A Psalm of David when he pretended madness before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed.

This is another psalm by David, Israel’s great shepherd-king. This psalm is from a time before David became king, when he was on the run from Saul, the current king of Israel. Remember, God had rejected Saul because of his sin, and was planning to set up David as king in his place. Saul had determined that David was the LORD’s choice, and so he had tried to kill him, forcing David to run. We read of the incident that inspired the writing of this psalm, then, in I Samuel 21:10.

10.  Then David arose and fled that day from before Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath.

Here we read of David’s flight from Saul, and that he decided to seek refuge with Achish, the king of Gath, a city of the Philistines. Notice that his name is Achish, yet Psalm 34 calls him “Abimelech.” This appears to have been a title for a king, like the more familiar “Pharaoh” in Egypt, or “Caesar” in Rome. So we might call this king “Abimelech Achish.” Notice that a man called Abimelech is called “king of the Philistines” in Genesis 26:1&8. Moreover, both Abraham and his son Isaac dealt with a king called Abimelech in Genesis 20 and 26. This may have been the same man, though with a generation in between it is likely that it was his son, and both were called “Abimelech,” since this was a title for a king and not a name. Thus, there is no discrepancy or contradiction between this psalm and I Samuel. This man was an “Abimelech,” a king of the Philistines, and he was named Achish.

11. And the servants of Achish said to him, “Is this not David the king of the land? Did they not sing of him to one another in dances, saying: ‘Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands’?”

David seeks refuge with Achish, but his servants remember all too well the man David, the hero through whom God had defeated them, their champion Goliath, and their armies. The Philistines doubtless had no good feelings towards the man through whom God had humiliated them so completely, and so when David realized that he had been recognized, he must have realized that he was in great peril.

12. Now David took these words to heart, and was very much afraid of Achish the king of Gath.

David is understandably afraid when he hears these words of Achish’s servants. Indeed, it was probably very likely that Achish might have ordered David killed on the spot in vengeance for what he had done to the Philistine armies in the past.

13. So he changed his behavior before them, pretended madness in their hands, scratched on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva fall down on his beard.

David had no doubt seen madmen during his life, and wisely hit upon this ruse as the best way to escape the danger he had walked into. Thus, he feigns madness, and did a very good job of it, from what we have described here.

14. Then Achish said to his servants, “Look, you see the man is insane. Why have you brought him to me? 15. 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?”

Achish is deceived by David’s acting, and so he wants nothing to do with what appears to him to be a common madman. He chides his servants for troubling him with this lunatic.

I Samuel 22:1. David therefore departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam.

Thus, David is allowed to go free, and flees back to the land of Israel. Now, David writes this psalm, apparently to commemorate this event, and his escape, crediting the LORD with delivering him from this danger.

Psalm 34, now, is an acrostic psalm. That means that it is what we might call “alphabetical,” with each verse starting with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It is impossible to translate it this way in English, of course. Let us now examine this psalm together.

1.  I will bless the LORD at all times;

To “bless” here means to magnify or exalt. David declares his determination to magnify the LORD at all times. This latest deliverance just reminds him once again of His greatness, and he determines again to do this.
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.

David determines that he will continually be praising the LORD. That does not mean that every word he speaks is praising the LORD, or that he does it what we would call “non-stop,” but rather that this is just a normal thing for him. It is something he has done many times, he is doing now, and he will continue to do in the future. He will always be praising the LORD.

2.  My soul shall make its boast in the LORD;

David speaks of his soul here as a figure for himself. He will make his boast in the LORD. We have many things that we can boast in. Some might boast in their job, and the position they hold with their employer. Others might boast of their own business that they have started, and the success they have had on their own. Some might boast in their family. Others might boast in their religion, and all the works they have done in it. But David makes no boast but in the LORD, and that is the best boast that any of us can make. What are our little accomplishments, after all, compared to Him? Knowing Him and serving Him is indeed the very best thing that anyone can say about his life. He indeed is our only true boast!

The humble shall hear of it and be glad.

The “humble” here are those who are submissive. Those who are themselves obedient unto God and have yielded their hearts and lives to Him are always happy to find others who have done the same. One who boasts only in the LORD will inevitably bring gladness to all others who act in the same way.

3.  Oh, magnify the LORD with me,

Now David calls upon others, perhaps those humble before the LORD from the previous verse, to join with him in magnifying the LORD.

And let us exalt His name together.

