Thursday, May 24, 2012

How Can We Possibly Bless the Lord at ALL TIMES?!

Here's another one that has had me stumped for a long time: David says, in Psalms 34, I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth." People always take this scripture and run with it saying that we are to condition ourselves to praise and bless the Lord at all times: even when we don't want to. My question, though, is How is that even humanly possible?

Part 1: To answer this question, I started by going to the Hebrew Interlinear Bible. The Old Testement was originally written in Hebrew and the Hebrew Interlinear Bible gives us its literal translation.
I shall bless Yahweh in every of season. Continually praise of Him in mouth of me.
The literal translation from Hebrew, the Old Testement's original language, uses the words "every of season" instead of the phrase "at all times". With this original version of the Psalm we get the idea that David was declaring he will bless the Lord throughout every phase of life; not that he will bless the Lord 24/7.

Part 2: Now in most versions of the bible, the heading that reads at the top of Psalms 34 states:
"A Psalm of David when he pretended madness before Abimilech; who drove him away, and he departed."
This is referring to 1 Samuel 21. (Even though 1 Samuel 21 speaks of a man named Ahimelech, not Abimelech, the title of this chapter in The Message Bible is David Pretends To Go Crazy. We don't know whether the name Ahimelech got accidentally misspelled during translation or if it is the same name as Abimelech in Hebrew, but we can't count it a coincidence that this is a story of David acting "crazy" or "mad", being driven away, and then departing from a man with a strikingly similar name to the man described in the heading of Psalms 34: A Psalm of David when he pretended madness before Abimilech; who drove him away, and he departed). Now, if you read this Chapter (and know its context), this story takes place right after David finds out that Saul is trying to kill him. It is an account of the first encounter David has after his initial decision to go on the run from Saul. 

So now we see at which point of time Psalms 34 was written. And it now makes sense to us why David would say, "I will bless the Lord in every season" or "I will bless the Lord in every phase of my life". He was writing this Psalm at a time when he first went on the run from Saul who was trying to kill him. He was preparing himself to praise God before entering a tedious phase in his life. But why?

Part 3: Now when David says "I will bless the Lord at all times his praise shall continually be in my mouth", the Hebrew word he used for "praise" is the word "tehillah" which literally means to "sing boastfully". In order for someone to sing boastfully about a subject they have to have experienced something praise-worthy that causes them to be able to boast. So David was not saying he will condition himself to praise God continually even when he doesn't feel like it. He was saying he would continuously boast in song about the goodness of God as a result of God's praise-worthy deeds. Here, the word praise is not an action as much as it is a reaction to God's works.

So much so, David spends the rest of Psalms 34 talking about the works of God; the good things God has done and the character of who he knows God to be. He was reminding himself of the strength, power and mercy of God in order to help himself stay encouraged while entering a negative phase in life. Here are some examples of the reminders about God's goodness that David mentioned (but you can read the full Psalm 34 to see all of how David repetitively talks about the good things God has done and the character of who he knows God to be):
Verse 4: I sought the Lord, and He heard me, And delivered me from all my fears.
Verse 6: This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him, And saved him out of all his troubles.
Verse 10: The young lions lack and suffer hunger; But those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing.
Verses 17-19: The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles.The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the Lord delivers him out of them all.
Of all the verses of Psalms 34, the ones that stands out as being most relevant to David's situation; being chased by Saul who is trying to kill him, are verses 17-19. Specifically, verse 19 where he states "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all".

We see here that David used his knowledge of God's good deeds and good character as a means of encouragement while he was in a low point of his life. Now, we see why David said he would bless God in every season and continually praise him. He used meditating on God's character and blessings as a way to remind himself to trust in God even when he was in the midst of bad situations.

This reminds me of the constant motif we see in the bible that God will "keep them in perfect peace those whose mind is stayed on him". Paul even says, when trying to encourage the Philippians in Philippians 4:8-9:
"whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you."
We see David do exactly that in Psalms 34 as he makes an account of the goodness of God while he is in the beginning phases of a conceivably terrible situation. Now we understand that the phrase "I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth" is not a scripture that was meant to be emulated in order for us to force our selves to praise God just to try to make God happy. It is a scripture that can be emulated in order for us to encourage our selves in God and keep our faith burning even in the midst of bad situations like David did when he first ran away from the man who attempted to murder him.

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