The title of this psalm is To the Chief Musician. Set to “Do Not Destroy.” A Michtam of David when he fled from Saul into the cave. Derek Kidner says of Do not Destroy: “This may well be a tune-indication: cf. Isaiah 65:8, where the phrase is identified as a popular saying (perhaps a snatch of vintage song), and borrowed to become a reassuring word from God. Yet notice also David’s instructions about Saul, ‘Destroy him not’ (1 Samuel 26:9).”
Charles Spurgeon noted, “There are four of these ‘Destroy not’ psalms, namely, the 57th, 58th, 59th, and 75th. In all of them there is a distinct declaration of the destruction of the wicked and the preservation of the righteous.”
This is another Michtam, or Golden Psalm. The cave was probably at Adullam, mentioned in 1 Samuel 22:1, though the caves of En Gedi (1 Samuel 24:1) are also a possibility. Adullam seems to be the best fit; therefore we can say that Psalm 34 is also associated with this period of David’s life.
A. A trusting soul set among lions.
1. (1-3) The trusting soul.
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me!
For my soul trusts in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge,
Until these calamities have passed by.
I will cry out to God Most High,
To God who performs all things for me.
He shall send from heaven and save me;
He reproaches the one who would swallow me up. Selah
God shall send forth His mercy and His truth.
a. Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me: The need was so great that David repeated the request. When he fled from Saul into the cave, he had been through several near-death terrors (see Psalm 56). David came to Adullam Cave (1 Samuel 22) alone, discouraged, and in continued danger.
b. For my soul trusts in You: David did not say this to earn the mercy of God; mercy can’t be earned. He said it to tell God that He was David’s only hope. His soul trusted in God and nothing else; there was nothing else to trust in.
i. “How can the Lord be unmerciful to a trustful soul? Our faith does not deserve mercy, but it always wins it from the sovereign grace of God when it is sincere.” (Spurgeon)
c. In the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge: Using a familiar image David expressed his trust and hope in God for defense. The idea is of how a mother bird shields her young chicks from predators, from the elements, and from dangers by gathering them under her wings.
i. This figure of speech is also used in three other psalms (Psalms 17:8, 36:7, and 63:7). Jesus used this same word picture to show his love and desired care for Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37.
ii. “Even as the parent bird completely shields her brood from evil, and meanwhile cherishes them with the warmth of her own heart, by covering them with her wings, so do thou with me, most condescending God, for I am thine offspring, and thou hast a parent’s love in perfection.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Morgan connected this with Psalm 55:6 (Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest). “There the desire was for the inefficient wings of a dove for flight. Here the sense is of the sufficient wings of God for refuge until calamities are past.” (Morgan)
iv. I will make my refuge: We should not focus so much on what David exactly meant by wings that we miss the greater fact: God was his refuge. “We should notice that David does not call the cave his refuge, though it was a refuge in a certain physical sense. Rather it is God whom he calls his refuge.” (Boice)
d. I will cry out to God Most High…He shall send from heaven and save me: David came to the cave alone, and God was his only help. Yet he was confident, knowing as a military man the strategic value of high ground in battle. He looked for help from the Most High who occupied the greatest high ground of all: heaven.
i. God Most High: “It could well have brought memories of God’s good hand on Abram, another homeless man.” (Kidner)
ii. God who performs all things for me: “It is a marvelous thing to consider God is literally willing to perform all things in us, and for us, if only we will let Him. The mischief is that most of us insist on performing all things in the energy of our own resolve, in the strength of our own power.” (Meyer)
iii. He shall send from heaven and save me: “Were there no human agents or earthly means that he could employ, he would send his angels from heaven to rescue me from my enemies.” (Clarke)
e. He reproaches the one who would swallow me up: God would speak against David’s enemies, either the Philistines or the servants of Saul. For God to speak against them would be enough to protect David and defeat them.
i. Selah: “The Selah at the end of the clause is unusual in the middle of a verse; but it may be intended to underscore, as it were, the impiety of the enemy, and so corresponds with the other Selah in Psalm 57:6, which is also in an unusual place, and points attention to the enemy’s ruin, as this does to his wickedness.” (Maclaren)
2. (4) The dangerous enemies.
My soul is among lions;
I lie among the sons of men
Who are set on fire,
Whose teeth are spears and arrows,
And their tongue a sharp sword.
a. My soul is among lions: David had many reasons to believe his enemies were much more powerful than he. In describing his great disadvantage, he hoped to appeal to the mercy of God.
i. “The allusions to lying down among lions may possibly have been suggested by the wild beasts prowling round the psalmist’s shelter.” (Maclaren)
ii. “Would any man take the Church’s picture, saith Luther? Then let him paint a silly poor maid sitting in a wood or wilderness, compassed about with hungry lions, wolves, boars, and bears.” (Trapp)
iii. Peter thought that the enemy of our soul was something like a lion against us: Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). When we feel threatened by the devil, we may appeal to God as David did.
iv. Spurgeon gave comfort and advice to believers who felt they were among lions:
· If you are among lions, you will have fellowship with Jesus and His church.
· If you are among lions, you will be driven nearer to your God.
· If you are among lions, remember that God has them on a leash.