He wants them to do this together. Together, they will exalt His name. “Name” means one’s reputation or the esteem he is held in. Thus, David wants to lift up and exalt the character of the LORD together with those who hear him.

4.  I sought the LORD, and He heard me,

David perhaps rehearses what went through his mind while he was standing before Abimelech, hearing the accusations of his servants and fearing for his life. In that moment of difficulty, he sought the LORD, and the LORD heard him, responding to his plea. Notice that “hearing” here is not literal, for David certainly would not have been so foolish as to call upon the LORD aloud at this point. The LORD heard and acknowledged the attitude of David’s heart, and the internal cry he made to his God for deliverance from the power of Achish.

And delivered me from all my fears.

David credits the LORD with delivering him. Though David was the one who had acted like a madman, he knows that he would not have been able to pull off this ruse without the LORD’s help. Perhaps Yahweh had given David a supernatural acting ability that was not his own. Perhaps He had convinced Abimelech and his men that David really was mad. But David realizes that only with the Yahweh’s help had he escaped what he feared would happen to him at the hands of Abimelech.

5.  They looked to Him and were radiant,

This is probably referring to the humble (or submissive) of verse 2. They look to the LORD, and this causes them to be radiant. Bullinger suggests in The Companion Bible that if we look within, we are miserable, and if we look around, we are distracted. It is when we look to the LORD that we become radiant. Looking to him is our hope and our joy.

The phrase “and were radiant” actually starts with the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, in keeping with the acrostic. The sixth verse, then, starts with the seventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and the seventh verse starts with the eighth letter, and so on. Why this is so it is hard to say, unless it is meant to emphasize the truth of this verse by covering two letters in it rather than one.
And their faces were not ashamed.

The face is probably put here for their whole being. Since the face is the part of the body that can particularly express shame, it makes sense that it is what is referred to here. The faces of those who look to the LORD will never show shame for doing so.

6.  This poor man cried out, and the LORD heard him,

David speaks of himself as having cried out to the LORD. Since it is highly unlikely that he did this aloud, this shows us that the LORD hears our internal thoughts, and the crying out to Him that we make in our minds, just as much as if we had cried out aloud. Thank the LORD that He can hear us in our troubles, even when we only cry to Him in our thoughts!

And saved him out of all his troubles.

This is a beautiful truth. The LORD had saved David this way from his peril with Achish, and He likewise saves us from all that this world can throw in our way.

7.  The angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him,

“Angel” is a word that means a messenger. There can be little doubt here that a heavenly being is meant. It is strange that one angel is mentioned, and that then he is said to encamp all around those who fear Him, as if a whole group of angels is meant. I believe that a study of the phrase THE “angel of the LORD” will lead us to the conviction that this refers to the primary messenger of Yahweh, the One Who shows Him forth perfectly, that is, Jesus Christ. Thus, He would be the One that they are fearing, and He responds by encamping in protection around them. In the same way, our Lord Jesus Christ is the One we look to for protection and help in our day. We do not look to any other being, no, not to any other angel, for He is the one mediator between us and God. As I Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” We should not look to angelic beings to protect us, for then we are looking for them to mediate between God and us. Instead, we should look only to the Lord Jesus Christ for our protection, for He is the One Who can always stand between us and trouble.

And delivers them.

The angel of the LORD delivers those who fear Him. David knows from experience, for he himself had just gone through such a deliverance.

8.  Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good;

Amen! We have tasted. We have tasted through the Lord Jesus Christ. We have tasted through our faith in Him. We have tasted through the Word of God. We have tasted through the Holy Spirit. Let us all praise Him, for we have tasted, and know that He is good. Let us call upon all those around us who have not done so to taste and see along with us.

Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!

Again this speaks of the “how happy” man. How happy indeed is the one who trusts in the LORD, for he trusts in the One Who will never let him down!

9.  Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints!

Now David calls upon his fellow saints. A saint is one who is set apart to God for special service, as David was as the king of Israel. Now he calls upon all like him to fear the LORD. Fear does not have to do with terror, as our modern word does, but rather with reverence, respect, and awe. David calls upon those whom God has given a position under Him to respect and reverence the One Who gave them their positions. How sad it is when one whom God has given much fails to respond to Him as they ought, but instead take for granted the One Who blessed them, and thrust Him behind their backs! Let us never forget and discount the great blessing given to us.

There is no want to those who fear Him.

