Psalm 34
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
There is no sufficient reason for severing this psalm from the detail of history to which its title refers; and it is much to be wished that its writer had uniformly turned his own experience to a use as wise as that which he here urges upon others. But David's pen might be golden, though sometimes his spirit was leaden; and we may study with great advantage the ideal of life which he sets before us, learning from his experience how we may realize that ideal, even though, in such a dimly lighted and corrupt age as his, he fell beneath it. We, who have far more than David's privileges, ought to rise to a level far beyond that to which he attained. Let us first note the experience here recorded, and then see how varied are the uses to be made thereof.

I. HERE IS A TOUCHING RECORD OF LIFE'S EXPERIENCE. In many respects it is such a one as thousands on thousands of God's people may have passed through, and may be passing through now. If we number the points of experience one by one, the preacher may expand such as may be most appropriate to any ease or cases with which he may be dealing. Here is:

1. A first line of experience - man wanting help from God.

(1) Trouble. (Ver. 6.) A general term, yet conveying often the idea of strait-ness, narrowness, and perplexity. This may arise from bodily weakness, domestic trouble, personal bereavement, or any other of those manifold causes of anxiety to which we are liable.

(2) Fear. (Ver. 4.) The dread of the future is often a heavier care than the distress of the present. How often would it be a great relief if we could see the forthcoming issue of things! But this cannot be. Hence fears arise, and we are tempted to say, "I shall one day perish."

(3) Looking up. (Ver. 5.) We may, we can, look up above our weakness and helplessness to One who is a "Stronghold in the day of trouble" (Psalm 61:2; Psalm 121:1). Note: It is a part of the high and holy education of the saints that trouble teaches them to look up; and thus their whole natures become elevated, as they feel and know that they belong to a higher world than this.

(4) Crying. (Ver. 6; see Psalm 18:6.) In our darkest hours we know to whom we speak (Psalm 62:1). However dark the night and lonely the path, the child cannot help crying, "Father!" even when he cannot see him.

(5) Seeking. (Ver. 4.) This is a prolongation of the cry. It indicates the attitude of the soul, continuously directed towards the great Friend and Helper.

(6) All this is in common with others. (Ver. 5.) "They looked," etc. Not one alone, but millions, are at each moment looking up trustingly and hopefully, away from life's cares and sorrows, to him who ruleth over all. Hence we need not wonder at:

2. A second line of experience - God granting the help that is implored. As there are six stages along the first, so are there six features of the second.

(1) The prayer is heard. (Vers. 4, 6.) Here is a grand field for exploration - the Divine answers to prayer. To enumerate these would require volumes. The saint may well store them up in his memory for the encouragement of troubled ones afterwards. If we did but "give others the sunshine," and "tell Jesus the rest," how rich would be the tokens of mercy with which we should rise from our knees!

(2) Angelic ministry is granted. (Ver. 7.) The existence and ministry of angels are clearly revealed in the Word of God. Abraham; Jacob; Elijah; Daniel (Hebrews 1:14; Psalm 68:17). The phrase, "delivereth them" is equivalent to "sets them free."

(3) Supplies are sent. (Vers. 9, 10.) It is one of the testimonies most frequently given to those who visit God's people in trouble, that supplies are sent to them exactly as they require them (Psalm 37:25).

(4) Deliverance is sent down. (Vers. 4, 7.) God, in trouble, makes and shows "a way of escape." The dart has been turned aside just as it has seemed to be on the point of striking.

(5) The face has been brightened. (Ver. 5.) The anxious look departs when help comes; a lightened heart makes a brightened face.

(6) Consequently, it is proved that those who wait on God will not be put to shame. (Ver. 5, Revised Version.) No! it cannot be. The covenant of God's promise is "ordered in all things, and sure." Not from one alone, but from a great multitude which no man can number, will the testimony come. "Not one thing hath failed of all that the Lord hath spoken." "Thus saith the Lord, They shall not be ashamed that wait for me."


1. Towards God. (Vers. 1, 2.) The psalmist vows that, having such manifold proof of what God is to him, and of his faithfulness to all his promises, his life shall be a perpetual song of praise; that he will make his boast in God's goodness and grace, so that those who have, like him, been in the depths of affliction, may also, like him, be brought forth into a wealthy place. Note: Deliverances brought about in answer to prayer should be followed by long-continued and grateful praise.

2. Towards the saints. The psalmist

(1) exhorts the saints to join him in thankful song (ver. 3).

