Psalms 34–41“A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all” (Ps. 34:19).When difficulties overwhelm, the believer can turn to God. The Lord will listen as we express our feelings. Most important, He will act.
David expressed praise for deliverance (Ps. 34), followed by two psalms of imprecations directed against enemies (Pss. 35–36). Yet we can celebrate trust (Ps. 37), even when we are disciplined (Ps. 38) or have lost perspective (Ps. 39). Whatever the situation, we can appeal to God for mercy in our times of need (Pss. 40–41).
Understanding the Text
Psalm 34: God’s Unfailing Love. We are to praise God at all times, for in many ways we continually experience the unfailing love of our God. “When he feigned insanity.” The superscription gives us the setting of this psalm. David, giving in to despair, fled his homeland and went to the land of the Philistines. There he was recognized and escaped death only by pretending to be insane. Filled with relief, David’s thoughts turned to the Lord, and as he journeyed back to Israel and his destiny, he saw fresh evidence of God’s unfailing love. “At all times” Ps. 34:1–3. There may be a hint of embarrassment here. David’s flight to the land of the Philistines reveals fear, not faith. Let’s remember God’s love before we act foolishly, not after! “He answered” Ps. 34:4–7. Even when we have acted foolishly, God does not abandon us. As David reported, “This poor man called, and the Lord heard him, He saved him out of all his troubles.” “Taste and see” Ps. 34:8–22. David invites us to experience God’s goodness for ourselves. Let us commit ourselves to doing what is right. We may act foolishly at times, but if we are dedicated to pleasing Him, we can trust the Lord to deliver us. Psalm 35: Against Enemies. This imprecatory psalm called down curses on David’s enemies. “Contend, O Lord” Ps. 35:1–28. Is it right for the believer to call on God to act against his or her enemies? This and similar psalms grew out of the psalmist’s conviction that he had a covenant relationship with the Lord. As God’s servant, the believer is free to call on the Lord to deliver him, and to punish those who by acting against God’s own have set themselves against the Lord as well. There is another assumption in the imprecatory psalms. Those who seek to crush the godly are wicked. It is surely right for God to act against evil men. In this context David rightly cried: O Lord, You have seen this; be not silent. Do not be far from me, O Lord. Awake, and rise to my defense! Contend for me, my God and Lord. Vindicate me in Your righteousness, O Lord my God; do not let them gloat over me. When God does act to vindicate the righteous, He displays His love—and His righteousness. Psalm 36: A Word to the Wicked. David warned the wicked that a just God loves the upright in heart. “An oracle . . . concerning the sinfulness of the wicked” Ps. 36:1–4. The Hebrew has massa’, a message of judgment delivered with an overwhelming sense of divine authority. David was completely convinced that evildoers, as defined in these verses, will be “thrown down” by the Lord (v. 12). What characterizes the evil person? He does not respect God (v. 1) or even notice his own sin (v. 2). His words are deceitful (v. 3) and he is committed to a sinful course (v. 4). “Your righteousness . . . Your justice” Ps. 36:5–12. God is faithful, righteous, and just. He cares for both man and beast, and gives refuge to high and low. “Continue Your love to those who know You” Ps. 36:10–12. David’s conviction that the wicked must fail rested squarely on his understanding of who God is. Because of who God is, David’s heart assured him that the wicked will be judged. And God will continue to display love toward those who know Him. Psalm 37: In Praise of Trust. What are the characteristics and the benefits of trust in the Lord? This, one of the best-loved of the psalms, explains. (See DEVOTIONAL.) Psalm 38: A Prayer When Disciplined. Both Testaments tell us that the Lord disciplines those He loves. Here is a prayer for us when we are disciplined by the Lord. “I am feeble and utterly crushed” Ps. 38:1–12. The New Testament says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful” (Heb. 12:11). Reading David’s description of his feelings, we sense how painful God’s discipline was for him. David felt wounded, weak, crushed, filled with searing pain. Some may speak lightly of God’s discipline. But anyone undergoing it knows how apt David’s imagery is. Yet consider. Rather than trying to hide, David came to God with his pain! And this is right. Like a little child who turns to Mommy for a hug after being spanked, we are to turn to God with arms held out. When we do, God, like any loving parent, will take us up in His arms and comfort us. “You will answer” Ps. 38:13–22. Despite the fact that David realized he was being disciplined for sin, he was confident that God would answer his plea. How could David be so sure? He told us, “I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin.” David understood what 1 John 1:9 conveys to us as a promise: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us.” With his sin forgiven, David’s prayer was sure to be answered: O Lord, do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God. Come quickly to help me, O Lord my Saviour. Psalm 39: A Prayer for Perspective. Frustrated by complaints he dared not utter, David begged God for perspective. “I will put a muzzle on my mouth” Ps. 39:1–3. David was unwilling to say