of it. Peace with God and among men should be sought.
c. And loves many days, that he may see good: David’s instruction of his men at the cave at Adullam was very much in light of the Old Covenant, by which he and the rest of Israel related to God. Under the New Covenant, God’s blessing is in Jesus Christ and received by faith, not only by our own obedience.
i. “To teach men how to live and how to die, is the aim of all useful religious instruction. The rewards of virtue are the baits with which the young are to be drawn to morality. While we teach piety to God we should also dwell much upon morality towards man.” (Spurgeon)
2. (15-16) Living under the watchful eye of God.
The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,
And His ears are open to their cry.
The face of the LORD is against those who do evil,
To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
a. The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous: David continued to instruct his men, teaching them about the watchful eye and attentive ear of God upon His people. This was another aspect of the reward for those who lived the obedience described in Psalm 34:13-14.
b. The face of the LORD is against those who do evil: It was important for David’s men to also know that – particularly under the Old Covenant – there were not only blessings for obedience, but curses for disobedience. Those stuck in their evil and rebellion could find their remembrance gone from the earth.
3. (17-18) God, the helper of the humble.
The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears,
And delivers them out of all their troubles.
The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart,
And saves such as have a contrite spirit.
a. The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears: David reminded his men at the cave at Adullam that God’s attentive care is upon the righteous. David’s testimony was that God had delivered him out of all his troubles.
b. The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart: This teaching from David was wonderful for the men at the cave at Adullam to hear. They – being in debt, distressed, and discontent – were likely those with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. They were objects of God’s favor and salvation, not His scorn.
i. “Those whose spirits are oppressed, and even broken, with the greatness of their calamities…. Those whose hearts or spirits are truly and deeply humbled under the hand of God.” (Poole)
ii. “A bird with a broken wing, an animal with a broken leg, a woman with a broken heart, a man with a broken purpose in life – these seem to drop out of the main current of life into shadow. They go apart to suffer and droop. The busy rush of life goes on without them. But God draws nigh.” (Meyer)
iii. “Broken hearts think God is far away, when he is really most near to them; their eyes are holden so that they see not their best friend. Indeed, he is with them, and in them, but they know it not.” (Spurgeon)
iv. A contrite spirit: “‘The beaten-out spirit’…the hammer is necessarily implied; in breaking to pieces the ore first, and then plating out the metal when it has been separated from the ore.” (Clarke)
4. (19-22) God’s care for His righteous ones.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the LORD delivers him out of them all.
He guards all his bones;
Not one of them is broken.
Evil shall slay the wicked,
And those who hate the righteous shall be condemned.
The LORD redeems the soul of His servants,
And none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned.
a. Many are the afflictions of the righteous: David spoke from his own experience to his men at the cave at Adullam. Though he was relatively young, he had still suffered many afflictions, even as a righteous man.
i. “‘Many are the afflictions,’ but more are the deliverances.” (Maclaren)
b. But the LORD delivers him out of them all: This was the principle that answered the previous statement. Indeed, the righteous had many afflictions; yet God’s deliverance was real in David’s life and still is real in the experience of many of God’s people.
c. He guards all his bones; not one of them is broken: David could look at his own body and see that though he had endured many battles, accidents, and hardships – yet not one bone was broken.
i. According to the Gospel of John, David spoke not only of his own experience. He also spoke prophetically of the Messiah to come, Jesus Christ. John explained that the Roman soldiers who supervised the crucifixion of Jesus came to His body on the cross, expecting to hasten and guarantee His death in the traditional way – breaking the legs of the crucified victim. When they looked carefully, they learned that Jesus was already dead and they pierced His side to confirm it. John wrote, for these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not one of His bones shall be broken” (John 19:36).
ii. “Christ’s bones were in themselves breakable, but could not actually be broken by all the violence in the world, because God had fore-decreed, a bone of him shall not be broken.” (Fuller, cited in Spurgeon)
d. Evil shall slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous shall be condemned: David had confidence in more than the rescue of the righteous. He was also confident that the wicked and those who hate would be judged.
i. Evil shall slay the wicked: “Either, 1. The evil of sin. His own wickedness, though designed against others, shall destroy himself. Or, 2. The evil of misery. When the afflictions of good men shall have a happy issue, [the affliction of the wicked] shall end in their total and final destruction.” (Poole)
e. None of those who trust in Him shall be condemned: David could proclaim that God would rescue the soul of His servants, and they would be found in a place outside God’s condemnation.
i. Many centuries later the Apostle Paul would write, There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Even under the Old Covenant, David knew something of this freedom from condemnation.
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – email@example.com