Discovering Christ in Unexpected Places Lesson 7

Lesson 7 | October 30, 2016

Prepared by Daniel L. Segraves, PhD

Psalm 34

The superscription of this psalm declares it is “a psalm of David when he pretended madness before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed.”  Abimelech is apparently the same person as Achish the king of Gath.  (See I Samuel 21:10-15.)  It may be that Abimelech was the king’s official royal name and that Achish was his personal name.  Abimelech means “my father is king.”  Achish has a variety of meanings, including “only a man.”

David fled from Saul’s violent anger (see I Samuel 18-20) to Achish.  The servants of Achish recognized David, causing David to fear for his life.  (See I Samuel 21:10-15.)  So David pretended to be insane, scratching on the gate and drooling.  Achish said to his servants, “Look, you see the man is insane.  Why have you brought him to me?  Have I need of madmen, that you have brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence?  Shall this fellow come into my house?” (I Samuel 21:14-15).

David’s pretense resulted in Achish having a lack of interest in him, and David was able to escape.  He wrote Psalm 34 in thanksgiving to God for his deliverance.

The question before us, however, is this: Is there any sense in which this psalm, which originally had to do with David’s deliverance from Abimelech, should be viewed as pointing ahead to the Messiah?  The general context of the Psalter would certainly suggest that this, like all previous psalms, is messianic, but is there anything in the psalm itself to advance a messianic theme?

Five points indicate that we are to read this psalm as pointing to the Messiah.

First, it is placed in the Psalter in the context of other psalms that are clearly messianic in intent.  If Psalm 34 is not about the Messiah, the continuity that we have seen to this point is broken.

Second, the general content of the psalm, including the blessing of the Lord, praise, deliverance, the righteous, and trust in the Lord, is in harmony with the general content of the previous psalms.

Third, there seems to be an allusion to verse 8 in Hebrews 6:4, where to “taste the heavenly gift” is descriptive of the New Covenant, and thus messianic, experience.[1]

Fourth, the Septuagint translation of verse 5a “was early used in the Christian baptismal liturgy.”[2]  If early Christians used the words of this verse in conjunction with Christian baptism, it means they read Psalm 34 as a messianic psalm.

Fifth, the psalm is an acrostic.  Verse 1 begins with aleph, verse 2 with beth, and so forth.  The waw, however, is missing.  There are twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and the twenty-two verses in this psalm are maintained by the addition of the final verse, which is outside of the acrostic.  This final verse connects the psalm to the general theme of the previous psalms as established in Psalm 2:12b: “Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.”  Psalm 34:22b reads, “And none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned.”  The structure of the psalm suggests that in its original form, as written by David to celebrate his escape from Abimelech, there was a verse beginning with waw, and the psalm ended with what is now verse 21.  When the Psalter was arranged into its present shape during the post-exilic era, an inspired shape that points to the Messiah, the verse beginning with waw was not included, and the current verse 22 was added.  Although this is speculation, it seems reasonable to conclude that the verse beginning with waw was not included because it did not advance the messianic intent of the Psalter, and verse 22 was added to contribute to the messianic theme.

Sixth, and perhaps most convincing, is the fact that verse 20 is quoted in John 19:36 as being specifically fulfilled in the events surrounding Jesus’ death.  Verse 20 reads, “He guards all his bones; not one of them is broken.”  In John’s account of Jesus’ death, he points out that the Jews asked Pilate to have the legs of Jesus and those who were crucified with Him broken so they would die quickly enough to be taken down from the crosses before the beginning of the Sabbath (John 19:31).  The soldiers broke the legs of the thieves, but “when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break His legs” (John 19:33).  John wrote, “For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, ‘Not one of His bones shall be broken’” (John 19:36).  This indicates that an inspired writer of a New Testament book viewed Psalm 34 as a messianic psalm.  If he did, so should we.  Since Psalm 34 is intentionally placed and composed, the entire psalm is messianic, not merely verse 20.  As with Psalm 31 (see verse 5) and Psalm 22 (see verses 1-22), Psalm 34 should be read as expressing the sentiments of the Messiah wherever possible.  The words that originally expressed David’s gladness at being delivered from Abimelech now express the Messiah’s gladness at being delivered from death by means of the resurrection.

