Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Thanksgiving and Teaching of One Who Has Experienced Deliverance
In Psa 33:18 we heard the words, "Behold, the eye of Jahve is directed toward them that fear Him," and in Psa 34:16 we hear this same grand thought, "the eyes of Jahve are directed towards the righteous." Ps 34 is one of the eight Psalms which are assigned, by their inscriptions, to the time of David's persecution by Saul, and were composed upon that weary way of suffering extending from Gibea of Saul to Ziklag. (The following is an approximation to their chronological order: Ps 7, 59, Psa 56:1-13, 34, Psa 52:1-9, Psa 57:1-11, Psa 142:1-7, Psa 54:1-7). The inscription runs: Of David, when he disguised his understanding (טעמּו with Dag., lest it should be pronounced טעמו) before Abimelech, and he drove him away (ויגרשׁהוּ with Chateph Pathach, as is always the case with verbs whose second radical is ר, if the accent is on the third radical) and he departed. David, being pressed by Saul, fled into the territory of the Philistines; here he was recognised as the man who had proved such a dangerous enemy to them years since and he was brought before Achish, the king. Psa 56:1-13 is a prayer which implores help in the trouble of this period (and its relation to Psa 24:1-10 resembles that of Ps 51 to Psa 32:1-11). David's life would have been lost had not his desperate attempt to escape by playing the part of a madman been successful. The king commanded him to depart, and David betook himself to a place of concealment in his own country, viz., the cave of Adullam in the wilderness of Judah.
The correctness of the inscription has been disputed. Hupfeld maintains that the writer has blindly taken it from Sa1 21:14. According to Redslob, Hitzig, Olshausen, and Stהhelin, he had reasons for so doing, although they are invalid. The טעמוּ of the Psalm (Psa 34:9) seemed to him to accord with טעמּו, Sa1 21:14; and in addition to this, he combined תּתהלּל, gloraris, of the Psalm (Psa 34:3) with ויּתהלל, insanivit, Sa1 21:14. We come to a different conclusion. The Psalm does not contain any express reference to that incident in Philistia, hence we infer that the writer of the inscription knew of this reference from tradition. His source of information is not the Books of Samuel; for there the king is called אכישׁ, whereas he calls him אבימלך, and this, as even Basil has perceived (vid., Euthymius Zigadenus' introduction to this Psalm), is the title of the Philistine kings, just as Pharaoh is title of the Egyptian, Agag of the Amalekite, and Lucumo of the Etruscan kings. His source of information, as a comparison of Sa2 22:1 with Psa 18:1 shows, is a different work, viz., the Annals of David, in which he has traced the Psalm before us and other Psalms to their historical connection, and then indicated it by an inscription in words taken from that source. The fact of the Psalm being alphabetical says nothing against David as its author (vid., on Ps 9-10). It is not arranged for music; for although it begins after the manner of a song of praise, it soon passes into the didactic tone. It consists of verses of two lines, which follow one another according to the order of the letters of the alphabet. The ו is wanting, just as the נ is wanting in Ps 145; and after ת, as in Ps 25, which is the counterpart to Ps 34, follows a second supernumerary פ.
(Heb.: 34:2-4) The poet begins with the praise of Jahve, and calls upon all the pious to unite with him in praising Him. The substantival clause Psa 34:2, is intended to have just as much the force of a cohortative as the verbal clause Psa 34:2. אברכה, like ויגרשׁהו, is to be written with Chateph-Pathach in the middle syllable. In distinction from עניּים, afflicti, ענוים signifies submissi, those who have learnt endurance or patience in the school of affliction. The praise of the psalmist will greatly help to strengthen and encourage such; for it applies to the Deliverer of the oppressed. But in order that this praise may sound forth with strength and fulness of tone, he courts the assistance of companions in Psa 34:4. To acknowledge the divine greatness with the utterance of praise is expressed by גּדּל with an accusative in Psa 69:31; in this instance with ל: to offer גּדלּה unto Him, cf. Psa 29:2. Even רומם has this subjective meaning: with the heart and in word and deed, to place the exalted Name of God as high as it really is in itself. In accordance with the rule, that when in any word two of the same letters follow one another and the first has a Sheb, this Sheb must be an audible one, and in fact Chateph Pathach preceded by Gaja (Metheg), we must write וּנרוממה.
