Psalm 34

Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Psalms

Of David, When He Changed His Behaviour Before Abimelech, So That He Drove Him Out, and He Went Away.

This is another of David’s ‘psalms on the run’, composed when he was on the run from King Saul. He had arrived in Gath, but his military fame had gone before him. When he arrived, the servants of Achish (the king of Gath) reported:“Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?” (1 Samuel 21:11).

This shook David. No doubt he realised that he would be seen as a threat by the king of Gath, and his life would be in peril. This led him to a rather strange strategy: “So he changed his behaviour before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard” (1 Samuel 21:13).

This certainly got the attention of the king! He said to his servants: “Behold, you see the man is mad. Why then have you brought him to me? Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?” (1 Samuel 21:14–15). David made his escape, and this psalm gives praise to God.

One last thing: some of you might be wondering why I have been writing about king Achish when the title of the Psalm refers to “Abimelech”? Here we come to a complication in Hebrew! Abimelech simply means ‘father of the King’, and seems to be a title used by the kings of Gath. It is not uncommon for one person to go by two names, after all Gideon was sometimes called Jerubbaal (Judges 6:32) and Solomon was known as Jedidiah (2 Samuel 12:25).

I will bless the LORD at all times; 
his praise shall continually be in my mouth. 
My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together!

I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed. 
This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him 
and saved him out of all his troubles. 
The angel of the LORD encamps 
around those who fear him, and delivers them.

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! 
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! 
Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, 
for those who fear him have no lack! 
The young lions suffer want and hunger; 
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

Come, O children, listen to me; 
I will teach you the fear of the LORD. 
What man is there who desires life 
and loves many days, that he may see good? 
Keep your tongue from evil 
and your lips from speaking deceit. 
Turn away from evil and do good; 
seek peace and pursue it.

The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous 
and his ears toward their cry. 
The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, 
to cut off the memory of them from the earth. 
When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears 
and delivers them out of all their troubles. 
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted 
and saves the crushed in spirit.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous, 
but the LORD delivers him out of them all. 
He keeps all his bones; 
not one of them is broken. 
Affliction will slay the wicked, 
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. 
The LORD redeems the life of his servants; 
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

Picture of a cave at a probable location of Gath by צילום:ד"ר אבישי טייכר, CC BY 2.5

Look up!

“And looking up to heaven, he sighed …” (Mark 7:34) - There are many different things which might prompt a person to pray. Some give thanks, others ask for help in danger. Extremes of emotion, or abnormal situations, can cause prayer to form in the mind. Sighing, though, is rather more mundane. Sighs are the small drops which puddle into gloom. Let them also be a prompt for your prayer, and you will discover that sighs soon evaporate in the radiance of God. When you sigh, make sure to look up to heaven.

Looking back…

“Only fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you” (1 Samuel 12:24) - What wisdom there is in building your own Ebenezers, reminders of God’s help to you in the past. These monuments not only demonstrate God’s blessings to you, but also give you courage when the skies darken.

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