Psalm 34 was written by David when he fled in desperation from King Saul. So the superscription informs us: “A Psalm of David, when he changed his behaviour before Abimelech (margin, Achish); who drove him away, and he departed”. David was at his wits end, and when he was identified in the Philistine city of Gath, “he changed his behaviour and feigned himself mad” (1 Sam 21:13). His prayer for deliverance was heard and this notable Psalm was written to commemorate Yahweh’s care for him. But “it was not written for his sake alone”, for David commends his readers to trust in his God: “O taste and see that Yahweh is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him” (v8).

In the New Testament we find frequent reference to this Psalm by Peter and Paul. Both of them experienced great sufferings for the Lord’s sake and were delivered in remarkable ways. Before looking at these instances, notice that Peter alludes to Psalm 34:8 quoted above, when he encourages his readers to be as newborn babes and desire the sincere milk of the Word of God in order to grow. This desire is stimulated by experience for he says, “If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious”. His experience was the same as David’s and indeed as ours also if we trust in Yahweh.

Peter, the Angel of the Lord and Herod (Acts 12)

 Acts 12 records the persecution perpetrated by King Herod against the ecclesia in Jerusalem. Having put James the apostle to the sword and receiving plaudits from the Jews, that evil man proceeded to take Peter. After apprehending and incarcerating him he planned to bring him forth to the people after Passover. But there were more powerful forces ranged against Herod than he imagined. Firstly there was prayer made without ceasing by the ecclesia unto God for him (Acts 12:5). These prayers were heard and there was a remarkable outcome which the ecclesia, meeting in the “house of Mary the mother of John”, could not initially believe. Psalm 34:15 assures the faithful that “The eyes of Yahweh are upon the righteous and his ears are open unto their cry”.

 Peter was in high security in the prison. He was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison (Acts 12:6). This notwithstanding, “the angel of the Lord” was able to camp round about them that feared him, “and deliver them” (Psalm 34:7). This was Peter’s remarkable experience. It was not the only occasion when Peter had been miraculously delivered by “the angel of the Lord” (cp Acts 5:19–20).

On this occasion when the angel breached ‘the security’ and came upon Peter, a light shined in the prison. It created no commotion or hysteria. Apparently the guards were in a deep sleep. Peter was smitten on his side and raised to his feet and told, “Arise up quickly”. On doing so, the chains fell off from his hands! Then he was told to gird himself, don his sandals and follow his deliverer. Dazed and uncomprehending, he obeyed orders and followed the angel past the first and second warders and proceeded towards the city. The iron gate of the city opened spontaneously and down the street they proceeded, when suddenly the heavenly visitor departed from him.

Peter was stunned. He thought he had seen a vision, but when he had come to himself he realised that it was another instance of the Lord’s deliverance. He said, “Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews”.

 Compare these words with those of Psalm 34:7,17,19 on which they are plainly based:

  • “The angel of Yahweh encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them” (v7)
  • “The righteous cry, and Yahweh heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles” (v17)
  • “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but Yahweh delivereth him out of them all” (v19)

The Fate of Herod

 But the Psalm also spells out the fate of the wicked, who hate and persecute Yahweh’s servants: “Evil shall slay the wicked: and they that hate the righteous shall be desolate” (v21). In Acts 12 we learn about the fate of Herod at the hand of the Lord. That presumptuous and arrogant man accepted the flattery of his subjects when they shouted, “It is the voice of a god, and not of a man”. The record tells that the angel of the Lord was present on that occasion and carried out just retribution, “And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ‘ghost’” (Gk “exephuxen” = to breathe out, expire).

What a remarkable ‘re-enactment’ of the principles and assurances of Psalm 34 we find in Acts 12. The power and lesson for us is to believe and trust in Yahweh. As his angel encamped around the righteous who trusted in Him in bygone days, so He will care for us today. We, too, must pray always and walk in the fear of the Lord.

As a final point, so far as Peter is concerned, we find that the beautiful words of Psalm 34:12–16 are also cited by him in 1 Peter 3:10–12. There are many references in Peter’s epistles to incidents in his life recorded in the Gospels. The lessons he learned were etched deeply in his mind and he brings them together in his epistles for our benefit. His subsequent ‘experience’ of deliverance from persecution recorded in the Acts of the Apostles underscores the exhortations he gives to the diaspora, the readers of his first epistle, who were suffering persecution at the hand of another egotistic, insane ruler, Emperor Nero.

 Paul and Psalm 34

Paul was also subject to great afflictions from which he was delivered by the Lord. It is clear that this Psalm meant a great deal to him as well. In his second epistle to Timothy, written when Paul was imprisoned in Rome and facing the Emperor Nero, he makes reference to his past experiences by way of exhortation to Timothy, who was given the difficult charge of ecclesial affairs in Ephesus.

You will observe the clear allusions to Psalm 34 in the following verses (2 Tim 3:10–11):“But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me.

 Paul’s constant exhortation to pursue peace finds its backdrop in the words of verse 14 of the Psalm, “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace and pursue it”.

 Compare the following:

  • “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom 12:18).
  • Follow after the things which make for peace…” (Rom 14:19)
  • follow peace with all men… ” (Heb 12:14)

Paul, Daniel and Deliverance from the Lion

 While on the subject of deliverance by the angel of the Lord there is another amazing usage by the apostle Paul of Daniel’s deliverance from the den of lions. We know the story well as recorded in Daniel chapter 6. In his explanation to Darius, Daniel told him that his God had sent His angel and had shut the lions’ mouths (v22; cp Heb 11:33). So impressed was Darius with this astounding, unprecedented deliverance that he prepared an encyclical which was to be sent to “all people, nations and languages, that dwell in all the earth”. It read as follows:

“Peace be multiplied unto you. I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and steadfast forever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even to the end. He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions(Dan 6:25–27).

Paul could see a parallel between Daniel’s position and his own. He was not facing literal lions but wicked rulers, who are often likened to lions in the Scripture (cp 1Pet 5:8; Ezek 22:25).

Consider some of his final words (2Tim 4:17). “Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.”

 Whilst the last phrase is also found in Psalm 22:21, being part of the Lord’s prayer whilst on the cross, the words are also the essence of Daniel 6:22. As the “Lord stood by” Daniel, so had he with Paul. The result of such deliverance(s) was also similar. Darius’ encyclical was sent to all nations that they might worship Yahweh of Israel, the one true God; whilst the result of Paul being delivered from all his afflictions was that by him “The preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear…”.

 Whilst he knew that he was facing death and that the time of his departure was at hand (2 Tim 4:7), he knew that ultimately he would prevail through the Lord’s deliverance: “And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (verse 18).

Conclusion

 Whilst it is fascinating to trace the terminology of the Old Testament in the New, our interest must not end there. There are powerful lessons we must take into our lives personally so we might have the same trust and faith as Peter and Paul. Then might we share their destiny and experience the deliverance from mortality and death we long for.

Then with Peter we might truly say: “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished” (2 Pet 2:9).