CQOD Special Archive
THE HUMANITY OF JESUS CHRIST,
AS REVEALED IN CERTAIN PSALMS
A. As of David
According to the title, David penned this psalm after the episode when he escaped from Abimelech (or Achish) by pretending to be crazy. This happened just after, to save his life, David fled from Saul. Thus this psalm comes at the beginning of David's many years as a fugitive and outlaw.
The psalm divides into three parts:
1. In vv 1-3, David declares his desire always to praise and worship God. "I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth" (v 1). This response to God's delivering power, which he was experiencing in his life, David wishes to share with others, for he goes on to say "let the humble (or afflicted, RSV) hear and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together." (vv 2,3)
2. In vv 4-10, David relates his experience of God's faithfulness and saving power, and again he expresses his desire to communicate that experience to others. Note that in vv 4-7 he shows how God has saved him: first from his fears (v 14), then from his troubles (v 6). In v 7, David generalizes his experience of all those who fear the Lord and concludes that "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them."
On the basis of his own experience of God's faithfulness and delivering power, David then exhorts his followers (the "humble" of v 2 are the "saints" of v 9) to "taste and see that the Lord is good," to "trust in him," "to fear the Lord," and "seek the Lord." (vv 8-10). In effect David was inviting his followers to follow his example, to become, like him, men after God's own heart. From his disadvantaged childhood, his lonely and dangerous trials as a shepherd, his military successes leading to Saul's jealousy and hatred, and his current status as a fugitive and outlaw, David had learned to trust on and experience God. Here he is manifesting his desire to lead others to that same discovery of God's goodness.
At this period of his life David was alone and outcast. Shortly after the incident with which this psalm is associated, David attracted a motley band to himself "And everyone that was in distress and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him (David); and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men" (I Sam 22:2). From these outcasts David shaped an effective, loyal army, many of whom were leaders in his later administration. In this psalm we see, in all likelihood, David's desire to lead these followers to a deeper reliance upon God. His was an unusual army with v 9 for a motto: "The young lions do lack and suffer hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing," and yet David lived this way. For example, he patiently waited for God to give him the throne when he could have seized it on several occasions by killing Saul.
3. The remainder of the psalm is a formal teaching on the "fear of the Lord" (vv 13,14) followed by a teaching on the fortunes of the wicked and righteous (vv 15-22). The fear of the Lord consists of fleeing evil and pursuing "good" and "peace." David is here summarizing traditional wisdom as it had been delivered to him. His unique gift, however, was his intense, personal love of God which shows through mainly in the first half of the psalm.
As for the fates of the wicked and righteous, David pictures the righteous one (himself, we would suppose) as troubled, crying out to God for help (vv 15 and 17), and receiving deliverance because God listens (v 15) and "is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart: and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit" (v 18). Again in vv 19,20, he portrays the righteous one as "afflicted" and yet "delivered" with no "broken bones." He pictures one who is almost crushed but not quite: the damage is only temporary, it can and will be healed. God yet has a future hope for his righteous servant and will protect him from destruction. We feel that David is here, as throughout the psalm, speaking out of his own experience: he is that "righteous man" whose bones are intact.
This teaching might be contrasted with that of Psalm 1. Such wisdom literature is typical of much Old Testament teaching (Job is the exception), in which the righteous one is likened to a well-watered, fruitful tree, prospering in all his undertakings. This wisdom teaching, while eternally true, fell short of David's experience at the time he wrote Psalm 34, and he is enabled through God's mercy to see clearly the distinctly New Testament teaching -- so epitomized by our Lord's life, death, resurrection,and glorification -- that glory is entered only through suffering.
B. As of Christ
This psalm is quoted twice in the New Testament: once as an ordinary psalm (I Pet 2:10-12) and once as a Messianic psalm (John 19:36) Peter quotes vv 12-16 of the psalm, from the section teaching the fear of the Lord and the eventual reward of the righteous and ruin of the wicked. Peter's teaching is "if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye," that is, God will bless the righteous eventually even though they might suffer for a while. The psalm supports this teaching beautifully; in fact I Peter 5:10 is a fair summary of its message: "But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you."
