“The angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him,
And delivers them.
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good;
Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!
Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints!
There is no want to those who fear Him.
The young lions lack and suffer hunger;
But those who seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing.
Come, you children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
Who is the man who desires life,
And loves many days, that he may see good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
And your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil and do good;
Seek peace and pursue it.
The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,
And His ears are open to their cry.
The face of the LORD is against those who do evil,
To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth”
(Ps 34: 7-16)
I heard a particular advert recently on the classical radio station that I listen to in the car, and I found myself crying out to God for mercy on our nation: it seemed that the judgement that He poured out onto Sodom and Gomorrah had to be coming our way. I felt the Lord say “I am bringing judgement, but it will not fall upon my people.”
Judgement and mercy. The next day I read Psalm 34, and I found the same theme again: “The eyes of the Lord are on the Righteous…” but “The face of the LORD is against those who do evil.” Again I felt the Lord speaking as I read the words, saying “I am separating the darkness from the light, the righteous from the ungodly; and the separation will be clear: the righteous will shine like stars in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.”
David wrote psalm 34 when he was fleeing from Saul: the inscription is “A Psalm of David when he pretended madness before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed.” There are prophetic levels to many of the psalms and to the character and the story of David, the man after God’s own heart and forerunner of Jesus, our Messiah King. And as well as finding Jesus the King represented prophetically in David the king, we can also see aspects of the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth – past, present and future – revealed prophetically in the rise of the Kingdom of David in Israel. David was anointed King as a young man, but spent the first part of his life serving Saul in his court. Saul broadly represents the world and the flesh; David represents the Life of the Spirit. So the Church, anointed by the Holy Spirit, has spent most of the first phase of its growth in many parts of the world living in the court of Saul, and since Constantine’s edict of Milan in 313 AD has lived side-by-side with the state.
This is changing. In communist and islamic states it has changed already, and the church is being persecuted as Saul persecuted David. But now Christians in the West are also starting to face psalm 34 decisions: those who stand up for biblical lifestyle choices are increasingly facing persecution from those who deny God, and a body of legislation that seeks to outlaw Christian choices is growing like a cancer in the USA, the UK, and mainland Europe. If we look at the story of David after he has left Saul, I think we can see some of the path ahead for the Church as Jesus builds a Kingdom on Earth that is separate from the Kingdom of this world, but which it will ultimately be subject to when “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.” (Rev. 11:15)
For a start here will be persecution, typified by the slaughter of the priests of Nob by Saul’s senior servant, Doeg the Edomite. Jesus promised it; David pointed to it; we must prepare for it. The church will be driven into the Cave of Adullam, and just as David welcomed the cast-offs of society into his company so we, too, bring the poor, the needy and the broken into the fellowship of the Kingdom. Judah crowned David King, and as the praises of His people surround the throne of Jesus, His power and His love become visible to all in revival power. And finally, just as all Israel received David as King, every tongue and tribe will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Where are we in this story now? I think right now the spear of Saul is aimed at David. For “the man who desires life and loves many days” it will soon be time to flee, because a time will come when there will be a stark choice before us: we either compromise our faith and stay in the comfort of the court of Saul where we will ultimately have to give assent to the murderous intentions of Doeg the Edomite; or we fear God and move out into the unknown, where our trust is in God and not in the systems and provision of the world, and where He has to be the one who delivers us from our enemies because it is no longer in our power to deliver ourselves. We either hide in the darkness for fear of persecution, or we reveal our light and be ready to flee. But Judgement will come on the house of Saul, so our only place of safety is to be outside of its courts. And, as David writes in Psalm 34 and the Holy Spirit repeats echoes in our hearts today, it is the fear of the Lord that will be the key to our deliverance and our provision.
“I will teach you the fear of the Lord,” writes David. It can be hard to reconcile the message of the Grace of God with the idea of the fear of the Lord. If we are saved by Grace and cleansed of all our sin by the blood of Christ, and our place in Heaven is secure, what is there to fear- especially as we know from scripture that perfect love casts out all fear of judgement, and that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus? (See 1 John 4:18, Romans 8:1) For me, the answer to this conundrum is that biblical fear of the Lord has nothing to do with fear of punishment or pain. I think the fear of the Lord is the emotion that accompanies a visceral awareness that each of the three persons of our Triune God has in the intensity of their gaze the power to create and destroy galaxies, that the depth of love that gave us Calvary is as deep as the recesses of the universe itself, and that the cradle that bore Jesus in Bethlehem and that cradles us when we are rocked by our anxieties is the cradle of all history, from beginning to end. When we contemplate this God, from whom the merest flicker of a thought could annihilate our very existence – even if we know He never would – I think we can begin to know what is meant by the fear of the Lord. This is someone we take seriously.
