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How to Find God When Nothing Makes Sense

David pretended (i.e., lied) to be a madman to a Philistine king in order to save his life, and used this incident to write the famous lyrics, “Taste and see that the LORD is good.” How does this passage relate to us today?

All translations are taken from the NET Bible.
 

Psalm 34: 1  3 :: Summary

This Psalm possesses the iconic phrase, “Taste and see that the LORD is good,” which many people reading this blog may recall a popular worship song based on this Psalm (see Bethel’s cover). However, this Hebrew poem is the source of immense irony and a difficult ethic: David says, “… don’t speak evil words or use deceptive speech,” despite that he himself contradicted his own words (see 1 Sam 21:10 – 15), lying to the Philistine King Achish. Thus, while the poem again and again encourages the faithful to be holy and righteous, it is contrasted with the choices David made that are recorded in others books of the Bible. If anything, this Psalm gives us hope that even when we are unable to measure up to our ideal aim of walking before God blamelessly, God could still hear our prayers and respond in kindness.

 

Heading

Written by David, when he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, causing the king to send him away.

Likely, this phrase refers to the events recorded in 1st Samuel 21: 10 – 15, when David fled from King Saul and came to the territory of a Philistine king by the name of Achish. It’s worth reading through these verses in order to have a little bit of context for this poem, perhaps in response to the events recorded in 1st Samuel. Ultimately, it appears as if David was worried that King Achish would kill him because David’s renown preceded him (that he is a more worthy opponent than Saul, which may have been seen as a threat against the foreign king). David seemed to think that the easiest way to save his life from death would be to pretend to be a madman; while this worked, it represents a very strong reordering of David’s position in the story, because only in chapter 17 had he killed Goliath, the ancient Philistine hero (cf. Achilles and Paris from Homer). One could imagine David’s concern: he had just slain the Philistine’s mightiest hero, yet now he finds himself in their royal courts! What does he do?

34: 1 – 3

I will praise the Lord at all times;

my mouth will continually praise him.” vs. 1

 

The first set of three verses helps set the overall tone of the song, and it is noteworthy to consider that the emphasis of when the psalmist praises should be all the time and continually. However, the opening description of the Psalm clearly indicates that David misled a king in order to save his own life; one wonders how you can authentically praise the LORD while contemporaneously deceiving another person. Regardless of how his action was viewed, it offers us a glimpse into the day to day reality of having faith, and trying to remain faithful, while inevitably making mistakes, and sometimes purposefully so. Thus, we should be encouraged, even after a failure of any magnitude, to renew our commitment to continuing following in the footsteps of God.

I will boast in the Lord;

let the oppressed hear and rejoice!

Magnify the Lord with me!

Let’s praise his name together! vs. 2 & 3

Positing a similar idea, yet distinctly significant, from the first, the second verse calls us to “find our glory” or “boast” in the LORD (in fact, the grammar suggests that it’s a command). Interestingly, the Psalmist connects his boasting to the encouragement of the “oppressed,” which he may have seen in his own recent troubles pretending to be a madman in a foreign ruler’s royal court. Imagine, in the setting of your “enemy” (real or figuratively), you decide to act as if you literally lost your mind and suddenly developed schizophrenia — this is the type of behavior being contrasted in the Psalm.

Fascinatingly, the verb used to render the English “boast” can have the meaning of “to act madly, act like a madman,” much like when David said, “I am willing to shame and humiliate myself even more than this!” (i.e., more “undignified”) in 2 Sam. 6 whenever he danced before the LORD and His ark. Thus, a potential reading of the Psalm, at least in Hebrew, plays on the idea of being “mad,” in that there are times where being “out of one’s mind” is appropriate (i.e., showing extravagance while praising God) and there are others that may not be so (lying to a king).

Regardless of the difficulties being experienced in the course of life (consider David’s plight!), the clarion call of these verses is that whenever we sense that we are oppressed, impoverished, or weakened (all potential senses of the word: ענוים, translated as “oppressed”), whether legitimately or not, and irregardless of our response to these situations, we are encouraged, together, to find our own glory in God.

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