Pastor Kyle Bitter - The Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, August 15, 2021

Text: Psalm 34

Watch Service Video

Last summer when so much of the world was going crazy in so many ways, I saw an article inviting people to get away. It described a totally self-sufficient property that had been designed for disconnecting from society and all the craziness that was going on at the time. Surprisingly it was all crammed onto a little less than an acre. Some chickens and a few other selected animals for meat, carefully divided up parcels of land for farming different kinds of fruits and vegetables, a modest home with a well for water, solar panels on the roof and couple of wind turbines for electricity. Supposedly it would allow a family of four to live independently, off the grid, separate from the rest of society.  Maybe that kind of lifestyle has some appeal to you, or maybe it seems a bit crazy, but whatever your opinion is, I’m guessing that the idea of independence and having control of your life is something you value. After all, we find ourselves looking for it throughout life. As young adults, we look forward to being independent of parents, teachers, and others in authority and free to make decisions for ourselves. On the other end of life, as senior citizens, we often desire to retain our independence as much as we can! We move into places labeled as “independent living” even as we prepare for the possibility of needing some level of assistance. None of this should be surprising, because the idea of independence and taking care of yourself is built into the fabric of our culture. What’s the real name for the fourth of July? Oh yeah, Independence Day!

Not surprisingly, God often uses such independence for our benefit. Not only do we enjoy it, but most of the time that’s the way God takes care of our needs. He gives us the tools make use of what he has built into creation so we can take care of ourselves in many ways. But despite that, there still remain situations in life where you and I would probably be happy to have some outside help. Maybe it’s an unexpected and unplanned financial disaster and some help is much appreciated. Maybe it’s an accident or illness, and the help of a doctor is critical. Maybe it’s crime and violence, and the protection of the authorities is much appreciated! As much as we appreciate being independent, there are times when it’s nice to know you can rely on other people.

That reality is just a shadow of the universal truth that we see when we look at life from a spiritual perspective. In spiritual matters, being independent and taking care of ourselves sets us up for disaster. Think about it. With enough hard work and self-discipline, you might succeed in being looked by others as a model citizen, a good person, the one whom people aspire to be like. You might succeed in being of great benefit to society and people around. But you won’t succeed in connecting with God.  Nothing short of perfection will do, and don’t lose sight of how high a bar that perfection is! Even if someone were to succeed in the impossible task of never making a single mistake over the course of life, even that wouldn’t be good enough because we are born with the sinful desires and tendencies we inherited from our parents and are imperfect therefore guilty before our lives even begin. It’s not pleasant to talk about, but it’s reality. No matter how hard we work and no matter how competent we might be, going it alone sets us up for spiritual disaster.

And so throughout life God teaches us in various ways that for as great of a blessing as independence can be, we really don’t want to approach life completely alone! King David, of Old Testament fame and the author of Psalm 34 that we have before us today, learned that lesson over and over again throughout his life too. It was probably a lesson that he needed to learn as much as anyone, because if there’s anyone in the bible who would seem to be able to take care of themselves, it would have been David. With his background as a shepherd, he understood raising animals for food and the basic needs of life. As a soldier, he was a master tactician, a brave warrior, and an inspirational leader that others would seemingly follow to the ends of the earth. He had survived battle to the death with the giant Philistine warrior Goliath – armed only with a slingshot! David was also a talented musician and poet, and seems in general to have found tremendous success no matter what he set his hand to. On top of all that, he was a faithful child of God, a man after the LORD’s own heart, as scripture puts it. But, even David would have fallen short had he approached life and eternity based only on his own talent and effort. God taught him that through the events that led him to write the words of Psalm 34.

The situation was this: David was a young man who had experienced a lot of success in his life already. He’d even been given God’s blessing specific blessing when Samuel anointed him as the next king of Israel whenever the reign of King Saul would end. Naturally this made King Saul jealous – David was a good guy but Saul would have much preferred to have one of his children on the throne so he pursued David and sought to kill him. On the run with no food and few weapons, David and his men relied on their wits to survive. They convinced some priests to give them a little food and the only weapon they had on hand at that holy place – the sword of Goliath, that gigantic warrior David himself had killed some time earlier. As Saul’s net tightened, he killed those priests and David was backed into a corner.