The verses from Psalm 34 above give us five ways to take God seriously, to “fear Him.” If we can take them on board they can help us to prepare for the years ahead and the choices that we will face.
Firstly, we “taste and see that He is good.” He is there; He is real; the power that made and sustains the Universe is within Him; and, most amazingly, we have access to His person through the cross of Christ. How can we not want to taste of His goodness; for it to be a reality in our experience, not just an idea in our minds? To take Him seriously we cannot ignore what the God of the Universe Holds out to us by His Spirit. When we “taste and see”, we can trust Him. We trust someone that we know. We trust Him because we know He is good; we have experienced His goodness.
Secondly, we seek Him. We understand that He has the details of our lives worked out, even if we haven’t worked them out ourselves. The “young lions” who jockey for success in the world, hunting down status and wealth, will go hungry because ultimately the world will fail them. If we will learn the lesson, COVID has already taught us that we cannot rely on what was always there, and that only God is the sure provider that we can trust. As I wrote about somewhere on this site (sorry – can’t remember which post!) – when the whole world was buying up toilet rolls at the beginning of the first lockdown, God sent a vanload of them to park at the adjacent pump in the gas station to the woman who said “Lord, I’m not going to panic buy; I’m going to seek you!” We don’t run after the provision; we seek the Provider.
Thirdly, we guard our tongues. “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” (Prov 18:21) This doesn’t just apply to the people that we speak to: it applies to us as well. As we give so we will receive. If we tongue-lash others, we will get a lashing. If we bless, we will be blessed. If we build up, we will be built up, and if we pull down, we will be pulled down. Words create or destroy, and Jesus tells us that we will be held responsible for every “idle” (fruitless, barren) word that we speak (Matt 12:36). If we “desire Life” and want to “see good,” we must speak life and speak what is good. “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Phil 4:8)
Fourth, we “Depart from evil and do good.” The gospel is about how we live; not the songs we sing, the books we read, or the words that we prophesy. It’s about how and who we love. It’s about “whatever we have done to the least of these…” (Matt 25: 35-40) It’s about faith that works with love. It’s about 1 Corinthians 13 being the anchor for chapters 12 and 14. What will hold us together in the Cave of Adullam is our love for one another; and it is that unity that Jesus prophesied in John 17 that the world will see when Judah arises in power.
Finally, we are to “seek peace and pursue it.” Not just because Jesus is the Prince of Peace do we make pursuing peace a serious objective in our lives, and not just because the peacemakers are blessed and “shall be called the children of God” (Matt 5:9) – although these in themselves are both very real reasons to seek peace. But the peace we are to pursue is not just peace with other people; it’s the peace that settles in our hearts which the Lord promises to give us (John 14:27) to keep our hearts from being troubled and fearful. After the massacre at Nob David says to Abiathar, the one surviving priest, “”Stay with me; do not fear. For he who seeks my life seeks your life, but with me you shall be safe.” (1 Sam 22:23) To be safe, we need to be close to Jesus. When we are close to Him – yoked to Him – we know His presence and His peace directs our steps. “Stay safe” has become a mantra of the COVID world. The only real way to stay safe is to seek the peace of Jesus, and pursue it.
We are at a critical moment in the life of the church. God is separating the light from the darkness: as He did right at the beginning of creation, so He is doing in the days of the new creation. I fell that this is what He is saying to us:
“You are the light of the world: come out of the darkness and gather to Me! Taste of my presence, trust My provision, speak My words, walk in My ways, pursue My peace! The Cave of Adullam is ahead, but in that place you will know a warmth of love that you have not hitherto experienced, and out of that love you will see the light of my Glory arise and you will know, and the world will know, that I the Lord am establishing my Kingdom on Earth. The wheels are moving quickly now. Do not delay. The enemy of your souls would say that you can sit back, that you are fine as you are, but I say Consecrate yourselves because I am taking you to a place where the ground where you will be standing is holy. So prepare yourselves. For in the cave of Adullam all that you had in the court of Saul will have been taken from you, but everything that is yours in the courts of Heaven will be available. The enemy will say that you will be dying, but I say Die to yourselves, and Live! Live!”