(Heb.: 34:5-7) The poet now gives the reason for this praise by setting forth the deliverance he has experienced. He longed for God and took pains to find Him (such is the meaning of דּרשׁ in distinction from בּקּשׁ), and this striving, which took the form of prayer, did not remain without some actual answer (ענה is used of the being heard and the fulfilment as an answer to the petition of the praying one). The perfects, as also in Psa 34:6, Psa 34:7, describe facts, one of which did not take place without the other; whereas ויּענני would give them the relation of antecedent and consequent. In Psa 34:6, his own personal experience is generalised into an experimental truth, expressed in the historical form: they look unto Him and brighten up, i.e., whosoever looketh unto Him (הבּיט אל of a look of intense yearning, eager for salvation, as in Num 21:9; Zac 12:10) brightens up. It is impracticable to make the ענוים from Psa 34:3 the subject; it is an act and the experience that immediately accompanies it, that is expressed with an universal subject and in gnomical perfects. The verb נהר, here as in Isa 60:5, has the signification to shine, glitter (whence נהרה, light). Theodoret renders it: Ὁ μετὰ πίστεως τῷ θεῷ προσιὼν φωτὸς ἀκτῖνας δέχεται νοεροῦ, the gracious countenance of God is reflected on their faces; to the actus directus of fides supplex succeeds the actus reflexus of fides triumphans. It never comes to pass that their countenances must be covered with shame on account of disappointed hope: this shall not and cannot be, as the sympathetic force of אל implies. In all the three dialects חפר (חפר) has the signification of being ashamed and sacred; according to Gesenius and Frst (root פר) it proceeds from the primary signification of reddening, blushing; in reality, however, since it is to be combined, not with Arab. hmr, but with chmr (cf. Arab. kfr, כפר, Arab. gfr, gmr), it proceeds from the primary signification of covering, hiding, veiling (Arabic chafira, tachaffara, used of a woman, cf. chamara, to be ashamed, to blush, to be modest, used of both sexes), so that consequently the shame-covered countenance is contrasted with that which has a bright, bold, and free look. In Psa 34:7, this general truth is again individualised. By זה עני (like זה סיני in Psa 68:9) David points to himself. From the great peril in which he was placed at the court of the Philistines, from which God has rescued him, he turns his thoughts with gratitude and praise to all the deliverances which lie in the past.
(Heb.: 34:8-11) This praise is supported by a setting forth of the gracious protection under which God's saints continually are. The מלאך יהוה, is none other than He who was the medium of Jahve's intercourse with the patriarchs, and who accompanied Israel to Canaan. This name is not collective (Calvin, Hupfeld, Kamphausen, and others). He, the One, encampeth round about them, in so far as He is the Captain of the host of Jahve (Jos 5:14), and consequently is accompanied by a host of inferior ministering angels; or insofar as He can, as being a spirit not limited by space, furnish protection that covers them on every side. חנה (cf. Zac 9:8) is perhaps an allusion to מחנים in Gen 32:2., that angel-camp which joined itself to Jacob's camp, and surrounded it like a barricade or carrago. On the fut. consec. ויחלּצם, et expedit eos, as a simple expression of the sequence, or even only of a weak or loose internal connection, vid., Ewald, 343, a. By reason of this protection by the Angel of God arises (Psa 34:9) the summons to test the graciousness of God in their own experience. Tasting (γεύσαστηαι, Heb 6:4., Pe1 2:3) stands before seeing; for spiritual experience leads to spiritual perception or knowledge, and not vice versa. Nisi gustaveris, says Bernard, non videbis. David is desirous that others also should experience what he has experienced in order that they may come to know what he has come to know, viz., the goodness of God.
(Note: On account of this Psa 34:9, Γεύσασθε καὶ Ἴδετε κ. τ. λ., Ps 33 (34) was the Communion Psalm of the early church, Constit. Apost. viii. 13, Cyril,. Catech. Myst. v 17.)
Hence, in Psa 34:10, the call to the saints to fear Jahve (יראוּ instead of יראוּ, in order to preserve the distinction between veremini and videbunt, as in Jos 24:14; Sa1 12:24); for whoso fears Him, possesses everything in Him. The young mature lions may sooner lack and suffer hunger, because they have no prey, than that he should suffer any want whatsoever, the goal of whose striving is fellowship with God. The verb רוּשׁ (to lack, be poor, once by metaplasm ירשׁ, Sa1 2:7, root רשׁ, to be or to make loose, lax), elsewhere used only of men, is here, like Psa 104:21 בּקּשׁ מאל, transferred to the lions, without כּפירים being intended to refer emblematically (as in Psa 35:17; Psa 57:5; Psa 17:12) to his powerful foes at the courts of Saul and of Achish.
