Over the past two days we’ve considered Psalm 34: praise for the God who delivers, and testimony about the God who delivers. Today we ask: how, exactly, does God deliver?
How does God deliver?
I mean, now. Sure, he delivered David from the hands of Achish, Goliath, Saul, the Philistines, the list goes on… But I’m unlikely to fall into the clutches of any marauding barbarian kings, at least in the places where I regularly hang out. And if I do, I’ll remember to keep that whole saliva-in-the-beard, faking-insanity strategy up my sleeve. (You can’t accuse the Bible of not containing practical advice.) But what does “God delivers” mean today?
If we’re not careful, we can be seduced by an overly-positive picture that the psalm, on the surface, presents:4b he delivered me from all my fears.
6b he saved him out of all his troubles.
9b those who fear him lack nothing.
10b those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
19 A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all.
What’s all that saying? Health and wealth for everyone? That if we trust God, he’ll stop bad things happening to us? And does that mean if bad stuff does happen to you, then you either aren’t trusting God enough, or maybe you’re not righteous enough?
We need to remember that psalms aren’t God speaking directly to us. They are a record – an inspired record – of humans talking to God. And this psalm reflects Israel’s theology at the time. They believed in the general rule that God protects the righteous in this way; those who trust God will usually do well. Yet even at the time, Israel were starting to talk about the exceptions to this rule: what about when bad stuff happens to good people? The book of Job, of course, is all about this issue.
But even in Ps 34 we get hints that it’s not that simple:
For a start, v19 says that the righteous may have many troubles; v17 says they do have to cry out to God in the midst of those troubles. You can’t read that think David believed in a quick fix to every problem. And you only have to read on in 1 & 2 Samuel to realise that David, after he wrote this Psalm, still had plenty of troubles. Some of them plagued him for much of his life.
And in v18 it says “the LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Hebrew poetry is all about parallel lines – mostly one line explains or develops the first. Here we have “the brokenhearted” as a parallel to “those who are crushed in spirit.” And significantly God being “close” to them is a parallel to “saving” them. This gives us a hint that salvation, that deliverance is not always a simple removal from a bad situation – but may instead take the form of standing with us in the midst of that bad situation. (More on that later).
And the final verse (v22) talks about God redeeming his servants; that they will not be condemned. It seems that David has more than just the physical problems of this life in view. He gives a hint that being “delivered” also relates – maybe even primarily relates – to our standing before God; to being rescued from sin and judgement.
We move beyond mere hints, however, in the way the New Testament uses this Psalm. John refers to it during Jesus’ crucifixion:John 19:36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” [v20 of Ps 34]
God did not ‘rescue’ Jesus in the sense that he protected him from suffering. Despite Jesus’ prayer, God the Father did not ‘take the cup’ from him. Ps 34 says God’s “angel encamps around those who fear him” (v6). Jesus himself (Mt 26:53) said that God could have sent twelve legions of angels to rescue him. But he didn’t. He allowed Jesus to suffer, because that was his plan to rescue – to deliver – the world.
But what John’s quote of Psalm 34 suggests is that even in the midst of Jesus’ suffering, God still had his hand on him. How? We don’t really know. Possibly it meant limiting the extent of the suffering; or maybe being “with” Jesus in his suffering, in the sense that the Father is always in the Son, and the Son always in the Father. Most definitely it means that God had his hand upon Jesus to ensure that his mission was completed. That he made it to the finish line. That Satan only thought he’d won. That he would bring deliverance for the whole world.
So then, how does God deliver us?
Firstly, he delivers us in our own personal circumstances. It might be that he actually removes us from danger and puts us in a safe place – as he did with David. Or it might be that he provides his protection, his presence during the danger. He limits the extent of the suffering; or he ‘provides a way out’ from the temptation; he strengthens us so that we remain faithful and can endure. Jesus prays as much for us just before his arrest and crucifixion:John 17:15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
Tell me, who is the best walking advertisement for God: someone God miraculously spared from suffering? Or someone who is undergoing intense suffering, but in the middle of it all can still say “God alone is my satisfaction”? As David says in v8: “taste and see that the LORD is good.” Isn’t that the ultimate testimony – to be able to say that not only about God’s deliverance after the fact; but to be able to say it while he sustains us during suffering and struggle?
Philip Yancey says that this is the ultimate act of faith: trusting in who has yet to fulfil completely the promise that good will overcome evil; trusting that God’s good purposes will, in the end, prevail.
Yet this isn’t blind faith. We have the evidence already of God’s past deliverance. For no matter what we endure at present, God has already delivered us from the worst of all possible circumstances – eternal separation from him. We have been delivered from sin, from his judgement. We have been redeemed and given right-standing before God as a gift.22 The LORD redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him.
And finally, as we saw earlier, in delivering us God always has his wider plan of salvation in view. Just as had his hand upon his Son to ensure he would complete his mission, God also has his hand upon us, making sure that we complete our mission. Even if we lose our lives in the process.
No matter what danger we might face – and continue to face – there is no safer place to be delivered than into God’s hands.
Let’s give thanks to the God who delivers.