fear, trouble and refuge

1       david’s fear

David was in trouble.

The king, Saul had allowed jealously of David’s success and exploits to form a real and burning hate. He hated how the people idolised David’s success: the people would sing, Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands. He hated David’s accomplishments and he hated that he, the appointed king, could do nothing to stop David’s rise in popularity. He could see that God was with David and he could imagine a day when David would take his crown. Saul’s initial response to this was to make David one of his own and keep him close. They say you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer still! He had David marry into his family, but even that annoyed him – his daughter actually loved David! When Saul’s son, Jonathan took David’s side too, it became too much to bear, it was time for decisive action: David must be killed.

Having been warned by Saul’s son Jonathan, of the impending danger, David had to run for his life. Where would he go? Rather than seeking God, David sought help from a people who were not only the enemies of Israel, but who were godless and involved in detestable practices. It was a wrong decision on David’s part. Perhaps David thought that in his own strength he would be safe – he ended up entering the enemy territory bearing none other than Goliath’s sword. What a contrast with the simple faith he expressed when faced with the Philistines back when he was a youth. As he was challenged by Goliath, David shouted back ‘All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.’ It seems that David’s military success had distorted his perspective- previously he recognized that the battle was the Lord’s, but now he takes up the sword and seeks help in the wrong place and from the wrong people.

It did not take David long to realise his mistake. He was immediately recognized as the arch enemy of the Philistines and suddenly his self-confidence gave way to fear for his life. David, the great warrior, the man destined to be king, God’s instrument in previous defeats of the Philistines, was reduced to feigning madness! Scratching at the door and with saliva running down his beard he was thrown out of the presence of the Philistine king. David escaped the danger of the Philistines, but it was hardly his finest moment.

It seems that when David reflected on his actions, he realised that he had completely failed to trust God in his time of need. Psalm 34 seems to have been written when he came to his senses and realigned his thinking. This Psalm is for us too. It is a sad fact of life that bad things happen to good people – to whom or to what will we turn when difficult days come our way? David now knew that there is only one to whom he could turn, one who never disappoints and who will ultimately bring deliverance.

2       seek the lord, the lord sees

Psalm 34 is one of the few interesting acrostic Psalms. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet and there are 22 verses in this Psalm, each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in perfect order. Well not quite! All the verses are in sequence, but there is a twist. The 6th letter is missing from its sequence. Verse 5 begins with the 5th letter of the Hebrew alphabet and verse 6 begins with the 7th letter of the Hebrew alphabet. So where is the 6th letter? It comes at the end of verse 5 and it is the first letter of the final verse 22. What’s going on? This is clearly an intentional literary device to draw us towards a key idea in the Psalm. Here’s the verse that David clearly wanted to us to take special note of:

Those who look to him are radiant;
    their faces are never covered with shame.

And the final verse that is tied into this verse:

The Lord will rescue his servants;
    no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.

So, what’s David getting at? We will come back to this after we look at the rest of the Psalm.

The Psalm more or less divides into two distinct sections with a middle statement. In the first section (verses 4-10) David takes the initiative in seeking God and God responds. In the second section (verses 15-21) it seems that God takes the initiative. The Psalm begins with an expression of praise to God: verses 1 to 3, ‘I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.’ Why, despite his recent faith failure is David speaking in this way? He praises God because God has responded to his call for help. Verses 4 to 10 have a repeated pattern of action and response. – see Table below:

David’s actionGod’s responseVerse
Sought the LordHe answered4
Look to himNo shame5
Call to the LordThe Lord hears6
Taste the LordThe Lord revealed as good8
Take refuge in the LordBlessed8
Fear the LordLack nothing9
Seek the LordLack no good thing10

This is a great encouragement is it not! No doubt, David would have thought about his failure to seek God when he feared for his life – he sought help from the worst possible source! How often do we do the same? When things are difficult it is so easy to look to human solutions and to look for escape in all sorts of things, some good, some not so good – but David says seek God and you will find blessing, deliverance, and you will lack no good thing!

The bible always puts a moral choice before us – we do not inhabit a determined universe; we must make our choice. David says so in the central verses 12-14, his advice is simple: keep your tongue from evil, keep your lips from telling lies, turn away from evil and seek peace, in fact chase after peace! This is within our capability. David gives this advice in the circumstances of bitter experience. He turned to evil men for rescue, he had to lie about his state of mind. Don’t do what I did, says David, but seek the Lord and pursue peace.

David took the initiative and God responded, but did you know that God also takes the initiative? David say so in the next main section of the Psalm (verses 15 to 20).

Here’s the list of God’s initiatives: His eyes are on the righteous, he ears are attentive to their cry, he hears, he delivers, he is close to us, he saves and he protects. I hope I’m not seeing things that are not there, but did you notice that David’s initiatives in seeking God number seven and God’s initiatives towards us also number seven – there is something of perfection in this.

3       The out of order verses

We now come back to the two verses that don’t follow the acrostic pattern. David clearly wanted to point out something of great importance to us, but what is he getting at? Here’s the verses again:

5Those who look to him are radiant;
    their faces are never covered with shame.

22The Lord will rescue his servants;
    no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.

You will notice first of all, that in the former verse the initiative lies with us – if we look to him we are radiant and we do not have shame and in the latter, the initiative lies with the Lord, he rescues and the result is no condemnation. Much of the Psalm seems to address temporal needs. David feared Saul and he faced an uncertain future – as he sought the Lord he experienced peace and deliverance, but it seems that these out-of-sequence verses look beyond the temporal and into the eternal. There is a judgment of eternal consequence to be faced – and if we attempt to face this judgment in our own strength, we will face shame and condemnation. David says look to him, he will rescue, and the result is neither shame nor condemnation. This must have been a wonderful encouragement to David after his failure – and whatever our present circumstances, this can be a great encouragement to us too.