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#1: Psalm 34

"Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left."

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I want to begin with a question. Why would anyone write this verse?

"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."

What you see here are the words of someone who has experienced a broken heart, has been crushed in spirit and found that the Lord was close, that the Lord saved him. And that's really the heart of the Psalm that we want to look at today. At the first part of Psalm 34, before the first verse, there is a title or heading which gives us a description of the context of this psalm. Not all the psalms have this, but this puts it in an historical setting.

"Of David" tells us David wrote it. "When he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left." I don't know about you, but that's very intriguing to me! Because it's helpful for us to have a little understanding of where this comes from, let me give you the timeline, from 1 Samuel 20.

Most of you know that the first King of Israel was Saul. Saul did very well for awhile, but because of a series of disobedient events, he was rejected as king. Before he died, before he was removed from the kingship; Samuel, the prophet anointed a new king, and his name was David. But there was a gap between the anointing and the coronation. During that time period, God did some remarkable things in David's life which—as we look back at it—are probably the key to making him the kind of king he ended up being.

After David killed Goliath, we know that he became a musician in Saul's household and played the harp, to calm the demons in Saul. He became a military man and was responsible for military victories. He was brought right into the king's table. But soon a song was being sung, and it went something like this: "Saul has killed his thousands, David has killed his tens of thousands", and that ticked off Saul. So he became very jealous and on one occasion tried to throw a spear at David to kill him. After a series of events it became obvious that David's life was in jeopardy. Saul's son Jonathan made that very clear to David. David, then, after having this anointing and all this acclaim, was forced to flee. He went to Ahimelech, the Priest and got some day-old bread, holy bread.

Because he had to flee without any weapons, he also asked for a sword, and Ahimelech said, "You know, I still have that sword from Goliath, the guy you killed! It's behind the alter. Here it is." It was probably a massive sword. So here's this guy fleeing for his life, a sack of day-old spiritual bread over his back and carrying this huge sword. Now where would he go? This was a strange turn of events. Apparently David believed that he was safer with the enemies of Israel than in Israel, so he went to the Philistines, to Achish, the King of Gath. He thought that maybe he wouldn't know who he was.

Well, it was pretty obvious who he was, and soon the King was told who David was. So here he was with the sword of Goliath, with day-old holy bread, with the Philistines. The King became very angry when he found out who David was, so to keep from being killed, David pretended to be insane. This was an Academy Award-winning performance, recorded in 1 Samual 21.

David took these words [expressions of recognition] to heart and was very much afraid of Achish [or Abimelech is the more formal name], King of Gath. So he pretended to be insane in their presence. And while he was there in their hands he acted like a mad man, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard. Isn't that an exciting scene! Can't you imagine a guy saying, "Now, Lord I want to do whatever you want me to do, and I'm just going to open up my Bible and wherever my finger points, that's what I'm going to do!" You can imagine what would happen if he pointed to this passage of scripture! It's doesn't appear very inspiring, at least on the surface, until you tie it together with Psalm 34.

"Achish said to the servants, look at the man, he is insane, why bring him to me? Am I so short of mad men that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me?" In other words, "I've got enough crazies around already, okay? Must this man come into my house?" "David left Gath and escaped to the cave at Adullam."

What does David's experience say to us?

Most likely, while David was alone in this cave, he wrote Psalm 34—an acrostic—in which each stanza starts with the successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It was designed to be a memory device and was also, I think, designed so that he could remember his findings, his experience as he was here in the cave. This experience gives us some instruction and hope for our troubles, when we find ourselves in a cave.

For David, holy bread and Goliath's sword were not enough. He was still fearful. And for us, there are, will be, and have been many occasions when our wisdom is depleted, when it's not enough. We need help for the caves of our fear; for our broken hearts; for loneliness; for separation; for stress; for poverty; for weakness. In Psalm 34, we discover ways to escape from the caves of our lives: the stretching moments we all find ourselves in.

