“The good life is here,” read the sign advertising the new housing development down the street. It communicates the commonly held view that “the good life” is found by being in the right place. What a sad and limiting view!
In contrast, Psalm 34 shows us that the good life comes from knowing the right person. No matter where you are, you can live the good life if you know the goodness of God.
David learned this lesson in one of the darkest moments of his life. He lost his job, was separated from his family, exiled from his country, sentenced to death and fell at his enemy’s gate (1 Sam. 21:10-15). From all angles life was not good. Yet surprisingly when David looked back on the occasion all he saw was goodness!
First, he saw the goodness of God. Psalm 34 begins with ten verses of praise (34:1-10), and ends with twelve verses of preaching (34:11-22). The order is significant. Yes, life is full of “troubles” (34:17). We are often “brokenhearted” and “crushed in spirit” (34:18-19). We are ignorant and needing direction (:11). But these words do not paint the full portrait!
When we step back to see the activity of God the painting is suddenly engulfed in goodness. The vision of God’s goodness comes into focus through praise (:1, personally, “I will;” :3, collectively “let us”). Worship draws our attention to how God hears the prayers of the humble (:6, “this poor man”) and answers them with deliverance and protection (:6-7, “saved” “encamped”), because “the Lord is good” (:8).
David, you are singing my song! I was also brought low by circumstances, personal weakness, and moral failures. I cried out for help and the merciful Lord heard me and helped me. My song of God’s goodness has 1000 verses! Could you not sing along with me?
Life is colored by what we choose to look at the most. If we stick our nose in the dirt all we see is mud. Worship directs our eyes backward, forward and upward to see the activity, promises and character of God. Only then do we see we are surrounded by God’s goodness. See it! Taste it! Don’t just squint your eyes to believe some facts. All of your senses tingle with the experience of his goodness (James 1:17). Once you see His goodness sing it…share it!
It is no coincidence that Peter urged believers enduring a “fiery trial” to reflect on their salvation and remember they “tasted the Lord was good” (1 Pet. 2:3; quoting Psalm 34:10). Their place was temporarily unpleasant, but that could not hide the goodness of God. The same goodness that saved them would follow them all the days of their life so that they “lacked no good thing” (Psalm 23:6; 34:10).
Secondly, the good life is not only a gift from God, but it comes from following the direction of God. David asks, “Is there anyone who wants to love life and see good days?” (34:12). Yes! Me. But is it really possible to love life? Most people “endure life” or even “hate life.” How can we love life? It happens when God’s goodness teaches us to be good to others. This takes three clear forms.
- Talk right. “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit” (34:13). If we want to love life, we must change how we talk (Luke 6:45; Phil. 4:8). We cannot keep telling ourselves Satan’s lies without creating hell on earth.
- Do good. “Turn away from evil and do good” (34:14). The good life is lived! One reason people “hate life” is because it is all about them. We are “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph. 2:10; Heb. 10:24).
- Seek peace. “Seek peace and pursue it” (34:14). An active peace between people is the pleasant breeze of the good life. Oh, the heartbreak of conflict, the grief of strife, and the pain of disunity! Blessedness is for “the peacemakers” (Matt. 5:10; Rom. 12:18; Heb. 12:14).
Peter used David’s poem to show how the “good life” is a living testimony to the gospel in a trash talking, self-centered, violent world (1 Pet. 3:8-17, note Peter’s exposition of “good” talk, behavior and peace in :13,16(x2)17). The world needs you to live the good life (Matt. 5.13-16)!
The Good Life Has No Broken Bones
David was the first to admit “the afflictions of the righteous are many” (34:19), but he was certain that God “keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken” (34:20). In other words, life may land a few punches, but it will not knock him out.
But is this true? Will the good life survive? Just look at the cross! John applies these words to Jesus (John 19:36, quoting Psalm 34:20). Yes, he was dead when the soldiers came to check on him. So, Jesus’s legs were not broken as the others on the cross. Jesus had more life to live. This is John’s signpost to the resurrection. Ultimately, the good life knows no end!
