Psalm 34
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Another song of praise (cp. Psalm 34:1 with Psalm 33:1). The Psalmist gratefully celebrates, and invites others to join him in celebrating, Jehovah’s care for those who fear Him, manifested towards himself and many another afflicted saint (Psalm 34:1-10). Then, assuming the tone of a teacher, he sets forth the essential characteristics of the fear of Jehovah, and commends it by a consideration of the blessings which He bestows on those who fear Him (Psalm 34:11-22).

The verses for the most part run in pairs.

The Psalm is closely related to Psalms 25. Both are alphabetic Psalms, with the peculiarity that the verse beginning with Vav is omitted[11], and a supplementary verse beginning with added at the end to make up the number of letters in the alphabet (Psalm 34:22). For the ingenious though improbable conjecture that these verses record the names of the authors, see note on Psalm 25:22. Both Psalms moreover shew a striking affinity in thought and language to the Book of Proverbs; and this Psalm corresponds to Psalms 25 as thanksgiving to prayer.

[11] In Dr. Scrivener’s edition, from which the text of the present edition is taken, the letter Vav is prefixed to the second line of Psalm 34:5. But throughout the Psalm each letter has a complete distich, and it is preferable to suppose that Vav is omitted as in Psalms 25 rather than that Hi and Vav have only a single line each.

The title assigns the Psalm to David, when he feigned madness (lit. changed his reason) before Abimelech; and he drove him away, and he departed. The incident referred to is related in 1 Samuel 21:11 ff., where however the Philistine king is called Achish. After Saul’s massacre of the priests at Nob, David fled to Gath. It was a desperate expedient: he was discovered, and only escaped with his life by feigning madness. Psalms 56 is connected by its title with the same occasion.

Most modern commentators peremptorily reject the title as of no value. The Psalm, they think, does not suit the supposed occasion; it manifestly bears the stamp of a later age; and the scribe or compiler who prefixed the title took it from 1 Samuel, substituting Abimelech for Achish by a slip of memory.

It is however hard to suppose such ignorance or carelessness on the part of a compiler; and the facts that the title does not agree with 1 Sam., and that there is nothing in the Psalm to suggest that particular occasion, are really in favour of regarding the title as resting upon some independent authority, and not upon mere conjecture. Can it have been derived, as Delitzsch thinks, from the Annals of David, one of the older works from which the Book of Samuel was compiled? The difference in the names might easily be accounted for if Abimelech was a dynastic name or royal title, like Agag among the Amalekites, or Pharaoh in Egypt. Cp. Genesis 20; Genesis 21; Genesis 26.

But it must be acknowledged that thought and style are those of the Book of Proverbs, and apparently of a later age. Was the Psalm written by some poet-sage, who thought of that perilous episode in David’s life as one of the most striking illustrations of the truth which he wished to enforce?

It was one of the Eucharistic Psalms of the early Church; a use no doubt suggested by Psalm 34:8. See Bingham’s Antiq. 34:460.

Psalm 34:1; Psalm 34:15 connect the Psalm with Psalm 33:1; Psalm 33:18; Psalm 34:7 links it to Psalm 35:5-6.

A Psalm of David, when he changed his behaviour before Abimelech; who drove him away, and he departed. I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
1. His praise] Cp. Psalm 33:1.

1, 2. Resolution of praise.

My soul shall make her boast in the LORD: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad.
2. In the Lord stands emphatically at the beginning of the sentence in the original; in Him, and not in any of the worldling’s objects of self-congratulation (Psalm 49:6; Jeremiah 9:23-24), shall be my boast.

the humble &c.] Probably, let the humble (or, meek) hear and be glad. Cp. Psalm 5:11. He claims the sympathy of those who have learned humility in the school of suffering. See note on Psalm 9:12.

O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.
3. magnify] Man makes God great by acknowledging and celebrating His greatness (Deuteronomy 32:3), and exalts His Name by confessing that He is supreme above all. See note on Psalm 30:1.

3, 4. Addressing the humble, he invites them to join in thanksgiving for his deliverance.

I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.
4. When I sought Jehovah (with earnest devotion, see note on Psalm 24:6), he answered me, and rescued me from all my terrors (Psalm 31:13).