Back in the '70s and '80s we used to sing the first few verses of this particular psalm:

"I will bless the Lord at all times.

His praise shall continually be in my mouth.

My soul shall make its boast in thee, oh Lord.

The humble shall hear thereof and be glad.

Oh magnify the Lord with me.

And let us exalt his name together.

I sought the Lord and he heard me and delivered me from all my fears."

Where should we begin?

What do you do when you find yourself in this spot? The first way to deal with the cave if you have to stay there for awhile, and also to eventually escape it, is prayer and praise.

Prayer and Praise

This is the first way we can escape those caves of isolation and fear. And it really should be cyclical: prayer and praise, praise and prayer!

1] I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. 2] My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. 3] Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together. 4] I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. 5] Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. 6] This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. 7] The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.

I will extol the Lord at all times. His praise will always be on my lips.

Even when I don't feel like it!

My soul will boast in the Lord.

And there's this kind of parenthesis; as if David understands that someone else needs to hear this, he says...

so let the afflicted hear and rejoice.

He's speaking out of his own experience and trying to draw others into it.

Glorify the Lord with me. Let us exalt his name together! I sought the Lord and he heard me and he delivered me from all my fears.

So what was it that enabled David to escape from the king, to deal with his loneliness and his fears? Was it his acting? Was it his shrewdness? No. It was his praise and his prayer.

Those who look to him are radiant. Their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man...,

he's talking about himself, obviously very poor...

"this poor man called and the Lord heard him, he saved him out of all of his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him. And He delivers them."

That's a wonderful section of Scripture to meditate on. As we begin this process of escape, of dealing with those caves in our lives, we are going to discover that there are some wonderful benefits of prayer and praise. And these certainly should encourage us to do it.

  1. Answer to prayer, of course. There's deliverance from all of our fears for those who fear Him! So David is making it clear that fear is the beginning point. Fear of the Lord. Awe of God.

  2. Deliverance from all of our fears

  3. Radiance, no shame. When we begin to look to the Lord in the midst of the cave, we find radiance, no shame. Stephen experienced this on the day on which he was persecuted, about to be stoned with rocks. Acts 6 says that "his face was shining like that of the face of an angel." There's no shame in being in a cave, in running for your life when in fact you are in the will of God. There's no shame in being brokenhearted, crushed in spirit, when in fact you are doing what He wants. The enemy of our soul would like to shame us, to come to us and say, "You're in a cave, you deserve to be in a cave, you should be shamed by being in a cave, you'll never escape this cave, you are worthless!" But those who discover the secrets of Psalm 34 understand that there is a place of radiance even in the midst of stretching moments.

  4. God hears us, and he saves us out of our trouble. He encamps around us.


Patient Perspectives

We not only meditate on the Lord and His goodness with praise and prayer and participate in it, we need a little perspective! And that perspective needs to be infused with patience even as we wait in loneliness and fear. Here's the perspective:

"Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him."

There is a device in Hebrew poetry called parallelism, which is used in many ways. When you read the Psalms and Proverbs, you should understand it. Sometimes the author will say one line and the next line will take that subject and just extend it a little further. Other times there is the first line and the second is just the opposite; and the contrast, as you compare the two, teaches us something.

In this case what you see is "Taste and see that the Lord is good," first line. The second line explains and extends the thought, "Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him." I used to use this verse as an encouragement to the person who doesn't know Him, like this. "You know, you've never tried the Lord. You've never given it a shot, so taste and see and you'll find that the Lord is good." I think it has application there. But the context tells us that if you are a believer and are in a difficult moment, just "taste and see that the Lord is good" because "blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him."

As you taste and see, you'll find that it's good; that in fact there is blessing for the person who takes refuge in the Lord. That's the perspective you need to hold onto. "Fear the Lord you saints, for those who fear him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry . . " David writes, using a metaphor to talk about himself.

Perspectives to Maintain:
  • If we taste of the experiences, even the troubles God may take us through, ultimately we will find it will be good. The New Testament corollary, of course is, "For we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, and have been called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28)."

