“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.” ~Psalm 34:1-2 (NRSV).
A common feature of thankfulness is reflection; the vision of blessing as we look back. Such mindfulness seems almost surreal. Perhaps we were nervous and under pressure; yet, somehow, we came through. Like Footprints, God was with us. Psalm 34 is commonly ascribed as a psalm of thanksgiving. It brims with joy in the Lord.
The Bellow of Praise
The first three verses open up in enthusiastic style. An individual’s praise—David’s—ignites the call for others to join in (verse 3). The individual’s testimony (verse 4) calls others toward the salvation of God (verse 5). Radiance is the promise and shame is to be put away forever.
Confirmation resounds through the psalmist as he vacillates between the testimony of deliverance and the operatic harmonies of benefit.
Wisdom and the ‘Fear of the LORD’
There is a clear imperative given in verse 9: fear the Lord, for in that there is no want. Such a mindset inspires not fear, but reverencing God and focus on the right path.
There are two ways shown in verse 10; we can behave as young lions and God will give us our own way. We’ve lived like this; proud yet hungry. Those in the Lord, however, “lack no good thing.”
It’s in this section that we begin to understand why some categorise this psalm in the wisdom genre. Verse 11 is a giveaway: it feels like it’s straight out of Proverbs 1–9 where a father is heard constantly instructing his child.
Wisdom is a black and white art. It hearkens us to righteousness and beseeches us against evil. The child is implored: “seek peace, and pursue it.” (Verse 14b) As we read further we pinch ourselves; surely this is Proverbs we are reading, no?
So, the majority of this psalm is hauntingly proverbial.
The Lord Hears Our Cries for Help
We return to the emotiveness typical of the psalms as we reach verse 15—the perfect way to end. Most people reach for the Psalms when they’re forlorn; locked away hard and fast from joy in their grief.
Each verse from 15 to 22 builds on the previous, as a crescendo to the Lord’s faithfulness is measured in compassion, true justice and, ultimately, salvation.
The eyes and ears of the Lord are with those who do right; he rescues them and is near them. Not just that, God is fervently against those who do evil.
The Lord is patently aware of the afflictions that the obedient suffer—rescue is his answer, as is physical safety. Those who despise the faithful will suffer their own condemnation, but there will be no condemnation for those in the Lord.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.