I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.
I recently read an article about the long history of stand-up comedy in America. It’s fascinating how popular performance trends have continually swung back and forth between “humorists” and “jokesters” – between the fine art of story-telling and the quick wit of the one-liners. Just consider the difference in style between, say, Mark Twain and Henny Youngman; or between Jim Gaffigan and Rodney Dangerfield. Think about your favorite comedian. Is her routine more like a four-course meal or a smorgasbord? Is his stand-up like the highlight reel or the whole game?
Of course, each style has its benefits and each has its fans. And truth be told, they are not as far apart as we might think at first glance. After all, every one-liner originates in a story, and every humorous tale has its punchlines. The thing that makes comedy work at all, is the fact that we have shared experiences…we can relate. The comic tells us a story or a joke; it connects us to something we know; and by connecting our stories we can share life together.
Psalm 34 is not a comedy routine, but it does unfold like a sequence of terrific, quotable one-liners with a pretty fascinating back-story.
This song was written by David before he became King of Israel. The inscription at the top of the psalm gives the odd back story. It is a psalm “Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelek, who drove him away, and he left.” The reference is to the account in 1 Samuel 21:10-22:2. David was being pursued by King Saul, who knew that David was a threat to his throne. David fled to Achish, the King of Gath, seeking refuge. But Achish (apparently also known by his royal Philistine title “Abimelek”) also saw David as a threat. When David realized he was in trouble, he pretended to be insane and Achish wanted nothing to do with him. From there, David went to the cave of Adullam, where he began to gather the men who would eventually become his loyal army.
The back story is important to Psalm 34, not because the psalm retells the story of David and Achish (is doesn’t), but because it catalogs and highlights David’s experiences of God in those dark times. It is, in that respect, a series of “one-liners” intended to 1) declare David’s worship, 2) encourage others in times of trouble, and 3) unite and invigorate his new community of faith.
Beginning in verse 4, David observes that God answers and delivers when we seek him (4); God removes our shame and replaces it with radiance (5); God hears and saves us from trouble (6); God sends his angels to protect us (7); God blesses those who take refuge in him (8); He provides for those who fear him (9); He withholds no good thing (10); He teaches them (11); He gives them long life (12-13); God keeps watch over the righteous (15), but He “blots out” the memory of the wicked (16); He delivers the righteous, He is close to the brokenhearted, He saves those who are crushed in spirit, He rescues His servants and condemns the wicked (17-22).
That’s quite a list…quite a litany! It reads like a bunch of one-liners, but it is birthed from the story of David’s life experiences with God.
David’s song is a celebration of his story…his relationship with this great God. He begins the song by telling us how he will respond to this story, “I will extol the Lord at all times…” But it’s not a song he wants to keep to himself. Instead, it’s for anyone who is suffering, “let the afflicted hear and rejoice,” and everyone who is celebrating, “let us exalt his name together.” Just like comedy, the thing that makes worship work is the fact that we have shared experiences…we can relate. We tell our stories—or even just the highlight reel—and it connects us to something and Someone we know. That’s how we worship…that’s how we share real life together.
In John 10:10 Jesus tells his disciples that he came so that we could have life…real life…abundant life. That kind of life begins by knowing Christ and being known by him. But it continues and grows by sharing the real life with anyone who is suffering and with everyone who is celebrating. Whatever your back story, it is GOD’S story…and it’s OUR story. Continue to find your life in Jesus, the Living Water, and continue to share the life! Stay thirsty my friends!