Several years ago there was a cover article in Time Magazine entitled, “Why we worry about the wrong things: the perils of risk.”
It would be a lot easier to enjoy your life if there weren’t so many things trying to kill you every day.
The problems start even before you’re fully awake. There’s the fall out of bed that kills 600 Americans each year. There’s the early-morning heart attack, which is 40 percent more common than those that strike later in the day.
There’s the fatal plunge down the stairs, the bite of sausage that gets lodged in your throat, the tumble on the slippery sidewalk as you leave the house, the high-speed automotive pinball game that is your daily commute.
Shadowed by peril as we are, you would think we’d get pretty good at distinguishing the risks likeliest to do us in from the ones that are statistical long shots. But you would be wrong.
We agonize over avian flu, which to date has killed precisely no one in the United States, but have to be cajoled into getting vaccinated for the common flu, which contributes to the deaths of 36,000 Americans each year.
We wring our hands over the mad cow pathogen that might be (but almost certainly isn’t) in our hamburger and worry far less about the cholesterol that contributes to the heart disease that kills 700,000 of us annually.
We pride ourselves on being the only species that understands the concept of risk, yet we have a confounding habit of worrying about mere possibilities while ignoring probabilities, building barricades against perceived dangers while leaving ourselves exposed to real ones.
All in all, we need to live as wisely as we know how, and trust God for the rest. The Scriptures contain quite a bit of material about how we as mankind need to be mindful of the provision and care of the Lord, and today we go to one of those places – Psalm 34.
Though there is a good bit to be distressed about in life, on the whole, there is more about which to be thankful. Now that is good; that is biblical perspective. Life here is always going to be a mixed bag of stuff on this side.
We live under the curse of sin, which makes our daily lives difficult and our bodies ultimately subject to the curse of death. Yet at the same time we live under the promise of God to meet our genuine needs. Not all our needs, as not every need will ever be met; but the biggest one will be – the redemption of our bodies at death.
As we look at Psalm 34, we see this same balance in the writing of David. He is resoundingly thankful, yet it is clear that his circumstances are far from perfect, as seen in the superscription …
Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left.
This story is from 1 Samuel 21… That day, David fled from Saul and went to Achish king of Gath. But the servants of Achish said to him, “Isn’t this David, the king of the land? Isn’t he the one they sing about in their dances: `Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands’?
David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath. So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.
Achish said to his servants, “Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?”
David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there. All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him.
The Psalm is not teaching that this is the way to extricate yourself from a problem. Rather, it sets up the degree of problem David faced, and then he extols God as the real source of his deliverance. It sets up the fact that David was a guy facing real problems, and long odds… and out of that, he was able to praise God.
This poem of David (an acrostic) can be divided into two major sections…
- David’s TESTIMONY of Thanksgiving …1-10
- David’s TEACHING on the fear of God …11-22
- David’s Vow to bless the Lord at all times, 1-3
34:1 – I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.
Notice this is “at all times” – not just when the circumstances are pleasant.
34:2 – My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
34:3 – Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together.
- David’s Experience, 4-6
34:4 – I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.
34:5 – Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.
This is written in a tense called the gnomic aorist, which simply means that it speaks of something that gives the summation of a common story – like a moral of a fable … a general truth you can count upon.
34:6 – This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.
- David’s Exhortation to Others, 7-10
34:7 – The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.
Here you have a picture of a military encampment with a guard around it; the wise person stays within the perimeter.
34:8 – Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
34:9 – Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing.
Here is the real answer, the real deliverance, to fear the Lord… which means to honor, respect, and fully trust God. This will be the theme he develops in the 2nd half of the Psalm, but first an illustration from David
34:10 – The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
The actual text indicates that the lions are “young lions,” as compared to an old one. An elderly lion is often stuck with a carcass someone else has caught, but the young lions are healthy, fully sufficient in themselves. They are the King of the Beasts – at the top of the food chain, but even they go to bed hungry sometimes. But God’s provision is better than this.
David’s Teaching of the Fear of the Lord… 11-22
Introduction to his lesson… 11-12
34:11-12 – Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days,
Three Basic Principles of Successful Living… 13-14
34:13 – keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.
1 – Control your tongue, because trouble devolves more often from what we say versus what we do.
34:14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
2 – Do what is right – oh wow, deep stuff!
3 – Pursue peace (The seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace). How do you hate a peacemaker?
The Contrast between the Way of the Wicked, and the Way of the Righteous …15-21
34:15-21 – The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry; the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all; he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken. Evil will slay the wicked; the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
The Final Conclusion … verse 22
Yes, God redeems his servants; we win in the end. We don’t win every day, nor on every play in the game of life.
To use a football illustration, we expect life to be like the guy who runs the ball back on the opening kickoff – behind a wall of blockers, never touched. But life is more like an 8-minute long sustained drive – full of hard tackles, running plays into the heart of the defensive line, face mask penalties that don’t get called, and 4th-down-and-15-yards-to-go plays.
This is all so basic, but is the challenge of the sort we often forget. We are creatures = dependent; God is the creator = provider. We should therefore trust Him in thanks and honor Him with our obedience. That is the way to be blessed.