  • If we take refuge in God, we will be blessed.

  • If we fear and seek the Lord, we are promised we will lack no good thing. It's not a promise for everything we want, but for everything that is good for us.

I have a doctorate in exposition, and one of the key things that drives my life and is the center of my education, as well as the way that I preach, is the whole idea of context. You cannot interpret Scripture outside its context, take a verse and rip it out of context and have understanding. You have to understand what's before that verse and what's after it. When it's in context and you understand a bit about the social and geographical setting, you're going to have some understanding. The same thing is true of our lives. It's the principle of life context.

We can't accurately interpret the present until the future is the past. In other words, we need to be (James 5:7) "patient like a farmer." There is always a gap between sowing and reaping, between the "anointing" and the "coronation." When we go through stretching moments and find ourselves in caves, we need patient perspectives, the principle of life context. We try not to interpret the present until we've lived a little while and can look back on it and see what God is doing. We can't rip the present out of context, and we can't just use the past to interpret it. We have to wait sometimes.

My granddaughter was over at our house in the springtime and found some old corn seed. Well, I have never planted a garden that I can remember, but she found some seeds so they must have been really old. So she said to grandma, "Grandma, you know I'd like to plant these corn seeds. Can I plant them in the flowers?" Well, Nancy thought they were so old they'd never grow, but she dug the little trenches and they planted the seeds, and now when you come to our house you can see the result: we have corn coming out of our flowers! It's a great scene!

There is always a gap between the planting and the reaping. We had no idea that it would really work; we had to live a little while to see the result. So, it's not just what is happening (the present); it's not just what has happened (the past). We need the context of the future before we can interpret the present circumstances of our life. Sometimes things happen in our lives that don't make any sense, and we are absolutely convinced there will be no fruit! If we're patient, we'll see the fruit.

Pass on the principles

It's time to share what you're learning. In verse 11, David writes, "Come my children, listen to me. I will teach you the fear of the Lord." He's still in a cave. He's still alone. He's not been crowned the king yet. He's still being pursued by Saul! In the midst of that, however, there is a pause, a moment. He's learning something. It isn't at the end of the process that you share what you're learning; it's while you're in it, while it is meaningful, fresh.

In case that invitation wasn't enough motivation, David added, "Whoever of you loves life and desires many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it." That's a mouthful. That's the sermon. That's what David wanted the person who was watching and listening to learn from him.

How do you fear the Lord? How do you live a long life?

Begin by thinking and speaking the truth. No lies! When you're in a cave, you begin to imagine things, to allow lies to penetrate your mind and your spirit. The enemy comes again, and tells you that you deserve to be there. Lies begin to be your focus, and those lies take you further, deeper into the cave. You live the lie! It's the truth, though, that sets us free. David learned while in the cave that he needed to speak the truth, and if he was speaking the truth, it meant he was thinking the truth. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."

When you think and speak the truth, sin is revealed: not only someone else's sin, but yours: your need for purification, for repentance. So begin speaking the truth, turn from evil, do good and pursue peace. It's not just a no, it's also a yes. We discover when we're under pressure that there are sins in our lives, so we confess our sin. It isn't enough just to confess, however; it isn't enough just to turn from evil. We then are to take a positive stance and begin to do good and pursue peace.

I don't know how many people I've talked to in my ministry experience who say, "You know, I'm going through a hard time and soon as I get through it, maybe I'll minister, maybe I'll do this or that." And my counsel usually is, "Right now might be the very best time for you to do good, to do ministry, to take the present lessons, the daily answers to prayer and share them with someone else. Find some way to pass on the principles, the lessons, the warnings, the concerns that you might have.

Pursue peace. As Saul was pursuing David, David pursued peace. On two occasions he could have killed Saul but pursued peace instead, honoring the Lord's anointed.

