# 133 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 34 Come…listen…I will teach you…wisdom.

owl-2

I hope this doesn’t upset you, but, believe it not, even though,

“For thousands of years, from Ancient Greek legend to modern literature and TV, humans have portrayed owls as sage and wise [and] the wise owl appears in everything from The Iliad to Winnie the Pooh…it turns out, though they’re excellent hunters, owls probably aren’t any smarter than a lot of other birds.

In fact, they may be significantly worse at problem solving than other big-brained birds like crows and parrots. One study found that great grey owls repeatedly failed a simple cognitive test—pulling a string to get a treat—that had been successfully solved by several other bird species.”  (http://mentalfloss.com/article/69941/are-owls-actually-wise)

But, don’t despair, wisdom can still be found in other places.

So-called ‘wisdom literature’ has been around a very long time and continues to be written.

For example, Socrates (490-399 BC) wrote,

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

And Confucius (551-479 BC) said,

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

But, some of the most famous and well-known examples of Wisdom Literature are found in the Bible, namely in the books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs (Song of Solomon).

In Psalm 34 we find an example in verses 8-14:

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
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 telling lies.
14 Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.

Kidner comments:

“The lessons of this part of the psalm are chiefly that the true good is to be in concord [i.e. harmony] with God. It is the answer to the hardest times (19f.) and to the most ultimate questions (21f.). Almost every word [from verse 11 -14] is in the style of the wisdom instructor, as in Proverbs 1-9, with his fatherly tone and the stress on the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom. This continues with the teaching that the good you enjoy (12) goes hand in hand with the good you do (14). It is an emphasis which answers the suspicion (first aroused in Eden) that outside the will of God, rather than within it, lies enrichment.”  (# 29)

Let’s do as suggested 2500 years ago and learn some wisdom by ‘reflection’ on what we have read above.

  • ‘true good is to [found] in concord [harmony] with God’ – The psalmist says in verses 8-9,Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing. The advice given is for a very intentional moving towards God with the desire to know him intimately and to enjoy the goodness of God as a daily experience. To ‘hide ourselves in God’ (TPT) and experience a peace and security available only in relationship to him. To have a reverent ‘fear’ or awe and wonder of our God and discover in him is all we need for real deep life satisfaction. The reality is that nothing else we ‘taste’ will ultimately satisfy.
  • ‘it is the answer to the hardest times’ – The psalmist says in verse 19, The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all. David knew about troubles from experience, and I’m sure none of us have been exempt ourselves. But, says David, the Lord delivers us. Now his deliverance may come in various forms, depending on the type of trouble itself and just what God is up to in our lives. Paul wrote about such a situation in one of his letters. He wrote: In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
  • ‘It is the answer to … the most ultimate questions’The psalmist says in verses 21-22, But the wicked commit slow suicide. For they hate and persecute the lovers of God. Make no mistake about it, God will hold them guilty and punish them; they will pay the penalty!
    But the Lord has paid for the freedom of his servants, and he will freely pardon those who love him. He will declare them free and innocent when they turn to hide themselves in him
    . (TPT). Paul summarizes it as follows:  Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8)
  • ‘the good you enjoy (12) goes hand in hand with the good you do [and speak] (14).’ – The psalmist says in verse 12-14, Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. Because God is good (verse 8), then it is only natural (or supernatural) that his people (in his strength and with his help) should also live good lives and speak that which is good and helpful to others.
  • ‘It is an emphasis which answers the suspicion (first aroused in Eden) that outside the will of God, rather than within it, lies enrichment.’ – And, the author’s point being that ‘the suspicion’ has and always will be proved to be false. True and ultimate satisfaction can never be found in any substitute for a right relationship with our Creator. As the psalmist puts it here in verse 5, Gaze upon him, join your life with his, and joy will come. Your faces will glisten with glory. You’ll never wear that shame-face again. (TPT).  

So, asks the writer of the Book of Proverbs (written “for learning wisdom” 1:1), How then does a man [and a woman] gain the essence of wisdom?

He then answers the question for us with the words, We cross the threshold of true knowledge when we live in obedient devotion to God. (Proverbs 1:7 TPT)

Father, our lives are full of everyday choices and decisions. We need wisdom from above to navigate our way. Thankyou for your promise that ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.’ (James 1:5) Amen.