· If you are among lions, remember there is another Lion, of the Tribe of Judah.
b. I lie among the sons of men who are set on fire, whose teeth are spears and arrows: David spoke of his enemies in fearful terms, especially noting the power of their words against him (their tongue a sharp sword).
i. “The horrors of a lion’s den, the burning of a fiery furnace, and the cruel onset of war, are the striking images by which David here describes the peril and wretchedness of his present condition.” (Morison, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. “The fiercest of beasts, the most devouring of elements, and the sharpest of military weapons, are selected to represent the power and fury of David’s enemies.” (Horne)
3. (5) The God-exalting refrain.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
Let Your glory be above all the earth.
a. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens: David declared this to his own soul and unto the Lord Himself. He recognized that God was worthy to be exalted high above the sky (the heavens).
i. “The poet is in the shadow of the cave at first, but he comes to the cavern’s mouth at last, and sings in the sweet fresh air, with his eye on the heavens, watching joyously the clouds floating therein.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “Above the heavens, i.e. higher than the heavens, or to the highest degree possible; or above all the false gods which are supposed to reside in heaven.” (Poole)
iii. “David wants God to be exalted in his own personal circumstances and by the way he trusts and praises him even in difficulties.” (Boice)
b. Let Your glory be above all the earth: David correctly reasoned that his problems all came from earth; he would glorify God above all the earth. God was worthy of David’s praise and focus more than any crisis or danger on the earth.
i. “The good man interjects a verse of praise; and glorious praise too, seeing it comes up from the lion’s den and from amid the coals of fire.” (Spurgeon)
B. From the danger of the pit to praise above the heavens.
1. (6) The enemy’s trap and what became of it.
They have prepared a net for my steps;
My soul is bowed down;
They have dug a pit before me;
Into the midst of it they themselves have fallen. Selah
a. My soul is bowed down; they have dug a pit before me: In the previous lines David’s soul soared above the heavens. Now he is back down, in danger of going into the pit his enemies prepared to trap him.
b. Into the midst of it they themselves have fallen: The pit prepared by enemies has instead trapped those who dug it. From his circumstances as he came to the cave, we sense David said this with the anticipation of faith. It had not yet happened, but he knew that it would.
2. (7-10) Praise from a steadfast heart.
My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and give praise.
Awake, my glory!
Awake, lute and harp!
I will awaken the dawn.
I will praise You, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing to You among the nations.
For Your mercy reaches unto the heavens,
And Your truth unto the clouds.
a. My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast: The psalm began with David twice appealing for mercy; now David twice expressed his steadfast confidence in God. Though alone in the cave and troubles behind and ahead, he could allow his heart to be steadfast in God.
i. “Fixity of heart is the secret of songs.” (Morgan)
b. I will sing and give praise: The steadfast heart led to a singing heart. Perhaps David wished he had a lute and harp with him in the cave to accompany his singing of praise.
i. “With lip and with heart will I ascribe honour to thee. Satan shall not stop me, nor Saul, nor the Philistines. I will make Adullam ring with music, and all the caverns thereof echo with joyous song.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Lute and harp: “The psaltery [lute] was a stringed instrument, usually with twelve strings, and played with the fingers. The harp or lyre was a stringed instrument, usually consisting of ten strings. Josephus says that it was struck or played with a key. It appears, however, that it was sometimes played with the fingers.” (Barnes, cited in Spurgeon)
iii. Awake, lute and harp: “Rabbi Solomon Jarchi tells us that David had a harp at his bed’s head, which played of itself when the north wind blew on it; and then David arose to give praise to God. This account has been treated as a ridiculous fable by grave Christian writers.” (Clarke)
c. I will sing to You among the nations: Even from the cave, David could envision his song of praise extending to the nations and among the peoples.
i. “Faith lifts us high above the personal sense of pain, and creates a passion for the exaltation of God among the nations.” (Morgan)
ii. “These words, or their near-equivalent in Psalm 18:49, are taken with full seriousness in Romans 15:9 as a prophecy which had to be fulfilled.” (Kidner)
d. Your mercy reaches unto the heavens, and Your truth unto the clouds: A cave narrows and darkens the vision of most people, but David’s heart and song soared unto the clouds. He exalted the mercy and truth of God even from difficult circumstances.
i. “A hard and ungrateful heart beholds even in prosperity only isolated drops of divine grace; but a grateful one like David’s, though chased by persecutors, and striking the harp in the gloom of a cave, looks upon the mercy and faithfulness of God as a mighty ocean, waving and heaving from the earth to the clouds, and from the clouds to the earth again.” (Tholuck, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. “The resurrection of Jesus from the grave, foreshadowed in the deliverance of David from the hand of Saul, was a transaction which caused the heavens and all the powers therein, to extol the mercy and truth of God.” (Horne)
3. (11) The God-exalting refrain.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
Let Your glory be above all the earth.
a. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens: The refrain is repeated because of its goodness and for emphasis. It’s important to remember that David’s circumstances were not much better when he sang this song. He was delivered from the immediate danger at Gath, but a cave was a long way from the throne of Israel which God had promised him. David didn’t wait for his circumstances to change before he praised God above the heavens.
b. Let Your glory be above all the earth: We sense the freedom in David’s spirit. Though in a cave, his soul glorified God above all the earth.
i. Kidner observed regarding the repeated refrain: “Sung now not with the defiant faith of Psalm 57:5, but with grateful love.”
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org