Dealing With Troubles
By David Feddes
Imagine your name is David and you find yourself all alone in Goliath’s hometown. Your main claim to fame is that a few years earlier you killed the hometown favorite. Defeating Goliath might make you a hero in some places, but not in Goliath’s hometown. He was their champion. People back home admired him. If you’re the man who killed Goliath, Goliath’s buddies aren’t going to welcome you with open arms. They’d rather kill you.
If you are David and you’re alone in Goliath’s hometown, what should you do when people start pointing at you and talking as though they recognize you? Well, don’t even think of reaching for your sling and stone. That may have worked on Goliath, but it won’t work on a whole city of Goliath’s pals. You’ll never have enough stones or be able to swing your sling fast enough to deal with all of them. How do you get out of this one?
Most of us know the story of David and Goliath. But do you know the story of what happened later, when David found himself in Goliath’s hometown of Gath?
After David killed Goliath, he got married to the daughter of Israel’s King Saul and became a popular military leader. But Saul became jealous of David’s popularity. He became bitter and paranoid. David was his son-in-law and his best military man, but Saul tried again and again to kill him. David went into hiding, going from place to place, while King Saul kept trying to hunt him down. Finally it got so hard for David to stay ahead of Saul that he decided to get completely out of Israel.
On his way out of the country, alone and unarmed, he stopped at the place where the sword he had taken from Goliath was kept. David took the great sword with him and headed for the Philistine city of Gath. Bad idea! It was foolish to go to Goliath’s hometown–and even more foolish to take Goliath’s giant sword along.
If David was hoping nobody in Gath would know who he was, or that they wouldn’t mind, he soon found out otherwise. David went to the court of Achish, the king of Gath. Almost immediately some of the king’s assistants began to talk. They said to Achish, “Isn’t this David, the king of the land? Isn’t he the one they sing about in their dances: ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands?'” That song was first sung after David killed Goliath of Gath. It may have been sweet music to David’s countrymen, but it didn’t sound so good to people back in Goliath’s hometown. The people of Gath hated that song. It reminded them of the enemy who had destroyed their hero and defeated their armies. If that enemy, whose exploits practically made him king of the whole land–if that man David had now turned up right in the middle of them, what should they do to him?
When David heard them talking like this, his heart sank. In trying to escape Saul’s frying pan, he had landed right in the middle of Achish’s fire. The Bible says that David was very much afraid of Achish. There he stood, all alone, surrounded by people who saw him as their worst enemy, at the mercy of a king who could have him killed on the spot. No slingshot could save him now. Not even Goliath’s sword could save him.
What do you do when your name is David and you find yourself all alone in Goliath’s hometown? You pray. You pray like crazy.
Praying Like Crazy
That’s what David did. Surrounded by people who could kill him at any moment, David prayed silently but fervently. Later he wrote down the substance of that prayer, recorded in the Bible as Psalm 56. David said: “Be merciful to me, O God, for men hotly pursue me… When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?” (Psalm 56:1-4). As David prayed, he became less and less afraid and more and more sure that God would provide a way out. He ended his prayer by saying, “You have delivered me from death… that I may walk before God in the light of life” (Psalm 56:13).
After David finished praying, what happened? Well, after praying like crazy, David began to act crazy. He may have thought to himself, “Why did I ever come to Goliath’s hometown carrying Goliath’s sword? I must have been crazy! Hmmm… Did I say crazy? Now there’s an idea!” The Bible says that David “pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard” (1 Samuel 21:13).
Now, suppose you were told that a certain person on the street was a famous general, and the man suddenly started clawing at doors and drooling all over the place. You might snort and say, “Yeah, right. What’s he the general of–a mental hospital?”
That’s how King Achish reacted when he saw David scratching and drooling. The king scolded his assistants: How stupid were they, to think that some poor lunatic who wandered into town was the deadly David? “Look at the man!” Achish exclaimed. “He is insane! Why bring him to me? Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?” (1 Samuel 21:14-15)
The king’s embarrassed assistants sent David away, and he was only too glad to go. He went back into Israelite territory and hid out in a cave. And before long he was no longer alone. First his relatives came and joined up with him. Then he began to attract people with various problems. The Bible says, “All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader.” (See 1 Samuel 21:8-22:22) People with problems were attracted to David and to David’s God. God was answering David’s prayer for help.
Advertising For God
David knew that his escape and his new friends and his growing power weren’t just his own doing. He knew that these developments were God’s answers to prayer. God had rescued him. And so, moved by God, David decided to advertise for God. He wanted to praise the Lord and brag about him to others so that they too could taste God’s goodness and praise him. David put his advertisement into a poem, recorded in the Bible as Psalm 34.
