Psalm 34:11-18

Bill McFarland

January 1, 2006


If we could stand up before people and say to everybody, “Gather around.  We want to show you how to love life and see good days.”  We want to have someone to show us how to respect the Lord so that our lives turn out to be what he wants them to be, and that is a blessing to us and to people that we love in this world.  Would you be interested in that?  If we could say, “Here is a failsafe way for us to pursue that kind of a happy and worthy goal in our lives,” most of us would be interested and maybe all of us.

There is a passage before us here today in Psalm 34 which does exactly that.  This is a great passage because it arises from some circumstance in David’s life in which he has been in terrible danger and he has called out to God and God has answered him.  Now David has started singing to God in praise for that blessing, and that singing leads to a lesson that he offers to everybody who hears him.  This is a psalm which is so great that scholars say that it was sung by the churches of Jerusalem at the time of communion, and that this was a psalm on the lips of martyrs as they faced the arena under the persecution that Christians met in the first century.  The apostle Peter made use of the very passage that we are going to read today in I Peter 3.  He used it as kind of a summary of the mindset it takes to build relationships in life that bless us.  In a context in which he has been discussing what it means to be a citizen in a community, what it means to be a husband or a wife in a family, what it means to be a member of a congregation together he explains all of his reasoning by quoting the heart of Psalm 34. 

Settle The Question of Desire

Psalm 34:11-18 says, “Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.  What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good?  Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.  Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.  The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry.  The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.  When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.  The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”

The key to the kind of love for life and the seeing of good days that the writer speaks of in verse 12 is the necessity for each one of us to settle the question of desire in our lives - in other words, for us to decide that our lives are indeed valuable and meaningful and that we want to love life and see good days.  In reading through this beautiful phrase that is used here, you can’t help but consider the truth, I think, that there are many people in our world who see many days, often see good days, but don’t love life.  In fact, we find ourselves in a materially prosperous circumstance.  We can be blessed with so many things.  We can have all kinds of opportunities, and still, if someone asks us how we are doing, we tell them, “Just getting by – just putting one foot in front of the other – I’m just trying to hang on.”  We feel sorry for ourselves.

On the other hand, there are people who don’t see many good days.  There are people who have all kinds of troubles that they have to face and endure in life who still love life.  If you ask them how they are doing, they will talk about how they have been blessed and what God has done for them and what other people have done to show kindness toward them.  There are two different mindsets, in other words.

It is interesting that when David wrote this psalm, it at least has the uninspired superscription to it that suggests it was from the time when David was being pursued like a fugitive and he had fled to the realm of the king of the Philistines, and enemies there had arisen against him, too.  David had had to play like he was a madman and change his behavior before the king just so the king would put up with him and his life could be spared.  He had been in that kind of an awful situation – no friends, no one to stand up for him, in a strange land, having to play like a madman – and from that he writes here about loving life and seeing good days.

On the other hand, his son Solomon after him had circumstances where all of his enemies had been put down, God had given him peace, he was wealthy; he had everything he could think of and yet he wrote in Ecclesiastes 2:17, “So I hated life.”  There is a choice laid out before us here for each one of us to consider.  We can look at our lives as a precious gift from God, a wonderful trust from God that we are to use in worthwhile ways and in meaningful ways.  We can realize that we are going to be accountable for the use that we have made of our lives.  We can set about loving life and seeing good days, or we can think of ourselves as just biological organisms that exist for a while.  We can be concerned only with seeking pleasure for ourselves, not considering God or anybody else or even what our lives are going to amount to and just spend time passing through this world. 

That choice, though, has to be made by each one of us.  There is a time in the gospel records when Jesus passes by a man who is a leper.  He is sick.  Jesus says to him, “Would you be made whole?”  The gospel comes to us with the power to give us new lives and to make us whole, but each one of us has to decide whether we would, whether we will, whether we want to love life and see good days.

A number of years ago I ran across a story of a young man named Brian Sternberg.  Brian was at that time a pole-vaulter for the University of Washington.  He was one of the top athletes in the world in his event.  One weekend in the summer he was working on a trampoline to help prefect his form when tragedy struck.  He was working on a certain kind of flip that he wanted to use in getting over the bar and then coming down to the pit.  When he came down, instead of landing in the middle of the trampoline, he came down on the edge of it and injured his spine.  With the passing of time, he was paralyzed from the waist down.  One of his friends came to the hospital to visit him, and sympathizing with Brian’s condition, his young friend said to him, “Fate sure colors life.”  Brian’s response was, “Yes, but I propose to choose the color.”  That is the thing about settling the question of desire.  When Peter quotes this, he said, “For he that will (he that chooses to) love life and see good days.”  But the importance of this choice needs to be settled first.

