Today’s reading is Psalm 34.
Do you ever fear that stumbling and falling while walking the Lord’s way means it’s all over? Do you worry that because you messed up you’ve become lost? The Thirty-fourth Psalm helps. This is going to be a little longer than usual, but I think it will be worth it.
The ancient heading given to this psalm is “Of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away” (ESV). There are a couple of problems. First, we turn back to 1 Samuel 21:10-15 and discover the king’s name was Achish, not Abimelech. This is probably not that big of a deal. From Genesis 20 & 26 (especially 26:1), it appears just as Pharaoh was the title for Egyptian kings and Caesar for Roman emperors, Abimelech was the title for Philistine kings. Thus, Psalm 34 uses the title of the office while 1 Samuel 21 gives the name of the individual.
The second problem is bigger. Why would anyone ever think this psalm had anything to do with that moment? It just doesn’t fit. Why would a psalm that claims “Blessed is the man who takes refuge in [the Lord]” have anything to do with an event in which David took refuge among the Philistines. Why would a psalm that says “Keep your lips from speaking deceit” have anything to do with a moment in which David got out of trouble through deceit?
The resolution to the second struggle may be found by paying a bit more attention to the first one. Why does the title refer to Abimelech instead of Achish? Why prompt an unnecessary question and potential accusation of error that was so easy to avoid? Because whoever placed that title on this psalm was purposefully connecting David’s experience before Achish with two other events. In Genesis 20, Abraham goes before a king of the Philistines called Abimelech. In Genesis 26, Isaac goes before a king of the Philistines called Abimelech. What did both men do? Because of their fears, they deceived Abimelech. Both cases are examples of misplaced fear and weak faith. Abraham and Isaac both should have trusted God and been honest in those instances. Why would the person who titled this psalm draw these connections? Because we are supposed to recognize David’s attempt to take refuge among the Philistines was not wise; it was wrong. Further, David’s deception before Abimelech was not faith and trust; it was doubt and weakness just like Abraham’s and Isaac’s.
You may need to let that sink in for a minute. The ancient title explains this psalm is a meditation on a time when David severely stumbled on his path with the Lord. There is absolutely nothing exemplary about David’s trip to Philistia or his plan for escape.
And yet, this entire psalm is a declaration of deliverance by God in that moment. It is about a man who takes refuge in Yahweh. It is about a man who cries out to the Lord for deliverance. How? When we go back to the event itself, none of that is present (or at least not revealed).
So, what is going on here?
It is possible, as some suggest, that this psalm is giving us more information. The author of Samuel didn’t tell us everything, and now the psalmist is filling us in on the rest of the story. That, however, seems to speak against the whole connection to Abraham, Isaac, and Abimelech.
I think the more likely explanation is also the more comforting. David generally loves and seeks the Lord, walks on the Lord’s path, regards the work of the Lord’s hands, glorifies and honors the Lord. David’s life, in general, is about the Lord’s will and way. However, in this particular event, he stumbles. Whether because of fear, haste, presumption, or plain old knee-jerk thoughtlessness, David strikes out on a course that isn’t of the Lord. It’s not like it’s the only time David did something like that. It’s just too bad he doesn’t have an Abigail on hand to stop him this time. He strikes out on his own, and it goes south quickly. His life is in almost immediate danger.
Here’s the comforting part. How does God react? Rather than leaving David on his own, rather than hanging David out to dry, He delivered David anyway (just like He did Abraham and Isaac). God has a covenant with David, and God always honors it. David messes up on his end, but he doesn’t abandon the covenant. God is never looking to zap people for messing up. In fact, what we learn is there is a big difference between stumbling on the Lord’s way and abandoning the Lord’s way.
Now, before we sign off for today. Notice that this moment in which David messed up royally, but was delivered anyway didn’t lead David to say, “Oh good! I can lie if I want to. I can go take refuge in Philistia if I want to.” It didn’t cause him to say, “My God is gracious, it doesn’t matter whether I actually obey him.” No, the whole event drew him closer to God and prompted him to want to obey God even more faithfully. Finally, it provoked him to tell others about how important it is to take refuge in Yahweh, trusting Him. What a fantastic balance we find in this psalm.
Have you stumbled on the Lord’s path? Don’t abandon it. Pick yourself up, by the grace of the Lord, and keep walking on His path. He will deliver you. That is just the kind of God we serve. Praise the Lord!
Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 34.
Click here to take about 15 minutes to listen to the Text Talk conversation between Andrew Roberts and Edwin Crozier sparked by this post.
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