The psalm begins with praise and blessing given to the Lord (verse 1).  The second verse continues this theme, and introduces the idea that those who are humble will be glad when they hear the Lord exalted.  The third verse begins with a command to join in magnifying the Lord and concludes with an invitation to join in the exaltation of His name.  (Compare with the messianic intent of Psalm 22:22.)

The reason the Lord is to be praised is that He heard the Messiah when He sought Him and delivered Him from all His fears (verse 4).  It may seem strange to think of the Messiah as praying for deliverance from fear, but this seems quite in keeping with Hebrews 5:7: “[W]ho, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear.”  If it seems problematic to think of the Messiah as facing fear, we should note that the Septuagint, widely quoted in the New Testament with its messianic intent, translates the Hebrew meguwrah [fear] with the Greek errusato, which includes the meanings, “to draw out of danger,” “to rescue,” “to save,” and “to deliver.”

Those who look to the Lord are “radiant” and “not ashamed” (verse 5).  The Septuagint translates this verse: “Draw near to him, and be enlightened: and your faces shall not by any means be ashamed.”

The Messiah, who was made “poor” that we might be “rich,” cried out to the Lord, who heard him and delivered Him out of all His troubles (verse 6).[3]

The role of angels in ministering to the Messiah may be seen in Matthew 4:11 and Luke 22:43 (verse 7).

Verse 8 offers an imperative to “taste and see that the Lord is good” and promises that the person who trusts in Him (compare with verse 22) is blessed.

Similarly, verse 9 is a command for the saints of the Lord to fear Him, with the promise that those who fear Him will not want (lack).  This promise follows a theme seen in Psalm 23:1.

Although young lions may lack, not so those who seek the Lord (verse 10).  We should be careful to note that this verse does not promise that those who seek the Lord will never experience physical hunger.  The promise is that they will not lack “any good.”  As it relates to the Law of Moses, there was a promise of plenty on the condition of perfect obedience to all the commands of the Law.  (See Deuteronomy 28.)  But as it relates to the New Covenant, there must be a willingness to suffer, if necessary, for our faith.

Another imperative is found in verse 11, a command to come and listen and to be taught the fear of the Lord.

If a person wishes to live long and experience good things (verse 12), he must not speak evil or deceit (verse 13), and he must depart from evil, do good, and seek and pursue peace (verse 14).

The Lord sees the righteous (compare with Psalm 1:5-6) and hears their cries (verse 15), but He is against those who do evil (compare with Psalm 1:1, 4-6).  They will be forgotten (verse 16).

Again, as in verse 15, the righteous are assured that the Lord hears them when they cry out; He delivers them from all their troubles (verse 17).  This doesn’t they will never experience trouble; it means God will not abandon them to their troubles.  (See verse 19.)

The Lord values a broken heart and a contrite spirit (verse 18).  As seen elsewhere, He resists the proud, but He extends grace to those who are humble.  (See Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6; I Peter 5:5.)

The Lord does not promise that those who are righteous will not experience afflictions, but He does promise to deliver them (verse 19).  (Compare with I Corinthians 10:13.)

As this psalm relates to the Messiah, there is a precise fulfillment in that not one of His bones was broken (verse 20).  (See John 19:36.)

The evil in which the wicked engage shall slay them, and those who hate the righteous will be held guilty (verse 21).  (See Psalm 7:15-16.)

The final verse, apparently added by inspiration during the post-exilic period, ties this psalm together with all the preceding psalms: “the Lord redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned” (verse 22).  (Compare with Psalm 2:12b; 16:9-10.)

In view of the content of Psalm 34, the context in which it is found, the acrostic arrangement with the missing waw and the non-acrostic final verse, and the precise messianic fulfillment of verse 20, it seems quite clear that the entire psalm should be viewed as advancing the messianic theme of the Psalter.

The videos and study guides for this class can be accessed at http://www.danielsegraves.com/blog.

[1] See F.F. Bruce in Gordon D. Fee, gen.ed., The Epistle to the Hebrews, rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 137, n. 5.

[2] Ibid., 145, n. 40.

[3] See II Corinthians 8:9.