Those who are saints, whom God has separated to a special place, are assured that they will not suffer want. This does not speak simply of desires, like I “want” a new car, but rather of their necessities, of the things that provide for their health and comfort. This is a promise of God to those whom He has given a special service. We might say that it is like His agreement with His employees. For us to take such a promise to ourselves today is entirely wrong. God does not promise us material blessings in the dispensation of grace. In our country, with the wealth and plenty we enjoy, it is all too easy for us to take such a promise as being carried out very well in our lives. Yet were we to go to countries where such wealth and luxury are not enjoyed, we could find there many believers, some perhaps who would put us to shame with their faith and dedication, who well know what the pangs of hunger feel like, and who have experienced what it means to run short of those things that are needed for life and health. To apply God’s promise here made to His saints in the nation of Israel to ourselves today is to wrongly divide the Word of truth. God makes no promise to us today of material possessions. His provision for us all comes by means of His grace, in granting us “every spiritual blessing in (among) the heavenly places (blessings) in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:3b)

10.  The young lions lack and suffer hunger;

The young lions, in spite of their power undiminished yet by age, still can sometimes fail to find sufficient prey, and suffer hunger. These most skillful and powerful of animals, whom it would seem would never have difficulty in killing for themselves as much food as they desire, might still suffer from lack of that which they need.

But those who seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing.

The LORD, however, is not limited to the strength and power of a young lion. He is able to provide in ways that the strength, power, and prowess of nature cannot equal. Thus, He is able to give every good thing He desires to those who seek Him. Notice that it is not every good thing they might desire, but rather the good things that the LORD wills to give them. Today His blessings likewise come to us as He wills, not as we will. Many times we ask for things and receive them not. Truly He provides as it pleases Him, and consistent with His policy in the dispensation of grace.

11.  Come, you children, listen to me;

Now, David calls upon the children to listen to him. Yet this is the Hebrew word for “sons.” A “son” is a representative of his father, according to the Hebrew mindset. This is just what a “saint” is in verse 9. David is speaking once again to the same group of people he spoke to in verse 9: those who are representatives of God, along with him, in ruling over His people.

I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

Now David promises to teach these sons the fear of the LORD. He wants to show them the reason or the meaning of standing in respect and awe of Him.

12.  Who is the man who desires life,

This is not simply a reference to this life, for we are given this life regardless of whether we fear the LORD or not. What he is referring to is that great life to come. What man desires, when he has died, to live again, and see the life that the LORD will grant to men in the future?

And loves many days, that he may see good?

This is not a man who will do anything to extend his life in this world. There are many books on living a long, healthy life, and many schemes that men will buy into for prolonging your lifespan. Men who reach a greater age than usual are consulted for the secret of their success, though in many cases it is perhaps more a matter of random chance than anything else that some men live so much longer than is normal. Yet that is not what this verse is speaking of. The man David is calling upon is the one who seeks life in the kingdom to come, when his days will be long indeed, and he will see good. That good will be far more than anything we might see in this life, for he will see the good that God will bring upon the earth when He takes control of its government and makes it the way He always intended it to be. That is the man who is spoken to in this verse: the one who desires life in God’s kingdom.

13.  Keep your tongue from evil,

Evil in our modern English means that which is inherently wicked or sinful. Yet in Hebrew, evil merely meant that which is not good for one, or that is calamitous. To have bad things happen to you is evil. However, evil is often used figuratively for the wickedness that can bring it about, that is, that can bring about ruin and calamity in a life. Thus, what is meant here is to refrain from speaking wicked and sinful things that will bring about calamity in your life, and keep you from receiving life in the time to come.

And your lips from speaking deceit.

This is repeated for emphasis. The sons are called upon to refrain from speaking lies.

14.  Depart from evil and do good;

Now the instructions are to leave behind those sinful actions that cause calamity and to do things that are good, that is, just and right. This is good advice for any man, and those who love the truth and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ would do well to heed it.

Seek peace and pursue it.

No good person in his right mind seeks war and conflict. Sometimes, though, such things are necessary in this fallen world. Yet one who serves God should first seek peace and pursue after it. First and foremost, he should seek peace with God, and then peace with his fellow men.

15.  The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,

David speaks from experience, having received the LORD’s help in his time of trouble. Remember, David was not righteous because he was sinless, but rather because he had received the righteousness that comes only from faith in God. If any of us today seek to have righteousness, we must attain it the same way.

And His ears are open to their cry.

The LORD hears and answers the cry of those who are truly righteous. Remember, this does not mean the self-righteous, but rather those who have attained to the righteousness that comes only by relationship to Him.

