Opponents of the Bible often portray the life of faith as a set of self-imposed restrictions brought about by superstitious fear. If these opponents have left faith behind, it is common to hear them describe the move as one that brought freedom and relief.
Fear is certainly a component of biblical faith; any approach to God made in wisdom or knowledge begins with it (Prov. 1:7; 9:10). However, the kind of fear that sees one serving God out of a fear of punishment is not one that can coexist with biblical faith forever. John says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment” (1 John 4:17). Instead of restrictions and fear, the faithful find that a relationship with God brings countless blessings and freedom.
Psalm 34 encourages its readers, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8). His words remind me of someone standing in a grocery store with samples of a product he hopes those passing by will try and purchase. While it’s impossible to sample the Lord in the way one samples food or drink, Psalm 34 is a sample of sorts of what one experiences as one faithfully serves the Lord. Let’s walk through the text and note five reasons why the faithful “bless the Lord at all times” rather than cower in fear before Him (v. 1).
Protection (vs. 4-7) – When someone serves the Lord, he finds deliverance from his fears (v. 4) and salvation from his troubles (v. 6). Even the shame his fear and trouble produced is replaced by a radiant confidence (v. 5). The Psalmist sees all of this as the product angelic protection (v. 7). Even today, angels remain as “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14).
Providence (vs. 8-10) – Verse 8 encourages people to sit at the Lord’s table and “taste.” What kind of meal will one experience there? Mother lions work hard to ensure their cubs have enough to eat, and yet sometimes “young lions lack and suffer hunger” (v. 10a). Surrounding that sad picture are two affirmations about those experiencing the Lord’s providence; in contrast to young lions, they suffer “no want” (v. 9) and “shall not lack any good thing” (v. 10b).
Prudence (vs. 11-14) – The Hebrew author said to a mature group of Christians, “By this time you ought to be teachers” (Heb. 5:12). This is because serving the Lord allows one to grow to have insight that others do not have. The Psalmist pauses to “teach… the fear of the Lord” (v. 11). He describes what it prompts one to do (vs. 13-14) and why one should do it (v. 12). Instead of seeing the fear of the Lord as merely a fear of punishment as some unbelievers do, he describes it as a vehicle to a long life in which one “may see good” (v. 12).
Prayer (vs. 15-18) – The faithful are not merely recipients of God’s blessings but instead are the objects of God’s focus. God is actively looking upon and listening to the righteous (v. 15). When they “cry out,” they find an interested God who “delivers them” (v. 17). They don’t have to look far for God; He is near and especially so when they are of a “broken heart” and “a contrite spirit” (v. 18). In contrast, “the Lord is against those who do evil” (v. 16).
Perseverance (vs. 19-22) – Sometimes at the grocery store, those providing samples will couple a product they are trying to sell with another product to make it seem more appealing. For example, you might buy what you think is a tasty spread only to find out later at home that it was really the cracker that it was on that tasted good. Sometimes sampling a grocer’s wares leads to buyer’s remorse.
The Psalmist doesn’t use any such salesmanship in describing the life of faith. Even though the faithful can look forward to protection, providence, prudence, and help in response to prayer, he says quite openly, “many are the afflictions of the righteous” (v. 19). It reminds me of Jesus’ addendum to His promise of blessings to those who had left something to follow Him that those blessings would come “with persecutions” (Mark 10:30). However, though the faithful might be beaten, their bones would not be broken (v. 20). Even if (or perhaps when) they find themselves hopelessly indebted and facing condemnation, they ultimately find themselves redeemed (v. 22). In contrast to these pictures of perseverance, the wicked ultimately find themselves slain and condemned (v. 21).
There’s a strong case to be made that Psalm 34 is intentionally an acrostic, with each of the verses advancing down the Hebrew alphabet. If this is the case, perhaps it was God’s intention that this Psalm be committed to memory and shared with those doubting the value of faith. Armed with this Psalm, Jews could “bless the Lord” with continual praise (v. 1), “boast in the Lord” (v. 2), and make the Lord bigger in the eyes of others by magnifying His exalted name (v. 3).
Christian, how have you prepared yourself to “give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15)? Though it’s great to equip yourself with information about Christian apologetics, Peter isn’t calling you to have an answer for every argument against the faith made from science or logic. Instead, he’s asking you to be able to share the source of your hope. Could you, like the Psalmist, provide a good enough description of Biblical truths and realities to allow one to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8)?