Those Who Fear God will Taste His Goodness
Those Who Fear God will Taste His Goodness Psalm 34:1–22 (NIV84) [Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left.] 1 I will extol [praise, admire, worship or voice my appreciation] the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. 2 My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. 3 Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together. 4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. 5 Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. 6 This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. 7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. 8 Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. 9 Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing. 10 The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. 11 Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. 12 Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, 13 keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. 14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. 15 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry; 16 the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. 17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. 18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. 19 A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; 20 he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken. 21 Evil will slay the wicked; the foes of the righteous will be condemned. 22 The Lord redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him. Friends, I invite you today to walk with me through Psalm 34, asking ourselves what God wants to share with us from these 22 verses. The heading to this psalm links it with the humiliating incident in 1 Samuel 21:10-15 where David, finding himself in a dangerously compromising situation. He is still on the run because Saul wants to kill him. He sought safety in Gath [Goliath’s place of birth]. They brought him to Achish [a Philistine king here called Abimelech] where he pretended madness. [I sometimes wonder what David scribbled on the gate. Maybe something like Arthur Stace’s beautiful copperplate script ‘Eternity’ or ‘Obey God’ or ‘God or Sin’ or ‘Turn or Burn’. I don’t know what it was, but it caused Achish to accept that David was bonkers.] This Psalm was written in response to that time of his life. Its overall structure includes meditation (verses 1–10) and instruction (verses 11–22). I suggest to you that the theme is the “fear of the Lord” (verse 9). David starts with a call to worship (verses 1–3), then moves to a declaration of faith (verses 4–6), an appeal (verses 8–10), and teaching (verses 11–14), and finally ends with reassurance (verses 15–22). Friends, David’s invitation for us to worship is not a call to a bland, sterile formalistic gathering one hour per week on a Sunday, but instead to 24/7 vocal, public, personal praise. It is a call to continual worship that lifts our hearts and the hearts of others, drawing them into this spontaneous, robust chorus of delighting in the name of the living and true God. Having called us to worship, David moves on to a declaration and confession of his faith in this Lord whom he has praised. David’s God is the living God. God’s answer to the cry of distress is action. Next, David turns to God’s deliverance as he meditates on the consequences of his prayers. In verse 7, David makes the source of this deliverance clear: it comes from “the angel of the LORD” who camps around David and his men. Verse 7 pictures a battlefield setting, in which “the angel of the LORD” makes his camp around the faithful and “delivers” them. The word “deliver” here means “to snatch or tear away, to rescue.” Who are the delivered? Those who “fear” the Lord. Those who have seen God’s power moving upon people will find that the best reaction is to fall on their faces in the same fear that the disciples had on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:6). As Paul reminds the Corinthians, he was with them “in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were … in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:3–5). So, God not only rescues David from his enemies but also his “fears,” from being “ashamed,” and from “troubles.” Charles F. Stanley ponders Psalm 34:7 “Who knows how often we have been protected or delivered or saved from harm by an angel assigned to guard us? Who knows how that angel is protecting you right now?” Verse 8 reminds us that those who fear the Lord with taste and see His goodness. Friends, allow me to digress for a moment: We call ourselves New Testament people. So, what does the New Testament say? In Romans 3, Paul gives a summary judgment upon this fallen world in a catalogue of Old Testament texts. He concludes with the indictment “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18 quotes Psalm 36:1). This charge stands against our modern age as well. In his commentary on the Psalms, Donald Williams reminds us of the symbol of human arrogance found in the epigram carved on the lintel over a saloon door on the Titanic: “Not even God can sink this ship”. And what was the outcome of this blasphemy? The Titanic still rots at the bottom of the Atlantic. But are we any different than they are? I think not. Stuart Briscoe reminds us that the people of our day also have no fear of God. Rather than fearing God our fears include things like nuclear disasters arsenals [hence, the concern for the repeat of a Chernobyl and this fight to make sure that the ayatollahs in Iran don’t have enough nuclear material to make bombs]. It also includes