Posted On October 13, 2018

Psalm 34:16 – God Has Chosen Sides

by | Oct 13, 2018 | pSaturday Psalms, Theology

Psalm 34 has a definite structure. The first third of the Psalm is David recounting God’s faithfulness. He rehearses it again and again: God answered him, God heard him, God encamps around him, and on and on it goes. There’s a give and take, David exalts God and God takes care of David. The second third turns toward the reader and instructs us. We are to “taste and see.” We should “fear the Lord.” We’re told to “come and listen.” It’s not a rehearsal of God’s faithfulness but, rather, instructions for our own. It’s as if God is laying out the example in David, explaining how we can become that example ourselves. And then the final third of Psalm 34 reassures us in such a way as to give us every confidence.

The Contrast

But how important, really, are the first two thirds? Yes, we learned that God is faithful, we learned what is expected of us, but it all ends in reassurance, doesn’t it? Is there a connection between obedience and faithfulness and God’s faithfulness to us? This third of the psalm has taught us so far that God’s eye is turned toward us, and He hears our cries. Is that special or is that just common grace? Can we, the faithful believers, His elect, lay claim to an exclusivity with God? God does desire all men to be saved, so does that mean he desires to comfort all men too?

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You may think these questions are silly. With our 20/20 hindsight as believers, we know God holds His people close and guards them like a Good Shepherd. But in the midst of trials and suffering, our sight is not always so clear. When we struggle to survive, and those around us do not, it can be very easy to believe God does not love us. This is ESPECIALLY so when those who oppress us claim God as their own. They may even be His own, objectively, but in either case when an attitude of piety and holiness surrounds the person who is abusing you or attacking you, the question is fair to ask: Is God’s face turned toward them too? Does He also hear their cries to better oppress me?

Jesus Himself seemed to sense the likelihood of stumbling over these thoughts when He warned and comforted His disciples in John 16:

“These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling. “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. {John 16:1-2 NASB}

You see, without a contrast such as what is found in verse 16 of Psalm 34, these are difficult questions to answer. I’ve often heard it said “It’s much more important for it to be known what you’re for than what you’re against.” There’s truth to that. It’s certainly accurate enough to say that a critic is just a complainer when he can’t also tell you what is good.

However, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is value in knowing and declaring what you’re against. Too often in our day and culture we’re afraid to be too harsh. We see it as rude or needlessly offensive to stand against something or someone. Yet this is precisely what God does. His eyes are indeed toward the righteous, His ears open to their cry. Yet He is firmly set against the evil doer too. God does not equivocate. He does not suffer fools gladly. There is no room in His kingdom for those that oppose Him — or His people.

It may sound odd to say, but this should provide great comfort to the faithful. They needn’t fear being both oppressed and then having to share their only source of hope and comfort with their oppressors. Surely the oppressor will find a loving and forgiving God when he repents, but a repenting oppressor is merely another form of what the righteous are – sinners wonderfully transformed into saints by the boundless grace of God. It’s in that repentance they cease to be evildoers, and it’s in the grace they find where they are transformed into the righteous. But apart from that, that evildoer has no claim on God, nor a place at His table.

Anthropomorphisms

Let’s talk about the anthropomorphisms in this section of Psalm 34. God does not literally have eyes, ears, and a face. But we understand what an eye, and ear, and a face is. It’s a literal category of thought that helps us to understand a concept. So, those literal concepts are applied figuratively to help us understand something. In this case, it’s very easy to draw a mental picture of God with His face looking at you in your suffering, and it’s a small step to further picture Him attentively listening to your cry. Even though no man has seen God and God is spirit, these mental images serve as a framework. We don’t have to struggle or strain to put the pieces together. And God doesn’t want us to, either. In the midst of suffering and trials, God gives us simplicity and reliability. It probably won’t be Calvin’s institutes that will move us when we are weeping over a trial, it is our favorite hymn that we can sing from memory. Similarly, God knows we don’t need to understand His attention to us in every academic sense, we simply need to know He’s paying attention and listening. That kind of comfort and assurance, as well as serving as a catalyst to understanding, is exactly what God intends through anthropomorphism.

Two Applications

There are two main applications from Psalm 34:16 for believers. First, if our God has turned His face against evildoers, to the extent that He cuts off their memory from the Earth, then we should have no reservations about turning our backs on evil too. There are no extenuating circumstances with our God. It is, quite simply: they are evil, and He is not for them in the least. It’s the cold hard contrast of black and white, not a fuzzy uncertain nuance. Our thinking should reflect God’s thinking. When someone or something is wicked, we shouldn’t have anything to do with it. Our time, our energy, our resources, our talents should be used entirely for good as much as is possible and as much as we can be in control of it.

The second application is that we shouldn’t worry. God chooses sides, and if you are righteous He chooses YOUR side. This isn’t something you can buy or force your way into. It’s simply something God chooses to do. Yes, if you are righteous He has chosen you. All that you are and all that you will ever be. Not because you’re special, not because you’ve earned it, but simply because you are His.

That doesn’t change when you are suffering, it simply amplifies. You are His; and He is yours. You share Him only with others like you. Friends may shut you out, God hears your cry. Everyone you know may have turned their back to you; God’s turns His face toward you. The whole world may choose to stand against you, God has chosen to stand with you. He’s with you. He has not left you as an orphan. He never will.

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