Psalm 34:1-3, Coloured Memories

Readings: 1 Samuel, 21:10-15, Psalm 34:1-3, Romans 8:28

Understanding the background to this Psalm is essential to fully appreciating it, as the background draws out the power of David’s words when they are contrasted with what led up to the writing of Psalm 34.  In 1 Samuel 21, David flees from before Saul, who has become David’s enemy, to the court of Gath, a Philistine city.  The servants of the king of Gath recognize him there and recall his reputation as a fearsome warrior.  David, fearing those words from the servants, chooses to pretend to be insane to save his own life.  The king, reluctant to keep an insane man in his court, sends him away.  This Psalm then serves as a mature reflection on this event.

In this Psalm we have David: a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14), exalted from the sheepfold of his father (1 Sam 16:11), anointed by the great prophet Samuel in the midst of his brothers (1 Sam 16:13), brought into the palace of the King (1 Sam 16:19), made a war-hero (1 Sam 17), greatly praised by the women of Israel in song (1 Sam 18:7).  We have here a man who has been greatly exalted amongst his own kin, nation, and before the face of his God.  Now, however, we have David in a worse state than before his exaltation: Hunted by Saul (1 Sam 18:29), hiding in the court of an ancestral enemy of God’s people, unwelcomed, and unwanted.  To save his own life, David pretends to be insane, casting off all the youthful beauty for which he was known to save his own life.  David has now been brought lower than when he first began.

One would expect his reflection after-the-fact to be sounded by the tones of sadness, regret, and callousness.  However, contrary to human expectations, contrary to his own humiliation, David’s mature reflection on his humiliation in Psalm 34 begins:

    I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.

    My soul shall make its boast in the LORD;

    The humble shall hear of it and be glad.

    Oh, magnify the LORD with me,

    And let us exalt His name together.

Contrary to sense, we are greeted with the sounds of worship, constant praise, and great boasting in the LORD.  The first section of this Psalm seems to be bursting with as many different words as possible to describe worship: blessing, praising, boasting, magnifying, exalting.  David’s worshipful joy is hardly containable as he pours out his very being into praising God.  All of this adoration is on account of God’s great act of salvation that he worked in David’s life.

It would have been very easy for David to have dwelt upon his former humiliation in these verses, but instead, his heart was captured by the grace of God, radically changing the entire value of the event for him.  In truth, David had still been humiliated, he was still put to shame before his enemies, but that didn’t matter for him, he saw God’s grace, God’s grace had totally recoloured the image for him.  The entire significance of the event had changed into something worth praising God for, for he had been saved.  That which was black was made white.

Many Christians are tempted to view their past in a way where they fail to see God’s deliverance, seeing only blackness, causing them to despair.  Perhaps a nagging sense of regret follows them around, stifling whatever joy that they have due to its noxious presence.  Perhaps there is a sense that previous failures, sins, disappointments, and mess-ups disqualify us from a true and abiding Christian joy.  We say to ourselves: “How can I praise God?  He has saved my soul, yes, but I have done X, and Y has happened to me, and I failed to do Z, perhaps Christian joy isn’t for me.”

This mindset occurs when we look to the past through the Law instead of the Gospel.  When seen through the Law, we can only see our failures, we can only see the sin that we have done or has been done to us, we can only see black.  Through the Gospel, we see Christ, and Christ alone.  We see his mercy, his grace, and his hand in all things, especially our pains.  In short, we see white.

Christian, by the grace of Christ and the ever-present aid of the Holy Spirit, regard yourself and all things through the Gospel, and not the law, for his law shows you black, but his gospel shows you white.

Published by ClogTheology

23 y/o, in between a B.Th and M.Div

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: