By Mike Willis
These words are the opening verse of Psalm 34, a psalm of David written “when he changed his behaviour before Abimelech; who drove him away, and he departed” (superscription to the psalm). The words are the more remarkable when one considers the context in which they were spoken.
The Historical Context
David became so popular in Israel that Saul viewed him as a rival to the throne. On more than one occasion, Saul tried to kill David, even manipulating his own children to use them to secure his death. (Saul gave his daughter Michal to be David’s wife upon payment of 100 foreskins of Philistines, hoping that the Philistines would kill him [1 Sam. 18:25].) David became the closest of friends with Saul’s son Jonathan. When Jonathan saw that his father was determined to murder David, he entered a covenant with him, in spite of his father’s animosity toward David (1 Sam. 20).
When David left Jonathan’s presence, he fled to Nob. There he met the priest Ahimelech who gave the shewbread to David and his men because they were hungry. When David asked if Ahimelech had any weapons, the priest replied that the only weapon there was the sword of Goliath, and he gave it to David.
David left Nob and fled to the Philistine town of Gath where Achish was the king. The text in 1 Samuel 21:10-15 records this incident:
And David arose, and fled that day for fear of Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath. And the servants of Achish said unto him, Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing one to another of him in dances, saying, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands? And David laid up these words in his heart, and was sore afraid of Achish the king of Gath. And he changed his behaviour before them, and feigned him-self mad in their hands, and scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon his beard. Then said Achish unto his servants, Lo, ye see the man is mad: wherefore then have ye brought him to me? Have I need of mad men, that ye have brought this fellow to play the mad man in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?
Thinking David was mad, Achish drove him from his presence. David praised God in Psalm 34 in commemoration of this deliverance from Saul and Achish. The point which I wish to emphasize is David’s praising God in the midst of adversities such as this. David began by saying, “I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Ps. 34:1).
Praise At All Times
Obviously the words of this verse that thaw the most attention are at all times and continually. David was re-solved to praise the Lord, not only in the days of prosperity and peace, but also in his days of adversity.
1. One should praise God in prosperity. Prosperity poses a threat to the soul of the righteous. The wise man Agur said, “Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain” (Prov. 30:8-9). This text calls attention to the danger that prosperity poses to the soul “lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord?”
Moses warned Israel of the danger of prosperity saying,
“And it shall be, when the Lord thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, and houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full; then beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Deut. 6:10-12).
Prosperous people sometimes become too consumed in the daily affairs of life to make time to praise the Lord. The cares of this world systematically root out the praise of God.
Prosperous people should make time to praise God. How richly blessed we are. I have never gone a day in my life when I went without food because my family could not feed me. When we grew up, we always had shoes to wear, a coat in cold weather, and a warm house in which to live. After Sandy and I married, we have always been able to feed our children, provide them the medical attention they needed, provide clothes and a good house in which to live. We drive to worship in an air-conditioned car with power everything, we sit in a building that has padded pews at 700 temperature, we go home to an air-conditioned house with color co-ordinated drapes and carpet. We have been richly blessed. If any people in the world should praise God, those who have been so blessed should head the parade to give praise to his name!
2. One should praise God in poverty. No one wishes tobe poor. How many of us would be able to praise God if we were poor? Paradoxically, one frequently finds the richest faith in those who have enjoyed so few of God’s temporal blessings. These people learn to depend upon and trust in God, rather than in riches. They have so little good to look forward to in this life, that they genuinely yearn for heaven. How refreshing is the experience of seeing those who have so little be so rich in faith. Paul was impressed with this among the Macedonians when he wrote,
Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; how that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God (2 Cor. 8:1-5).
There is a special set of temptations that come to the poor. As Proverbs 30:9 indicates, the poor are tempted to steal and profane the name of the Lord. They can develop habits of greed, the same as rich people can; they can be “minded to be rich” in spite of their deep poverty (1 Tim. 6:9). David was resolved to praise God even in the days of poverty.
3. Praise God in adversity. Both rich and poor face adversities of life. Sometimes men are tempted, in the face of such adversities, to become bitter, resentful, and angry toward God. The burdens are sometimes heavy and hard to bear; nevertheless, David resolved to praise God even in the face of adversity. Think of his adversities: the king of the land was trying to kill him, influential men in Saul’s court slandered him, he was forced to flee to a foreign land where his life was still in danger, and he had to wander from place to place constantly changing the place where he hid. These things came on him even though he had risked his life to fight the enemies of the Lord (such as Goliath and the Philistine army).
Having just recently escaped from Achish by pretending to be a madman, David praised God for his deliverance saying, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all. He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken” (Ps. 34:19-20).
4. Praise God in sickness. Sickness comes to every man. One should learn to praise the Lord in sickness, just as he praises God in health. Paul was given a “thorn in the flesh” which he asked the Lord three times to remove (2 Cor. 12:1-8). When the Lord refused to remove the thorn in the flesh, saying, “My grace is sufficient to thee,” Paul accepted the Lord’s decision. He learned that the thorn in the flesh was there for the good of his soul lest he become puffed up (2 Cor. 12:7). Therefore, Paul resolved, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10). Paul could praise God in sickness just as certainly as when he was in good health.
Have you learned to praise God at all times? There are difficult circumstances which the Christian faces that make it difficult to bow before the knees of an omniscient God and say, “Lord, I am in pain. I don’t know why I must go through these things. However, you know bet-ter than I do what is best for me. Therefore, I continue to worship and serve you, even in the face of this adversity.” Despite how difficult that it, this is the spirit Christians must cultivate.
Guardian of Truth XLI: 2 p. 2
January 16, 1997