The Sermon for Sunday, August 8th, 2021, the Tenth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Psalm 34:1-10; Deuteronomy 8:1-10; Ephesians 4:17 – 5:2
The Text: Psalm 34:1-10
The Topic: The call to always bless God and reasons for doing so
In west Texas there is a famous oil field known as the Yates pool. During the depression, this field was a sheep ranch, owned by a man named Yates. Mr. Yates was not able to make enough money on his ranching operation to pay the principal and interest on the mortgage, so he was in danger of losing his ranch. With little money for clothes or food, his family, like many others, had to live on a government subsidy. Day after day, as he grazed his sheep over those rolling west Texas hills, he was no doubt troubled about how he would be able to pay his bills.
Then a seismic prospecting crew from an oil company came into the area and told Mr. Yates that there might be oil on his land. They asked permission to drill a wildcat well, and he signed a lease.
At 1,115 feet they struck a huge oil reserve, giving 80,000 barrels a day. In fact, thirty years after the discovery, a government test of one of the wells showed that it could still flow 125,000 barrels of oil a day. And Mr. Yates owned it all. The day he purchased the land he received the oil and mineral rights. Yet he was living on relief. A multimillionaire living in poverty: what was the problem? He did not know the oil was there. He owned it but did not possess it.
That is like many Christians today who don’t realize how rich they are in Christ.
In Psalm 34, David shows us the wealth of God’s graciousness.
THE CONTEXT OF PSALM 34
The title of Psalm 34 places the context at the time when David had fled from King Saul to Achish the king of Gath (1 Samuel 21:10-15) and pretended to be insane, only to be rejected by Achish, but the title of the psalm substitutes the name Abimelech for Achish. We may conclude that David composed this psalm when King Saul was pursuing him. It was not when he had been enthroned as King of Israel that he composed this psalm. Rather, he was in desperate circumstances and still composed this psalm!
PSALM 34: THE CALL TO PRAISE GOD ALWAYS
Psalm thirty-four opens with the psalmist stating his intention to always bless or give thanks to the Lord. What a noble purpose to have! To always bless the Lord and in all circumstances will indeed be both a powerful witness to those around us every day and a means of attracting people to faith in Christ! In the second half of the parallelism in this opening verse, the psalmist’s goal is for God’s praise to be always in his mouth. This does not mean that the only conversation he will have relates to God’s praise, but that instead of saying anything wrong either about God or anyone else, he would rather praise God. The first verse of the psalm expresses the devotion of the psalmist to God. If he has a rule of life, then praising and blessing God is a major part of it.
In the second verse, the psalmist makes his boast in the Lord, that is, expresses his praise to the Lord, and thanks him that he can rely on him. He will tell the humble that he relies on the Lord and gives thanks to him, and as a result, the humble, that is, those who are humble before the Lord and depend on him, will be glad. The virtue of praising God overflows in bearing witness to others about God’s goodness, both strengthening the faith of believers and attracting unbelievers to this way of life based on faith in God.
The psalmist’s intention always to praise God and his witness to others about this, leads him to encourage his fellow-believers to praise the Lord with him (Psalm 34:3). The third verse is a call to God’s people to worship him together, and to magnify his Name together. Whatever is going on in our lives, whatever our circumstances, God’s call to us is still to praise and worship him together. Therefore our Sunday services continue, on Zoom and in the Chapel; therefore also families worship and praise the Lord together, and small groups meet to do the same.
In the fourth verse, there is a return to personal testimony: “I sought the Lord, and he heard me.” When the psalmist sought the Lord (not that he had lost him), the Lord heard his plea and acted on it by delivering him from all his fear. In the Greek Septuagint the word used to translate the Hebrew megurah means temporary dwellings, and in the Vulgate the words used mean “tribulations” or “troubles.” In any case, deliverance from fear, and from all one’s fears is a great deliverance that God effects in the lives of all who trust in him. This deliverance now becomes the testimony of others beside the psalmist:
They had an eye unto him and were lightened; and their faces were not ashamed.
(Psalm 34:5, p.380, Book of Common Prayer, 1928)
This means that those who looked to the Lord, who trusted in him, who called on him in their distress, were given illumination and wisdom from God. As a result, they were delivered. The Septuagint turns this verse into two imperatives linked to a statement of purpose, yielding this meaning:
“Come to him and be enlightened, that your faces may not be ashamed.”
(My translation from the Septuagint)
GOD RESCUES THE HUMBLE POOR
Verse six directs our attention to the poor (Heb. āni), the one who is depressed in mind or circumstances, the one who trusts in the Lord and calls upon him. The psalmist bears witness here that the Lord hears the cries of the poor man and delivers him from all his troubles. The Greek word used in the Septuagint for the Hebrew āni is the same word used in the Beatitudes (Mt. 5:3; Lk. 6:20) for “poor.” There is no self-reliance here, but dependence on the Lord for help and answers to prayer. King David had had the experience of being a shepherd, watching over his flock of sheep and saving them from lions and bears. All the while he knew it was God giving him strength and wisdom to overcome these predators. When he wrote this psalm he was, one might say, a refugee fleeing from King Saul. In writing of the poor at that point, he would include himself since he was in a vulnerable situation. Not only was he testifying of God’s deliverance from previous dangers in his life, but he was expressing thankfulness for God’s deliverance from present danger and expressing faith in God for future deliverance. Now he makes this a general principle applicable to all those who are poor in any way and cry to the Lord for help. To emphasize the Lord’s care for those who fear and obey him, the psalmist adds that the angel of the Lord tarries around those who fear him and delivers them. The King James Version speaks of the angel of the Lord encamping around those who fear him and delivering them. What an encouraging truth! As the Lord protected Israel in the wilderness, and brought them safely to the Promised Land, so his angels protect those who obey him and trust in him today.
Verses 8 and 9 are exhortations to the saints, that is, God’s people, to taste and see how gracious the Lord is, and to fear him, meaning to reverence him, to obey him, and to trust in him. The second half of each verse provides a reason for trusting the Lord and fearing him. First, the person who trusts in the Lord is blessed; second, those who fear him lack nothing (see also Psalm 23:1). The commands “taste and see” point to a communion with the Lord, a partaking of his grace through having a relationship with him. This is really the key. If you don’t taste and see how gracious the Lord is, you will not know. This began as David’s testimony, and has become the testimony of many others, that the Lord is gracious and kind to those who love him. Our extract from the Psalter today ends with an antithetical parallelism: though lions lack and suffer hunger (you can see lean and hungry lions in the game parks in South Africa), yet those who seek the Lord will lack nothing that is good.
If you read this psalm and apply it to your life, it can become a means of drawing people to the Lord Jesus Christ. The kindness and the love of the Lord is meant to be shared, and if you have a personal testimony to God’s kindness to you, you, too, like the speaker in this psalm, will be able to tell others:
O taste, and see, how gracious the Lord is: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.
(Psalm 34:8, p.380, Book of Common Prayer, 1928)
 p. 75, Robert J. Morgan: Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007.