Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
This psalm consists of a string of pious sayings of a proverbial kind, all beautiful in themselves, but combined with no art beyond the alphabetical arrangement, and even this, as in Psalms 25, not strictly carried out. A common authorship with that psalm is marked by the same omission of the Vau stanza, and by the completion of the number 22 by an extra Pe stanza at the end. Certainly the composition is of a time far later than David, and the inscription (see Note) is of no historic value. A late, even an Aramaic origin, is indicated by the meaning of nahar in Psalm 34:5, and possibly by the fact that the Pe stanza must have originally preceded that beginning with Ayin—an error due to the common Aramaic tendency to interchange Ayin and Tsadde. But beyond this there is nothing by which to appropriate the psalm to any particular period, still less to any particular event or individual, and it reads more like a gnomic composition expressive of the faith of the pious community than as the outpouring of individual feeling.
Title.—There seems little doubt that this title was suggested by the form of the word rendered “taste” in Psalm 34:8, taamû, reminding the compiler of taamô (“his behaviour,” 1Samuel 21:13), combined with that of tithhalêl (“shall boast,” Psalm 34:2), with uithholêl (“he is mad,” 1Samuel 21:14). At least no other conjecture can account for an inscription so entirely foreign to the contents of the psalm, and containing besides an historical blunder in the king’s name (the margin corrects it).
A Psalm of David, when he changed his behaviour before Abimelech; who drove him away, and he departed. I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul shall make her boast in the LORD: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad.(2) Humble.—See Note on Psalm 9:12. The LXX.
and Vulg., “the meek.” It means here those who have learnt patience in the school of suffering.
They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed.(5) Were lightened.—The Hebrew verb means properly “to flow,” but by a natural process, as in the common phrases “streams of light,” “floods of light,” acquired in Aramaic the sense of “shining.” Such must be its meaning in Isaiah 60:5, almost the echo of the thought in the psalm, the thought of a reflex of the Divine glory lighting up the face of those who in trouble seek God. (Theodoret has “He who approaches God, receives the rays of intellectual light.”) We naturally think of the dying Stephen.
As to the construction, the subject must either be supplied from Psalm 34:2, or it must be general. The LXX. and Vulg. avoid the difficulty by changing to the second person.
This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.(6) This poor man.—Better, this sufferer—i.e., either the writer, or Israel personified.
The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.(7) The angel of the Lord is an expression which has given rise to much discussion. From comparison with other passages it may be (1) any commissioned agent of God, as a prophet (Haggai 1:13). (2) One of the celestial court (Genesis 22:11). (3) Any manifestation of the Divine presence, as the flame in the bush (Exodus 3:2), the winds (Psalm 35:5-6; Psalm 104:4). (4) Jehovah Himself, as in the phrase “the angel of his presence” (Isaiah 63:9). It may very well be, therefore, that the psalmist uses it here in a general sense for the Divine manifestation of protection. We thus avoid the difficulty in the image of one angel encamping round the sufferer, which other commentators try to avoid by supposing angel to mean either a troop of angels, or captain or chief of an angelic army. But for this difficulty, we should connect the psalmist's words immediately with the well-known incident in Jacob's life at Mahanaim, or with the story of Elisha and “the horses and chariots of fire” round about him. We certainly must not let go the beautiful thought that round God's elect—
“The spangled hosts keep watch in squadrons bright.”
O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.(8) Taste.—Comp. Hebrews 6:4 ; 1Peter 2:3.
The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the LORD shall not want any good thing.(10) Young lions.—See Note, Psalm 17:12. The young lion is the emblem of power and self-resource. Yet these sometimes lack, but the earnest seekers after Divine truth and righteousness never. Instead of “lions,” the LXX. and Vulgate have “the rich.”
Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the LORD.(11) Come, ye children . . .—A common proverbial style. See Proverbs 1:8, and passim. (Comp. also 1John 2:1, &c)
What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good?(12) Desireth life.—Better, the man delighting in life. These gnomic sayings are echoes from the book of Proverbs. (See especially Proverbs 4:23.)
Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.(14) And do good.—Negative goodness is not sufficient. Practical good must be added.
The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.(15) The eyes.—A verse quoted in 1Peter 3:12. (See New Testament Commentary). This psalm had a deep hold on the national mind. With the expression, “his ears to their cry,” we may compare the phrase, “to have a person's ear.”
The face of the LORD is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.(16) To cut off.—Notice the fear, so intense and recurring to the Semitic mind, of the extinction of race. (Comp. Psalm 21:10; Job 18:17, &c)
This verse, according to the sense, should certainly change places with Psalm 34:15. This would disarrange the acrostic, bringing pe before ayin; but, as in Lamentations 2, 3, 4 the same sequence of letters occurs, we are led to the conclusion that the order of the alphabet was not definitely or invariably fixed in respect of these two letters, a license intelligible enough when we remember that tsadde, which follows pe, was often interchanged with ayin, which precedes it.
He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken.(20) Broken.—See John 19:36, N. Test. Commentary.
Evil shall slay the wicked: and they that hate the righteous shall be desolate.(21) Desolate.—Better (as in margin), shall be found guilty, or condemned.
The LORD redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate.(22) Redeemeth.—Comp. Psalm 25:22, which begins with the same letter, out of its place, and the same word.