Taste and See, Psalm 34

“Taste and see,” David urges us, “that the Lord is good.”

That’s the heading for Psalm 34 in the English Standard Version, which makes sense when you read the sentence repeated in verse 8. But the subheading for Psalm 34 may make you wonder. It explains that David wrote this psalm when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, “so that he drove him out, and he went away.” This seems to refer to the incident recorded in 1 Samuel 21:10-15, when David fled to Gath and feigned madness before  Achish, the king. Whatever the name of the king or the exact situation, David had feared for his life and God had delivered him.

He begins this psalm by praising God and calling his hearers to join him in exalting God’s name (Psalm 34:1-13, ESV):

I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
    let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
    and let us exalt his name together!

Verse one shows that praising God should be a constant activity: at all times…continually. Verse two contrasts pride and humility by showing that our souls should boast only in the Lord, not in anything we do. Humility marks those who rejoice in hearing God’s name praised over their own. In rousing language, verse three calls us to magnify and exalt God’s name together.

The second section of the psalm resonates with me today, since my husband and I recently have seen a visible answer to fervent and personal prayer:

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
    and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
    and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
    and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps
    around those who fear him, and delivers them (4-7, ESV).

God’s obvious answers to prayer are amazing and encouraging. We shouldn’t be surprised when he answers in wonderful ways. Scripture overflows with assurances that he can and does bless us with answers far beyond our highest hopes. But we often become bogged down by slogging through longs periods of unanswered prayer. A unexpectant mindset clouds our thinking and keeps us from seeing many of God’s answers. What a blessing when his answer pierces the clouds with the penetrating rays of his love!

That kind of answer fills our hearts with hope and our spirits with joy. We experience God’s love as a tangible gift–something we can taste and see!

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
    Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints,
    for those who fear him have no lack!
The young lions suffer want and hunger;
    but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing (8-10, ESV).

Those who take refuge in God, who reverence him, and seek him will lack no good thing.

The next section is a brief instructional homily:

Come, O children, listen to me;
    I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
What man is there who desires life
    and loves many days, that he may see good?
Keep your tongue from evil
    and your lips from speaking deceit.
Turn away from evil and do good;
    seek peace and pursue it (11-14, ESV).

Do you want to taste and see God’s goodness? Do you want to experience God’s blessings? The basic requirements are simple, simple enough for little children to learn. Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it.

The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
    and his ears toward their cry.
The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
    to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears
    and delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
    and saves the crushed in spirit (15-18, ESV).

This isn’t a prosperity gospel. Loving and serving God doesn’t guarantee the good life with health and wealth. The Bible repeatedly tells us that Christians will suffer, but that’s not the end of the story.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
    but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones;
    not one of them is broken.
Affliction will slay the wicked,
    and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
    none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned (19-22, ESV).

We believers can expect many afflictions, but the Lord delivers us from them all. That doesn’t mean that every illness will be cured or every wayward child restored. But it does mean that God will deliver us from all our pain and suffering; sometimes not until he takes us home to live with him, but often even in this broken world.

Speaking of broken world, what about that bit promising no broken bones? Does this mean you’ll never break a leg in a car accident or break your collar-bone if you take a bad bicycle tumble? No. It does mean that if you believe in Jesus your eternal life is secure. You will live in your same body in unbroken bliss, when your bones are resurrected and glorified. It can also mean that the Christian enjoys a healthy relationship with God. Scripture often uses the metaphor of broken bones (or broken heart) to represent a state of rupture in fellowship with God (see for instance Psalm 51:8, Jeremiah 23:9, or Lamentations 3:4). But the primary meaning of this verse is its prophecy regarding the death of Christ, which was fulfilled when the legs of Jesus were not broken (see John 19, especially verse 36). We know this from Old Testament prescriptions regarding the Passover sacrifice (see Exodus 12:46 and Numbers 9:12) and the way 1 Corinthians 5:7 identifies Christ as our Passover lamb.

With his death on the cross, Christ redeemed his people. None of those who believe in Jesus and take refuge in the Lord will be condemned.

Bite off this mouthful and chew it! Look at the way God answers your prayers. Taste and see that the Lord is good!

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