“Let all you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14)
Psalm 34 in the New Testament
Psalm 34 is quoted three times in the New Testament. Together they tell the beautiful story of God’s goodness.
- God’s Good Salvation (Past): Psalm 34:8, quoted in 1 Peter 2:3
- God’s Good Life (Present): Psalm 34:12-16, quoted in 1 Peter 3:10-12
- God’s Good Preservation (Future): Psalm 34:20, quoted in John 19:36
By the way, good writing and preaching is the explanation of God’s good word. It does not get “gooder” than that!
Begin at the Destination!
Psalm 34 illustrates an effective technique for dealing with life. This technique is so helpful it is found in many Psalms. It can be expressed this way: When you look at life, begin at the destination! (by the way, this is suggestion of Ecclesiastes and Revelation)
The Psalms often take us on a perilous journey of faith through the dangers and fears of life. However, most Psalms do not begin in the caves of fear, but on the mountain tops of praise. You see, the author begins at the destination, then shows us how to get there.
For example, Psalm 34 begins:
“I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalm 34:1)
We are tempted to think, “Sure, try to live my life buddy. There’s nothing to sing about.” As we read onward, we discover David was full of “fears” (:4), “cried” (:6), and was surrounded by “troubles” (:6, see also :18-19). He sang, not because life was easy, but because he knew where it finished up! Troubles are temporary, God is eternal, so we can sing today.
When you study the Psalms pay close attention to how they begin. The beginning is often the destination the author wants us to discover.
An Acrostic Psalm
Psalm 34 is an acrostic Psalm. The first word of each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet (see also Psalm 25, 119, 145). Perhaps this method was used to benefit the memory of the hearer or worshipper. Perhaps it was a way to organize the author’s thoughts. The acrostic nature of Psalm 34 results in the choppy reading of the Psalm. Each couplet seems to stand on its own. The acrostic format is useful to the didactic purpose of a Wisdom Psalm.
What Is Worship (Psalm 34:1-3)
The Object of Worship
- “bless the Lord”
- “praise the lord”
- “boast in the Lord”
- “magnify the Lord”
- “exalt the Lord”
The Attitude of Worship
The Instrument of Worship
The Time of Worship
- “at all times”
The People of Worship
- “I will bless the Lord”
- “Let us exalt his name together”
The Occasion for the Psalm (Psalm 34, 56 & 1 Samuel 21)
The superscription of Psalm 34 reads, “of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.” These words point us to one of the most puzzling and disturbing events in David’s life (1 Samuel 21). David fled to Philistine country to escape Saul’s murderous intent. Ironically, he ends up on the doorstep of the King of Gath, carrying Goliath’s sword, looking for safety. Yet, surprisingly (I write sarcastically, see 1 Sam. 17), the people of Gath do not like him. So, David pretends to be insane to get thrown out of town.
Was David wise to seek protection from the Philistines? Was David right to pretend he was insane? We are tempted to be sympathetic to David’s condition and admire his cunning. But what if we word the questions more generally. Does God approve of light having fellowship with darkness? Does God approve of deception? The answer seems clear.
But what are we to do with Psalm 34? It seems to indicate the David’s deliverance from Gath, with all his deception, was God’s doing?
It is helpful to note that Psalm 56 is written about the same event. It seems to indicate that as David looked back on the terrible choice at Gath and realized he was trusting in people not God (See Psalm 56:3-4, 10-11). Therefore, in Psalm 56 David praises God for a lesson learned: Only God is worthy of trust and able to protect.
Similarly, in Psalm 34 David looks back at a dark time and praises God for lessons learned: He was still surrounded by God’s goodness (:8); he should not be characterized by “deceit and conflict,” (:11-14) yet at the end God did not allow him to be utterly destroyed (:19-20).
We do not need to sanitize David’s actions in 1 Samuel 21 to maintain the spiritual integrity of Psalm 34 and 56. It is possible for people to make a mistake, learn lessons and praise God for it.