Updated: Mar 18, 2020
Psalm 34 and tasting that the Lord is good
An invitation for the lowly in heart to find the same refuge the psalmist found.
Psalm 34 begins with praise and invitation. The Psalmist (traditionally attributed to David) proclaims praise will always be on his lips and he invites the humble to hear what he has to say and rejoice.
The word “humble” is the Hebrew word Anawim (it’s also my nephew’s middle name which is probably why it drew my attention); it’s the word Brennan Manning famously translates “the ragamuffins.” Literally it means the poor and weak – the vulnerable ones. More positively, it refers to those who are meek and humble (like Moses in Numbers 12:3). The NIV translates it “the afflicted.” These humble ones are invited to hear news that will make them glad (vs 2).
In the context of Psalm 34 “the afflicted” is a good translation. David uses a litany of adjectives to describe his own need and his solidarity with the humble: they are in need of deliverance (vs. 4), poor (vs. 6), crying out (vs. 6, 17), troubled (vs. 17), brokenhearted (vs. 18), crushed in spirit (vs. 18), afflicted (vs. 19) and in fear of shame (vs. 5) and condemnation (vs. 22). He speaks with praise because he has found deliverance. The whole Psalm is one big invitation because David wants the lowly in heart to find the same refuge he found.
Where do you turn for refuge?
Psalm 34’s most famous line is verse 8.
“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”
Blessed are those who take refuge in the Lord. Refuge – just look at some synonyms and you get a good idea of its meaning: shelter, protection, retreat, a haven. Throughout the Psalms God is specifically referenced as a refuge no less than twenty-five times. But the idea is even more ubiquitous. God is our rock, fortress, salvation, and the place where our soul finds rest (all of these images are in Psalm 62:1-2 alone). It is such a central theme in the Psalms my hope this summer is to explore in several articles this one question:
What does it mean to take refuge in the Lord?
It is no accident David’s invitation appeals to two of our five senses – taste and sight. Taste and see that the Lord is good.
There is a drawer in our kitchen where we keep bags of chips. Our local vegetable market sells the world’s greatest pico de gallo and so we buy a batch each week. Above the chips drawer is the snack cabinet which regularly features Trader Joe’s lightly salted almonds. Almost inevitably when I get home from work I hover in that corner of the kitchen and often without even thinking I have an open bag of chips with salsa or a handful of almonds. Salty and crunchy is my weakness. Whenever we face a difficult financial decision or the children’s disobedience gets to new levels, or members of our family, friends, or our church family are struggling with genuine suffering or self-inflicted sin I find myself in that same corner of the kitchen. There is something comforting about savory, crunchy, fried corn tortillas dipped in the perfect balance of chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime and serranos.
One of our ministries as a church is to provide sober support and Christ-centered counsel to individuals in our community in the throes of addiction. It is not an accident that mood/mind altering substances like alcohol are often referred to as liquid “courage” or “drowning sorrows” and certain foods are known as “comfort foods” or that opiate addiction often begins with doctor prescribed “pain killers.”
Life’s effects of suffering (what life seems to just throw at us) and sin (what we throw at ourselves and others) hit everyone. And so we seek refuge. We drown sorrows and drink courage and kill pain and eat comfort and binge Netflix. Now, don’t get me wrong. The world of addiction is complex and clearly there is a combination of physiological, psychological, environmental, and spiritual factors involved. I’m not suggesting addiction is as simple as numbing pain or that every time you grab potato chips you have abandoned worshipping the one true God and made fried potatoes your mighty fortress. But suffering, trouble, affliction and broken hearts are part and parcel to life this side of Christ’s return. And we always go to something for refuge.
What do you find refuge in? Psalm 34 is honest. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous” (vs. 19) – righteousness does not shield anyone from suffering. It is as real as Jesus’ parable of the two houses at the end of his sermon on the mount in Matthew 7. The rain and storm comes to both houses. Suffering is inevitable. It is the foundation that makes the difference.
Whatever finding refuge in God means it is intimately connected to our daily response to the afflictions of life. The invitation is to taste and see that the Lord is good. In future posts I hope to explore what that looks like in real time. For now I simply invite you to remember that the good news is just that, good.
When the prophet Isaiah wrote the promise of a coming Spirit-anointed one (messiah) the images he used described one who would bring “good news to the Anawim (poor, afflicted),” and who would “bind up the broken-hearted” and provide “comfort to all who mourn.” (Isaiah 61:1-2)
When Jesus begins his ministry at his home town in Nazareth in Luke 4 he is given the scroll of Isaiah and in his first recorded sermon he opens the scroll to chapter 61 and says he, in fulfillment of Isaiah, has “come to proclaim good news to the Anawim.” May the humble hear and be glad (Psalm 34:2).