To escape, David decided to flee over the border into the territory of the Philistines. David probably though there was no way Saul would look for him in enemy territory, but the risk was huge. During his military career David had frequently defeated the Philistine armies in battle – not the best place to seek refuge! More puzzlingly still, David fled to the city of Gath – the hometown of famous Goliath whom he had killed – seemingly forgetting not only that people there might remember him killing their hometown hero, to say nothing of the fact that David was still carrying Goliath’s sword! Not surprisingly, the Philistines in Gath recognized David and his life was now in danger on two fronts.  He narrowly escaped by pretending to be insane. 1 Samuel 21 records all the details. Following those events, God led David to write Psalm 34, which bears this heading (not reproduced in your service folders): “Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left.” (Psalm 34 – heading – NIV84).

Psalm 34 is written in a specific pattern of Hebrew poetry known as an Acrostic Psalm. That label means that each verse of the psalm starts with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, 22 verses for 22 letters. That’s significant because Acrostic Psalms were usually written to teach something. The alphabetic pattern made them easier to remember. In psalm 34, David passes along the lesson he learned during his narrow escape – a timeless lesson we have the chance to appreciate as we read his words. 

David starts with thanksgiving to God. “I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together.” (Psalm 34:1-3 – NIV84). It seems that at some point during his escapade, David came to the realization that despite his own skill and cleverness, he was in over his head. “I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” (Psalm 34:4-7 – NIV84). God had heard and answered David’s cry in his time of distress. David concludes: “Taste and see that the LORD Is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing.” No matter how independent and resourceful David was, he recognized that it was ultimately God who had brought him through. The illustration in the next verse makes that clear. “The lions may grow weak and hungry [even the strongest find themselves overmatched at times!], but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.” (Psalm 34:8-10 – NIV84).

That summarizes the timeless lesson God passes along through David. Like David, you and I have been richly blessed. For many of us, with the abilities we have and the society we are blessed to live in it can often seem as though we don’t need anyone else – we can take care of ourselves. But David invites us to recognize the hand of God behind all of that, providing such abilities and blessings. Then David invites us to live in recognition of that reality: “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.” (Psalm 34:11 – NIV84). Not fear in terms of terror, but fear as the bible uses it – more akin to respect. Respect for what God has done that leads us to love and appreciate his will.  Respect for what God has done that leads us to trust the one who has blessed us with so much. David describes a life lived in the respectful fear of the LORD: “Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.  The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry; the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.” (Psalm 34:12-16 – NIV84). God promises tremendous blessings to those who trust him! 

But, that’s not always as simple as it sounds. The sinful side of us hates being reminded of our shortcomings and our need for help – I can do it myself! The sinful side of us hates submitting to God’s commands – I want to do what I want to do! The struggles is ongoing, and so we need to be continually reminded of what David was reminded of – going at life alone, without God’s help, will lead to impossible challenges in this life and an eternity of judgment and destruction in the next!  When we learn that lesson and admit that reality? Then God stands waiting with open arms, eager to give us exactly the help we so desperately need. That’s the storyline of the bible really. God sending a Savior who lived in perfect fear of the LORD all his life, making up for all our mistakes. A Savior who died to pay the price for our imperfection. A Savior who makes us righteous and acceptable before God, which brings tremendous blessing. David wrote: “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 34:17-18 – NIV84). When we find ourselves forced to admit that maybe we weren’t quite as independent as we thought we were God is there, ready and waiting to give us exactly what we need.

That’s not just true right now – it’s also true in the future too! Think about David again. Yes, David had escaped with his life, and yes he was anointed as the next king, but he was still on the run from Saul! How were God’s promises going to play out? The future is uncertain, and it still is today. What will your family be like in the future? What will the state of society be years from now? How will you find the strength to deal with the hard times that a sinful world inevitably brings? The good news is, you and I don’t have to figure out how to face such challenges alone. “A righteous man has many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all; he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.” (Psalm 34:19-20 – NIV84). You are righteous in Jesus, and God will see to it that the troubles of life never break you! Such protection extends into eternity. David concluded: “Evil will slay the wicked; the foes of the righteous will be condemned. The LORD redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him.” (Psalm 34:21-22 – NIV84). In Jesus, you are righteous before God, and that means all the blessings described here are yours.

To be sure, independence and the ability to take care of yourself is a blessing that God gives us. But David directs our attention to an even greater blessing. For as much as God has given us now, that’s only the beginning. Our opportunities and abilities are backstopped by the almighty God, and he invites us to trust him, promising that blessing will result. Amen.