Psalm 34:15 – Toward the Righteous
The magnificence of this last third of Psalm 34 cannot be overstated. This section is not a theological treatise, but it is not bereft of theology. It isn’t proverbial nor does it necessarily impart wisdom, yet a believer who does not drink it in surely acts as a fool. This section of scripture is similar to a wedding album. You know what’s in it, you remember it more clearly than most things in your life. There are no secrets of the universe contained in that wedding album. You won’t make more money because of that album. You won’t be any smarter because of that album. But you know well that if the house was burning down, you’d try to save that wedding album from the flames. It may not be the most valuable thing you own, but it may be the dearest.
Every Christian knows the character of their God. Knowing He is a God who hears your cry isn’t anything that will shock you, nor will it make you spiritually mature, nor will it help you understand Greek or Hebrew. But try to tell me that you don’t find the words of Psalm 34:15-22 incredibly moving. Try to tell me in the moments when your life is burning down around you that you won’t flee here. Try to tell me you don’t read this passage with tears in your eyes and a song in your heart. The richness of this passage is not only in what it says, but in what it means. Let’s begin by focusing there.
 The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous And His ears are [open] to their cry.
Here the Psalm begins what is a tradition in Wisdom Literature – contrasting the life of the righteous with the life of the wicked. The side by side comparison helps to illustrate the vast differences and to remind the reader of the way it SHOULD be. This verse contrasts with verse 16. Here God is is looking and listening to the righteous. He’s turned toward them, they hold His attention. Think of it – God is not a distant and disinterested deity but an advocate focused on the needs of His people.
We say often that God is worthy of our praise, but why? Because He is good. He is compassionate and kind. Because even though He is not in any way obligated to weep for His people, God does not just weep – His heart breaks for His people! He identifies with every one of our pains. His ears are open to our cries. We don’t deserve a God that does that. He doesn’t owe us. Yet that is what we have simply because that’s what He wants to do.
Steve Lawson observes “The focus of these last verses is “the righteous” who are mentioned 4 times.” The word for “righteous” here is “saddiq“; which is another word with a well rounded meaning. As a shorthand, it refers to those who trust the Lord for salvation, however the word carries a denotation as “conformity to a standard”. Righteousness in Scripture has two categories of thought connected to it. The first is positional righteousness of man’s standing before God. The second is the practical righteousness which is the conformity of a believer’s character to God’s Holy character. Both categories are inseparably linked and both categories are in view here.
So then, verse 15 is a promise not to those who merely claim Christ, but those whose lives are marked by Christ-likeness. The common short hand is not in contrast, nor does it merely complement, the denotation. On the contrary, the two aspects work together to form a complete picture of the righteous of whom God hears the cry. Remember that Scripture has a flow. The middle third ends in verse 14 and gives instructions as to how to fear the Lord and walk rightly. Verse 15 clearly begins a new section but it does not begin a new Psalm. The two sections flow together to form a complete picture so much so that Gerald Wilson sees this as encouragement to follow the commands in the preceding verses. We should fear God in order to be righteous; and it is to those righteous as defined in the middle third of the Psalm toward whom God has turned His face.
This means two things for the believer. First, as Alan Ross details “The righteous are blessed and protected; there is no place where they are beyond the divine vision and there is no crisis so distant that God cannot hear their cry for help.” Since it is God who is the help of the believer, the help the believer will receive reflects the character of God. This is not always obvious to the broken hearted. Often the downtrodden will ask if God can even help in their pain. The answer is to remind ourselves, and our ailing brother/sister that there is not a thing God can’t do and thus we cannot say that God can’t help the believer in any trouble. Nor can the believer begin to think that an omnipresent God has deserted them in their place of need. Believers must remember that where they see their God limited, they will also see their help limited. The true God is not limited in the least, and so those who trust in the true God will find limitless help. Idols masquerading as God, on the other hand, are full of limits and so also will be the help they provide. If a broken believer feels God has reached His limit of helping them, perhaps that believer would do well to evaluate what precisely they trust in; and what that trust really is.
The second thing this means is summed up nicely by Spurgeon, “His eyes and ears are thus both turned by the Lord towards his saints; his whole mind is occupied about them: if slighted by all others they are not neglected by him.” Believers know the world will eventually fail them. Some trust in chariots, others in their marriage. Some trust in their money, others in their wits. But the believer trusts in the Lord their God, and what a well founded trust it is! Obviously the Psalmist is attributing human characteristics to God in speaking about his eyes and ears. Yet, the message shines through; God is paying attention to His faithful. There’s no hint of distraction in this verse, no concept of divided time. To God, His elect are everything and He lays down His life for them as a Shepherd lays down His life for a sheep. The world will “despise and leave us, they have left our Savior too”. But our God will never forsake us, with us even until the end of the age! Not as a mere caretaker or watchman, but as a loving father who earnestly desires to supply all of our needs and will one day come to make ALL things right.