concerns about terminal illnesses [like cancer], extreme solar radiation [hence, the big focus on climate change and the 45+oC temperatures this week in Europe], economic shortfalls [hence the concern with the tariff war between China and the USA], the Swine flu, the Queensland fruit fly, and HIV or other Immunodeficiency deceases. Most people, even Christians, fear these things more than God! R.C. Sproul reminds us that if there is one thing that many of us do not have, that we should have, it is the fear of God. He makes a case that we are not only allowed to fear God but that we are commanded to fear Him. A sign of a lack of respect is to have no fear of God. I think this was Paul’s argument in Romans 1:21-25. “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised.” Many people of our day view God like they do the retired chairman of the board. He has a position of honour, but no power. He is to be acknowledged, maybe even memorialised with a sculpture or a plaque, but as the retired CEO, most people are convinced God really can’t or won’t act in our lives. Hence, no fear! David’s whole life is a testimony that he feared God more than anything or anyone else. Psalm 34 testifies to this fact. However, scrutiny reveals that David’s fear of God was healthy and positive. I think Luther made an essential distinction concerning believers’ fear of God’s positive nature. He distinguished between servile fear and filial fear. He described servile fear as that kind of fear a prisoner has for his torturer. Filial fear is the fear a son has who loves his father and does not want to offend him or let him down. It is a fear born of respect. When the Bible calls us to fear God, it is a call to a fear born of reverence, awe, and adoration. It is a respect of the highest magnitude. [See Albrecht Peters’ Ten Commandments (p.138, fn. 283) “Luther distinguishes between the ‘holy, filial, free, intrinsic fear’ on the one hand and the ‘impure, servile, forced, extrinsic fear,’ on the other hand. The former he also calls simply ‘fear,’ while the later he calls ‘horror.’ Fear is a fruit of love, but horror is the seedbed of hatred.’”] In my mind, Luther’s distinction is comforting. It is essential to know the difference between servile and filial fear. These are different kinds of fear. But they are also both different kinds of fear. The unbeliever may experience the way of the wicked who flees when no one pursues him, or the pagan who trembles at the rustling of a leaf. These are types of servile fear. The unbeliever has far more to fear than he is usually ready to acknowledge. It is a dreadful thing indeed to fall into the hands of the living God who reigns as a consuming fire. There is no fear of God anymore. I have to admit that as preachers, we have contributed to this phenomenon. “How?” You may ask: “By focusing more on sharing the story of ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, who always turn the other cheek and always walk the second mile’. Yes, by focusing more on ‘What a Friend we have in Jesus’ than ‘what Jesus taught’.” Some Christians argue that the fear of God is mostly an Old Testament idea – a response to an angry God of vengeance as described in the Old Testament. They say that the New Testament display God as merciful and gracious through Jesus. Therefore, the fear of God is uplifted. Their idea is that the fear of God means only fear in the sense of horror or terror. One way, preachers can correct this, is to tell people of the reaction of those who recognised who Jesus was when He was on earth. I’m referring to the demons. Scripture tells us that they were petrified and wanted Jesus to go away. “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” (Mark 5:7). “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” (Luke 8:31). The Bible, however, does not allow us to focus only on the judgment or the grace of God. The Old and New Testaments both display God as a God of judgment and mercy. Like Psalm 130:3–4, for instance, Psalm 34 is is an excellent example of how God’s forgiveness drew the psalmist to fear Him. We see this repeatedly in the Psalms, e.g. Psalm 147:11 where we read, “The LORD delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.” David grasped this, so he praised God day in and day out, expressing that he feared God more than anything. Even when he feared for his life while running from Saul; also when surrounded by Philistines at Gath while he played madman to save his life, he verbally celebrated God: “I will extol [praise, admire, worship or voice my appreciation] the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.” This was not just a David thing. It is the attitude of all who grasp who God is. In 1 Peter 3:12–15 (NIV84), we are told that “… the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” We are called to fear God alone because He alone truly control the outcome of all things. This is why Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 10:28 (NIV84) “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Have you ever wondered how Christian martyrs faced death through stoning [like Stephen], crucifixion [like Paul], burning at the stake [like John Hus], dipped in tar and set alight as torches [like Nero did after the burning of Rome according to Tacitus] or other forms of torture and capital punishment [like the beheading of James], so fearlessly? I’m sure that God must have given them a great measure of grace to face ravenous lions, blood-hungry dogs that torn them to pieces, and gladiators in the arena. But I believe that there was another aspect that we often miss. These martyrs