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Psalm 34

 

STROPHE DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
The Lord A Provider and Deliverer The Happiness of Those Who Trust in God Thanksgiving For Deliverance From Trouble
(An Acrostic)
In Praise of God's Goodness In Praise of God's Justice
(An Acrostic)
MT Intro
A Psalm of David when he feigned madness before Abimelich, who drove him away and he departed.
       
34:1-3  34:1-3 34:1-3 34:1-3 34:1 (Aleph)
        34:2 (Bet)
        34:3 (Gimel)
34:4-7 34:4-7 34:4-10 34:4-7 34:4 (Dalet)
        34:5 (He)
        34:6 (Zain)
        34:7 (Het)
34:8-14 34:8-10   34:8-10 34:8 (Tet)
        34:9 (Yod)
        34:10 (Kaph)
  34:11-14 34:11-14 34:11-14 34:11 (Lamed)
        34:12 (Mem)
        34:13 (Nun)
        34:14 (Samek)
34:15-18 34:15-16 34:15-18 34:15-18 34:15 (Ain)
        34:16 (Pe)
  34:17-18     34:17 (Zade)
        34:18 (Qoph)
34:19-22 34:19-22 34:19-22 34:19-21 34:19 (Resh)
        34:20 (Shin)
        34:21-22 (Taw)
      34:22  

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. This is an acrostic psalm. Each verse (except Ps. 34:5, which has two Hebrew letters) starts with a sequential letter of the Hebrew alphabet, 22 letters.

It is interesting that if an acrostic poem goes beyond 22 letters the next letter is regularly Pe.

 

B. There are several examples of the acrostic form.

1. Psalm 9-10 (but not complete, five consonants missing and two reversed)

2. Psalm 25 (one consonant missing)

3. Psalm 34 (one verse has two consonants)

4. Psalm 37 (every two verses starts with sequential letters)

5. Psalm 111 (two consonants for each verse)

6. Psalm 112 (two consonants for each verse)

7. Psalm 119 (eight verses for each sequential consonant)

8. Psalm 145 (not complete)

 

C. Notice that YHWH (i.e., Lord) occurs in almost every verse. The Psalm is about YHWH. Humans know Him by

1. His acts (cf. Nehemiah 9)

2. His promises (esp. Genesis 12; Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-30)

3. His covenant (Genesis — Deuteronomy)

4. His Son (John 1:1-14; Col. 1:13-16; Heb. 1:2-3)

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 34:1-3
 1I will bless the Lord at all times;
 His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
 2My soul will make its boast in the Lord;
 The humble will hear it and rejoice.
 3O magnify the Lord with me,
 And let us exalt His name together.

34:1-3 This is a strophe of witness. It starts with a singular cohortative and ends with a plural. YHWH is too great and wonderful in character and deed not to be praised!

1. I will bless YHWH — BDB 943, KB 1247, Piel cohortative, singular

2. Let us exalt His name — BDB 926, KB 1202, Polel cohortative, plural

Notice how the praise is characterized.

1. At all times — this is an important reminder that YHWH is to be praised in good or difficult times; He does not change. His mercy is always present! Only our perspective changes. Faith must continue to affirm His presence and praise, cf. 1 Thess. 5:16-18.

2. Continually (BDB 556, cf. Ps. 35:27; 40:16; 70:4; 71:6) in my mouth — praise should not depend on personal circumstances but should be a normal activity of the recipients of grace.

3. Praise should rise from all people (i.e., humble, lit. "afflicted," "poor," or "weak," BDB 776). All humans have much to praise God for!

4. Together — praise is both individual and corporate (i.e., together, BDB 403), as worship should be. We bring our individual needs to Him as well as our "gathered needs." Unity and fellowship among faithful followers exhibit praise to God and witness to others!

