What does “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all” in Psalm 34:19 mean?
Psalm 34:19 is an encouraging Scripture when faced with extreme suffering. Though it contains a potentially disheartening statement that righteous people will suffer many afflictions, it also holds the reassuring promise that the Lord will deliver the righteous person from them.
The Hebrew word translated “deliver” in this verse also means “snatches away” and “rescues.” The Lord will rescue the righteous person from times of affliction and evil people.
David was hiding in a cave when he wrote this Psalm. Though he was in exile, he knew that the Lord would save him and protect him from harm.
It reminds us that being righteous doesn’t mean people will avoid affliction and evil, but instead that God will deliver the righteous person and rescue him from tribulations and hard times. God can use calamity to develop the believer’s character in their journey to be more like Christ.
This verse encourages Christians that suffering affliction, persecution, and adversity are not always a sign that someone is evil and “reaping what they sowed.’ Our role model Jesus suffered affliction and persecution though he was righteous and without sin.
Why Did David Write Psalm 34?
The title of Psalm 34:1 explains that David wrote it after narrowly escaping death from the king of the Philistines by pretending to be insane.
David had fled to the land of the Philistines after Saul, the King of Israel declared to his son, Jonathan, that he would kill David, the son of Jesse.
For as long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingship shall be established. Now send for him and bring him to me, for he must surely die! (1 Samuel 20:31).
David left Israel and escaped to Gath. Unfortunately, the Philistines who found David in their territory knew that David had killed Goliath and had killed many other Philistines as well (1 Samuel 21:11). David’s life was once again in danger, so he pretended to be insane by drooling and scratching the gate posts (1 Samuel 21:13-15).
The Philistine king wanted nothing to do with a crazy man and let him leave Gath unharmed. David found safety in a cave in Adullam. Soon his brothers and about 400 other men joined him. David wrote this psalm to commemorate his miraculous salvation and to encourage people not to lose hope in difficult times.
Though David was living in a cave as a fugitive from both the Israelites and the Philistines, he started Psalm 34 with the statement, “I will bless the Lord at all times.”
As the Psalm continues, the righteous are encouraged to trust that the Lord will deliver them from their afflictions. David knew that his suffering was for a short time. The Lord would rescue him and redeem him. Psalm 34 is a source of comfort to righteous people who are going through hard times.
Those who have been crushed and have had their heart broken can take hope that the affliction is for a short time; they are not condemned for all eternity. God will rescue them and redeem them. There is hope even in suffering.
What Are Afflictions?
“Afflictions” is the translation of a Hebrew noun רָע֣וֹת (rā· ‘ō·wṯ) that means bad or evil things. Other translations of this verse use phrases, such as “many troubles, many hardships, and perplexing circumstances, adversities, evils, and ills.”
The Contemporary English Version puts it like this, “The LORD’s people may suffer a lot.” In other verses, this word is synonymous with things and people that are rotten, evil, disagreeable, malignant, and unkind (vicious in disposition) in thoughts, deeds, actions. Afflictions can be any evil thing or person that causes misery, injury, calamity, pain, and unhappiness.
Are Afflictions an Indication of Sin?
The quick answer is yes and no. Under the Old Testament Law, difficult times and physical afflictions were often signs of God’s punishment for being wicked and unrighteous. Many verses link suffering to the disobedience of God’s Laws. This idea is summarized in Deuteronomy 28:58-59.
If you are not careful to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, the LORD your God, then the LORD will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting.
However, Psalm 34 provides a balance to this perspective. We can also suffer times of affliction due to other people’s sin. Though David was righteous, he was exiled from his home and hunted by King Saul. Saul’s anger and jealousy led to David’s suffering.
During this terrible time, David wrote, “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles” (Psalm 34:17). David had experienced other difficult times so he knew that God would deliver him and rescue him.
In the New Testament, Jesus provided another perspective on the idea that affliction was always a sign of God’s punishment for sin. After seeing a blind man, Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1).
The consensus during this time was that being born blind was a result of being unrighteous. So just before healing the man, Jesus explained that the man’s suffering was not a result of sin “but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).
Jesus is our model for understanding suffering and righteousness. Jesus was righteous and did not sin, yet he experienced great suffering for God’s glory and humanity’s benefit (1 Peter 4:12-13). He was afflicted, persecuted, harassed, spit on, whipped, and crucified.
John 19:36 explains, “These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken,’” and connects Jesus’ crucifixion to Psalm 34:20, “He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.”
God often allows believers to suffer so that they become more like Jesus in their character and so that they can connect to others in their suffering.
Who Are the Righteous, and Who Are the Wicked?
Both righteous people and wicked people can suffer affliction; however, Psalm 34 distinguishes between how God will treat them. The righteous are wholly conformed to the will of God; they are people of integrity and whose conduct and character meet God’s standard.
They are in a right relationship with God. Psalm 34:19 mentions the Lord will deliver the righteous from affliction.
The previous verses in this chapter encourage the reader that God’s eyes are toward the righteous and God’s ears hear their cries (v. 15); the Lord hears the righteous and responds by delivering them (v. 17), and the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit (v. 18).
Many Bible scholars believe that David was referring to himself as the righteous man and also encouraging his followers to be righteous so that the Lord would save them.
In contrast, other verses in Psalm 34 explain that the wicked will suffer affliction and eternal condemnation. The wicked are those who do evil, are guilty of breaking God’s law, and deserve punishment.
The face of the Lord is against those who do evil (v. 16), and ultimately, affliction will slay the wicked, and they will be condemned (v. 21), unlike the righteous who will be rescued and not condemned (v. 22).
How Can People be Righteous?
He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
In Matthew 20:28, Jesus explained that the “Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Isaiah 53:11 prophesies that the suffering of the righteous servant will make many righteous because he will bear their sins, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”
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Penny Noyes, M.Ed. is the author of Embracing Change – Learning to Trust God from the Women of the Bible and two books about Hezekiah. You can follow Penny on her blog and on Instagram @pennynoyes.