(2) He bids them try for themselves how good the Lord is (ver. 8), and he would have them know the blessedness of those who trust in him (ver. 8).

(3) He bids them loyally obey their God: this is what is meant by the word "fear" in ver. 9: not a fear of dread or of servility, but of loyal and obedient reverence. Note: However severe the pressure or great the trouble, we never need depart from the strict line of obedience to God.

(4) He assures them that no loyal souls shall ever be deserted (vers. 9, 10). God will see to it that his faithful ones have all needful supplies.

3. Towards all who have life before them. (Vers. 11, 12.)

(1) He invites the young to come and listen to him, as out of the depths of his own experience he would show them the value of a godly life.

(2) He propounds a question, which may well evoke a response in many a young aspiring heart (ver. 12). See the use to which the Apostle Peter puts this passage (1 Peter 3:10-16).

(3) He gives a clear and definite answer, directing them how to govern the lips and the feet. The lips are to shun guile, and to speak peace and truth. The feet are to avoid evil, and to press after righteousness.

(4) He lays down for them a number of axiomata, which may well be their guide through life.

(a) That the Lord does hear and answer prayer (vers. 15,17-20). The experience of the faithful gives an overwhelming amount of proof of this.

(b) That in pressing on in life, they will find God's judgments abroad in the earth, making a distinction between those who serve him and those who serve him not; rewarding one and condemning the other (ver. 21, Revised Version).

(c) That Divine deliverances will compass the righteous around (ver. 22, Revised Version). Loyal souls will ever be receiving new proofs of the goodness of the Lord, and of the blessedness of such as put their trust in him! "The wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous are bold as a lion!" Note:

1. Amid all the changeful currents of human thought and sentiment, there are ever, ever, in all ages, climes, and lands, these two great lines of indisputable fact (vers. 15, 16), to which we do well to take heed - that the Lord is on the side of good, and that "the face of the Lord is against them that do evil." No perplexity in the mazes of metaphysical or theological controversy ought ever to conceal or obscure These plain facts from view.

2. It behoves the young to profit by the experience of the old; for, though no two experiences are precisely the same in all details, and though each one must bear his own burden, yet the lives of our fathers, as rehearsed to us by them, do set forth clearly and distinctly certain great principles according to which God governed and guided them - principles which are the same in every age, and which we cannot ignore, save at imminent peril both for the life that now is, and for that which is to come.

3. It behoves us to treasure up the experiences of life, to recount and to record them for the use and help of those who have yet to set out on life's journey. We know not how our young ones may be exposed in life. Gladly would we give them the constant screen of home. But that cannot be. Out into the world they must go. With God's Spirit in their hearts, they are safe anywhere. Without God, they are safe nowhere. We need not talk at them nor try to preach religion obnoxiously to them; but we may, we can, we must, tell them of our God and Saviour, telling them how he has helped us, and will help all who follow him; that they, too, may "taste and see how good the Lord is"! - C.

I. In this hymn we have first of all PRAISE. Praise is not an impulse, or an outburst of enthusiasm soon to die out, but it is the expression of the heart and the exercise of the life. It is good to have stated times for praise, but when the soul is in true fellowship with God it will find "continual" reason for praising him. "Praise" is for "all times," because God fills "all times." Thanksgiving has respect to special times, and to what God has done for us, but praise, in its highest sense, is called forth by contemplation of God, as he is in himself - infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his Being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him," and if we truly fear him we shall learn the "secret" of praising him "continually."

II. From praise the psalmist proceeds to CONFESSION. He does not speak of himself. When he does so it is not to exalt, but to humble himself. "Boasting is excluded." But he speaks of God, and proclaims with gratitude and joy his glorious Name. Whensoever we exalt God, there will be sure to be sympathizers. The confession of our faith will call forth like confessions from others, and "the humble shall be glad." When Paul was converted there were some who were "amazed," and others who were "afraid;" but when they knew the truth, "that he which persecuted the Churches in times past, now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed," then, says Paul, "they glorified God in me" (Galatians 1:23).

III. The psalmist next advances to FELLOWSHIP. (Ver. 3.) "It is not good for man to be alone." This holds true of religion. There is something inspiring and comforting in being associated with others in worship. What we have found true, others also have found true; what we have seen of the glory of God, others also have seen, and with one mind and one heart we can rejoice together. We cannot by anything we do make God greater than he is, but we can "magnify" him as we make his glory more widely known; we can "exalt his Name" as we make his character stand higher in the sight of men, and as we more fully manifest our devotion to him as the Supreme Object of our trust and love. Thus not only with God's people on earth, but "with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify God's glorious Name."

