“I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!” (Psalm 34:1-3, ESV).
The fundamental motives for evangelism and missionary activity are frequently identified as love for the lost and zeal to spread the good news of salvation. Somewhat less obvious today, but prominent in the New Testament, is the goal of exalting God in an unbelieving world.
Jesus spoke repeatedly about his earthly purpose, which was at least in large part to “glorify God” (John 17:1, 4). He taught his followers to live so that “others … may see your good works and give glory (i.e. praise) to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). One significant result of God’s plan to save mankind from sin was to demonstrate his glory both to all creation and to all the spiritual realm:
“Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:7-10).
Psalm 34 is a call to praise by David, written after his escape from the Philistines to whom he had gone in flight from King Saul (1 Samuel 21:10-15). In this psalm he asks and answers three questions regarding praise (or worship) to God.
- Why should we praise God?
- How may we praise God?
- Who should praise God?
Briefly, David gives three reasons to praise God.
- First, because he hears and answers prayer (Psalm 34:1-6).
- Secondly, because he is our protector and refuge (Psalm 34:7, 17, 19, 21-22).
- Finally, we praise God because he provides good things to fulfill our needs (Psalm 34:9-10).
David had lived by the help of God since his days as shepherd of his father’s flock. He was fully aware of his own vulnerabilities. He had also learned through experience that God could and did provide all of the help which he would need to triumph over afflictions and enemies. God was his rock, his fortress, and as such was worthy to be praised (2 Samuel 22:2-4).
In the psalm we are also instructed as to how we may lift up praises to God. We praise him with our mouths (Psalm 34:1) in prayer, song, and proclamation (Psalm 107:1-2). Praises offered to God are received by him as holy sacrifices (Hebrew 13:15). Cornelius was told by an angel, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God” (Acts 10:4). In John’s vision of 4 living creatures and 24 elders worshipping before the throne of God in heaven, they each held “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8).
Our praise must not be external only, however. David explains, “My soul makes its boast in the Lord” (Psalm 34:2). He offers oral praise from an inner zeal and conviction. There is nothing superficial or merely ritual about genuine praise to God.
Praise is also derived from a believer’s life of trusting God (Psalm 34:8) and his or her pure, righteous conduct (Psalm 34:11-14). Genuine faith is verifiable through observation. Jesus warned about false teachers in disguise, but assured his followers, “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). Those who trust in God will be known to their neighbors and this will result in their giving glory to God (1 Peter 2:12). Similarly moral and ethical purity distinguishes the genuine believer from the world around them (Romans 12:2).
Finally David addresses the question of who shall praise the Lord. Actually, this is more accurately stated as “Whose praises does God acknowledge and accept?” Again the Psalm contains a threefold answer.
#1. The righteous are called to praise God (Psalms 34:15-17). The word “righteous” here is also sometimes rendered as “the just” or “those whom God has justified” (Romans 5:1). It is not so much a description of how one lives as it is a term of status. One might compare it to “citizen” or “the innocent” in a legal context. In the New Testament the equivalent is often “saints” or “holy ones.” The righteous are those whom God has purified and set apart to be his people. Obviously those who are so called are expected to live as set apart people, distinct from unbelievers in their conduct and behavior.
#2. The humble and penitent are called to praise God (Psalms 34:18). No one is truly perfect in purity and holiness except by the grace of God through the death of Jesus his Son (Ephesians 2:8-9). Justification is given to those who submit to his will through faith (John 3:16), repentance (Luke 13:3, 5), confession (Romans 10:8-13), and baptism (Acts 2:38). In a previous psalm (though one written several years later) David proclaims, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalms 32:1). He further explains, “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Psalms 32:5). One must “Humble [himself] before the Lord” in order that “He will exalt you” (James 4:10).
#3. In conclusion, David calls upon all the faithful (those who trust in him) to praise God (Psalms 34:20-22). The Lord is their redeemer, defeating their enemies and upholding them in the face of slander or accusation. In the words of Psalm 107 they are “the redeemed of the Lord” and therefore they are called upon to tell others of his goodness (Psalms 107:1-2).
In this psalm David first declares his own commitment to praise God always, then invites Israel to join him in this praise. Worship to God is to be engaged in both privately and publicly; individually and collectively. It is not a question of whether one is better than the other. Both models of praise have their place and time. One does not replace or stand in lieu of the other. We are to praise him always. We are to encourage others to join us to give him the glory.