Psalm 34 is a beautiful testimony of salvation – by grace through faith in the Lord. It begins with an explosion of praise and thanksgiving, where David proclaims God’s goodness and grace… and calls on each one of us to extol His holy name, and trust in His everlasting mercy.
“I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul will make its boast in the Lord; the humble will hear it and rejoice. Exalt the Lord with me, and let’s exalt His name together. I sought the Lord and He answered me, and rescued me from all my fears. They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faces will never be ashamed. This wretched man cried out, 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 rescues them.” (Ps 34:1-7)
We continue to discover wonderful ways that the Lord delivers His servants from their afflictions and saves them from the hands of their enemies. David was a man after God’s own heart, who desired to pass on the truth of the glorious goodness of God, to the next generation.. and he calls on us to taste and see that the Lord is good. It was for this reason that the psalmist’s great song of joy and rejoicing rang out with the words, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! Fear the Lord, you His saints; for to those who fear Him there is no lack of anything. The young lions do without and suffer hunger; But they who seek the Lord will not lack any good thing.” (Ps 34:8-10)
As we continue to read this passage, we find that his song of praise changes into practical instruction on the fear of the Lord, and of taking to heart the truth of His word: “Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” (Ps 34:11)
Then he asks who wants to live a good life “Who is the person who desires life and loves length of days, that he may see good?” (Ps 34:12) While everyone would raise their hand, they must understand that it’s necessary to deny your desires for the Lord’s (Matt 16:24). “For what good will it do a person if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul? Or what will a person give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt 16:26) A life lived in the pursuit of material wealth amounts to loss, but a life of service for Him amounts to eternal gain. The apostle Paul highlighted the best way to live: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).
Those who truly want to live a good life will choose to sincerely obey God, seeking His will and respecting His commands, which gives us the best chance at joy and success. Even more importantly, they care for their eternal soul (Matt 16:26). “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.” (Ps 34:13) A life which properly respects God involves appropriate use of our tongue and lips. The apostle James described the tongue as a fire (James 3:6). In the wrong circumstances, the tiniest flame of fire can reduce a house to rubble and a forest to ashes. The uncontrolled tongue can leave a devastating mark on a person’s life. James also described the tongue as “evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).
Scripture offers this wise counsel: “One who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles” (Prov 21:23). In this psalm, David urges us to avoid lying. In another proverb are listed six things the Lord hates—a lying tongue and a false witness are two of the six (Prov 6:16-19). Instead of lying, God’s people are supposed to put away deceit and hypocrisy (1 Pet 2:1) and speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15). In this context, David is speaking of deliberately corrupted speech, especially that which is deceitful. However, this idea also includes profanity, something common in modern culture. Uncontrolled or vulgar speech should be noticeably absent from the lips of God’s people.
Choosing good over evil, and peace over sin, are part of honoring God properly. “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Ps 34:14) This verse gives both negative and positive commands. Both are significant ways to demonstrate one’s fear of God. Our fear of the Lord affects not only what we say but also what we do or don’t do. If we fear the Lord, we will avoid evil. This action involves a choice. Solomon counseled, “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent” (Prov 1:10). But wrongdoing is not simply the result of consenting to sinners; it can be a matter of consenting to our own sinful nature. The apostle James wrote: “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust” (James 1:14).
We must choose if we will honor the Lord, our God or will be enticed by our own flesh and allow our tongue to speak for the peace of Jesus Christ or give in to evil on our lips. David reminds us how important it is to reject temptation, whether it comes from evildoers or from our own evil nature. Instead of doing wrong, we should do what is good and seek to live a peaceful life. We need to pursue peace, David writes: we ought to strive for it, to try hard to obtain it. Stirring up trouble is out of character for those who fear God (Matt 5:9), but making peace manifests a God-fearing attitude (James 3:18).
We all have those in our lives who love to stir the pot, act sweet one moment, while stabbing you in the back as soon as you turn away. First, as Christ followers we are to make certain that we aren’t describing ourselves. Second, we must stay away from those people who are tempting us to speak evil back. I’m aware that there are those that I can’t be around, I can’t talk to them because I’ve seen how ugly they speak of me. I know at this point I can’t speak with them without stirring up trouble, which does not honor God.
I’ve been reminded several times recently of Matt 10:14: “And whoever does not receive you nor listen to your words, as you leave that house or city, shake the dust off your feet.” Shaking the dust off one’s feet conveys the same idea as our modern phrase “I wash my hands of it.” Shaking the dust off the feet is a symbolic indication that one has done all that can be done in a situation and therefore carries no further responsibility for it.
While in a volatile situation, there’s no words I can speak to certain people and pursue peace. I can pray for them and turn away from them. The Lord will send someone else to share His peace and love or He will give them up to their own reprobate mind. It’s not for me to say. “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written: ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay’, says the Lord.” (Rom 12:19)
Sometimes, staying away from certain people is the only way that we can be obedient to God’s Word: “Let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but if there is any good word for edification according to the need of the moment, say that, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Eph 4:29-32)
I’m trying my best to lean on the Lord and ask Him to show me how to speak without anger to someone who is purposely a liar and speaks ill of me behind my back. Right now, staying away is the best I can do. But I do know that the Lord will teach me because “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).