IV. Lastly, we find here GRATEFUL COMMEMORATION OF DELIVERANCE. First the psalmist speaks for himself (ver. 4). But what is true of one is true of many (ver. 5). Let each of us put himself in "this poor man's" place. Recall the peril and the prayer. Give thanks for the gracious deliverance. There may have been times when we too may have been in sore straits. In our perplexity and fear we may have resorted to our own devices, and stained our souls with sin. But God is merciful. He did not cast us off. When we cried to him, he forgave us our iniquity, and delivered us from all our fears. God's deliverances bring gladness. We see in them the outshining of his love. We have looked to him in faith, and he has looked on us in mercy. His response has been quick and gracious - as when the wounded Israelites looked to the brazen serpent, and were healed (Numbers 21:9); as when Gideon looked to God, and was made strong (Judges 6:13, 14). There is not only the grateful acknowledgment of past deliverances, but the sweet sense of security for all time to come, under the loving guardianship of God (ver. 27). Whether we take "the angel" here as one of the angelic host, or as the angel of Jehovah, the great Head and Lord of all, the meaning is the same. The great truth taught is the same which we find so often in the New Testament, as in the Hebrews, where it is said of the angels, "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (Hebrews 1.,14); and in John's Gospel, where we find our Lord saying, conceding his people, I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand" (John 10:28). - W.F.

Occasion of the psalm uncertain. Celebrates some great deliverance which awakens praise and inspires him to teach others trust add the secret of a prosperous life.


1. He was in great trouble and danger. (Vers. 4-6.) That the nature of the danger is not explained. Sin and sorrow our greatest trouble.

2. He earnestly sought deliverance. (Vers. 4-6.) No salvation except to earnest seekers.

3. God answered him and saved him. His face was bright with the light of God's face. God's angel was the instrument of his deliverance. Christ our Mediator and Deliverer.


1. His thankfulness was to be enduring. Not an evanescent thing, like the morning cloud and early dew, but lasting.

2. He calls upon all the afflicted (humble) to join in the praise. (Vers. 2, 3.) Because they may experience a like deliverance. God's salvation is for the whole world.


1. They will find how blessed are they who trust in God.

2. All their true and real wants shall be satisfied. (Vers. 9, 10.) - S.

There are two things in this exhortation.

I. A CALL TO MAKE TRIAL OF RELIGION. The spirit of religion is, "The Lord is good." But how are we to know this? Not by hearing, or inquiring, or believing on the word of others, but by making trial for ourselves. This is in accordance with reason and practical experience. Experience is found on experiment. The knowledge thus acquired can be safely acted upon. So it is in human life. It is the friend we have found kind and helpful in time of need that we trust. So it is also in religion. "Taste and see:" this is the settled order. If we act in this way, the result will be sure, and we shall joyfully add our witness to that of others, "The Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him." This call, "Taste and see," is the call of Christ in the gospel. Those who hear it must make a choice. They must hear or refuse. But considering who it is that gives the call, and the manifold and powerful arguments by which it is enforced, surely it would be wise and reasonable to take Christ at his word, and to make honest trial of his religion. "If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching whether it be of God" (John vii, 17, Revised Version). Try the word, try prayer, try the Christian life, try if Christ is to be trusted; not until you have done this can you say whether God is good or not.

II. A CHARGE TO LIVE UP TO THE HIGHEST STANDARD OF RELIGION. "Oh, fear the Lord, ye his saints." This is due to God. We are not our own, to live as we like. We belong to God, and are bound to live according to his Law. God says to us, "Ye are my witnesses." This is necessary to our true welfare. The very name "saints" implies that we have been separated from the world, that we have been called unto holiness. But holiness and happiness are indissoluble. The more we "fear God" the more shall we advance in holiness, and the more we advance in holiness the more shall we enjoy of true happiness. "Want" there will be to us, but we will be content to know that God is with us, and that he will withhold no "good thing" from us (Psalm 84:11; Hebrews 4:16). This is the best way of commending religion to others. We influence others more by example than by precept. The more perfectly we live and act as God's saints, keeping truth and doing right always, serving others in love, following peace and holiness, in a word, the more perfectly we live and act in the spirit of Christ, the greater will be our influence for good in the world. What we have tried and found good, we can honestly commend. What we have proved, and are continually showing in its beneficent effect on our own character and life, to be of the highest worth and virtue, must have a powerful claim to the faith of all reasonable and right thinking men. Let men say of a Christian, "If there be a saint on earth, that is one;" and the next thing will be, "If Jesus could make such a character, is not this the Christ?" - W.F.