 

34:2 "boast" The Hebrew verb (BDB 237 II, KB 248, Hithpael imperfect), in the Hithpael means "to boast," "to exult," or "to be praised" (cf. 1 Kgs. 20:11; 1 Chr. 16:10; Ps. 64:11; 105:3; 106:5; Pro. 20:14; 25:14; 27:1; Isa. 41:16; 45:25; Jer. 9:23).

For the theological concept of "boasting" see SPECIAL TOPIC: BOASTING at Ps. 20:7.

34:3 "O magnify the Lord" This verb (BDB 152, KB 178, Piel imperative) is a command to express to God our heart's gratefulness with our praise. Before we succumb to the frailties of life or the difficulties of current situations, we should remind ourselves of

1. who God is

2. what He has done

3. what He is doing

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 34:4-7
 4I sought the Lord, and He answered me,
 And delivered me from all my fears.
 5They looked to Him and were radiant,
 And their faces will never be ashamed.
 6This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
 And saved him out of all his troubles.
 7The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him,
 And rescues them.

34:4-7 This strophe develops the thoughts of the first. Notice how it moves from the singular (i.e., I sought YHWH) to the plural (i.e., they looked to Him), just like the first strophe.

1. For the psalmist, YHWH

a. answered him — BDB 772, KB 851, Qal perfect

b. delivered him from all his fears — BDB 664, KB 717, Hiphil perfect

2. For the group

a. YHWH heard, Ps. 34:6

b. YHWH saved the afflicted

c. YHWH's angel encamped around those who fear Him (cf. Zech. 9:8; YHWH Himself in Ps. 125:2)

d. YHWH rescued them

3. The LXX, Syrian, Vulgate versions have "look" and "be radiant" as imperatives. The MT has perfects in Ps. 34:5.

Faithful followers are never alone or isolated. Their faithful God is always present and at the ready!

34:7 "The angel of the Lord" Angels are servants of the redeemed (cf. Num. 20:16; Ps. 91:11; Isa. 63:9; Dan. 3:28; 6:22; Matt. 18:10; Acts 12:11; Heb. 1:14). See Special Topic below.

SPECIAL TOPIC: THE ANGEL OF THE LORD

▣ "those who fear Him" This is a Qal active participle (BDB 431, KB 432) which describes faithful followers (cf. Ps. 15:4; 25:12,14; 31:19; 61:5; 66:16; 103:11; 118:4; Deut. 28:58; Neh. 1:11).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 34:8-14
 8O taste and see that the Lord is good;
 How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
 9O fear the Lord, you His saints;
 For to those who fear Him there is no want.
 10The young lions do lack and suffer hunger;
 But they who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing.
 11Come, you children, listen to me;
 I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
 12Who is the man who desires life
 And loves length of days that he may see good?
 13Keep your tongue from evil
 And your lips from speaking deceit.
 14Depart from evil and do good;
 Seek peace and pursue it.

34:8-14 Because YHWH is "good" (BDB 373 II), His faithful followers (i.e., saints, BDB 872) are admonished to

1. taste — BDB 380, KB 377, Qal imperative, cf. Heb. 6:5

2. see — BDB 406, KB 1157, Qal imperative (quoted by Peter in 1 Pet. 2:3 from LXX)

3. take refuge — BDB 340, KB 337, Qal imperative

4. fear — BDB 431, KB 432, Qal imperative

5,6. come (BDB 229, KB 246, Qal imperative ), listen (BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal imperative ) to the psalmist teach the fear of YHWH, Ps. 34:11

The results of their actions are

1. there is no want, Ps. 34:9b; Ps. 23:1

2. they will not be in want of any good thing, Ps. 34:10b; Ps. 84:11

3. long life, Ps. 34:12

Here are the psalmist's teachings for a long, happy life.

