Posted On September 15, 2018

Psalm 34:11-14 “Come, you children, listen to me”

by | Sep 15, 2018 | pSaturday Psalms, Theology

This week we find ourselves at the tail end of the second third of Psalm 34 where David gives us short and simple instructions on how to fear the Lord. Verse 11 is, as is typical for this section, straightforward:

[11] Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

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First, let’s dispense with an issue that, puzzlingly so, has caused some to trip over this verse. David is not insulting or demeaning his reader when he calls them “children.”  Instead, this is a rather common greeting and term for a teacher to use in Hebrew culture. It would be similar to a modern teacher saying “you students” or “you pupils.” It is not an implication of his opinion of the maturity of his audience, nor is it an indicator that these verses are intended to instruct children alone.  We spoke about the fear of the Lord in this series already. I’ll remind you of Spurgeon’s definition of fearing God: “Pay to him humble childlike reverence, walk in his laws, have respect to his will, tremble to offend him, hasten to serve him.” At this point of the Psalm, David’s focus isn’t on what fearing the Lord means, but rather on HOW to fear the Lord. This is instruction on performing a task, not explication of a concept.

[12] Who is the man who desires life And loves [length of] days that he may see good?

David asks in verse 12 who it is that desires “length of days” that “he may see good.”  Obviously the answer is all of us. We all want to live a long life if it means experiencing good things.  It’s not an uncommon thing for God to promise a long life to those who fear him. In Deuteronomy 4 God reminds Israel to keep the commandments so that they may live long in the land God is giving them.  Ephesians 6 admonishes children to obey their parents so that they may live long on the Earth. Conversely, Paul told the Corinthians in chapter 11 of his first letter that because some had misbehaved there were many sick and some had “fallen asleep” which is a euphemism for “died”.  So what God is saying here in Psalm 34:12 about living a long life is not a foreign concept in Scripture.

As Spurgeon said “To teach men how to live and how to die is the aim of all useful religious instruction.” Our lives may be vapor (James 4:14), but they are NOT meaningless. The Bible’s promise and blessing of long life necessarily implies that our earthly lives have value. What we do on Earth matters, and not merely as a tally of sins to be atoned on the cross or a tally of good works to be rewarded in glory. Rather, it must be that part of the purpose of our life is to enjoy it and to benefit from it. Otherwise, why would it be a blessing to have a long life? If the only purpose of life was to endure it until Heaven, it would be a curse to delay Heaven with a long life. No, God is the giver of life (Psalm 36:9) and for those whose whole being and purpose is wrapped up in God, we should properly value it by seeing a long life as a blessing and possibly a reward from God.

Keep your tongue from evil And your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it. {Psa 34:13-14 NASB}

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David gives us some quick instructions in verses 13 and 14.  He tells us to keep ourselves from speaking evil and speaking deceit.  That means more than not cursing and not telling lies. It’s means something similar to what Paul told the Philippians

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” {Phl 4:8 NASB}

Paul spoke of what to think about, and it would fulfill David’s instruction to allow our speech to be seasoned with such salt.  Let us also remember that keeping one’s tongue from evil is important because it is often prone to evil. It’s also not easy to do. James has much to say about both concepts in his third chapter:

For we all stumble in many [ways.] If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and [yet] it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the [very] world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of [our] life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; [it is] a restless evil [and] full of deadly poison. With it we bless [our] Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come [both] blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening [both] fresh and bitter [water?] Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor [can] salt water produce fresh. {Jas 3:2-12 NASB}

David and Paul are once again allies in the struggle with their readers to instill in them a disgust with evil. As Paul told the Thessalonians:

But examine everything [carefully;] hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. {1Th 5:21-22 NASB}

And again the Romans:

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin [as] instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members [as] instruments of righteousness to God. {Rom 6:12-13 NASB}

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. {Rom 12:21 NASB}

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And even his young protege Timothy:

Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love [and] peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. {2Ti 2:22 NASB}

It should come as no shock to the Christian that we are to hate evil and do good. The concept is replete throughout Scripture, particularly the Proverbs which clearly see an aversion to evil as a key to living wisely:

Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and turn away from evil. {Pro 3:7 NASB}

“The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way And the perverted mouth, I hate. {Pro 8:13 NASB}

The fear of the LORD prolongs life, But the years of the wicked will be shortened. The hope of the righteous is gladness, But the expectation of the wicked perishes. The way of the LORD is a stronghold to the upright, But ruin to the workers of iniquity. The righteous will never be shaken, But the wicked will not dwell in the land. The mouth of the righteous flows with wisdom, But the perverted tongue will be cut out. The lips of the righteous bring forth what is acceptable, But the mouth of the wicked what is perverted. {Pro 10:27-32 NASB}

It would seem a strange teaching to tell a student to fear the Lord and then to speak nothing of avoiding evil. The Bible makes it clear, we are to have nothing to do with it whatsoever. Our way is to do good. Our way is also to pursue peace. Note the idea of pursuit used here in the Psalm. The clear implication is that peace is not the natural state of things; it does not simply happen on its own. Peace is something to be tracked down and obtained; it must be pursued.  Verse 14 tells us that it is the purview of the Christian to pursue peace. It is part of what we do in our reverence and respect of God. It’s an active life for the workman, not an easy life for the philosopher. While no work brings about salvation, salvation brings about much work in us (Jas 2:18). We must embrace it and define our lives by it.  Depart from evil and do good.  Seek peace. These also are not difficult concepts. Neither are these burdens to bear and weigh us down (Mat 11:30), but simply what we do to love our Lord (Rom 12:1).  These are not things you can do as one would brush their teeth or put on a shirt – mere rituals and customs meant to pacify. Instead, these are disciplines that must come to define one’s life. But with Christ, what a good life it is!

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