# 132 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 34 Taste and see.

watermelon-summer-little-girl-eating-watermelon-food

In a recent interview, Jack Darling, an Australian Rules Football (AFL) player, who has recently become a father, was asked if he ever changed his son’s nappies. His answer, unexpectedly, was, “I’ve actually lost my sense of smell”, indicating that the task was not a problem for him! It seems this was due to a head injury several years earlier.

What he didn’t mention is that this means he probably has no sense of taste either. Generally, when you cannot smell, you cannot taste. The two senses work in harmony to make you aware of your surroundings and to enjoy life’s pleasures. If one gets interrupted, the other suffers as well.

We take for granted this ability to smell and taste and only realize this once these vital senses are lost. Our ability to smell and taste allows us to enjoy delicious foods and savour their rich aromas.

Psalm 43:8 presumes this ability by using “a culinary metaphor to urge his listeners into a relationship with God.”

The psalmist says:

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
    blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8)

“Like a cook who urges a reluctant eater just to give it a taste, so the psalmist encourages them to sample God and his protection, confident that they will thus recognize his benefits.” (Longman # 30)

So, the psalmist is urging us to “taste” just how good God is!

Now, of course, most English words have a variety of meanings and this word, “taste” is no exception. But, in relation to the verse above, it means, “to perceive or experience the flavour.”

Now the problem with, say, watching a TV show about cooking is that we can see how good the food looks and how to prepare it, but there is no way we can smell or “taste” it ourselves. For that we need to do something. We need to gather the ingredients, prepare them as the TV chef suggested, cook it and then taste and see just how good it tastes!

And it is the same when it comes to God. We can hear all about God. We can read about Him in the Bible. We can listen to sermons or the stories of others who know God, but none of this is enough, as helpful as it all is. We, personally, need to “taste”, i.e. experience for ourselves that “the Lord is good”. Have you ever done that? Or are you still watching from afar, afraid to take that final step towards Him?

So, what “flavour” will you find when you “taste and see”? Well, David lists some of the ‘flavours’ (obviously though not an exhaustive list) as follows:

(Verse 8) – He is good – the Lord is good.

It is interesting that this word is used over 600 times in the Bible and 10% of this is in the Psalms. Such as,

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.   (Psalm 100:5)

You [God] are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees.  (Psalm 119:68)

The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.  (Psalm 145:9)

(Verses 9-10) – He is the provider of all our needs – those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

(Verse 15) – He watches over us and answers our prayers – The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry;

(Verse 17) – He is our Deliverer –  The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.

(Verse 18) – He is close to us, our Helper, particularly in tough times – The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

(Verse 22) – He will not disappoint you – The Lord will rescue his servants; no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.

Maybe there have been many things you have “tasted” and then discovered that the flavour seems good initially, but later on, it turns sour on you. In fact, very disappointing indeed!

If you spend even a short time watching commercial TV stations you will discover that there is much offered to us to “taste” – experiences of holidays in exotic places, gadgets to keep us amused for hours, the fastest cars, the prettiest jewellery, the most expensive clothes, and so on. All things promised to delight our senses, bring fulfilment, create happiness. Most though, as it is soon discovered, are empty promises.

But, not this one from David. “Taste and see that the Lord is good”! This was his experience and it can be yours.

In the stories of Jesus in the New Testament, we find this word, “good”, again used often. In Matthew 4:23, for example, it says, Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

And this “good news” was concerning Jesus himself, who said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)

Then after the death and resurrection of Jesus, it says,

Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, [the Apostles] never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.   (Acts 5:42)

The Good News is that “God is good” and because he is good he sent Jesus (“The Good Shepherd”) to be your Saviour and King.

As the psalmist confirms:

You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you. (Psalm 86:5)

So, today, if you have never experienced knowing God personally yourself, then call out to him and take David’s advice and “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” You will never regret it!

Father, nothing satisfies like knowing you. Teach us this truth in the midst of other voices telling us differently. Enable us to drink deeply of the pleasures of knowing you, our God, and to experience for ourselves the joyous mercies you give. Amen.