anything against the Lord in the presence of the wicked. Yet he was upset and angry that God had not answered his prayer for help (cf. v. 12). We may feel the same frustration with God at times. David leads us then to a surprising way to deal with such feelings. “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end” Ps. 39:4–6. David didn’t ask to know the day of his death. He asked God to give him a sense of life’s brevity. What happens to us here on earth lacks ultimate importance. We need to look beyond time, to eternity. If we can only sense the fact that “each man’s life is but a breath,” we will gain perspective. The suffering that seems so terrible now lasts only for an instant. It is not unbearable after all. “But now, Lord, what do I look for?” Ps. 39:7 With this perspective, David could bear the waiting. Even so, he hoped for God to help him in his brief “now.” How wonderful that God considers our brief moment of life important enough to bless us in our present; that during the present time we “may rejoice again” before departing our world. Psalm 40: The Celebration of Mercy. David remembered all that God had done for him, and found freedom to cry out for new mercies. “He lifted me” Ps. 40:1–3. These words beautifully depict mercy. In the Old Testament “mercy” pictures a helpless individual, crying out for compassion to one who is able to give aid. The “slimy pit” graphically portrays man’s helplessness. God’s “lifting me out” is the intervention of God, and the “new song” of praise is the joy we find in realizing all the Lord has done. “O Lord my God” Ps. 40:4–11. The greatest blessing of the man “who makes the Lord his trust” is a righteousness found not in sacrifice and offering, but in One who came to do God’s will and so bring salvation. Verses 6 and 7 are messianic, quoted in the great exposition of the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice in Hebrews 10. In the One foreshadowed in David’s words we find the righteousness, faithfulness, and salvation of our God. “Do not withhold Your mercy from me” Ps. 40:11–17. It may seem strange, but it is the very fact that our sins overtake us, and our hearts fail, that qualifies us for mercy. Only one who senses his deep need will cry out to God for mercy. The man who shrugs off his sins, or persists in trying to dig himself out of sin’s “slimy pit,” will never look to God but will rely on his own supposed goodness. What a privilege for us to stand, with David, and cry out: I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; O my God, do not delay. Psalm 41: Psalm of the Merciful. In another psalm which has messianic overtones, David expressed his confidence that the Lord will show mercy to the merciful. “He who has regard for the weak” Ps. 41:1–3. The merciful person is sensitive to those who are weak, and aids them. This quality, so richly displayed in God’s character, is pleasing to Him in you and me. David is sure that God will deliver the merciful man when that man has need of God’s mercy. “O Lord, have mercy on me” Ps. 41:4–13. What a great blessing when we cry out to the Lord for aid to “know that You are pleased with me.” Ultimately the words of this psalm are those of the Messiah (cf. v. 9; Matt. 26:17–25). Yet we too can know God is pleased with us when we trust and seek to serve Him, and can appeal confidently for His mercy.
The Joys of Trust (Ps. 37)
If you were to pick two psalms to memorize, the first would probably be the 23rd. But the second surely would be this great psalm in praise of trust. No psalm has more comforting verses, more verses inviting lengthy meditation. No psalm has more verses that speak so directly to the human heart. Because of this, it’s almost sacrilege to analyze this psalm: to break its thoughts apart, to look for similarities and themes. And yet, how much this psalm tells us about the nature, and about the benefits, of trust. If we seek to probe the nature of trust, we find in this psalm that trust is: *Looking to God and doing good (v. 3). *Delighting in the Lord (v. 4). *Committing our way to the Lord (v. 5). *Not fretting when the wicked succeed (v. 7). *Refraining from anger and wrath (v. 8). *Being satisfied with little (v. 16). *Giving generously to others (v. 21). *Turning from evil to do good (v. 27). *Planting God’s Law in our hearts (v. 31). *Waiting for the Lord (v. 34). *Keeping His way (v. 34). *Taking refuge in the Lord (v. 40). Trust is in fact a way of life, the way of life we choose when we commit ourselves to the Lord. This same psalm reveals the outcome of trust. One who actively commits himself to the Lord can expect these benefits: *To enjoy safe pastures (v. 3). *To receive the desires of his heart (v. 4). *To be vindicated (vv. 5–6). *To inherit the land (vv. 9, 22, 34). *To enjoy great peace (v. 11). *To be upheld by God (v. 17). *To gain an enduring inheritance (v. 18). *To enjoy plenty in days of famine (v. 19). *To be upheld by the Lord (v. 24). *To always live securely (v. 27). *To never be forsaken by God (v. 28). *To not slip (v. 31). *To see the wicked cut off (v. 34). *To have a future (v. 37). *To be helped and delivered by the Lord (v. 40). The beauty of this psalm aside, its teaching is vital to our well-being. Only by an active trust in God, expressed in the choices made each day of our lives, can we experience the many benefits of a personal relationship with the Lord.
May we grasp the active nature of trust, and commit ourselves to faith’s way of responding to God.