Practice his presence

It's very important for us to think about where the Lord is in our experience. Ps 34:7, 15-18. "The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him... The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off memory from the earth. The righteous cry out and the Lord hears them. He delivers them from all their troubles." And here's the verse we started with: "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."

What does this tell us about God, about His presence? He encamps around us; the eyes of the Lord are on us, the Lord is attentive to our cry. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil. The Lord hears us. The Lord is close, the Lord saves. David said in Psalm 23, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me." At the end of the Great Commission, He said, "and lo, I will be with you always, even to the end of the age."

Practicing the presence of God is the encouragement we need when we're in a cave.

Proclaim his promises

These are the promises we've proclaimed as we celebrate his presence. "A righteous man may have many troubles. [Did you know that is a promise?] but the Lord delivers him from them all. He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken." Here's a good promise (vv 19-22): "Evil will slay the wicked. The foes of the righteous will be condemned. The Lord redeems his servants, no one will be condemned who takes refuge in Him."


This is the way we deal with the caves, the stretching experiences in our life:

Praise and Prayer

Patient perspective

Pass on the Principles

Practice His Presence

Proclaim his Promise

The alliteration there is designed to go along with the way this psalm was originally designed, as an acrostic. I would encourage you to write this simple outline next to the verses in Psalm 34. If you haven't needed it, you will. You just may need it now. Allow the verses to work through your soul and mind and spirit. There is wonderful healing and help that will come to you.

We all need safe places. David needed a cave, and there are moments in our lives when pressure is great. It may be a five-minute walk around the block. It may be that we steal away and go on a hike. It may be that we go to Whistler for a couple of weeks and enjoy the beauty up there. We all need a safe place. But that safe place can be lonely.

We all need still times. We need time to reflect, to write in our journals. We need to have those moments when things like Psalm 34 can begin to roll out of our spirits, to begin to write down and reflect and pray and to begin to learn the lessons of our lives. But that's still not enough.

We all need special friends. First Samuel 22 tells us that David left Gath and escaped to the cave, and when his brothers and his father's household heard about it, they went down to him there, and it goes on and tells about the 400 men that came. Now initially they weren't real close, but they became very special friends to him.

The safe places, the still times and the special friends helped to prepare him for what was ahead.

There is a little river that runs through Whistler, British Columbia, and it's beautiful. If you go up there in the spring, it's kind of rip-roaring. But if you go up there in late summer, there are little sand bars revealed in the middle, filled with rocks. These rocks have a whole lot of water crushing in on them and affecting them almost all the time.

The last time I was there, I went across this little beaver dam and got out in the middle of this sand bar and found a rock. If you looked at it real close you'd find that it's not quite round yet, but it's getting there. If you look at common gravel, in contrast, it has ragged edges, because it hasn't been in water. It hasn't been turned over, pressured and pushed, and the edges haven't been knocked off. A rock in the middle of a river, however, has had the pressure and is being rounded.

I thought about the fact that when David went to the brook to pick up the stones that would kill Goliath, he picked five smooth stones. They would probably go through the air better and reach their target because the corners had been rounded. I kept the stone I had picked up, and it is a reminder to me of Psalm 34. I keep it in my pocket and rub the edges, and remind myself that the Lord is working in me, his good pleasure.

Our lives are like stones in the river, and God has some very special things in mind. There's a target that needs to be reached. There will be experiences during which we feel the pressure, feel alone, feel "turned." We're going to feel as if we can't make it. But the principle of patient perspective, the principle of context says, "Let the river roll on!" Let the experience continue! There comes a time when we'll be able to see the work of the Master and see that we're much better, more prepared for what is ahead. We would discover that those experiences that are hurting us, stretching us, knocking off some of the sins and rough edges of our lives are for our good, to make us useful, smooth stones safe in the Master's hands.

If you are in one of those places, I encourage you to find a river, or go down to the bay. Pick up a little rock and hold it in your hand. Allow your finger to go over the edges. Remind yourself of what God is doing in you.