What a harrowing time it was when David wrote Psalm 34! He was fleeing for his life. He tried to hide in some region called Gath, but people there were wise to him. So David started acting like he was stark raving mad! Here’s how the Message version describes it:
When David realized that he had been recognized, he panicked, fearing the worst from Achish, king of Gath. So right there, while they were looking at him, he pretended to go crazy, pounding his head on the city gate and foaming at the mouth, spit dripping from his beard. I Sam 21:13
Can you imagine? David really threw himself into his performance. He was smashing his noggin on things and slobbering. It would have been funny to watch, if it wasn’t so scary!
And in the midst of all of this, he wrote something astounding: “I will praise the Lord at all times.” (Ps 34:1) How could he write this while he was in fear for his life? He could because he wasn’t fixated on his troubles, he was fixated on the awesomeness of God!
Several years ago I put the first part of Psalm 34 to music. Here is the first stanza of my rendition:
I will praise the Lord at all times
His praise will always fill my voice
My soul will boast in the Lord
The righteous will hear and they’ll rejoice
Oh magnify the Lord with me and lift high his name in harmony.
Join with me to praise the Lord, exalting his name with one accord.
I love that David was determined to not only keep praising God, but to even boast in him, even magnify him. That means that David kept on singing about how magnificent God was, and the more he did, the greater God became in his eyes.
Do I do that? Do I magnify God?
It has been a challenging week for me. I found out that my daughter and grandkids are moving to Chicago. My beloved uncle in New Mexico passed away. Another family member is going through some struggles. My emotions are all over the place.
So what do I need to do? I need to do what David did! I’ve been working on being thankful, but I need to take that a step further and praise God more and more! I need to start boasting that he is with me, and he’s going to take of me and my problems. I need to get others to praise him with me for all the incredible things he has done and will do.
I sought the Lord and he replied, delivered me from all I dread
Those who look to him are radiant, and shame shall never bow their head.
Just as David could be radiant when he was in mortal danger, I can have a heart of joy when I focus on God, and not my problems.
And David was right to be radiant. He knew God was the deliverer, and God did deliver him by allowing him to escape Gath unscathed.
“Achish said to his servants, ‘Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?’ David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam.” (I Sam 21:14- 22:1a)
Will God deliver me as well?
The poor man cried, the Lord heard him, delivered him from all his woes.
The Lord’s angel encamps around the men who fear him, he rescues those.
Taste and see that the Lord is good and blessed is the man who takes refuge.
Lions grow weak and hungering, but those who seek God lack no good thing.
Isn’t it incredible to think of an angel protecting us on all sides, vigilant and ever ready?
Why then am I so insecure, so fearful? Why do I navigate life like I’m walking through a minefield? Why do I hunker down and protect myself?
God is the only protection that works! Can I taste and see that he is good? Can I walk towards him instead of retreating and hiding? Can I climb trustingly into his invisible arms?
And who among you desires life, and longs to age and see many good days?
Then keep your tongue from all evil words, and let no falsehood from your lips stray.
What a minute! David is changing directions here. The focus has moved from looking at the greatness of God, to looking at what a man’s behavior should be. The song I wrote ends with the couplet above. But the psalm David wrote goes on in this vein:
Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry;
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth.
David had to have be thinking about his own life, thinking of the battles he fought to not give into the dark side, to not be hateful, to not be overwhelmed with anger and bitterness.
David must have seen how God took care of him as he held onto his integrity. This motivated him to rally others to fight for their integrity as well. “Good leads to good, and bad to bad!” he exhorted them.
Evil will slay the wicked;
the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
The Lord will rescue his servants;
no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.
It sounds like a no brainer. Of course we need to keep doing the right thing. So why is it hard? Why is there a spiritual principle of entropy? We do we blink and find ourselves going the wrong way?
For me, I get tired and overwhelmed. I start slacking on taking the positive steps.
So these words of Psalm 34 are a great reminder. As Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” If I let up the fight and give into the dark side, there will be repercussions.
As I close this blog, I want to talk about two lines of the psalm near the end that have been puzzling me.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
The lines seem like they don’t fit in. David’s done such a good job of praising God, and talking about how God takes care of the righteous. I have the impression that David has it figured out and feels great in spite of his challenges.
Then he talks about the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit. Whoa. This is gut level raw. It’s like the hidden pain in David’s heart erupts.
And as I meditated on these words, in the end, they rang true. David had to leave his wife and his best friend. He left his home and his career. His former friends and family were stalking him. He was forced to run from place to place, and do things to survive like bang his head against walls. His anguish went deep.
Trusting in God doesn’t instantly mend a broken heart. It helps, but we still bleed inside.
I would have been different than David. I would have told myself, “God is awesome. So you’re supposed to have faith and be doing better. Don’t let yourself give into despair.”
But David was the opposite. He let it out and gave name to his pain. He saw that his pain showed him how desperately he needed God. He was confident that God wouldn’t be repelled by his mess of emotions, but would instead draw closer to him. He knew God’s heart would be moved to help him.
That inspires me more than anything. Yes, I want to magnify God. Yes, I want to do the right thing. But what I really want is to be gut level honest with God and say that I hurt. I’m scared. I feel lost and abandoned.
And when I do, I want to hear God saying, “It’s okay.” I want to feel him drawing me into his embrace. I want to know that he’s marshaling his heavenly armies to deliver me.
That is what truly inspires me to praise God without ceasing.