Each verse of Psalm 34 starts with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In writing this way, David wants to give God the credit for everything from A to Z, and he wants to teach others the ABC’s of knowing God. Psalm 34 begins with these words:
I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together (v. 1-3).
With those words David declares his purpose right up front: he wants to brag about God in order to honor the Lord and to show people in trouble where to find the help they need. Psalm 34 is an advertisement for God the Rescuer. Unlike some commercials, however, it’s completely genuine and truthful. There’s nothing phony about it. The focus of the advertisement is the Lord. And who’s the target audience? People with problems. As David puts it, “Let the afflicted hear and rejoice.”
We’re going to look at all of Psalm 34, but let’s jump ahead for a moment to one especially important verse. In verse 17 David says, “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.” I don’t know what the future holds, but it is safe to say that you and I will have troubles of some kind. And don’t think that you’ll be immune to trouble if only you’re an upright person with a right relationship to God. “A righteous man may have many troubles,” says the verse. But no matter how big those troubles might be, God can handle them. If you walk into the future in a right relationship with God, then no matter how many troubles you have, the Lord will deliver you from them all.
Maybe you’re already surrounded by troubles. You don’t know what to do or where to turn. You may feel like David in Goliath’s hometown. You may feel frightened and trapped, with no way out. But don’t despair. Do what David did when he was in trouble: pray like crazy. God says, “Call on me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you” (Psalm 50:15). So pray like crazy, and pray with confidence that God is mighty to save.
Psalm 34 is David’s advertisement for God’s saving power. One effective advertising method is personal endorsement. Most personal endorsements in television advertising involve famous people who get paid a lot of money to promote a product. Pay a famous athlete enough money, and he’ll brag about a certain car or hamburger, even if it’s not really his favorite. Pay a gorgeous model enough money, and she’ll promote a certain credit card or soft drink, even if she doesn’t really think it’s any better than any other. Psalm 34 has a personal endorsement, but it’s not a paid commercial. David isn’t just saying nice things about God because someone paid him. David is speaking out of his own personal experience of trouble and deliverance. David writes,
I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them (v. 4-7).
The Bible tells a story of how the prophet Elisha and his servant were trapped in a city, surrounded by a hostile army. When the servant saw all those troops, he began to panic.
“Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” the servant asked.
“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
And Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:15-17)
With the armies of heaven surrounding and protecting Elisha, the enemy soldiers were neutralized and sent home without a fight.
As Psalm 34 puts it, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” This doesn’t mean that heavenly warriors will always become visible or that deliverance will come through a stunning miracle. But even when you don’t see angels and your deliverance comes through something that doesn’t seem supernatural at all, you may still be sure it is the Lord who was your Rescuer. When David was trapped in Goliath’s hometown of Gath, he didn’t see any angels, and there didn’t seem to be anything supernatural about the way he escaped. David simply pretended to be insane, and it worked. But it wasn’t just cleverness or good luck that saved his life. It was the angel of the Lord, the commander of heaven’s armies.
David says, “The Lord delivered me from all my fears. He saved me from all my troubles. I’m not just saying this; I’ve experienced it. And what God has done for me, he does for others as well.” David gives God the credit and offers an enthusiastic endorsement of the Lord’s power to rescue.
Having done that, David goes on to use another effective advertising method: the taste test. Some commercials talk about how one drink beats another in taste tests, and then they invite you to take the taste test that really counts: not just hearing what other people say in taste tests, but tasting for yourself. That’s what David says in Psalm 34. Take the taste test yourself. Don’t just listen to what God has done for someone else, or how much they delight in him. Try him out for yourself. “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” says David. “Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him” (v. 8).
Don’t just settle for the awareness that God is a great Rescuer who has helped lots of other people. Taste him for yourself. Put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Trust him to save you from sin and hell. Trust him to nourish you with his body and blood for eternal life. Taste and see how good he really is. And don’t settle for just a little taste. Keep feeding on him by faith. As the apostle Peter puts it, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3).
Your soul is designed to live on God–not just on something God can do for you, but on God himself. He is the only one who can nourish and bless and satisfy you. David invites you to taste and see, and he adds: “Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing” (v. 9-10).
As you move into a new year, you may think the only way to meet your needs is to be an aggressive lion and look out for yourself. But if you do that and rely on your own strength, you’re eventually going to come up empty and waste away. However, if you fear the Lord and seek him, you will lack no good thing. As the Bible puts it in another place, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Taste and see for yourself.
