Posted On October 20, 2018

Psalm 34:17-18 – He is Near the Brokenhearted

by | Oct 20, 2018 | pSaturday Psalms, Theology

It never ceases to astonish me how similar suffering is from person to person, even if they are suffering for different reasons. The thing I hear most often with suffering believers is “I pray, but does God even hear me?” Our verses from Psalm 34 today put that issue to rest for each and every believer.

[17] [The righteous] cry, and the LORD hears And delivers them out of all their troubles. [18] The LORD is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit. {Psa 34:17-18 NASB}

What great comfort it is to be heard in our darkest moment by God, in whom is no darkness at all (1 Jo 1:5). Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of being heard is that God, here and elsewhere, does not attach conditions to be heard. An audience with God is part of the package of knowing Him as Savior. There’s no need to mumble a certain incantation, stand on one foot, nor face east. Access to God is as simple as crying out, as easy as “Abba!” What great joy it is to know that Jesus has done it all on our behalf, that it is finished and complete. Such comfort it is to know He is ready to care for us, eager to hear our prayer.

A sound theology of prayer should also be of great comfort. One of the most profound passages on prayer is Romans 8:26-27.

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for [us] with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to [the will of] God. {Rom 8:26-27 NASB}

Do you catch what’s happening there? That’s not some sort of weird repetitive prayer language or some other nonsense. No, it’s the Holy Spirit praying on our behalf. Do you get it? The Father of mercies hears your prayers even when you are too broken and weak and beaten down and sad and run over to make them! He searches your heart, and He knows what you need and where you are.  Can God hear your prayer? Even when life is awful? Oh yes, dear believer! He hears you even when your pain is too deep for words. What an amazing God who supplies all of our needs and cares for us at our most vulnerable moments, even the needed prayers that we can’t muster through the pain. Oh what a great God He is!

Even more, those “needed prayers that we can’t muster through the pain” are not prayers never said. Do not miss the greatness of God, the compassion of our Savior in Romans 8. Brothers and sisters, I submit that more often than we’d care to admit “we do not know how to pray as we should.” Sometimes, we’re simply ignorant. Occasionally, we’re sinful. More often than not, those moments are defined by our pain. It’s too hard to face; the wounds are still raw, and we just don’t know what to say.  But take heart, the same Spirit that moved over the waters at creation will pray for us; and He’ll do so with groaning. The Father hears Him too, just look are the next verse: “He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is.” God is praying for us. God. What ever did we do to deserve such an honor and privilege? We did nothing, God did everything to earn it on our behalf.


How great is God? Well, when we realize that in the darkest most awful hours of our lives, when our pride gives out and when we’ve got nothing left to hold up as our goodness or righteousness — nothing left but Christ — God is near. He’s right there with us, right alongside us. Through sleepless nights and every tear. Every single moment of pain and each moment of agony and frustration. He’s near. Every thought of ending it all and all the doubt about if you brought it on yourself. Each accusation hurled your way. He’s near. Each mistake and failure. Every disappointment. From concerned looks from the doctor to terrifying nights of going to bed bruised and beaten. Embarrassment. Mocking. Abuse. Rejection. Everything. All of it. God is near to the brokenhearted. And what’s more, He saves those who are broken in spirit.

Note that it is WITHIN the crisis where God is present. Not after, not before, not outside of it. David’s entire point is God is with you in the brokenness. “Thus, the psalmist espouses a more sophisticated form of wisdom theology than that of the friends of Job.” Hardships come and go, God promises us no such thing as out best life now. But the one thing we are sure of is God is with us every step of the way ‘Never leaving or forsaking us.’

Now, the saving of the broken in spirit reminds us that simply having a hard life is not a ticket into Heaven. The words in this verse all carry overtones of contrition and humility, they mark those who are repentant. But God did not just say repentant. The choice of “brokenhearted” is intentional. The word means broken, wrecked, destroyed, undone. Allen Ross, whose commentary is indispensable in the Psalms, says “People who are broken by circumstances are the very ones God is near, for he delights to heal and restore those who cry to him from the most difficult situations.”

The brokenhearted include Hagar in Genesis 21, Hannah in 1 Samuel, Israel enslaved in Goshen, Job, Rachel weeping for her children in Jeremiah 31, Mary and Martha weeping for Lazarus in John 11, the tax collector who could not even bear to go to the front of the sanctuary, the Roman guard who believed Jesus could heal his daughter. The Lord is near them all. The Lord loves the brokenhearted. They are among the most powerless people on earth, they offer God very little in return. But God is near them, and He loves them. That’s how great our God is.

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  1. Michael Coughlin

    I agree with many of your applications and general encouragement, but there is one interpretive dilemma which I believe we face here and that is your assertion that “The brokenhearted include Hagar.”

    I believe you are correct about what you stated earlier in the post (An audience with God is part of the package of knowing Him as Savior). That being true – attributing brokenheartedness, and thus, “having God’s ear,” to Hagar implies that she was a believer.

    But I have trouble believing that she was a believer because of passages such as Gal 4:24-25 where the best interpretation I can come up with certainly implies Hagar represents unbelievers, thus implying she herself was an unbeliever.

    I guess it’s possible to think that Hagar was not a believer when she bore Ishmael but became one later – by Gen 21. But my point would stand that I’d firmly assert that this brokenheartedness and nearness of God referred to in Ps 34 distinctly and solely refers to those who are in Christ.

    That is, we cannot comfort anyone outside of the brotherhood with God’s nearness in their trials as an application of this passage.

    • Jason Marianna

      Thanks for the feedback.

      I admit Hagar is closer to the border than some of the other examples in that section, but I’ll make 3 points in response.

      1) It’s pretty clear that God was near Hagar in Genesis 21. That, alone, doesn’t make her a believer but it helps to illustrate the closeness of God to the afflicted.

      “Then she went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away, for she said, “Do not let me see the boy die.” And she sat opposite him, and lifted up her voice and wept. God heard the lad crying; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. “Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the skin with water and gave the lad a drink.” {Gen 21:16-19 NASB}

      2) I have a different view of Galatians 4. Galatians 4 does not impose an interpretive lens on the passages in Genesis about Hagar. Those passages in Genesis must stand on their own and have made sense to believers BEFORE Galatians was written and from Genesis alone, the meaning is clearly literal. What Paul is doing is drawing on the story as an analogy to make his own point. Hagar represents unbelievers in Paul’s analogy, not as a rule. She was a real person, not a figure with symbolic meaning.

      3) I think Hagar was a believer. Certainly I wouldn’t go to war over that viewpoint, but I think Genesis 16:13 (and the greater context of Gen 16:7-16) gives us a lot more indications that she believed when it says “she called on the Name of the Lord”. Surely, I wouldn’t hang my hat on that alone in this day and age, but in Hagar’s day when they knew a lot less it seems she had a rudimentary faith. A faith that seems to be answered by God answering her in Gen 16, and later in Gen 21.

      I felt comfortable enough in that background to include brokenhearted Hagar of Gen 21,

      • Michael Coughlin

        I think that makes sense, esp Gen 16 seems clear that she was a believer. I should have read that before commenting.

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