A Contrite Spirit

When David fled from Saul, he sought safety in Gath, a city of the Philistines, the arch enemies of Israel during this time. However, while Achish, the king, originally might have welcomed him, the Philistine administrators as a whole saw him as a threat (1 Sam. 21:10-12). This made David fear for his life. “So he changed his behavior before them, pretended madness in their hands, scratched on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva fall down on his beard” (1 Sam. 21:13). Achish then saw him more as a nuisance than as a threat and sent him away (1 Sam. 21:14-15). And this is the background behind the inscription to Psalm 34, “A Psalm of David when he pretended madness before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed.” This helps immensely because without this note we might never have suspected the beautiful words and sentiments contained in this psalm referred to such an event as this. However, its inclusion gives us an important perspective regarding God’s providence and deliverance.  There was nothing miraculous or powerful about David’s deliverance in this instance. To the contrary, it was characterized by the ordinary and the lowly. And that is the point.

David’s opening words remind us of something very important. He wrote, “I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psa. 34:1). God deserves our thanks and praise all the time, for all He does, even when His care requires our own humiliation. Indeed, this is the theme of the psalm as David magnified the LORD for His deliverance without any hint of complaint for its manner (Psa. 34:2-3). Why? He explains: “I sought the LORD, and He heard me, And delivered me from all my fears” (Psa. 34:4). The LORD had answered and delivered. It did not matter how. That was the least important thing of all. David recognized himself as someone in need—not as some great man who would one day rule Israel. In other words, He saw himself as He truly was—a man completely dependent on God for everything (Psa. 34:5-7). The faithfulness of God to aid His creation is the one trait we should see (Psa. 34:8-10), and this should motivate us to faithfulness toward Him (Psa. 34:11-17). But part of our faithfulness, part of our character, and part of our deliverance is the complete and total acceptance of our own helplessness and our utter dependence on God. Thus David writes, “The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit” (Psa. 34:18).

David’s deliverance in Gath depended—more than anything else—on letting go of his pride, depending on God, and accepting God’s will. This saved David from the Philistines, and this attitude is essential to save us from our sin. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). David had confidence in God’s deliverance (Psa. 34:18-22), and so should we. But that deliverance also depends on our humility in accepting the means of deliverance God makes available instead of proudly insisting He save us according to our own designs. Three thousand people on the Day of Pentecost had a broken heart and a contrite spirit and accepted the deliverance God offered (Acts 2:37-42). May thousands today do the same.


  1. Donald Michael Toth on October 17, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    Another great essay. How many prayers have been said with the phrase, “a sincere heart and contrite spirit” without thinking about what was being said, or what they words meant? I appreciate the attention you have paid to the Psalms and David.

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