Psalm 34 is applied directly to Jesus in John 19:36 "But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they broke not his legs" (v 33). "For these things were done, that the scripture should be filled, `a bone of him shall not be broken.'" (v 36). Thus Jesus is identified as the righteous man to whom the promises of Psalm 34 were literally and precisely fulfilled.
Treating the psalm as from Jesus adds a beauty and a power to its teachings which would be otherwise missing. What was true for David in a shadowy or figurative sense was literally true for Jesus. For example, in vv 1 and 2, David declared "I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord." For David this expresses his intention, but this statement is literally and beautifully descriptive of Jesus' way of life. So it is with the whole psalm.
There are two themes to the psalm which we may consider. The first is Jesus as a pioneer of God's faithfulness through suffering, and the second is Jesus' desire for a spiritual heritage. Heb 12:2 states that we should run the race set before us "... looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." The word used in the RSV is "Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith." This verse contains the two themes: Jesus' pioneering and Jesus' spiritual heritage.
1. Jesus as a pioneer of God's faithfulness through suffering. If you want to go from the East Coast to California, you drive on an Interstate highway at high speed. The best routes have been charted, the mountains made low, and the crooked places straight. It is now relatively easy to make the journey. Not so for the pioneers. They went in wagons and on foot, discovered the mountain passes by trial and error, endured untold hardships, faced great dangers. Such is the lot of the pioneer, who must blaze trails into new lands.
As a pioneer, Jesus ventured to trust God far beyond the degree that any other man had trusted God. Abraham, Moses, and David were valiant believers, but compared to Jesus they were timid souls. Consider the human disappointments Jesus endured: rejected in his home town, harassed and persecuted by the religious leaders of his nation, misunderstood by his own family, betrayed with a kiss and abandoned by all his followers. Yet through it all Jesus never complained or rebelled against God; he trusted God even on the cross. Psalm. 34 sets forth Jesus' pioneering discovery of God's faithfulness and delivering power. Thus Jesus was "delivered from all his fears" (v 4), "saved ... out of all his troubles" (v 6), "delivered out of all his afflictions" (v 19).
Certainly Jesus is our primary teacher and example in trusting God. If David could teach his followers to trust in God, how much more Jesus. As we see the steadfast faith of our Lord through weariness, disappointment, rejection, and even death on a cross, we cannot but be encouraged to believe that God can deliver us through our small trials. That is why we should run the race set before us looking unto Jesus.
2. Jesus' desire for a spiritual heritage. In Psalm 34 we see also Jesus' desire for a spiritual heritage. According to Heb 12:2 Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before him. What was and is that joy? In Psalm 34 we see the Messiah's desire for a following to teach and lead into worship and godliness:
v2: "The humble (RSV, afflicted) shall hear thereof, and be glad."
This pictures the longing of the Bridegroom for his Bride. Jesus, who fellowshipped with God more than any other man, manifested a strong desire to lead others to a like pattern of trust and worship. He calls us to magnify the Lord with him. When he went to the Father to take up his high priestly ministry of intercession, he sent the Holy Spirit to continue this work of calling his church to a life of abiding in the Father.
v3: "O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together."
v8: "O taste and see that the Lord is good."
v9: "O fear the Lord, ye his saints."
v11: "Come ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord."
We are that joy which was set before Jesus on the cross. This is one reason our relationship to Jesus is so important. If we respond inadequately, and anything short of total response is inadequate, then we to that degree rob Jesus of his Joy, His spiritual heritage. To summarize, Psalm 34 shows us Jesus' desire to gather into his church those who will risk experiencing the faithfulness and goodness of God. The man Jesus has gone before us: Psalm 34 is his cadence, called over his shoulder to us.
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