didn’t go to their deaths without fear. I believe they we really terrified of the immediate danger they faced, but history reveals that their fear was directed correctly. They feared God more than what the pagans could do to them. Isn’t this the message of Hebrews 10:31? These martyrs knew that falling into the hands of the living God would make what happened in the Colosseum pits look like eating al fresco. This was their genuine fear: That they have to face God after they had denied Him. For them, the question was whether they experienced fear, but what they would fear, or rather, whom they would fear most. Sadly, in our day, I fear, people, especially believers, have no fear of God or do not fear God more than their peers. The people of our day still choose to fear what they can see, and what they can touch in the present, more than what they fear God. Now, I’ve got no doubt that very few of us, if any, will ever face with the same kind of situations the early martyrs suffered. It is even highly unlikely in our lifetime that we will be coerced openly to either deny our faith or sacrifice our lives. Instead, we face more understated alternatives. We must choose between obedience to God and the contempt of our pagan non-believing peers. Far too often, the balance tipped toward pleasing the people of our day than God, and consequently, we are found wanting. This is the result when people have become so comfortable in what God has done for humankind that they have forgotten who God is, and what He is standing for. Scripture reminds us today that Christian courage, like wisdom, begins with the fear of God. This is the message of: • Proverbs 1:7 (NIV84) “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” • Psalm 66:16 (NIV84) “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.” • Deuteronomy 6:13 (NIV84) “Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.” • Psalm 111:10 (NIV84) “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.” Scriptures like these remind us that the God who is, an awe-inspiring God, all-powerful, protective, uncorrupted, all-knowing, all-seeing, and furious. Only a fool would fail to fear Him. It’s no use saying that we fear God if we do not do what he says. Our life shows our heart. The fear of the Lord means doing what is right. This is David’s verdict in Psalm 34. He feared Saul. He was very much afraid of Achish. But he feared God even more. Even his acting like a madman, his pretending to be insane, witnessed to a God who has delivered “this poor man” (verse 6). And history shows us that God provided abundantly for David. At the time of penning this Psalm, David had seen not only the presence of God but also experienced the power of God. And it is that power that leads him to fear God more than what his contemporaries could do to him. Friends, I think this reaction is universal when people realise that they are in the presence of the powerful living God. A good New Testament example of this is Peter’s response when his nets are filled with fish at Jesus’ command. He cries out, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). But Jesus responded, “Do not be afraid” (Luke 5:10). The miracle arouses humbling awe so much so that they pulled their boats up on shore and left everything to follow Jesus. Every so often I hear people rant, saying that they once had faith in God, but they have lost it because they pleaded their case before God in prayer, but He didn’t answer their prayers. They often argue that they are not bad people and that they deserve better. I think that the root of their problem lies in the fact that they don’t know God for who He is and they don’t acknowledge who they ultimately are. I think they don’t understand that humankind’s actual status before God. Earlier I referred to Romans 3. It is relevant here as well. In Romans 3:10 (NIV84) we read: “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one.’” And “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. 21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” Romans 3:20–23 (NIV84) In 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV84) Paul tells us how we achieve righteousness through Jesus: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This is one of those hard lessons every Christian need to grasp. Righteousness doesn’t mean a comfortable life. We learn this most definitely from Psalm 34. Listen again to verse 19: “A righteous man may have many troubles.” David knew this very well. No matter how faithfully we strive to live by God’s command to do what is right, to love mercy, seek peace, there is no guarantee that we will escape hardship and suffering in this life. But we are given this fantastic consolation. Listen with me to the rest of verse 19: “but the Lord delivers him from them all; 20 he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.” Do you fully grasp the implication on this truth? Let me take you back to the situation of those early martyrs. Many of them died, devoured by famished lions, torn apart by blood-crazy dogs. How does this compute in their situations? Friends, here I’d like to remind you of Jesus’ message. Both Luke and Matthew witnessed about it with slight variation. Here is their testimony: • Matthew 16:25 (NIV84) “…whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” • Luke 9:24 (NIV84) “…whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” Gerald Wilson thinks that too often Christians identify divine blessing with “getting the goods” in one way or another. “How blessed,” we believe it is the one who is financially secure or well respected, or whose family is well