Life is often very hard for the righteous. They go through afflictions, troubles, fears and heart-broken situations (Ps. 34.4,6,17,18,19). They are not spared from pain, suffering and affliction. There is no divine guarantee that the righteous will be immune to crises and trials in their lives. The Psalmist says that the righteous go through life’s harsh experiences, unlike Job’s friends who understood that only those who commit sin, not the righteous, go through such experiences. Even the Son of God went through humiliation, pain and suffering. Hebrews says: “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (2.8), and “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death…Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (5.7-8). The Gospels portray Jesus Christ as a righteous sufferer (Lk. 23.47). Moreover, the instructions from Psalm 34.12-16 are quoted by I Peter 3.10-12 to support the exhortation in verses 8-9 and 13-18. This exhortation presupposes that Jesus is a suffering servant (cf. Is. 53) and instructs the reader how to live in response to Christ’s suffering.
Although the heart of the righteous is broken and their spirit crushed, they experience God’s nearness within the crises situations: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted” (Ps. 34.18). The Lord also rescues them from troubles (Ps. 34.17, 19). God protects the righteous so that not one of their bones will be broken (Ps. 34.20). This promise is fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Jn. 19.36). The soldiers pierced his body, but did not break his bones.
There is the continuation of the divine oversight and care. “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are open to their cry” (Ps. 34.15). God has concern and is attentive. He is concerned about their distress and listens attentively to their cry. That means, God takes their prayers seriously. With this confidence believers in God can face trying situations in life. They may even rejoice, as Paul, in such situations (Phil. 4.4-7). Arthur Weiser writes: “The true happiness of the godly consists in the nearness of God and in the living experience of his help, and not in being spared from suffering and affliction.”
The Psalmist describes his experience of God’s deliverance. He summarises in a nutshell the three step sequence of his deliverance: I sought the Lord, he answered me, and he delivered me from all my fears (Ps. 34.4). This theme is repeated in verses 6 (“The poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord and was saved from every trouble.”) and 17 (“When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and rescues from all their troubles.”). In times of distress and troubles, the Psalmist approached the Lord through prayer, and God heard and acted. The Lord delivered him from his fears and troubles.
The psalmist’s experience of God’s deliverance from his fears and troubles forms the basis of his resolve to praise God at all times (Ps. 34.1). The essence of his praise is the acknowledgement and public declaration of God’s greatness (Ps. 34.2-3). Such praise does not change the divine essence, but creates awareness of God’s greatness in the perception of others. This public acknowledgement and awareness of God’s greatness brings gladness to the “humble”, those who are afflicted and troubled (Ps. 34.2). What the Psalmist saying is: “This is my experience, and it can be yours too.”
In the present days people have many fears or anxieties due to uncertainties about job, marriage, conduct of children, and the unknown and unseen. That’s why many people go to religious and non-religious soothsayers. However, Paul says, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4.6-7).
Having experienced God’s saving power and faithfulness, the Psalmist encourages others to seek God: “Look to him, and be radiant, so your faces shall never be ashamed” (Ps. 34.5). They are never put to shame by being neglected or forsaken by God. He invites them to “taste and see” (Ps. 34.8). The metaphor of invitation is powerful, for it suggests action on the part of those invited to perceive the greater saving action of God. The divine deliverance requires movement, namely the response of faith that tastes, and as a result of that they experience the goodness of the Lord.
The Psalmist also invites God’s people to experience God’s provision (Ps. 34.9) and good things (Ps. 34.10). He says that the self-sufficient predators, the young lions, may lack their daily sustenance, but the God-fearing would not lack any good thing (Ps. 34.10). Of all the beasts, lion is the most powerful and least likely to lack prey and go hungry. And among lions, though old lions may lack prey, young lions are active and successful as hunters (cf. Job 4:10–11). Young lions, thus, symbolize the essence of self-sufficiency in the provision of physical needs. In contrast, those who fear the Lord are not self-sufficient; they depend on God for the provision of their basic needs. The good God does not disappoint them, for he gives them good things such as protection and provision.
However, the prerequisite to experience the goodness of God is the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is not merely learned, it is lived. The Psalmist teaches that the fear of the Lord is manifested in words and deeds (Ps. 34.13-14). Speech and action are intimately related, for evil and deceptive words are as destructive as evil acts. On the other hand, speech and action also construct lives.
With our tongues we can do both good and great harm. It is said, “Words and hearts should be handled with care…for words when spoken and hearts when broken are the hardest things to repair.” James exhorts clearly the importance of controlling the tongue: “Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle” (3.2); “…tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark” (3.5); “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (3.6); “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (3.7-8); “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness” (3.9); “Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing” (3.10).
Proper use of tongue is also a prominent theme of the Book of Proverbs: “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver” (10.20); “The lips of the righteous feed many” (10.21); and “Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (12.18).
Those who fear the Lord must also turn themselves from evil (Ps. 34.14; Prov. 16:6). Instead of doing evil, they must practice what is right (cf. Am 5:14) and pursue peace. In short, to receive God’s goodness one must do good (cf. Dt. 6:18). That means, the fear of God is manifested in action.
The psalmist exhorts that the fear of the Lord is foundation of good life, and a key to joy in life and long and happy days (Ps. 34.12). It also gives satisfaction or fulfilment in life.