As a father sitting beside a fireplace, David laid out fear of the Lord 101 for us. Those who obey the law are rewarded with long years loaded with good, while the wicked suffer dire days. Besides convicting us for falling short, this truth irritates us like a mosquito bite as it does not seem to match the life we experience. What about the wicked flourishing and the good dying young?
In verses 12–16, David does indeed present things as this simple and straightforward—the blessed life comes to the obedient, while the evildoer is forgotten in death. But then, into this smooth-running machine, David throws his own wrench. He grinds his gears in verse 19: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” What? He just said the righteous have the good life. How are many evils consistent with a good life? Evils include pains, sufferings, hardships, setbacks, persecutions, and so on. Evils add up to a short and unpleasant life, which sounds much more realistic.
But how does this fit with what he just said? The righteous have the good life; the righteous suffer much evil. Which one is it? David points us to the answer first by switching from plural to singular. In verse 15, he speaks about the righteous ones, which highlights a principle, a general truth. It is a basic truth that the reward for righteousness is life. Yet, in verse 19, David uses the singular, “The righteous one has many evils.” Here, he is putting his finger on something specific and particular. There is a righteous figure who suffers many evils.
Next, he contrasts this righteous one with the wicked in verse 21. He does this with a play on the word for afflictions/evils. The righteous one has evils and the wicked are slain by evils. At this point, there is no difference. The wicked and this righteous one both endure evils. Their experience is the same—evil comes on one just as the other.
But the end result could not be more different. Look what the evil does to the wicked—it slays him. The evils result in the death of the wicked. Even more so, it is their condemnation. Those who hate the righteous one will be guilty and judged. Condemnation is a judicial term. It means the wicked are guilty and will suffer the penalty of death. Sin is credited to them, and so the wages of sin fall upon them. But what a contrast this is with the righteous one! The Lord delivers him from the evils. This righteous one is not overcome by these evils.
And what is the proof of this deliverance? Not a single bone of his is broken. The righteous one is vindicated by having a whole skeleton, all his bones are intact. What does this mean? This is not referring to personal injury, but to the most blessed death. Indeed, in the Old Testament, to keep one’s bones was to have them all gathered in one place in your tomb. To not break them was to have an entire skeleton, and this practice was an expression of faith in the resurrection. God’s keeping your bones was His preserving you for life to come. Thus, in the Passover lamb, whereby the Lord delivered Israel from the destroyer, not a single bone was to be broken. The unbroken bones of the lamb were Israel’s redemption unto new life. Thus, David is saying that this righteous one will be vindicated by resurrection life. The Lord delivers him unto a higher and better life.
And with this, the Spirit has moved David from reflecting on his own deliverance to view Christ. Hence, John rightly referred to Psalm 34 as fulfilled by Christ (John 19:33–36). As the soldiers came to break Jesus’ legs, they found Him already dead. They left His legs unbroken, which fulfilled God’s word. The righteous one’s bones were not broken. Jesus was vindicated as the righteous one and so the Father kept Him for that third morning, for the dawn of the resurrection. The unbroken bones of Christ are the seal of His resurrection; they are the source of our Easter joy.
As the Passover lamb, Jesus’ bones were unbroken. The principle that David first set forth holds. The blessed life comes to the obedient. This is true, but this life is not houses and cars on earth, but it is resurrection life in God’s heavenly land. And the righteous person who attains this life is but one. Christ alone earned this life.
Indeed, how was righteousness summarized here? To keep your lips from deceit. The perfect person has tamed the tongue. In fact, this mention of deceit makes us think of David before Abimelech. David’s deception was understandable and for a good purpose, but it was still deceit. Yet, Isaiah 53 summarizes the righteousness of Christ in precisely this way—no deceit was found in His mouth. Jesus was face-to-face with the most torturous death, but He told no lies. Everybody lies in the face of death. But not our Savior. He was righteous to the end.
Therefore, look how David closes his poem in verse 22. He shifts back to the plural—the Lord redeems His servants. To redeem is the word of the Exodus; it is to purchase a life from death. The Lord provided our redemption price in His Son. Those who take refuge in Him will not be condemned. Sin is not credited to our account in Christ. We are not judged as our sin deserves—rather, in Christ we are declared righteous. This taking refuge in the Lord is one of the great Old Testament images of faith. Thus, being brokenhearted and crushed in spirit is consistent with taking refuge—a humble realization of our sin.
And this is the particular aspect of the fear of the Lord that David is teaching us about. Yes, true life only comes to the righteous, which was fulfilled by Christ. But this blessed life is ours in Christ through faith alone: “Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.” The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in his Son. (Rom 6:23) This is the Word of God; it is true, and it will come to pass.
Moreover, this truth is our strength to stay upright during our present trials. One of David’s key points is that his deliverance is analogous to our salvation. Thus, in Christ, we see our redemption and our example. While Jesus was enduring His many afflictions, He remained upright for the reward set before Him. Likewise, we will see many afflictions in this life. Our obedience does not mean will we enjoy a happy-go-lucky life. God has not promised us a nice life for being obedient. Rather, Christ said, “Blessed are those who suffer for the sake of righteousness.” The pursuit of obeying our Lord means we will experience afflictions.
Yet, because Christ earned eternal life for us, it makes it all worth it. Heaven is our encouragement to obey, to turn from evil and do good. Not because our works earn anything, by no means, but because it is how we resemble our beloved Savior. To look forward to heaven transforms us to be at home in heaven—to be holy.
So then, may we join with David and with each other to magnify the name of our Lord and His anointed one, Jesus Christ. May we praise the Lord that He delivers us from all our troubles, as He keeps us for the resurrection.
©Zach Keele. All Rights Reserved.
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