Psalm 34 - God’s Hidden Presence and the Righteous vs. the Wicked

Text: Psalm 34:15-1

15 The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry.
16 The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
17 When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
20 He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.
21 Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22 The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.


The title of Psalm 34 begins: “Of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.” The story of David and king Abimelech (or, Achish) is recorded in 1 Samuel 21:10-15. On the run from Saul, David is captured by a foreign army and taken before the king of Gath with this somewhat anecdotal charge: “Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?” (1 Sam. 21:11). In other words: “Here we have found a foreign trespasser, a royal enemy of the state, and an incredibly dangerous and brutal one at that.” Fearing for his life, v. 13 tells us that David “changed his behavior before the [unsuspecting] king” and began to “pretend to be insane.” Upon seeing David’s condition, Abimelech chastised his soldiers and sent David away.

What’s interesting to me about this Psalm is how absent God appears in 1 Samuel 21, and yet how full of praise to God David is when he reflects back on the incident. Everything about the narrative points not toward a miraculous rescue by some mysterious, divine Presence, but to a much simpler explanation: David saved himself. After all, it was David’s quick thinking and clever actions that fooled the king of Gath and led to his freedom. Nowhere is it mentioned that God was at work. And yet, all through Psalm 34, David gives God the glory for his deliverance.

Another interesting element is the clear delineation (particularly in vv. 15-22) David sees between God’s treatment of the righteous and his treatment of “those who do evil” (i.e., “the wicked”). For example: God’s “face” is toward the righteous, His ears are open to their cry, and He delivers them from “all their troubles.” On the other hand, the Lord’s face is “against those who do evil” to “cut off the memory of them from the earth.” Similarly, while affliction, although besetting the righteous, will never ultimately overtaking them, it will (in the end) destroy and condemn the wicked. In all of this we see that, although God is a God of love, He is also a God of unrelenting justice.

Implication (Gospel):

My problem with God’s justice is this: I’m on the wrong side of it. Contrary to the fears and anxieties that most commonly beset me (fears about money, relationships, and reputation mostly), in reality, the biggest problem in my life is God himself. You see, if God’s orientation toward a person is so deeply effected by their righteousness (or lack thereof) what hope do I have of getting anything other than the worst that Psalm 34 says awaits the wicked?

The gospel answers this question by telling me that real hope lies not in cobbling together some pathetic and self-glorifying righteousness of my own, but instead in admitting my abject spiritual poverty and laying hold of Christ. Take vv. 15 and 16 for instance: the only reason God’s eyes are upon me and his ears “open to my cry” (v. 15) is because (on the cross) He set his face against Jesus to cut him off the memory of “those who do evil” from the earth (v. 16). In other words, Christ, the righteous, became as “those who do evil” so that I, the one who really does “do evil,” might become righteous.

Or, to use vv. 21 and 22: on the cross, Christ took the place of the wicked—being slain by my afflictions and experiencing the condemnation I deserved (v. 21)—so that, through this act of substitution, my life might be redeemed and the promise fulfilled: “none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned” (v. 22).

Application (Life):

Today I will focus on two things: one, recognizing God’s help and aid in the mundane things of life (i.e., in those place where I wouldn’t naturally see Him act work); and, two, giving up my worthless and prideful pursuit of earning righteousness in order to relying more and more on Christ.

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