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Psalm 34

Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelek, who drove him away, and he left.

This superscription precedes the words of the psalm. We should remember that superscriptions, titles, headings, footnotes…etc., are not the inspired portion of the words of Scripture. This is an important point of clarity due to the fact that Psalm 34’s superscription reads, “before Abimelek,” when in 1 Samuel 21:12-13 it says that David was afraid of King Achish.

One argument is that Abimelek was another name for Achish. In Biblical times it was a common occurrence for people to have two names such as Simon/Peter (John 1:42) and Uzziah/Azariah (2 Kings 15:1-7, 32; 1 Chronicles 3:12).

Another argument is that whomever wrote the superscription simply made a mistake. While this does not diminish the unity of Scripture, it does demonstrate the potential for clerical errors in footnotes, headings and other such secondary writings. My personal bent is that of the first argument.

The reason it is important to address this seemingly insignificant detail, is that Scripture does not contradict itself. So while the superscription is not Scripture, it is still an important aspect to the reading and understanding of the psalm. For the purposes of this commentary we will assume the first argument to be correct.

Let us consider the circumstances for a moment. For some reason, David believed feigning insanity would result in something better for him than if he appeared sane. According to 1 Samuel 21:12, David was afraid of the king. It is no surprise since King Achish was a Philistine king and David was the legendary one who had killed Goliath, a Philistine champion. Prior to his encounter with King Achish he had just fled for his life from King Saul and lost his best friend, Jonathan. Things were not going well for him at that present time.

I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced a complete and utter moment of clarity. One example could be as you are driving down the road. Traffic is light. The sun is out, but the temperature is 75 degrees. Your favorite song blares out over your brand-new Alpine speakers. You are singing along at the top of your lungs. You are so caught up in this blissful moment that you’ve forgotten to pay attention to the posted speed limit signs. Suddenly, you catch a glimpse of a highway patrol vehicle parked just off to the side of the highway. As you pass by, his lights flash as he whips out onto the road. You glance down and see that your speed is nearly 10 miles per hour over the posted speed limit. You try to slow down without tapping the brakes. Your heart rate jumps up – you can feel it pounding inside of your chest. You break out in an instant cold sweat.

You have completely forgotten the blissful joy you were experiencing only seconds ago.

As the highway patrol vehicle speeds past you, a staggered sigh of relief erupts out of you. I totally thought he was going to pull me over. Then the praises come pouring out. Thank you God, thank you, thank you, thank you! I am so sorry! I promise to pay attention from this moment forward.

This is the moment of sobriety when the impending doom, or consequence just barely missed you. You had it coming, but somehow you escaped. As the sobriety consumes your heart and mind, clarity immediately follows. This was one of those moments when everything should have gone wrong but it didn’t. The words spewing out of your mouth are filled with praise, thanksgiving and promises to not let something like this happen again.

David’s words echo this sentiment in Psalm 34.

I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.

To extol is to “praise highly: glorify.[1]” David does not simply state that he will praise God, but that he will do so highly – massively – immensely, and that his praise will always – perpetually – unendingly be on his lips. This was more than avoiding a traffic ticket. This was a colossal life-or-death event in David’s journey that snapped his heart and mind into a conviction-propelled response of praise and worship.

He is not satisfied to praise the LORD alone. He beckons those around him to hear of what the LORD has done and then to join in the celebration (vv. 2-3). He appeals to the listener to experience God with more than one sense – vision (v. 8), taste (v. 8), emotion (vv. 9, 18), auditory (v. 11).

The promises or warnings in the face of what has just transpired come pouring out as well. He lists the items that should be avoided as he teaches his listeners (v. 11). He basically says, if you care one bit about your life – if you want to live a long life – this is what you’ve got to do: control your mouth, be honest, avoid doing anything evil, do what is right, live a life filled with peace (vv. 12-14).

This is such a great moment where we see a man reacting in a similar way to what many of us have experienced. Listen, I’ve just experienced something and I want to tell you how to avoid getting yourself into a mess like this.

There aren’t enough good things that David can say about God as he gushes his praise onto the pages of this psalm.

Are these kinds of near-misses the moments we should wait for in order to push us into worship and clarity of thinking? Is that necessary? I think not. The Bible tells us to be watchful and sober-minded (1 Peter 5:8). We shouldn’t wait for shocking moments to snap us into this frame of mind. The way of this world is to experience something tragic or unexpected in order to change our perspective into something a little more compassionate, thankful, or mature. We are instructed to not conform to the ways of this world, but rather to live in a state of transformation by renewing our minds (Romans 12:2). If we do this daily through prayer, meditation on the Word of God, and by seeking His will first and foremost, the praise David expressed will truly always be on our lips.

[1] Merriam-Webster.