They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed.
5. They looked &c.] The subject is to be supplied from the verb. They that looked unto him looked, and were brightened. The earnest gaze of faith and confidence was not in vain. For the phrase cp. Isaiah 31:1; and for illustration see Numbers 21:9; Zechariah 12:10. The Heb. word for brightened is a rare word, found in Isaiah 60:5 (R.V.); but this, not flowed unto him (A.V. marg.) is the right sense. In most editions They flowed is wrongly marked as the alternative to They looked. For the thought cp. Psalm 36:9.

were not ashamed] R.V. shall never be confounded, lit. put to the blush with disappointment: a word which has not met us before in the Psalter, but recurs twice in Psalms 35. (Psalm 35:4; Psalm 35:26), and elsewhere.

The reading of the Massoretic text gives a fair sense, but the ancient Versions (except the Targum) read an imperative in the first clause, and your faces in the second. We should then render, Look unto him and be brightened, that your faces may not be confounded. This reading is in itself probable, and is supported by grammatical considerations. The connexion of thought in Psalm 34:5-6 will then be exactly the same as in Psalm 34:3-4; an invitation, followed by the statement of a fact which supports it.

5, 6. Such experience of Jehovah’s help is not limited to the Psalmist.

This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.
6. This afflicted man (see note on Psalm 9:12) called, and Jehovah heard, and saved him out of all his distresses. Cp. Psalm 34:17; Psalm 31:7. Does the poet point to himself, or to one here and another there who had been instances of God’s protecting care?

The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.
7. The angel of the Lord] That mysterious Being who appears as Jehovah’s representative in His intercourse with man, called also the angel of His presence (Isaiah 63:9). See especially Exodus 23:20 ff. Only here and in Psalm 35:5-6 is he mentioned in the Psalter. He protects those who fear Jehovah like an army encamping round a city to defend it (Zechariah 9:8); or perhaps, since he is ‘the captain of Jehovah’s host’ (Joshua 5:14), he is to be thought of as surrounding them with the angelic legions at his command. See for illustration Genesis 32:2 (God’s camp); 2 Kings 6:16 f. For an examination of the doctrine of the angel of the Lord see Oehler’s O.T. Theology, §§ 59, 60.

O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.
8. O taste &c.] Make but trial, and you will perceive what His goodness is toward them who fear Him. Cp. Psalm 27:13. The adaptation of the words in 1 Peter 2:3 follows the rendering of the LXX, ὅτι χρηστὸς ὁ Κύριος. It is significant that the words are there applied to Christ. See Bp. Westcott’s Hebrews, pp. 89ff.

blessed &c.] Or, happy is the man that taketh refuge in him. Cp. Psalm 2:12; and Psalm 1:1; Psalm 32:2; but the word for man here is a different one. It means properly a strong man, and suggests the thought that be he never so strong in himself, man’s only true happiness is in dependence on Jehovah.

O fear the LORD, ye his saints: for there is no want to them that fear him.
9. saints] Not the word commonly so rendered, e.g. in Psalm 30:4; Psalm 31:23; but as in Psalm 16:3, holy ones: those whose character corresponds to their calling as members of the holy nation (Exodus 19:6; Leviticus 11:44-45).

want] A word found here only in the Psalter, but eight times in Proverbs.

9, 10. His saints want for nothing.

The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the LORD shall not want any good thing.
10. The young lions] Best understood literally, not as a metaphor for the rich (LXX πλούσιοι, though possibly from a different reading), or powerful oppressors (Psalm 35:17). The sense is that the strongest beasts of prey, most capable of providing for themselves, may suffer want (Job 4:11); not so God’s people. Cp. Psalm 23:1.

For the touching connexion of these words with St Columba’s last hours see Ker’s Psalms in History and Biography, p. 62. He was transcribing the Psalter, and at this verse he laid down his pen. “Here at the end of the page I must stop; what follows let Baithen write.” “The last verse he had written,” says his biographer Adamnan, “was very applicable to the saint who was about to depart, and to whom eternal good shall never be wanting; while the one that followeth is equally applicable to the father who succeeded him, the instructor of his spiritual children.”

11ff. If such are the blessings promised to those who fear the Lord, how essential to know what the fear of the Lord is! Accordingly the poet adopts the language of a teacher and addresses his sons. So the teacher in Proverbs 1-8 constantly addresses his disciples as sons (Psalm 4:1), or my son.

Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
11. the fear of the Lord] Including both the devout reverence which is essential to a right relation of man to God, and the conduct which it demands. The phrase is characteristic of Proverbs, occurring in that book almost as often as in all the rest of the O.T. See especially Proverbs 8:13; Proverbs 9:10; and cp. Isaiah 11:2-3; 1 Peter 1:17.

