Through the Bible in a Year: Psalm 34-37, Proverbs 13

This Week’s Readings

Monday, May 28: 2 Samuel 21-24
Tuesday, May 29: Psalm 26-29, Proverbs 11
Wednesday, May 30: Psalm 30-33, Proverbs 12
Thursday, May 31: Psalm 34-37, Proverbs 13
Friday, June 1: Psalm 38-41, Proverbs 14

The overall year’s plan is here.

Psalm 34

The introduction to this psalm throws us a curve ball. Clearly, this is a reference to 1 Samuel 21:10-15, where David feigned insanity in order to be saved from King Achish of Gath. Here, though, it calls him Abimelech.

Commentators suggest that Abimelech might have been a title of the King of Gath. The word means "my father is king," and perhaps that city honored their king as a father-king.

What is of note in the psalm itself is that this psalm was written at the very start of David’s troubles. He had fled Israel because Saul was pursuing him, and now he had to pretend to be insane in order to escape a king in Philistia. He was not delivered. He was being forced to return to Israel where the king of the whole country (not just one city, as in Gath) was intent on killing him.

Yet this psalm is not one of despair, but of triumph and trust.

Keep the context in mind as you read the incredible promises of this psalm. Many of its verses are in Christian’s promise boxes and promise books and posted on their refrigerators. Psalm 34:20 is quoted by John as a prophecy concerning Jesus on the cross (Jn. 19:36). Psalm 34:12b-16a is quoted by Peter (1 Pet. 3:10-12).

Psalm 35

This prayer for deliverance is very interesting. David prays freely for the thorough destruction of his enemies, but he says that when they were sick he fasted and prayed for them.

It makes me think of the end of Romans 12 …

Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but allow room for wrath [from God], for it is written, "’Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord." Therefore, if your enemy hungers, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink, for in doing so you will heap burning coals upon his head. (vv. 19-20)

Burning Coals in a Bucket?

Some extremely nice and well-meaning Christians have suggested that Romans 12:19-20 has a cultural meaning completely different from the way it seems to read. They say that in ancient Israel men and women would carry coals in a basket on their head to heat their hearths with and cook over. They say that others could heap burning coals in that basket as a favor to a person, not as a judgment like it sounds.

That’s just silly. No one who says that can quote where they heard it, and it makes no sense in context. If heaping burning coals on your enemy’s head is a kindness which results from your kindness, how are you leaving room for the wrath and vengeance of God by being kind? Further, have you ever tried to carry a basket or even a metal bucket of burning coals on your head? Or can you imagine letting someone scoop a shovelful of coals into it while it’s on your head? Definite OSHA violation!

Fun fact for you: The same is true of those who say that the "eye of a needle" is really a small gate in a city wall that a camel had to get on its knees to go through. No one can tell you where that rumor originated, and no commentary will back it up authoritatively with a source. It’s just a clever invention someone came up with to make "a camel going through the eye of a needle" difficult rather than impossible.

Psalm 36

This psalm begins with a very useful description of the ungodly. It’s useful because it applies so well to all of us, giving us some precise things to think about and work on:

  • There is no fear of God before his eyes.
  • He has ceased to be wise and do good.
  • He sets himself on a path that is not good.
  • He does not despise evil.

Those are all specific things that we can ask ourselves about.

Fear of God: Do we keep the fear of God before our eyes? Do we worry about what God thinks about what we’re doing, or just what our culture thinks is good or acceptable. Are we afraid to take stands where God takes a stand? On the other hand, do we refuse to show mercy and tolerance because other Christians have made some particular sin or political position a central issue when God has not?

Keeping the fear of God before our eyes means thinking about it. The Scriptures instruct us to set our mind on the things of the Spirit (Rom. 8:5). They instruct us to consider how to provoke our brothers and sisters to good works (Heb. 10:24). We are instructed to meditate on the words and laws of God (Ps. !:2; 119:15).

Be wise: This really falls into the idea of meditating and considering. Are we trying to be wise, or are we just coasting along, figuring God is merciful and everything will work out. God does not like being taken for granted. He is more important than that (Malachi 1:13-14).

Set on a Path: What path are you set on? Have you considered the end of it? Will your career path simply lead to money, or are you planning it so that you grow in godliness as well? What about your family path? Your recreational path?

Despising Evil: This is truly a time when vileness is exalted among the sons of men (Ps. 12:8). We must know and fear God if we are going to appropriately despise evil, something that we must do if we do not wind up being one of the ungodly. It is entirely possible to count yourself a holy, kind follower of God, but to really be a supporter of vileness. Sin is deceitful (Heb. 3:13).

Finally, Psalm 36 is another excellent praise psalm. We can use the psalms to learn how to actually praise God rather than just saying, "Praise the Lord," which is a command, not actual praise. This psalm praises his divine attributes. We can borrow its words until we learn God’s attributes better on our own and can offer praise in our own words.

Psalm 37

Having said all I said about meditating and considering in Psalm 36, let me say this about the first 6 verses of Psalm 37.

I find these first 6 verses remarkably restful. If God calls us to go off as a missionary, we must do that, of course. Most of us, however, are not called to go, we’re called to stay. The "Great Commission" was spoken to the apostles alone (read the context of Matt. 28:19-20 and Mark 16:15-16). The apostles never repeated that commission in any of their letters to the churches. In fact, the apostle Paul says, "How shall they go unless they be sent?" (Rom. 10:15).

Instead, for most of us, the command we should obey, one that’s actually written to the church, is:

Make it your aim to live a quiet life, to do your own business, and to work with your hands, as we commanded you. (1 Thess. 4:11)

Psalm 37:1-6 sounds like 1 Thess. 4:11 to me. "Trust in the Lord and do good. Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. … Commit your way to the Lord" (NASB).

It then goes on to say, "Trust also in him, and he will do it" (NASB, emphasis added).

Our job is not to go out and win the world by knocking on doors. Our job is to live a life of obedience to God, so that we have ears to hear if does call or send us. By living in this way, we can provide a good testimony which will take away the shame which Christians have put on the name of Jesus by their commonly careless, unloving, and often evil way of life.

Peter tells us to always be ready to give an answer to those who ask a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Pet. 3:15). How often are Christians really asked to explain the Gospel?

Those that live lives that honor God 24 hours a day, minus whatever stumbles they may have as they diligently seek to please the Lord, are often asked about the reason for the hope that is in them.

Something must be different about our lives or no one will ask. The best difference is the fragrance of Christ that rests upon those who have fellowship with him. I have heard numerous people that I have witnessed to in the past tell me that they reason they were willing to talk to me is because of some Christian in their past who lived such a spiritual life that the person could feel the presence of God when that Christian was around.

When we think of conversions, we think of preaching and altar calls. When the early church thought of conversions, they thought of …

He has exhorted us to lead all men, by patience and gentleness, from shame and the love of evil. And this indeed is proved in the case of many who once were of your way of thinking, but have changed their violent and tyrannical disposition, being overcome either by:

  • the consistency which they have witnessed in their neighbors’ lives,
  • or by the extraordinary forbearance they have observed in their fellow travelers when defrauded,
  • or by the honesty of those with whom they have transacted business.

(Justin, First Apology 16, c. A.D. 150; formatting and bullets mine)

Well, Psalm 37 is a long psalm, but I’ve already written a lot of commentary today. I’ll let 37:7-40 stand on its own as not in need of commentary.

Proverbs 13

Proverbs are to be weighed and considered, so commenting on them just gets in the way, unless there’s some reason that most people will misunderstand words in a proverb. That’s not the case here, so I’ll leave Proverbs 13 without comment, too.

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