O fear the Lord, ye his saints: for there is no want to them that fear him. The fear of God described the whole of practical religion. There are various kinds and degrees of fear caused by our relation to God, combined in various proportions with other sentiments, he is the great and powerful, and we are the weak; and we are naturally ignorant of his nature; and till we know whether he is a malignant or a benevolent being, we naturally dread him. The fear which dreads him is the first feeling which springs up. When we have passed out of and beyond the feeling of dread, we may still be overpowered by awe. We feel that God is greater than our highest, most perfect knowledge of his nature; his vastness overcomes and prostrates us. Jacob; Job; David. But the strangest cause of fear is the sense of transgression and the fear of punishment. We dread the judgment of God upon lives and actions. He must know the realities that lie beneath all appearance - the good and the evil. We may well fear when we think of his knowledge of us. The revelations of God's impersonal nature alarm us. They are all love and no feeling. The hurricane and the tempest are pitiless. The revelations of his personal nature in man and in Christ are full of compassion. God in Christ is the -Physician; but we cannot help fearing what he may have to do upon us for our healing, before we can be made whole. But we ought to believe and know that, like a good physician, he never inflicts any but necessary pain, and how much the infliction costs him in his sympathy with us. Our theology often teaches that there are reasons for servile fear; that our relation to God is that of a courtier to an Eastern despot; or that of a Jew debtor to a Jew creditor, who has no generosity, but exacts the uttermost farthing; or that of a criminal to a Judge who tries to compound with the law by getting an innocent person to suffer for his crimes instead of himself; or who thinks God, in his providential discipline, a cruel Being, who calls upon him to suffer the loss of his children, as he called upon Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, in order to test his faith. But faith casts out the terrors of fear, not inspires them, and does not need such cruel experiments for our discipline. Then there is the fear inspired by faith and love, but which has no torment. A man who has a great undertaking before him, calling for the skill and energy of his highest functions, naturally trembles lest he should fail; like a painter, who stands at his task, but his heart trembling with the great pulses of his conception. He is fearful in proportion as he sees the perfection of the thing he is trying to embody. Turner watching the storm - that he might know how to paint it. So there is a lofty and noble fear of aspiration lest we should not fulfil the Divine purpose of love in our lives. The fear felt towards a good mother, who would sacrifice her life for her child. "How awful goodness is!" - S.

In this second part the psalmist turns to believers, addresses them, and says that it is his design to teach them the art of leading a happy and quiet life, and of being secure against enemies.


1. The fear of God. (Vers. 11, 15, 18.) Childlike fear - compatible with trust and love.

2. The government of the tongue. (Ver. 13.) What is said on this in the New Testament by Peter and James.

3. Righteousness of life. (Ver. 14.) In its departing from evil - the negative aspect; and in doing good - the positive.

4. Strenuously seeking after peace. (Ver. 14.) Seek peace, and pursue it." Take care not to cause disagreement, but to promote good will and harmony.


1. Prayer of the righteous is heard. (Vers. 15-18.) Contrast to the doom of evil-doers (ver. 16).

2. Deliverance out of all dangers. (Vers. 17-19.) Troubles, the dangers are called, and sufferings.

3. The presence and communion of God with his people. This implied or expressed in nearly all the verses.

4. The protection of their life and person. (Vers. 20, 22.) Contrast again to the fate of the wicked (ver. 21). The words of the twentieth verse fulfilled at the crucifixion of our Lord. - S.

We may learn here -

I. THAT THE DESIRE FOR LONG LIFE IS NATURAL TO MAN. There may be times, when, under the pressure of trial and weariness, we are ready to say, with Job," I would not live alway." But this is a temporary feeling. Our natural desire is to live, and to live long. This desire has been implanted by God, and works in many ways for good.

II. THAT LONG LIFE, WHEN SPENT IN THE SERVICE OF GOD, IS A GREAT BLESSING. We should desire life, not from fear of death, nor from the pain of parting with dear friends, but "to see good," and that we may do the more work for God. The present world, so far as we know, is the only one in which we can serve God by overcoming evil, and by patience under trial, and by converting sinners. Besides, the longer we live, the more good we can do to others, and the more we can glorify God. To glorify God by the service of our youth is good; to glorify him by the service of youth and manhood is better; but to glorify him by faithful service from first to last, through all stages of life, is best of all (Proverbs 16:21; Philippians 1:23-26; 2 Timothy 4:6-8). How different is it with the wicked! Prolonged life is to them a curse instead of a blessing. The more time, the more sin; the more sin, the more evil; till at last it might be said, "Would that he died early!" or, as of Judas," It had been good for that man if he had not been born" (Matthew 26:24).

