Sermon for Sunday, March 27th, 2022, Refreshment Sunday, the Fourth Sunday in Lent
The Lessons: Psalm 34:1-8; Joshua 4:19-24; 5:1, 9-12; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21
The Text: Psalm 34:1-8
The Topic: The Testimony of Praising the Lord
A dog fell into a farmer’s well. After assessing the situation, the farmer decided that neither the dog nor the well was worth the bother of saving. He’d bury the old dog in the well and put him out of his misery.
When the farmer began shoveling dirt down the well, initially the old dog was hysterical. But as the dirt hit his back, the dog realized every time dirt landed on his back, he could shake it off and step up. “Shake it off and step up; shake it off and step up!” he repeated to himself.
No matter how painful the blows were, the old dog kept shaking the dirt off and stepping up. It wasn’t long before the dog, battered and exhausted, stepped triumphantly over the wall of that well. What seemed as though it would bury him actually benefited him — all because of the way he handled his adversity.
The adversities that come along to bury us usually have within them the potential to bless us. Forgiveness, faith, prayer, praise, and hope are some of the biblical ways to shake it off and step up out of the wells in which we find ourselves.
— Bruce Shelley, Denver, Colorado
Our Psalter reading from Psalm 34 is a call to praise and bless the Lord continually, and this is a tall order! The title of the psalm in the King James Version attributes the psalm to King David and refers it to the time when David deliberately pretended to be insane in the presence of Abimelech. The reference is to King Achish of Gath, one of the lords of the Philistines (1 Samuel 21:10-15). David was fleeing from King Saul, and decided to go to Achish, but when he heard the servants of Achish repeating to Achish the refrain sung by the Israelite women in their victory dances, “Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands,” he was very afraid of Achish and therefore feigned madness. King Achish then sent him away, and he departed.
How does the title of this psalm enhance its relevance to us today? In desperate circumstances, long before the Lord established him as king, David composed this psalm. If David could compose such a psalm when he was a fugitive from Saul, it encourages all of us, no matter our circumstances, to always bless the Lord. It is natural for people to do the opposite when facing trials, that is, to grumble and complain. St. Paul the Apostle gave us these commands:
Pray without ceasing.
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, KJV)
These commands would not have been given If praise, rejoicing, and thanksgiving were the natural reactions of Christians in all circumstances. But the truth is, they are not, and the commands to rejoice and give thanks in everything are necessary.
PSALM 34:1-2 – A DECISION TO ALWAYS BLESS THE LORD
The psalmist begins this psalm by stating his decision to bless the Lord at all times and to have His praise continually in his mouth. He did not let the danger of his situation dictate his mental and spiritual attitude to God. Instead, he was determined to bless the Lord always. David knew that to rise above his circumstances and the dangers he was facing, he had to praise and bless the Lord continually. This action demonstrated his faith in the Lord to deliver him from all dangers and establish him in righteousness. If we have such a determination to bless the Lord always and praise him, we also will experience God’s deliverance, as many others have. If we don’t resolve to always bless and praise God, we shall find that times and circumstances will influence our behavior more than the Lord, and dejection, grumbling and complaining will easily set in.
The psalmist proceeds to declare that his soul will make her boast in the Lord, and that the humble shall hear and rejoice (v.2). The Hebrew word hālal used here means “rejoice in,” or “make one’s boast in.” The same Hebrew word is translated “glory in” in the King James Version of Jeremiah 9:23-24:
Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches:
But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.
Now this glorying or boasting in the Lord is not directed at exalting oneself but exalting the Lord. The psalmist’s life of praise and thanksgiving overflows as personal testimony, so that others, especially the humble and afflicted who depend on God, hear his testimony and are themselves encouraged and become happy. This is what will draw others to the Lord, when we share with them what God has done for us, and when they see that we are people who bless the Lord continually.
THE CALL TO MAGNIFY AND EXALT THE LORD
Then the psalmist invites people to magnify and exalt the Lord with him (Psalm 34:3). This is the foundation for public worship. We are invited to join in praising and magnifying God because we are a community of believers for whom God has done so much, that there is joy in coming together to worship Him! Each of us can find a reason to praise and magnify God. The psalmist’s reason given in Psalm 34:4 is that God heard his prayer and delivered him from all his fears.
THE TESTIMONY OF THE WORSHIPPING COMMUNITY: PSALM 34:5-6
But now the spotlight moves from the psalmist to the worshipping community who can also testify that they looked to the Lord for help, wisdom, guidance, deliverance, and received it – they were enlightened by the Lord, and they were not put to shame by their afflictions. “This poor man cried” applies not only to David, but to all who call upon the Lord for help and salvation. The Lord listens to their cry and saves them out of all their troubles. The Hebrew word for “poor” here is hani, which means “depressed in mind or circumstances, afflicted, humble, lowly or needy.” This includes a wide variety of situations, but common to them all is that the sufferer cries out to God.
THE TRUTHS TO BE LEARNT FROM THIS AND THE CALL TO COME TO THE LORD
What we learn from the experience of the Lord’s mercy to those who call on him for help, is that the angel of the Lord encamps round those who fear him and saves them. Now the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament can mean the pre-existent Christ or simply one of the Lord’s angels, but he protects and guards those that fear the Lord, that is, obey him and trust in him.
The final exhortation is to prove by experience that the Lord is good: “O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him” (Psalm 34:8, KJV).
If we are to share the Gospel so effectively as to bring people to Christ, we must know and rejoice in the Lord, and be able to tell them the wonderful things God has done for us!
 p. 358, on p.466, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.