There are many people who may call me “Pastor,” but there is only one person who can call me “husband.” Similarly, Yahweh was a special name of God for the Israelites. It was the covenantal name of God. Like “husband” to a wife, Yahweh was the name that invoked God’s unconditional, unbreakable love and faithfulness to Israel.
In Ps. 34:15-22, David prepares us for suffering by teaching us about the goodness of the Lord (Yahweh). What, then, could his teaching on Yahweh have to say to us when we are in the midst of suffering?
1. Yahweh is attentive to the suffering.
God’s tearful eyes and compassionate ears are toward you. (Ps. 34:15)
When we are in the throes of suffering we tend to wonder where God has gone off to. The pain is all too real and present for us to believe that God, too, is present. David tells us that the presence of suffering does not mean the absence of God.
Several weeks ago, my wife was sick with a sinus infection. During that time, her suffering caused my attention to be locked in on her. I was making sure she had everything she needed. I was even keeping the house clean and picking up dinner! She thanked me for being so kind; but, too be honest, I didn’t even think about it. Her suffering naturally caused my covenantal love to narrow in my focus to her needs. The pain didn’t go away, but neither was I going away.
Similarly, David tells us, it is during the times when God seems the furthest away that his focus is most locked in on us; because covenantal love is intensified by the presence of suffering.
2. Yahweh’s justice will obliterate every speck of evil.
David comforts the suffering by reminding them of God’s justice that will “cut off the memory” of evil from the earth. (Ps. 34:16)
In antiquity, when an invading kingdom would overthrow a nation, it would destroy every resemblance of the old rulership. They would make it clear that there was a new king in charge by killing every rebel, burning every symbol, and destroying every monument to the old regime.
The hope of Christianity is that one day God is going to return to reclaim his creation from the power of sin and death. And when the King returns, his justice of evil will be comprehensive. Evil will have no legacy in God’s renewed earth.
3. Yahweh answers the suffering.
Not only is God attentive to our present sufferings, but he is able to move to action. David sang, “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” (Ps. 34:17) Be sure of this, Yahweh delivers; however, he has the wisdom to know how and when to move in deliverance.
4. Yahweh is with the suffering.
David assures his listeners that the Lord is with them when they suffer. (Ps. 34:18)
He is not just a repairman of souls. A repairman comes to your home, fixes the problem, and leaves; but a father picks you up when you have fallen and brushes off your scraped elbows and knees. Then he hugs you until the tears go away. In times of suffering Yahweh truly lives up to another name of his, Emmanuel, meaning “God with us.” His presence, David writes, puts broken souls back together.
Conclusion: The Righteous One
Now, this all sounds nice, but in the midst of the grief we face, how can we have assurance that all of these things are true?
In Hebrew, David subtly changes from speaking in the plural to the singular (Ps. 34:18-19). He goes from speaking of “the righteous” to “the righteous one.” He tells us of this “Righteous One” who, like us, would face many afflictions. Who is this Righteous One? Well, John connects the dots for us in John 19:35-36when he gives his testimony of Jesus’ crucifixion and comments that none of his bones were broken, just like the David’s Righteous One (Ps. 34:20).
Jesus, too, suffered under horrific evil. In fact, he faced the ultimate affliction of dying on the cross. However, when he cried out, God turned his face away, so that we-who are nowhere near righteous-could always be answered. In his rejection we find our acceptance. In his affliction we find our deliverance. And in his resurrection three days later, we find our healing.
Our hope of new life that will obliterate the memory of evil rests in Jesus’ deliverance from death. Our assurance that the Lord will answer the cries of Lafayette takes refuge in the silence that Jesus received. We know that God is near us because he did not leave Jesus in the tomb, and just as he was raised unbroken, so will our crushed souls be made whole.
This blog post is a revised version of what I wrote in the wake of the Grand Theatre shooting in Lafayette in July of 2015. You can find the original at the Redeemer City Church blog.