Commentary on Psalm 34:1-8
I work with college students in a Baptist university.1
Telling our story, what Baptists call a “testimony,” is a common practice in campus worship, and not long ago I worked with a group of students to craft a small portion of their story to be told in worship.
As we were working on their story, one of them looked up and said, “I’m not sure my story — my testimony — is that exciting.” I think that’s the way a lot of us might often feel. We feel like one of these college students, or we feel like the author from the article “My Boring Christian Testimony” who claimed that her testimony was boring because nothing dramatic had ever happened in her life of faith.2 She went to Sunday school where her charts were dotted with stickers, she memorized scripture, sang hymns, never strayed from the church, and never had a moment she could describe as a “specific day of spiritual awakening” that most testimonies point to.
In the article, she claims it wasn’t until she was in her forties that she realized, “There is no dull salvation. The Son of God took on flesh to suffer and die, purchasing a people for Glory … the idea that anyone’s testimony could be uninteresting or unspectacular is a defamation of the work of Christ … When I don’t tell my story, I deprive the church of what should be one of its sweetest gifts. Boring stories like mine are just what the church, especially its young people, need to hear. Testimonies of childhood faith have all the elements of God’s amazing grace — beginning, middle, and end.”
Psalm 34: Overview
Psalm 34 is a testimony embedded in the narrative of scripture. Like any testimony, it gives the narrative of God and the narrative of David, the Old Testament protagonist or antagonist — depending on which part of his life the reader is considering. In Psalm 34, David gives testimony of a time when he fled Saul, took refuge with the Philistines, and came to be afraid of King Achish, the king of Gath (1 Samuel 21:10-12).
The structure of the first eight verses of this Psalm does two things: it establishes the author’s intention to give a testimony (verse 1-3) and it provides details of David’s experience that prompted the testimony. Although this week’s lectionary reading includes verses 7 and 8, any division of verses 7-14 could be characterized as nebulous. Because they are included here, it could be that they are intended to foreshadow the message the Psalmist will emphasize through the remainder of the Psalm, that doing good is a matter of following the ways of the Lord.
David begins his testimony in Psalm 34 by stating his intent: to worship YHWH at all times (verse 1). This praise, however, is not passive; it is an intentional commitment to extol the name of YHWH in an ongoing manner. This praise is to be continuous. It is to happen at all times. The author then invites, even commands others to listen (verse 2), particularly those who are weak. What is the cumulative result? The assembly will worship YHWH together by offering praise, so that what began as one individual’s praise has now become a corporate reason to praise (verse 3).
Verses 4-6 are a more specific account of the general introduction to Psalm 34. Here, the Psalmist doesn’t tell the whole story, but he does say that he prayed to YHWH, YHWH heard, and YHWH rescued him from what may have been a terrifying experience (verse 4). YHWH delivered him from the “object” of the fear, not only the feeling of fear. Looking to YHWH will do for others as it did for the Psalmist: give a new appearance (verse 5). In this particular instance, the new appearance was one of radiance, of shining. Verse 6 provides a recap of the Psalm: a weak man called to YHWH, YHWH listened, and YHWH delivered.
Preaching the Psalm
Thomas Long has said, “To be human is to live a story.” Psalm 34 reminds us of this. Psalm 34 also reminds us that sharing that story through the practice of Christian testimony is deeply embedded in the narrative of scripture and in the narrative of God and God’s people.
Here, we see David’s testimony embedded in the narrative of scripture, of God, and of God’s people. Through David, we are reminded that as Christians our testimonies are not boring because they involve the action of God, the one whose ears are turned to us, the one who has delivered our forebears, and the one who is ready to deliver us if we are bold enough to ask. And, we are reminded that when God does deliver us, we are to share that story so that our individual praise can become a communal praise.
1 Commentary first published on this site on Aug. 9, 2015.
2 Megan Hill, “My Boring Christian Testimony: How I Know It’s Nonetheless Real,” Christianity Today (December 31, 2014), <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/december/how-i-know-my-testimony-is-real.html>.