Terms and Conditions
After the endorsement and the taste test, Psalm 34 goes into more detailed information about the terms and conditions of living in relationship to God. In particular, it deals with what it means to fear the Lord. After we hear that the angel of the Lord protects “those who fear him,” and after we’ve been urged to “fear the Lord,” it’s only logical for us to ask, “Okay, so you say fearing the Lord is important. What does it actually mean?” The fear of the Lord is a deep awe and reverence for God and a fear of offending him. To fear God is to realize that your destiny in is God’s hands, to take him with utmost seriousness, to care more about what he thinks than about anything else. And what does this “fear of the Lord” look like in everyday life? David offers some details.
Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
In other words, if you fear the Lord, it will affect the way you speak, the way you act, and the way you think. Before you speak, ask what the Lord wants you to say. Before you act, ask what the Lord wants you to do. Before you think or desire something, ask what the Lord wants you to set your heart on. Depend on him. Make it your highest priority to please him. This fear of the Lord empowers you to keep your tongue from evil words; to turn from evil actions to good ones; and to focus your thoughts and desires on peace and to eagerly pursue the wholeness that comes only from God. This, says David, is the kind of person you should be if you love life and desire to see good days.
Hang on to God and honor him as though your life depends on it–because it does. Psalm 34 explains, “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry; the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.” If you go through life without the Lord Jesus and indulge in whatever evil you happen to feel like doing, the Lord will be against you and bring you to nothing. But if you are right with God by faith in him, you can count on him to watch over you and listen to your prayers.
You have God’s guarantee on that.
As I said earlier, David wrote Psalm 34 as a kind of advertisement for the saving power of God. And a very important part of this advertisement is the guarantee. It’s a lifetime guarantee. It offers some great assurances, but it’s also honest and realistic; it has no false claims and no fine print. What is God’s guarantee? Listen to what David says in Psalm 34:17-19.
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; he protects his bones, not one of them will be broken (v. 17-20).
The Lord doesn’t guarantee a life of ease; he guarantees a life of deliverance. He never says you won’t have troubles; but he does promise to deliver you from all your troubles. He never says your heart will not be broken; but he does promise to be close to the brokenhearted. He never says your spirit will not be crushed; but he does promise to save those who are crushed in spirit. If you are right with God through faith in the Lord Jesus, you may have many troubles, but the Lord guarantees that he will be present in the midst of them and that he will deliver you from them.
It’s essential that we understand God’s guarantee. Don’t believe prosperity preachers who say that if you have enough faith, you will always be healthy and get whatever you want. Never does God promise his children a trouble-free life. He says quite the opposite. In the New Testament Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble.” He doesn’t say you might have trouble. He says you will have trouble. “But,” says Jesus, “take heart. I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
So don’t count on the absence of trouble. Count on the presence of God. Count on the presence of the One who is greater than any trouble, the One who has overcome the world through his perfect life and death and resurrection. To repeat the words of Psalm 34, “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; he protects his bones, not one of them will be broken.”
Is that statement about no broken bones a guarantee that you’ll never break an arm or a leg or some other bone? No, it’s both prophetic and poetic. It’s prophetic in the sense that it points beyond David’s time and prophesies about Jesus. The Bible says that even when Jesus was tortured and crucified, not one of his bones was broken, and this fulfilled the words of Psalm 34, as John 19:36 tells us: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” The statement about no broken bones is also poetic. It is God’s way of saying that no matter how much trouble came upon Jesus, and no matter how much trouble comes upon those who follow Jesus, the damage will not be permanent: those who trust God are often bruised but never broken beyond repair. The troubles we face are never beyond God’s power to rescue and restore. Just as he rescued David, just as he restored the crucified Jesus to resurrection life and supremacy over all things, so he will rescue and restore all who believe in Jesus.
David’s advertisement for God in Psalm 34 ends with a comparison. That’s a common advertising method still today. Companies often promote their product by comparing it to a competing product. David does something similar at the end of Psalm 34. He compares two different approaches to life, and the outcome of each. He compares the destiny of those who refuse God with the destiny of those who take refuge in God. Unlike some comparisons, this isn’t a case of one thing being just a little better or worse than the other. No, there is an absolute contrast. It’s the difference between death and life, self-destruction and salvation, hell and heaven. Here’s how David puts it, “Evil will slay the wicked; the foes of the righteous will be condemned. The Lord redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him (v. 21-22).
Have you taken refuge in God? The Lord who rescued David from Goliath’s hometown is the only one who can rescue you from sin and death and hell. Only he can rescue you from the evils inside you, and only he can rescue you from the problems and enemies that surround you. He’s done it for others. He can do it for you. Why not taste and see for yourself? Why not trust his guarantee? Why not take refuge in the Rescuer?
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.