16.  The face of the LORD is against those who do evil,

The “face” here is put by a figure of speech for His whole Being. He is contrary to those who do the sin and wickedness that leads to calamity.

To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.

This does not necessarily mean that no one will remember that they existed, but rather that their way will come to an end. No longer, then, will men follow the way of the wicked. Never will they wish that that way still existed, or commemorate it, or seek to follow it once again. Rather, all recognition of those who do evil will come to a final end, and perish from the earth. What a great thing this is to consider. Evil will not be prevalent upon this earth forever!

17. The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears,

Surely David was thinking back to his own recent experience, when he had cried out in his heart to the LORD as he stood in such deadly danger before Abimelech. The LORD had heard him, as He hears the cry of all the righteous.

And delivers them out of all their troubles.

This is exactly what the LORD had done for David when He had rescued him out of the hands of Abimelech. While it would be nice to believe that the LORD will deliver the believer out of all troubles today, our experience in this world is enough to tell us that He is not doing this. The believer is as likely to get into trouble as any man of the world, and often this occurs without any sign of deliverance from the LORD. Sometimes, it is true, a believer may experience deliverance, but sometimes he may not. To make this a rule today, in God’s secret administration, is an error. Yet we do know ultimately that even if our fate is to fall by some deadly danger, still we will be delivered from death, and brought into the glorious life He has in store for us in the future. So, in a very real sense, this deliverance will be experienced by all of us, for He is the One to Whom we cry.

18. The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart,

We speak of a broken heart most often when one experiences the pain of a love lost, either to unfaithfulness, rejection, or death. Yet I believe that in context this verse is speaking of the kind of broken heart that those who serve the LORD are to have before Him. We do not come to Him in pride, as if we are gracing Him with our presence. We do not come to Him boastfully, as if He was constrained to accept us because of our own worthiness. We do not come before Him as the Pharisee did in Luke 18:9-14, who said in his pride, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men.” Rather, we come before Him as the tax collector did, who “beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’” We come before Him as sinners saved by grace, nothing more, and then, we are assured, the LORD is near us.

And saves such as have a contrite spirit.

Yahweh delivers those whose spirit, that is, their minds and thoughts, are right before Him. How easy it is for us to think more of ourselves than we ought! How difficult it is to really give Him all the honor and respect He deserves! But a spirit, that is, a mind whose thoughts are contrite before Him is the mind He seeks to serve Him.

19. Many are the afflictions of the righteous,

All of us who live in this fallen world can confirm this from experience. Many indeed are the afflictions of the one who would live godly in Christ Jesus in this fallen world.

But the LORD delivers him out of them all.

He had delivered David in the past, and He will deliver us unto His glorious kingdom!

20. He guards all his bones;

The heart is broken (verse 18,) but not the bones. These are guarded by the LORD.

Not one of them is broken.

This reference to the bones seems strange. It probably refers to the fact that his body is kept from danger. Yet ultimately, according to John 19:31-37 (especially verse 36,) this finds its fulfillment in Christ, for not one of His bones was broken on the cross. Keep it straight, though, since they were all out of joint, according to Psalm 22:14, but none of them was broken, according to this verse. Christ’s death was all according to God’s plan, set forth long before in this book of Psalms.

21. Evil shall slay the wicked,

We know that sometimes the ways of the wicked lead them to their deaths, but often this is not so, and the wicked die in Adam, even as do the righteous. Ultimately, I believe this refers to the time of judgment, when God looks upon the works of these wicked ones, and bring calamity upon them because they have no Savior.

And those who hate the righteous shall be condemned.

Again, I believe this speaks of God’s future judgment against them. Certainly today we see those who hate the righteous on every side. Often they go uncondemned by any form of government upon the earth today. Yet they will not be held guiltless when God is the One in control!

22. The LORD redeems the soul of His servants,

This verse contrasts directly with the previous verse. Just as the LORD bring about the destruction of the wicked in the first line of verse 21, He conversely brings about the redemption of His servants in verse 22. “Soul” here is put for the whole person. He redeems those who serve Him from sin and death.

And none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned.

Again this contrasts with the last half of verse 21. There, those who hate the righteous are condemned. But those who trust in the LORD, by contrast, shall never be condemned. Their redemption is sure, for the LORD is their Savior. Praise God that, through faith in Christ and the gospel, He is our Savior in this day as well, even as He was the Savior of David and the righteous of his generation. He is indeed the Savior of all who trust in Him!