(Heb.: 34:12-15) The first main division of the Psalm is ended; the second (much the same as in Psa 32:1-11) assumes more the tone of a didactic poem; although even Psa 34:6, Psa 34:9 have something of the didactic style about them. The poet first of all gives a direction for fearing God. We may compare Psa 32:8; Psa 51:15 - how thoroughly Davidic is the turn which the Psalm here takes! בּנים are not children in years or in understanding; but it is a tender form of address of a master experienced in the ways of God to each one and to all, as in Pro 1:8, and frequently. In Psa 34:13 he throws out the question, which he himself answers in Psa 34:14. This form of giving impressiveness to a truth by setting it forth as a solution of some question that has been propounded is a habit with David. Psa 14:1; Psa 24:8, Psa 24:10; Psa 25:12. In the use made of this passage from the Psalms in Pe1 3:10-12 (=Psa 34:13 of the Psalm) this form of the question is lost sight of. To חפץ חיּים, as being just as exclusive in sense, corresponds אהב ימים, so that consequently לראות is a definition of the purpose. ימים signifies days in the mass, just as חיּים means long-enduring life. We see from Jam 3:2., where Psa 34:13 also, in its form, calls to mind the Psalm before us, why the poet gives the pre-eminence to the avoiding of sins of the tongue. In Psa 34:15, from among what is good peace is made prominent, - peace, which not only are we not to disturb, but which we are to seek, yea, pursue it like as the hunter pursues the finest of the herds. Let us follow, says the apostle Paul also, Rom 14:19 (cf. Heb 12:14), after those things which make for peace. שׁלום is a relationship, harmonious and free from trouble, that is well-pleasing to the God of love. The idea of the bond of fellowship is connected with the corresponding word eiree'nee, according to its radical notion.
(Heb.: 34:17-22) The poet now recommends the fear of God, to which he has given a brief direction, by setting forth its reward in contrast with the punishment of the ungodly. The prepositions אל and בּ, in Psa 34:16 and Psa 34:17, are a well considered interchange of expression: the former, of gracious inclination (Psa 33:18), the latter, of hostile intention or determining, as in Job 7:8; Jer 21:10; Jer 44:11, after the phrase in Lev 17:10. The evil doers are overwhelmed by the power of destruction that proceeds from the countenance of Jahve, which is opposed to them, until there is not the slightest trace of their earthly existence left. The subjects to Psa 34:18 are not, according to Psa 107:17-19, the עשׁי רע (evil doers), since the indispensable characteristic of penitence is in this instance wanting, but the צדיקים (the righteous). Probably the פ strophe stood originally before the ע strophe, just as in Lam 2-4 the פ precedes the ע (Hitzig). In connection with the present sequence of the thoughts, the structure of Psa 34:18 is just like Psa 34:6 : Clamant et Dominus audit = si qui (quicunque) clamant. What is meant is the cry out of the depth of a soul that despairs of itself. Such crying meets with a hearing with God, and in its realisation, an answer that bears its own credentials. "The broken in heart" are those in whom the egotistical, i.e., self-loving life, which encircles its own personality, is broken at the very root; "the crushed or contrite (דּכּאי, from דּכּא, with a changeable ā, after the form אילות from איּל) in spirit" are those whom grievous experiences, leading to penitence, of the false eminence to which their proud self-consciousness has raised them, have subdued and thoroughly humbled. To all such Jahve is nigh, He preserves them from despair, He is ready to raise up in them a new life upon the ruins of the old and to cover or conceal their infinitive deficiency; and, they, on their part, being capable of receiving, and desirous of, salvation, He makes them partakers of His salvation. It is true these afflictions come upon the righteous, but Jahve rescues him out of them all, מכּלּם = מּכּלּן (the same enallage generis as in Rut 1:19; Rut 4:11). He is under the most special providence, "He keepeth all his bones, not one of them (ne unum quidem) is broken" - a pictorial exemplification of the thought that God does not suffer the righteous to come to the extremity, that He does not suffer him to be severed from His almighty protecting love, nor to become the sport of the oppressors. Nevertheless we call to mind the literal fulfilment which these words of the psalmist received in the Crucified One; for the Old Testament prophecy, which is quoted in Joh 19:33-37, may be just as well referred to our Psalm as to Exo 12:46. Not only the Paschal lamb, but in a comparative sense even every affliction of the righteous, is a type. Not only is the essence of the symbolism of the worship of the sanctuary realised in Jesus Christ, not only is the history of Israel and of David repeated in Him, not only does human suffering attain in connection with Him its utmost intensity, but all the promises given to the righteous are fulfilled in Him κατ ̓ ἐξοχήν; because He is the righteous One in the most absolute sense, the Holy One of God in a sense altogether unique (Isa 53:11; Jer 23:5, Zac 9:9; Act 3:14; Act 22:14). - The righteous is always preserved from extreme peril, whereas evil (רעה) slays (מותת stronger than המית) the ungodly: evil, which he loved and cherished, becomes the executioner's power, beneath which he falls. And they that hate the righteous must pay the penalty. Of the meanings to incur guilt, to feel one's self guilty, and to undergo punishment as being guilty, אשׁם (vid., on Sa1 14:13) has the last in this instance.
(Heb.: 34:23) The order of the alphabet having been gone through, there now follows a second פ exactly like Psa 25:22. Just as the first פ, Psa 25:16, is פּנה, so here in Psa 34:17 it is פּני; and in like manner the two supernumerary Phe's correspond to one another - the Elohimic in the former Psalm, and the Jehovic in this latter.