Psalm 34 Study Notes
Ps 34 title The incident mentioned here is found in 1Sm 21:10-15. It relates David’s deliverance from King Achish of Gath (notes at 1Sm 21:10-22:1). Although an unusual account of deliverance, this psalm praises the Lord for rescuing the psalmist. The content of the psalm is not tied to the specific event, so it could be used in a general way by God’s people.
34:1-3 Boast in the Lord is best defined in Jr 9:23-24 where it means one “understands and knows” the Lord, which is further explained as knowing that the Lord shows “faithful love, justice, and righteousness on the earth.” In other words, it is knowing who God is and what he does, having a personal knowledge and experience of him through trusting in him.
34:4-5 Look to is another way of expressing trust in time of need (145:15) and is equivalent to “seek” in some contexts (Is 31:1).
34:6 A person who is in need and prays to the Lord often identifies himself with the poor. The term can also designate someone who is humble or, in the more negative sense, humiliated. The word for “afflicted” (Hb ‘ani) is closely related and is often in parallel with the poor. There is not a strong distinction between these since it is assumed that the poor were the weakest and most helpless in society and were often the objects of oppression by stronger and more influential persons. Therefore, the term poor in the psalms should not be limited to economic hardship alone.
34:7 The angel of the Lord can also be translated as “messenger of the Lord.” In most contexts there is a distinction between God and this angel. For example, in the story of Gideon, the angel of the Lord vanished (Jdg 6:21), but Gideon continued to speak to the Lord (Jdg 6:22-24). This seems to indicate that they were different. However, in other contexts the angel of the Lord spoke as if he were God himself (Gn 22:11-12; Ex 3:2). In this sense the angel could be a theophany (an appearance of the Lord). Christian tradition has often identified such angels with the preincarnate appearances of Jesus Christ, but as noted above, this does not work in every instance. It is best to treat each context on its own merit and not impose the same meaning in every text. The connection between the “angel of the Lord” and military imagery (note the word encamps) appears elsewhere to show that the Lord fights for his people (2Kg 19:35). The “commander of the Lord’s army” in Jos 5:13-15 may also be related to this angel.
34:8 Taste can mean “judge” in the sense of determine for oneself (Pr 31:18). See most likely carries the same sense in order to reinforce the concept.
34:9-10 God cares for his people more than the rest of his creation (8:5-8). Other texts use the argument that if God cares for his creation, he will care for mankind (104:14-15) and especially for his own people (Mt 6:28-30). Lack nothing also appears in the context of the Lord’s role as a shepherd in 23:1.
34:11 The identification of the psalmist’s listeners as children recalls a common wisdom motif of parents instructing their children (Ex 12:26; Dt 6:6-9) and shows that vv. 11-14 form a wisdom section in this psalm (similar to 32:8-9). To be taught the fear of the Lord is preferable to learning it through experience. Fearing the Lord is where wisdom begins (Pr 9:10).
34:12-14 Who is someone who is another way of saying “whoever.” Whoever loves life should keep his tongue from evil . . .
34:15 The reference to eyes in relation to the Lord’s watchful care of his people is similar to the singular form in 33:18. His ears being open describes his attentiveness to their prayers (18:6; 130:2).
34:16 To remove the memory of someone from the earth is another way to describe annihilation (see note at 9:4-6).
34:17-18 Brokenhearted and crushed in spirit further develop the image of oppression, although the emphasis in these terms is on internal suffering. The Lord is near those who are broken and humble (51:17) as opposed to one who has a “heart of stone” (Ezk 11:19; 36:26).
34:19-20 Broken . . . bones are often symbols of physical affliction (51:8; Is 38:13) or oppression (Mc 3:3). God protects his own from these dangers. Verse 20 was recognized as literally fulfilled by Jesus (Jn 19:36).
34:21 Evil (Hb ra‘ah) can mean disaster and calamity as well as the abstract concept of evil. In this case it is personified as the one who kills the wicked. Note how this contrasts with goodness and faithful love pursuing the person who trusts in the Lord (23:6).