Righteous vs. Wicked
(15) The eyes of Yahweh (are) on the righteous and his ears (attentive) to their cry for help. (16) The face of Yahweh is against the evildoers to cut off the memory of them from the earth. (17) (The righteous) cry out, and Yahweh hears and delivers them from all their troubles. (18) Yahweh (is) near to the brokenhearted and delivers the crushed in spirit. (19) Many are the afflictions of the righteous one, but Yahweh delivers him from them all. (20) He keeps all his bones. Not one of them is broken. (21) Evil will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. (22) Yahweh will redeem the soul of his servants. None of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
Among the synonyms and word repetitions in this section, the strong contrast between the righteous, mentioned three times (vss. 15, 19, & 21), and the wicked, “evildoers” (vs. 16), “wicked,” and “those who hate the righteous” (vs. 21), stands out. In three anthropomorphisms, David speaks of Yahweh’s “eyes” and his “ears” which are focused on the needs of the righteous (vs. 15) while Yahweh’s “face” is set against the wicked (vs. 16).
Three times the psalmist emphasizes that Yahweh acts to “deliver” the righteous (vss. 17-19). So attentive is Yahweh’s care that none of the bones of the righteous one will be broken (vs. 20). The Apostle John identified this verse as a prophecy describing how Jesus would suffer and die quickly on the cross without needing to have his leg bones broken by the Roman soldiers in order to hasten his death (Jn. 19:36).
The closing contrast between the wicked and the righteous elevates the psalm from temporal to eternal realms. Not only will Yahweh protect his own physically, he will also shield them spiritually and eternally by redeeming their souls and sparing them from the judgment of condemnation that awaits the wicked (vss. 21 & 22). The means of this redemption is only hinted at in the psalm, but those who are familiar with the New Testament cannot help but think of a passage like Romans 8 in this regard: “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Rom. 8:33 & 34).
I. Yahweh is for the righteous and against the wicked. (15 & 16)
II. Yahweh delivers and defends the righteous. (17-22)
Because Yahweh is on the side of the righteous and against the wicked, he is committed to deliver, defend, and redeem those who belong to him by faith.
One widespread teaching found in the global church today is the so-called “prosperity gospel.” Those who advocate this view claim that if we only had enough faith, God would heal our diseases and enrich us with material abundance. Passages like this segment of Psalm 34 are cited to support this particular interpretation of the Scriptures.
While the Bible leaves little doubt that Yahweh is fully aware of what is happening to those who belong to him (vs. 15), this awareness never guarantees us immunity from illness or exemption from testing. Note the words used to describe what the righteous may have to endure: “troubles” (vs. 17), “broken hearts and crushed spirits” (vs. 18), as well as “afflictions” (vs. 19). What God does promise is his loving care, his constant presence, and his sustaining grace to enable us to endure whatever we may face. He does promise eventually to deliver us from our afflictions, but more often than not he teaches us patience and brings us to maturity through the pain and suffering we inevitably experience in our earthly lives.
From New Testament authors such as James and Peter we learn how to respond to adversity. James opens his epistle with these words: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (Jas. 1:2-4). Remember that Jesus Christ, though he prayed to be spared the suffering of the cross, was required to endure afflictions far beyond what we will ever have to experience in order to accomplish our salvation. Peter reminds us, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21).