# 131 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 34 Unbelievable!

IMG_1301

Unbelievable! This seemed to be David’s response, when he looked back on particular times in his life, like he does here in Psalm 34. And that was the response of a friend of mine as well as he looked back on his life and began to write his life story. In fact, that is the name of his autobiography which I have just finished reading. It is called, “Unbelievable – Living in the Son” written and published by Graham Bee. Like when we read David’s stories, often mentioned in the psalms, Graham’s story is at times, as Dr Louis Sutton (Int. Director of WEC Int.) says, “unbelievable…[it] is not only the title, but an accurate description of this book’s ‘ride’ with Graham Bee through his life. It is a ride complete with bumps, and turns, and unexpected hardships and joys. But it is a ride where we see at every corner evidences of an incredible, almost unbelievable God…” Recommended reading, “to inspire us and give us courage in our ‘tiny part’ in God’s bigger story.”

So, as David looked back at a particular situation in his life (as recorded in 1 Samuel 21:10-15) he then wrote Psalm 34 in response.

He began with worship

I will extol the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me;
let us exalt his name together.

If you read the reference above, then it is obvious that this particular time was a very low period in David’s life. Earlier in 1 Samuel 21 we read of David having to make up a story in order to get some food and weapons as he was fleeing from King Saul, whose was trying to kill him. Then as he fled into enemy territory and came before the King of that land, it says of him that he was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath. So, he pretended to be insane in their presence. The King then dismissed him, saying to his servants, “Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me?  Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?” (1 Samuel 21:12-15), and so David, by the mercy of God, escaped from what was a dangerous situation. Not exactly one of David’s proudest moments in life!

In fact, as Blaiklock says, “David looked back upon his grave peril in the court of Achish as one of the disgraceful episodes of his life. Under the long stress of his life in the desert, a hunted refugee, his nerve had broken, and he had endured the dire temptations of treason…It was a day of shaken and diminished faith…Perhaps, too, he was in a trough of depression…[and so] David was reduced to feigning madness…[but then] in later moments of tranquillity David remembered his base subterfuge with shame and this song was his offering of repentance…It is a testimony penned long afterwards, a salutary exercise of recollection.”

Blaiklock continues, “There is no better way of leaching a bitter and damaging experience from the mind than doing with it as David did in this psalm. He committed it to God and turned it into poetry. He used an evil thing for good, and it is the commonest experience of life, if life is lived in the patterns of God’s will, to find pain, suffering, even sin itself, taken by the Creative hand and transformed into something beneficent and good.”  (# 37)

And so, David recalls, firstly, how he responded to this tough situation, and then how God responded. He says:

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.

Not only has this been David’s experience but many believers ever since, including my friend Graham’s. There are many stories worth repeating from his autobiography, but one tells of an experience that he describes as, “without doubt…our [he and his wife’s] fiercest testing time so far.” It recalls a time when he and his family of 3 young children were living in Africa and their 18-month-old son became dangerously ill with “an extremely high temperature” causing “convulsions”. Graham writes, that along with the medical treatment given by nurses, “We lay hands on him and pray: Lord, our son is in your hands. We are desperate. We cry out to you for healing; please touch him and stop the convulsions. We know you are well able to heal, and we trust that you will!” What follows is “days [and nights] of caring, [when] we pray constantly and often read in the Psalms to encourage ourselves in the Lord.” On the fifth day of the illness, having prayed together, “Paul is a gift You have given to us. We have examined our hearts, and we know that, despite the loss and grief we will feel, if it is your will to take him, we will continue to serve you…” That day “Paul opens his eyes slightly…the beginning of a dramatic recovery…We are relieved and thankful.” (Chapter 21 “Paul’s brush with death”)

I have no doubt that Graham’s testimony is similar to that of David’s as expressed in this psalm:

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears…
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.

I guess, most of you reading this today have also had such an experience. Maybe, the outcome was not exactly what you had hoped or desired, but as you look back you can see that, as difficult as it may have been, it was “taken by the Creative hand and transformed into something beneficent and good.”

On the other hand, if, reading this, you recognize that this is not your experience of God, then the next words of David are for you:

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.   
(verse 8)

Or as the Passion Translation puts it:

Drink deeply of the pleasures of God. Experience for yourself the joyous mercies he gives.

And that especially in times of “grave peril”, “dire temptations” or “fierce testing”.

The Apostle Peter says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  (1 Peter 5:6-7)

Father, truly you are the God who does great and wonderful things in your world. Things that we could simply describe as “unbelievable”! Thank you that in the good times and in the tough times you are with us and we can call upon you at any time, confident that you hear and answer prayer. Help us this day to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Amen. 

[If you are interested in reading Graham Bee’s book, you can email him at  unbelievable.grahambee@gmail.com]