Thanking God like David, the Warrior
Psalm 34 is a wonderful Thanksgiving text, written by David to praise the Lord for his deliverance. David had been trapped between two enemies who wanted to kill him—Abimelech (Achish) the king of Gath on the one side, and King Saul on the other. He was greatly outnumbered and low on food and other resources. Yet God rescued David and led him to the cave of Adullam, where he was reunited with his family and joined by other followers who could help him (read 1 Sam 21:10–22:2). The psalm he writes expresses his passionate praise to God for bringing him through this time of trouble.
Moreover, David isn’t content to keep his thankfulness to himself. Like many believers this week of Thanksgiving, he wants others to share in the joy and celebration of what God had done for him. So he says,
“Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
“and let us exalt his name together” (Ps 34:3).
And later he calls to all people,
“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
“Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Ps 34:8).
Yet, there is something going on in verse 8 that is not readily apparent to English readers. In most instances, when we read the word “man” or “men” we can often assume that the original language specifies no particular gender. So we interpret “man” as “person” or “human.” So even though the ESV Gen 2:17 reads, “God created man in his own image,” it is obvious that “man” (adam) means both genders, since the verse ends, “male and female he created them.”
The lack of gender specificity is unfortunate, not only because readers are left to assume “men and women” when they see “men” (apart from the context), but also because sometimes it is important that the text means “male” rather than “female.”
So when you’re studying a passage of Scripture as a non-Greek or Hebrew reader it’s always good to look up the text using a free online tool such as biblehub.com or blueletterbible.org. You might be surprised what you learn!
In this case, we learn that the word “man” (gah-ber) in verse 8 is not simply male or female, but someone who is really a “man.” I fact, manly, tough, able to fight in battle. The word is used to distinguish men from women and children (Exod 12:37; Prov 30:19; Jer 43:6; 44:20; 1 Chron 23:3). It’s the word used in the command that women shall not wear what men wear, or vice versa (Deut 22:5). God speaks this word to Job when he tells him to “dress for action like a man,” to get ready for questioning (Job 38:3; 40:7). In fact, we find the adjectival form of this word in the familiar Isaiah 9:6, where the coming King is referred to as the El Gibbor, or “the mighty God.”
So what happens when we read the meaning of this word in its context? When David says, “Blessed is the man who takes refuge” in God, he is no doubt referring to himself as a man of war (see 1 Sam 16:18), someone who is capable, tough, able to survive in the wilderness. Saul had killed his thousands, but David his ten thousands (1 Sam 18:7). David was a prototype of a US Ranger or Navy Seal. But that is what makes this statement in Ps 34:8 so unique. It is not a helpless, weak, inept David who recounts calling out to God in this psalm, but someone who is experienced in battle, competent, and skilled. Yet he says in Ps 34:6,
“This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.”
You see, David could have credited his own strength and his own strategy for his escape. He was not a stranger to combat and military maneuvers. But instead, he recognized that his ultimate salvation came only from someone outside of himself. He was a warrior putting his trust in God. That is why David, the warrior, says in 34:7 that his confidence is in a Warrior much fiercer than himself:
“The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.”
Has the Lord rescued you from any troubles this year that you can thank him for this Thanksgiving? If you are having trouble thinking of many, it may be that you have unwittingly credited your own strength or creativity or perseverance or endurance or wisdom for your success. You called upon the Lord to rescue you out of some difficulties that were beyond you, but the rest of it you managed on your own. But David reminds us that even a mighty warrior has no hope of deliverance if the angel of the Lord is not in his camp.
We should pause this week to reflect on God’s blessings to us this past year and thank him for each one—especially those those battles and challenges we never even thought to pray about at the time, because we wrongfully did not think we needed God. Then, in the coming year, we should try to approach every challenge in a David-like manner, calling on the Lord for his strength in all things, being genuinely dependent upon him as one who is “poor,” truly grateful for the blessings that follow from his hand. When we do this, we won’t have to only rejoice with David for what God has done for him, but we will also be able to taste and see for ourselves that the Lord is always good.