The Righteous Redeemed, the Wicked Removed (Psalms 34-35) June 29-30
Psalms 34-37 form a "small grouping of four psalms...framed by two alphabetic acrostics that contain wisdom-like instruction...in godliness and related warnings concerning the fate of the wicked—instruction and warnings that reinforce key themes in the two enclosed prayers (Ps 35; 36)" (Zondervan NIV Study Bible, note on Psalms 34-37).
In introducing Psalm 34, The Nelson Study Bible says it's "an acrostic, with one verse for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet...[except that] one verse appears to have dropped out at some point; there is no verse for the Hebrew letter waw, that would otherwise appear after v. 5." However, this "missing" letter is found at the beginning of the second line of verse 5.
We read this psalm earlier in the Bible Reading Program in conjunction with the events described in the superscription (see the Bible Reading Program comments on 1 Samuel 21:13-15; Psalm 34). David had fled from Saul to the Philistine city of Gath and the protection of King Achish (Abimelech here, meaning "My Father King," being the title of Philistine rulers rather than a personal name). Yet in this situation David might have been set to work against Israel or tortured for information. To render himself worthless to the Philistines and to keep himself out of the king's court, he feigned madness. The superscription here tells us how the episode ended—with David being driven away, which spared his life.
David composed this psalm in thanksgiving for God's deliverance (verse 4). He welcomes others to experience God and His blessings (verse 8). Verses 9-10 assure us that God will meet all of our needs.
As in 33:18, the instruction in 34:9 to "fear the Lord" does not mean one is to be terrified of God. These words "gradually became a standard phrase for a good relationship with God. A good relationship begins with a reverent sense that God is so powerful and righteous that we dare not take Him lightly. But it goes on from awe to a sense of deep security, as this psalm fully demonstrates" (Zondervan The New Student Bible, note on verse 9).
David advises those who want to have long life to not speak evil or lies, to turn from wrong ways to right ways and to seek and pursue peace (verses 12-14)—counsel found in many other verses. God blesses those who follow Him. He sees the righteous (verse 15). He hears the righteous (verses 15, 17). He is close to the righteous (verse 18). They can rely on Him for help in time of physical and spiritual trouble (verses 18-22).
In contrast, God sets His face against those who live in opposition to Him (verse 16). They ultimately bring on themselves death and condemnation (verses 16, 21)—"evil" in verse 21 denoting calamity.
But God redeems His servants from condemnation (verse 22). And although the righteous will experience many difficulties, God will in time deliver them out of all of them (verse 19). Guarding the bones of the righteous, with not one broken (verse 20), is figurative of God's special care to protect the person's whole being in all its aspects (compare 35:9-10). Yet this may also entail ensuring that His servants are perfectly presentable to Him—deriving from the fact that the Passover lamb was to have no broken bones (Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12). These words from Psalm 34:20 are applied literally in John 19:33-36 as prophetic of Jesus Christ's bones not being broken when He was executed, the death of this perfectly righteous Man—the sinless Lamb of God—being the actual fulfillment of the Passover sacrifice.
Psalm 34:22, the psalm's concluding verse, is outside the acrostic pattern of the psalm—just as the final verse of Psalm 25 lies outside of its acrostic pattern. Curiously, both psalm endings begin with the letter pe and both deal with the subject of redemption.
In Psalm 35 David proclaims his innocence and calls on God to destroy his enemies. "Some of the most troubling psalms are those that contain prayers asking God to curse the wicked. These imprecatory psalms are sometimes thought to conflict with the sentiment of the gospel, but in fact they accurately reflect God's abhorrence of evil" (Nelson Study Bible, introduction to Psalms).
David is not specific about his trouble, but he speaks of betrayal and injustice—"they hid their net for me without cause" (verse 7). David asks God to intervene: "Plead my cause!" "Fight for me!" "Rescue me!" (verses 1-3). David calls for God to pour out judgment on his enemies: Bring on them "shame" (military defeat). Make them "chaff" (worthless and scattered thin). Lead them into "dark and slippery" paths (troubles and uncertainties). Orchestrate their "ruin" (sudden and complete desolation) (see The Expositors Bible Commentary, notes on verses 4-8). After God has dealt with these enemies, "Then," David says, "my soul will rejoice in the Lord and delight in His salvation" (verses 9-10).
David is dumbfounded that people for whom he had shown concern (verses 13-14) have become enemies, detractors and false witnesses (verses 11-16). They gloat, "Aha! Aha! With our own eyes we have seen it" (verse 21, NIV). David's distress in the face of people who hated him without cause (verse 19) and "ruthless witnesses" (verse 11, NIV) foreshadowed the suffering of Jesus Christ (see John 15:24-25; Mark 14:57-59).
The closing section of the psalm states that those who rejoice at David's hurt will be "ashamed" (verse 26)—figuratively "clothed with shame" (same verse). This refers "not to simple embarrassment, but to the revelation of the complete emptiness of wickedness before the judgment seat of God" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verses 26-28).
This section also informs us that there are other people on David's side (verse 27), evidently from among those referred to in verse 20 as the "quiet ones in the land." David is confident that they will shout for joy and praise God with him when he is at last delivered.