III. THAT LONG LIFE CAN BE BEST SECURED BY ATTENTION TO THE LAWS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. There is an intimate connection between the body and the soul. We may disregard the laws of health as to the body, and then we must suffer. The care of the body is as needful, in its place, as the care of the soul. The tendency of vice is undoubtedly to shorten life. How often does it happen, that young men, naturally possessed of good constitutions, bring on weakness and disease by dissolute living! On the other hand, the practice of self-denial and virtue is favourable to longevity. "The fear of the Lord prolongeth days, but the years of the wicked shall be shortened" (Proverbs 10:2-7). The question of the psalmist meets a response in our hearts, "What man is he that desireth life. and his wise and fatherly counsel should find an echo in our lives, "Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it." The laws of health are largely studied in our days. We have Acts of Parliament on "Public Health," and much is done to promote the physical comfort and health of the people. This is good. It is of much advantage that the people, down to the poorest, should have pure air and wholesome food and favourable surroundings, and it is the duty of the Church, as well as the state, to look to these things. But more is needed. There must be proper education of the people. They must be taught, not only the care of the body, but the care of the soul. The only complete education is that which embraces the whole man - body and soul and spirit. We are only perfectly educated when we are taught of God, "that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world" (Titus 2:13). Longevity was not only a promise of the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 4:40; Ecclesiastes 12:13), but it is a promise of the latter-day glory (Isaiah 65:20). - W.F.

I. A GREAT GIFT. Speech is one of our highest endowments. It enables us to utter our thoughts and to converse one with another. Man's advancement in knowledge and virtue has mainly followed from his possessing this faculty. There have been many ingenious speculations as to how speech has been obtained, but it is enough for us to say that it is from God. When we see a dumb man, we may learn the worth from the want, and should bless God for his goodness in having given us this noble gift.

II. A GREAT PERIL. The best things may be turned to bad uses. So with the tongue. If rightly used, it is a great blessing; if wrongly used, it is a great curse. "Evil" and "guile" are the common ways in which speech is abused, much to the hurt of the speaker and of the hearers. There is thus not only great waste, but manifold and great evils. "Life and death are in the power of the tongue" (Proverbs 18:21).

III. A GREAT ACHIEVEMENT. It is possible to "keep" the tongue. To do this we must go back from the tongue to the heart (Proverbs 4:23). When the heart is right, the tongue will be right also (Matthew 12:33, 34). Such mastery can only be acquired by earnest effort and patience and loving contemplation of Christ. St. James says he who has attained to this rare power is a "perfect man" (James 3:5, 6). - W.F.

The face is the organ of expression. The thoughts, the feelings, the inward movements of the soul, show themselves by the face. Therefore "the lace" stands for the man (Genesis 48:11); and when God is spoken of after the manner of men, his face is put for himself (Exodus 33:14). The text is like the mystic pillar of the wilderness. It has two aspects. While God looks forth with love and favour towards his people, he shows himself as terrible to his enemies (Exodus 14:24). His face, wherever seen, is always against those who wilfully and wickedly persist in doing evil.

I. GOD'S FACE IN NATURE IS AGAINST THEM THAT DO EVIL. There is law in nature. To obey the law is to conquer, to disobey is to suffer. As to transgressors, there is neither exception nor immunity. We see the stern, unbending severity of law in the awful passage, Proverbs 1:24-31.

II. GOD'S FACE IN THE HOLY SCRIPTURES IS AGAINST THEM THAT DO EVIL. Take the ten commandments, and from the first to the last it is the same. The Law is holy and just and good. It demands obedience from all, and denounces condemnation and wrath against transgressors, without respect of persons. The recorded judgments of God may be held as expressing the same thing. All through, from Genesis to Malachi, whether as respects nations or individuals, God's face is against the evil-doer. In no part of Scripture is this brought out more vividly and forcibly than in the Psalms.

III. GOD'S FACE, IN THE PERSON OF HIS SON AND OUR SAVIOUR, IS AGAINST THEM THAT DO EVIL. Christ, in his doctrine, his precepts, his example, and in his redemptive work, is wholly and for ever against sin. His object is to "take away sin," and to bring them that do evil to do good and to be the loving and obedient children of God, that they may walk in the light of God's favour for ever. - W.F.

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