balanced and happily trouble free. We thank God for the blessings of health, comfortable living, and even national security. In doing so, we rightly acknowledge how much all aspects of our lives depend on God. God does not exempt those who fear Him from trouble. Psalm 34:19-20 teach anyone who follows God to count the cost. The righteous suffer undeservedly, but in their suffering, they have the opportunity to glorify God and to receive his blessing! Those martyrs I referred to earlier, lost their lives for Jesus sake. Because they feared God more than their peers, they kept their faith, and they were saved for eternity! I think that modern man still struggles to grasp this truth completely! We need to grow in our awareness of God’s infinite holiness, and we need to understand that the holiness of God in its ethical dimension refers not only to His spotless purity but also to His inflexible determination to judge sin wherever He finds it. But those who put their lives on the line by persevering in trusting God faithfully will experience the same reward – abundant life unto eternity in God’s presence. For this to happen, we need to continue to grow in our understanding of God’s grace. The grace of God indeed saves us, but we need to understand more and more that we live by His grace every day of our lives. Like David, Paul understood this clearly as his testimony in 1 Corinthians 15:10 (NIV84) shows: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” And Ephesians 2:8 (NIV84) “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…” Friends, neither David nor Paul pretended to sinless. The acknowledged their actual status before God. Grace always presupposes sin and guilt, and the fact is every day we sin and do those things that of themselves deserve the wrath of God. It is for this reason that we daily need the grace of God. However, when you know God and understand what He has done for you through Jesus, you can submit to Him. Because we know who God is, we lay aside our warped self-righteousness and see ourselves as sinners continually in need of God’s grace. We do this because we realise that God’s grace does indeed come to us anew every day. People who fear God experience God’s grace every day. David didn’t keep this knowledge to himself. He understood that He had to share it. Listen to David’s testimony: “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. 12 Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, 13 keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. 14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” David’s intention in this psalm was not only to worship the Lord and witness to His goodness but also to teach us to fear Him. “Good” is defined in the Old Testament by the law of God. It is moral living, not merely to be known or contemplated, but to be done. “If you love Me,” Jesus said, “keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Psalm 34 teaches us that simply being in need does not guarantee that God’s ears will hear our prayers and answered by God’s mercy. An ethical life must accompany a prayerful life. As James Mays puts it in his commentary on the Psalms, “Seeking the Lord in supplication is not to be separated from loving good, hating evil, and seeking shalom.” Jesus himself teaches us in Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Since we live in such an amoral age, we need the Word of God to instruct our minds and to sharpen our consciences. Verse 14 clearly instructs us to “seek peace, and pursue it.” “Peace” is “wholeness”—personal, social, political, spiritual. We are to inquire after wholeness in every dimension of life and go after it with energy and perseverance. As Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, / For they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). In closing I’d like to summarise: Psalm 34 is a thanksgiving psalm instructing us how to live in fear of the LORD. • This Psalm focuses on the LORD, the deliverer of distressed and aggrieved sufferers. • This Psalm describes what the LORD has done. • This Psalm tells of the closeness, gentleness, complete support, and mighty power of the LORD on behalf of all who put their trust in Him. • This Psalm contrasts good and evil and acknowledges justice. • This Psalm reminds us that even in extreme hardship, people of faith experience true happiness. Like David, we too can taste and see that God is good! Radiating from the call to enjoy God are issues of perpetual worship, God’s response to suffering, and the sensory experience of God in worship. • This Psalm teaches us that amid the challenges throughout our lives God will answer our prayers, He will dwell with us in our fear and loneliness, and in time He will give to the faithful every good thing they need to keep the faith. Therefore, friends, I can remind you today that those who fear God will taste and see that God is good! I want to challenge you today, learn from David, and Paul and Jesus; even if it’s not your usual practice, pick a day this week and praise God throughout the day. Praise Him when you wake up, praise Him when you eat, praise Him when you leave the house. Praise Him on the road. Praise Him at work. Praise Him when you return. Praise Him when you prepare a meal. Praise Him when you eat. And you’ll find that God’s protection and care will become visible and tangible. When you nurture this kind of an attitude, you’ll find that God is indeed good! This truth will lead you to fear God alone because you know that you need to fear anything else. You also understand that if you do not fear God, you need to fear everything else. Amen.