What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good?
12. The challenge with its answer in Psalm 34:13-14 is a vivid and forcible equivalent for Whosoever desires … let him &c. Cp. Psalm 25:12.

life] Not mere existence, but life worthy of the name (Psalm 16:11; Psalm 30:5); again a word characteristic of Proverbs, and connected there too with the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 14:27; Proverbs 19:23; Proverbs 22:4).

and loveth] Lit., loving days for seeing good, explaining and emphasising the preceding line. Cp. Psalm 34:10; Psalm 4:6. Days = length of days (Proverbs 3:2; Proverbs 10:27).

Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile.
13. Keep] Guard. Cp. Proverbs 13:3 (R.V.); Proverbs 21:23; Psalm 39:1; James 3:2 ff.

guile] Deceit. Cp. Psalm 35:20; Psalm 36:3.

Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.
14. The first line recurs in Psalm 37:27. Comp. the character of Job, the ideal righteous man (Job 1:1; Job 1:8; Job 2:3); and Job 28:28; Proverbs 16:17.

pursue it] Do not be discouraged if it should need prolonged effort to overtake it. Cp. the pursuit of righteousness (Proverbs 21:21; Isaiah 51:1); and see Romans 14:19; Hebrews 12:14. In P.B.V. eschew and ensue are archaisms for avoid and follow after.

15ff. The fear of the Lord is commended by the consideration of His favour toward the righteous, which is contrasted with His displeasure against the wicked.

The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.
15. With the first line cp. Psalm 33:18. More literally, toward the righteous, as R.V. renders here but not there, though the prepositions are the same.

his ears &c.] Lit., his cars are toward their cry for help: cp. my cry for help was in his ears (Psalm 18:6).

The face of the LORD is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
16. The face of the Lord means the manifestation of His Presence, either as here in wrath (cp. Psalm 9:3), or as in Numbers 6:25, in blessing. See Oehler’s O.T. Theology, § 57. Comp. “The Lord looked forth upon the host of the Egyptians … and discomfited them” (Exodus 14:24).

the remembrance of them] Or, their memorial; even the name by which they might be remembered. Cp. Psalm 9:5-6; Job 18:17. Contrast Psalm 112:6.

The righteous cry, and the LORD heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles.
17. They cried, and Jehovah heard;

And rescued them out of all their distresses.

We may understand a subject from the verb, they who cried cried, as in Psalm 34:5, i.e., when any cried: or with LXX and Vulg. supply the righteous. (Had the LXX this reading, or did they merely insert the word from Psalm 34:15?) It is however possible that Psalm 34:15-16 should be transposed, and then the righteous in Psalm 34:15 supplies the natural subject to Psalm 34:17. This transposition deserts the present order of the letters of the alphabet, but is justified by Lamentations 2, 3, 4, and Proverbs 31 according to the LXX, where precedes Ayin.

The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.
18. nigh &c.] Cp. Psalm 119:151; Isaiah 50:8; and the contrast, Psalm 10:1. The broken in heart and crushed in spirit are those who have been broken down and crushed by sorrow and suffering (Psalm 147:3; Isaiah 61:1; Jeremiah 23:9); in whom, it is implied, affliction has borne fruit, and all self-asserting pride has been subdued and replaced by true contrition and humility.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all.
19. No exemption from evils is promised to the righteous man, but out of them all the Lord rescues him (Psalm 34:4; Psalm 34:17).

He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken.
20. As breaking the bones is a forcible metaphor for the torture of pain that racks the bodily framework (Psalm 51:8; Isaiah 38:13), or for cruel oppression (Micah 3:3), so keeping them denotes the safe preservation of the man’s whole being. See note on Psalm 6:2. This passage as well as Exodus 12:46 may have been present to the Evangelist’s mind as fulfilled in Christ (John 19:36). The promise to the righteous man found an unexpectedly literal realisation in the passion of the perfectly Righteous One.

Evil shall slay the wicked: and they that hate the righteous shall be desolate.
21. While the righteous is rescued out of all evils (Psalm 34:19), evil brings the wicked to his death. His evil ways work out their own punishment, and divine retribution overtakes him. (Romans 6:21; Romans 6:23.)

21, 22. shall be desolate] R.V. shall be condemned; or, marg., held guilty. Cp. Psalm 5:10.

The LORD redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate.
22. A second verse beginning with , like Psalm 25:22, where see note.

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