Do The Things That Make Life Work

Once the choice is made, we have to begin to do the kinds of things that allow life to work like God wants us to work.  One of the things that can be observed is that God has built into all of his creation certain laws that are true whether you are talking about the natural world or the spiritual world or the social world.  One of those principles is the idea that whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap.  In other words, if a person plants a certain kind of seed, he is choosing what kind of harvest he will be reaping.  In life, if you practice certain kinds of habits, then you can expect there to be certain consequences that come along; and if you decide that you are going to lay up treasures and certain kinds of hopes are pursued, then you can expect a certain type of reward for that preparation that you have made.  In our passage here, the inspired writer says that there are three basic things that one will need to do in order to be able to love life and see good days.

First, he says, “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit” (v. 13).  Watch your words.  Words are so powerful that God has chosen words as a vehicle for his revealing of himself to the mind of man.  Words are so powerful that in the proverbs it says they have the power of life and death. (Prov. 18:21)  Words are so powerful that they have the ability to reveal, Jesus said, what is going on in the heart of a man. (Matt. 15)  Words are so powerful, according to James, that they can show whether that spring of our heart is the source of pure water or bitter water.  Words are one of the most meaningful things that can occur in human life.  In this passage, we are being told that we need to make sure that we keep our tongues from things that are evil and from things that are deceitful.  Evil things are things that hurt people and that damage people.  Evil words are words that promote evil things and that spread an evil message and have an evil influence in people’s lives.  Evil words range everywhere from awful slander that hurts someone to things like obscenity that mars the image of God and ruins the heart of man.  Deceitful words, on the other hand, are words that involve things that are lies and not true.  There is a difference between a lie and a mistake.  Sometimes we are mistaken in what we say.  We just don’t know any better.  What this writer is talking about, though, is when people are deceitful in their intentions - when we say things that are wrong.

In Psalm 15 in the first few verses, the writer talks about the kind of individual who will be able to approach God and dwell in his Holy Hill.  That is where the temple was in Old Testament days.  And he says that “this kind of an individual is one who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart (There is that honest intention we are talking about.) who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor nor takes up a reproach against his friend.”  Words that are spoken need to not be characterized by innuendo that without really attacking somebody erodes the foundation in that person’s life and reputation.  Words need to be words that are not slanderous gossip that spread things about people that don’t need to be said.  Words need to be words that are not critical and harsh and faultfinding, whispering words that attack people cowardly.  For us to love life and see good days, we ought to say the kind of words that we are going to be willing to have come back to us because that is the way God’s world works.

Secondly, this passage says that to love life and see good days, we are to turn away from evil and do good.  Peter uses the word “Depart from evil,” an old English word which meant to hate it so badly that if you were to meet it in the road, you would turn off the road to get away from it.  You would bend away from it.  I think of the way when we were boys to get under barbed wire fences.  You would bend your body in a certain way to try to avoid the barbs.  That is exactly the attitude toward evil which is here.  Turn away from evil.  What is evil?  A little later in the psalms, Psalm 36, the writer describes evil.  Here’s what he says: “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart (there is the evil imagination); there is no fear of God before his eyes for he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.  The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit.  He has ceased to act wisely and do good.  He plots trouble while on his bed.  He sets himself in a way that is not good.  He does not reject evil.”  All of those phrases describe what a person has to turn away from if he is going to love life and see good days.  And then it says he needs to do good.  It is not enough to just keep yourself away from activities that stain and spot us with the world, but there is the positive intention and energetic effort to do good to people – to do things that are good and to do good to people.  In this psalm, it is interesting that the writer talks about the good that God has done to him and then he invites people to taste and see that the Lord is good in verse 8 and then he calls on us to love life and see good days.  He wants good to come.  Why?  Because God is a good God!  He is characterized by goodness. 