1. keep your tongue from evil and lips from speaking deceit — BDB 665, KB 718, Qal imperative, cf. Ps. 12:3-4; 15:2-3; 73:8-9; James 3:5-12

2. depart from evil — BDB 693, KB 747, Qal imperative, cf. Ps. 37:27; Isa. 1:16

3. do good — BDB 793, KB 889, Qal imperative, cf. Ps. 37:27; Isa. 1:17

4. seek peace — BDB 134, KB 152, Piel imperative, cf. Mark 9:50; Rom. 14:19; 1 Cor. 7:15; 2 Cor. 13:11; 1 Thess. 5:13; Heb. 12:14; James 3:17-18

5. pursue peace — BDB 922, KB 1191, Qal imperative, cf. same as #4

Notice the balance between what YHWH does for the faithful follower and what they must do for themselves. There are choices and consequences, both positive and negative (the next strophe is a partial list)!

Peter quotes from this Psalm in 1 Peter 3.

1. 1 Pet. 3:10 — Ps. 34:12,13

2. 1 Pet. 3:11 — Ps. 34:14

3. 1 Pet. 3:12 — Ps. 34:15-16

He sees it fitting into his emphasis of a united fellowship (i.e., "let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit, not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead," 1 Pet. 3:8-9).

34:8 "the Lord is good" "Good" (BDB 373 II) is a key word in this strophe (cf. 1 Thess. 5:15).

1. YHWH is good (adjective), Ps. 34:8, cf. Ps. 25:8; 86:5; 100:5; 106:1; 107:1; 118:1,29; 145:9; 1 Chr. 16:34; Ezra 3:11; Jer. 33:11; Nah. 1:7

2. those who seek Him will not be in want of any good thing (BDB 481 construct BDB 375), Ps. 34:10, cf. Ps. 84:11

3. fear of YHWH brings a long, good (BDB 373) life, Ps. 34:12

4. depart from evil and do good (BDB 373), Ps. 34:14

5. notice the use of "good" in Romans 8:28

 

34:9

NASB, NKJV"saints"
NRSV, NJB"holy ones"
TEV"people"
JPSOA"consecrated ones"
REB"holy people"

The adjective (BDB 872) can denote

1. the Messiah, Ps. 16:3 (as David's ultimate seed)

2. the angels or heavenly counsel, Job 5:1; 15:15; Ps. 89:5-6,7; Dan. 8:13; Zech. 14:5

3. faithful followers

a. priests — Num. 16:5,7; Ps. 106:16 (Aaron)

b. Levites — 2 Chr. 35:3

c. prophets — 2 Kgs. 4:9

d. Nazirites — Num. 6:5,8

e. Israel — Exod. 19:6; Lev. 11:44,45; 19:7; 20:7,26; 21:6; Num. 15:40; Deut. 7:6; 14:2,21; 26:19; 28:9

Here it refers to faithful followers.

34:10

NASB, NKJV,
NRSV, NJB"lions"
LXX, Peshitta"rock"
REB"princes"
NEB"unbelievers" (from an Arabic root)

The MT has "lions." The question is "to whom does the imagery refer?" It seems best to contrast them with "the humbled," "the afflicted," or "the poor" (BDB 776) of verses 2 and 6.

34:11 "children" This is literally "sons" (BDB 119). In Wisdom Literature the teacher is called "father" and the students "sons" (i.e., Pro. 1:8; 4:1,10,20; 6:1,20; 24:13,21).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 34:15-18
 15The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
 And His ears are open to their cry.
 16The face of the Lord is against evildoers,
 To cut off the memory of them from the earth.
 17The righteous cry, and the Lord hears
 And delivers them out of all their troubles.
 18The Lord is near to the brokenhearted 
 And saves those who are crushed in spirit.

34:15-18 This strophe shows the results of godly or godless living.

