detail from Hebrew Bible manuscript with Latin and French notations

Notes on Psalm 34

One of the Uniform Series texts for Sunday, May 27 is Psalm 34:1-10, the exuberant beginning of this “wisdom” psalm. Here are my notes on that text:

Background & Context:

This psalm has a notation as its first verse that announces it is from the time “David feigned madness before Abimelech so he drove him out,” which is a little confusing, because in 1 Samuel 21 David, fleeing Saul, goes to the priest Ahimelech to get provisions and Goliath’s sword, and then seeks temporary refuge with King Achish of Gath, and it’s when he senses trouble in King Achish’s court that he feigns madness. Still, the psalm is one of exuberant praise to God for favors granted, and it’s possible to imagine it fitting that context.

Psalm 34 is an acrostic: each verse in Hebrew starts with a letter of the alphabet, in order (it’s missing the letter vav unless we count the second line of verse 5, 6 in Hebrew). The point of which is: it’s carefully composed, in this special form; it’s not off the cuff in any way.

Closer Reading:

YHWH is mentioned, right at the beginning, in almost every verse. The rhythm is particularly striking in Hebrew, where YHWH is the second word in verse after verse. YHWH is missing in v5; in vv6 & 8 YHWH is a little later. The main impression is that YHWH is constantly present throughout this expression of praise.

There is a lot of emphasis on the mouth. In v1, praise is continually in “my mouth,” there is crying [out] in v. 6, tasting in v. 8, and the nourishment of lions vs. faithful ones in v. 10.

And there is a little narrative about fear: God saves the psalmist from all fears (v4), the angel of YHWH encamps around those who fear YHWH (v7), the audience is enjoined to fear YHWH, because of the reward for those who take YHWH as their object of fear (v9). Fearing God is actually a kind of refuge (v8), that banishes all other fears, it seems. Which suggests that fearing God has a different quality from the kinds of fears we would be saved from when we take refuge in it, the way the psalmist is in v4.

There is some element of humility vs. arrogance, maybe, in the contrast between the humble who gladly hear the psalmist’s soul boast in YHWH (v2), and the poor soul who was helped by YHWH (v6), and the young lions (proud? strong? seemingly self-sufficient?) who suffer want (v10).

Things were bad, the psalmist cried out to God, God heard, and now, everything feels good. It’s a great plot.

detail from Hebrew Bible manuscript with Latin and French notations

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