Years ago there is a story of historians in China who tell of a time when there lived a family that was famous for its happiness.  It was a family which was free from quarreling, and for nine generations none had fallen out in that family.  They had gotten along well.  And in that household of sons of sons, there were many relationships.  And yet they had no disagreements, there were no discourteousness, no jealousy, no injury done by self-seeking.  And you would think, “Boy, if I could see a family like that I would want to find out what made it that way.”  That is what the emperor did.  He sent to have that family investigated because he heard of their success.  For the sake of other families, he sent an imperial messenger to the area and instructed them to ask the elder of the household and say to him, “His majesty, the emperor, wishes to know the secret of your family’s happiness.  He bids you take this scroll and on it write down the reasons for your household’s harmony.”  The emperor had sent this big scroll for the old man to fill out.  The old man who was head of the family saw the messenger, knelt to receive the king’s orders, took the scroll and sat down to write on it.  He wrote carefully for a long time.  Then he rolled the scroll back up and handed it back to the royal messenger.  The messenger sealed the scroll and dutifully took it back to the emperor’s palace and the emperor eagerly takes it and unrolls it and gazed at it - line after line of painstakingly written words.  Each phrase was the same - over and over again the old man had written, “Do something for others.  Do something for others.  Do something for others.”  Over and over again.  That is what this psalm is saying.  If you want to love life and see good days, don’t just sit there and expect it to come to you.  Get out and do something good.  Of course for the church, that should be so much a way of life for each one of us. 

Fear The Lord

The next point is the idea that in settling the question of what we want in our lives and then doing things that make life work, it needs to be done from a heart which is characterized by godly fear.  In this psalm at verse 11, did you notice that it said, “Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”  The fear of the Lord involves wanting to love life and see good days and then doing things like watching your words and doing good and seeking peace with other people.  The idea of seeking peace with other people is done from a pure heart and one which intends above all to let God’s will be done in our lives.  In this psalm, fear plays an important role.  In verse 4 of Psalm 34, he says, “I sought the Lord and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”  In verse 7 he said, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.”  And in verse 9 he appeals to saints, “Fear the Lord, you his saints.”  There is something about godly fear which is crucial for loving life and seeing good days.  And what it is saying is that even if I were to set out and say I am going to keep my words clean and I am going to do good to other people, I am going to seek peace, even if I were to do that and leave God out, I would find myself generally unsuccessful.  I would find myself still with some emptiness in my life.  The proverbs make the point that the fear of the Lord is really the beginning of the understanding or of the wisdom that we need in our lives.  And Ecclesiastes says that the whole of man is to fear the Lord and keep his commandments.  That is the crucial key turning point of anybody’s life. 

In Psalm 34 it makes plain that the fear of the Lord is not just freight.  It is not simply saying to be afraid that God is going to get you.  Look at the parallels in this song here.  The fear of the Lord has to do with seeking the Lord, verse 4 says, and having him as the one we turn to in our lives.  In verse 6, seeking the Lord involves calling on him or crying out to him, relying on him as the one who saves us out of our troubles.  And then verse 8 has to do with seeking refuge in him.  Seeking him, calling on him, having him as our refuge – that is a picture of what it means to fear the Lord.

Start Today

The scripture promises in Psalm 34 that loving life and seeing good days is available to those who desire it more than anything else, when they keep their tongues from evil and do good and seek peace out of a heart that fears the Lord because, the passage says, the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their pride.  In other words, God will be faithful and he will watch over those who relate to him through Christ in this way.  Psalm 33:18-19 describe what it means for the eyes of the Lord to be on the righteous.  It says, “Behold the eyes of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love that he may deliver their souls from death and keep them alive in famine.”  In other words, his watching over them doesn’t mean they will never face trouble.  It does mean that he will be with them and deliver them through that trouble.  And then it says, “The face of the Lord is against those who do evil to cut off the memory of them from the earth.”  God holds people accountable.  One of the facts that make life mean something is the fact that God holds people accountable.  His eyes can be either on us to watch over us or his eyes can be on us to hold us accountable, and it is our choice which of those two it turns out to be.

Here in Psalm 34:8 the writer invites us, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!  Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”  Every invitation to the gospel of Christ is an invitation to taste and see the Lord is good.  You have to try it.  To love life and see good days you actually have to start and then you have to stay with that course through a lifetime. 

If you are a person today who has never tasted the goodness of the Lord through the gospel of Christ, why not choose to repent of sin in your life and confess your faith that Christ is the Son of God and be baptized into him for God has promised to raise us up to newness of life.  If you are somebody who made that beginning and then you have not been speaking good words, doing the right thing, seeking peace and pursuing it, turn that around, confess your need for God, call on him in prayer with your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Do it today.  Make this first day of 2006 the beginning of a different life for you.  If we can help you with that, would you let it be known right now while we stand and sing.