“The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:17).
God hears, and delivers the righteous from their fears. That, as I have explained in two previous posts that you may find here and here, is the message of Psalm 34. The Psalm also calls the worshiper of God to seek refuge in the Lord, and to live actively for him, seeking peace and pursuing it. God, for his part, listens actively and surrounds the righteous with protection.
The psalm concludes with another assertion that God hears the cries, the prayers, of the righteous. Most, if not all of us, have wondered in desperate times whether anyone hear our pleas for help. God hears, he rescues, and he avenges – the evil of the wicked will itself destroy them (verse 21). One New Testament passage quotes a verse from the conclusion of Psalm 34 and asserts the verse’s quintessential fulfillment in one particular “righteous man:”
“Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘None one of his bones will be broken,’ and, as another scripture says, ‘They will look on the one they have pierced” (John 19:31-37).
Most people, I suspect, read the Psalms with quite personal application. Since the psalms were used in public and private worship in the beginning, that application can be quite appropriate. Psalm 34 seems to be a psalm that the follower of God can read for assurance of God’s protection. I would argue that indeed it is. But John tells us that it has another special application. While we may aspire to be righteous people whom God hears and protects, Jesus was “The Righteous Man.” Although his brutal execution by crucifixion would seem to contradict God’s protection, John asserts that God the Father indeed was hearing Jesus’ cries and was present with him as he died, even keeping his bones from being broken. I encourage you to read Psalm 34 as if it were written by Jesus about himself: Jesus becomes the “I” of verse 4, the “poor man” of verse 6, the “righteous” of verses 17 and 19-20. The psalm asserts that however dire the circumstances of the righteous may appear to be, God still hears and protects. God still will deliver:
“The LORD will rescue his servants; no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned” (Psalm 34:22).
The application of Psalm 34 to Jesus then affirms his righteousness; he is much more than an obscure, executed Jewish rebel – he is God’s Righteous One, whom as John will describe, God rescues through resurrection. The second Old Testament passage quoted by John, Zechariah 12:10 (“They will look on the one they have pierced), has intrigued and troubled me in the past. That verse from Zechariah again proclaims a deeper insight of joy but also the perspective of grieving as God says through the prophet:
“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn child” (Zechariah 12:10).
While the Roman Soldiers who pierced Jesus’ side and witnessed blood and water flowing out may have thought that the influence of this dead Jewish man had ended, John insists that God was pouring out his grace through the apparent tragedy of his death. So, too, when we regard our own circumstances, it may appear that all is lost, when in fact, God will be glorified or our own righteousness will be refined as a result of what we endure.
During this week when many are reflecting on the death and resurrection of Jesus, I encourage you to spend time considering what Psalm 34 says about Jesus and what it promises about you. Jesus, the Righteous One, calls us to follow in his steps, Peter wrote in the Psalm 34-influenced chapter 3 of 1 Peter. God saves us too, however unredeemable we may think ourselves, “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” I invite you to seek refuge in God through Christ, to conquer your fears, to seek peace and pursue it, to let him rescue you. Live as a righteous man or a righteous woman who serves God faithfully. Again:
“The LORD will rescue his servants: no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned” (Psalm 34:22)
- Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.
God of Refuge who Rescues, As we reflect on the death and resurrection of your Righteous Son, we remember our own spiritual frailty. We stutter when our faith is challenged; we hesitate when challenged to demonstrate our allegiance. We pray that you will give us strength and renew our hope when we suffer in your service. We pray that when we suffer, that we will do so because of our righteousness rather than because we have defected and become agents of evil. Sustain us as ministers of reconciliation who seek to make peace. Feed us well when we hunger and thirst for righteousness. When we are persecuted, if such must occur, rescue us. We pray that your grace will continue to pour out upon us and that our lives will glorify you, In Jesus’ name, amen.