1. godly

a. YHWH's eyes (presence and care) are toward the righteous, Ps. 34:15a

b. YHWH's ears hear their cry, Ps. 34:15b,17

c. YHWH delivers them out of all their trouble, Ps. 34:17b

d. YHWH is near to the brokenhearted, Ps. 34:18a

e. YHWH saves those who are crushed in spirit, Ps. 34:18b; Isa. 57:15

2. godless

a. YHWH's face is against evildoers, Ps. 34:16a

b. their memory is cut off (BDB 503, KB 500, Hiphil infinitive construct), Ps. 34:16b; this imagery refers to death

There are several anthropomorphisms in this strophe using the human body to describe YHWH (see Special Topic at Ps. 2:4-6).

1. eyes

2. ears

3. face

 

34:18 "The Lord is near" What a wonderful promise (cf. Deut. 4:7; Ps. 119:51; 145:18). It is shocking that a holy God wants to fellowship with sinful humans. He seeks us out and pursues us. We were created by Him for fellowship with Him (cf. Gen. 1:26,27; 3:8). No matter how bad things get (i.e., "the brokenhearted," cf. Ps. 147:3; Isa. 61:1 and "those who are crushed in spirit," cf. Ps. 51:17; Isa. 57:15), the Lord is near to faithful followers!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 34:19-22
 19Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
 But the Lord delivers him out of them all.
 20He keeps all his bones,
 Not one of them is broken.
 21Evil shall slay the wicked,
 And those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
 22The Lord redeems the soul of His servants,
 And none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.

34:19-22 This strophe continues the emphasis of the previous one, but emphasizing the different outcomes between the godly and godless. The last two strophes are parallelism at a second level.

1. YHWH's actions toward His faithful followers

a. He delivers them from all their many afflictions, Ps. 34:19

b. He keeps all their bones unbroken (i.e., imagery for health), Ps. 34:20

c. He redeems (see Special Topic at Ps. 19:14) His servants, Ps. 34:22a

d. none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned, Ps. 34:22b

2. YHWH's actions toward the unfaithful

a. He shall slay the wicked, Ps. 34:21a (cf. Ps. 34:16)

b. those who hate the righteous will be condemned, Ps. 34:21b

 

34:19 There needs to be two points made about this verse.

1. The righteous did/do/will suffer in this fallen world (cf. Ps. 37:39; 50:15; Dan. 12:1; Matt. 5:10-12; John 15:18-21; 16:1-3; 17:14; Acts 14:22; Rom. 5:3-4; 8:17,18-23; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; 6:3-10; 11:23-30; Phil. 1:29; 1 Thess. 3:3; 2 Tim. 3:12; James 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 4:12-16).

2. God is with them in and through these afflictions. Sometimes He chooses to miraculously deliver but often He does not (see Special Topic at Ps. 30:2). His presence is our greatest need and promise. He knows what we are going through (cf. Exod. 3:7).

34:20 The breaking of a person's bones was an idiom for the judgment of God (cf. Ps. 51:8; Isa. 38:13; Lam. 3:4). Therefore, no bones broken was an idiom of no judgment necessary (i.e., a righteous person).

This verse is quoted in John's Gospel (cf. John 19:36, along with Zech. 12:10 in John 19:37) as a prophetic prediction. I think it is better understood as a typological understanding. Psalm 34:20 is not a prediction about the Messiah's death but about a promise of health and well being to a faithful follower.

Here is the problem, hermeneutical theory asserts that the original intent of the inspired author is the place to begin how to understand a text, in a literary and historical context. This is surely true. But we must allow NT inspired authors the right to use typology. We cannot reproduce their method because we are not inspired, but they were. So, in these cases the NT usage must be valid, but often would have been a surprise to the OT author.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Who is "the angel of the Lord"? Where else is he mentioned in the Psalms?

2. How and why is verse 8 quoted twice in the NT (Heb. 6:5; 1 Pet. 2:3)?

3. Why does the author call his hearers "children"?

4. List the parts of the human body used to describe YHWH in verses 15-17.

5. What does the Hebrew idiom "keeps all his bones" mean?

6. What are the implications of verse 19 in a fallen world?

7. What does the word "soul" mean in the OT?