“Depart from evil, and do good;
seek peace, and pursue it.”
~ Psalms 34:14
Throughout the whole of the 34th Psalm are set out numerous reasons to heed the words of verse 14. Perhaps, in summation we could look to verses 15 and 16. Benefits are reaped by the doers of good: “The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.” Similarly, “The face of the LORD is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.” Let us now briefly consider the four simple statements of our text.
First, we are instructed to “Depart from evil.” We are not to do evil; rather we must depart from it. We must flee from its presence and appearance. We must have nothing to do with it. Solomon warned his son to depart from sinners, “My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path: For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood” (Proverbs 1:15-16). It was not only that he was not to take part in their evil deeds, but also that he was to refrain from going in the path with them, for to evil was where their path was leading. He likewise instructed him to avoid the strange woman. “Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house” (Proverbs 5:8).
Secondly, we must “do good.” Lot, living in the city of Sodom, had an arduous task just to “depart from evil.” If he were successful in that much, he must have felt accomplished. Likewise, much energy is consumed today by the righteous to avoid evil. However, departing from evil is only one-fourth of our duty in this passage. We must also “do good.” We must be proactive in the doing of good. We must study the good, seek it out, and do it. We must set ourselves in the very way of good and continue to walk therein. “Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16).
Thirdly, our responsibility is to “seek peace.” We rejoice when we are at peace. We rest when we are at peace and are refreshed. Although, we are not merely to enjoy peace when it comes, but we are to “seek” it out. Precious few today expend their energies in seeking peace. Jesus taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). We are happy to have peace when it comes by the concessions of others, but we do not want to give an inch for the same. This attitude denies both the spirit and the letter of our text and ignores our plain responsibility, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18). How many have truly gone to that extremity before conceding it is not possible?
Fourthly, we have another word concerning peace; we are to “pursue it.” Most of us would be glad if we happened to come into peace. Our text is much stronger, instructing us to “pursue” peace. The hunter pursues his prey, and the hungry hunter does so even more. We must hunger after peace and pursue it relentlessly as Paul who said, “And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men” (Acts 24:16). Finally, this peace cannot be achieved by ungodly compromise, for at the beginning we are told to “Depart from evil.”
To the modern mind, our text must seem radical indeed. Frankly, if we have any hope of following these precepts, we must be able to make decisive value judgments. We must be able to know what evil is and be able to distinguish it from the good. This is a mark of maturity and wisdom, “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).
Society today rejects this wisdom, wanting rather the moral ambiguity of “objectivity.” Such objectivity is illusive, and in fact, is neither possible nor desirable. God’s people cannot mill about in the fog of obscurantism. There is no such lack of clarity in God’s Word. He says, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20). Solomon wrote, “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the LORD” (Proverbs 17:15). To confuse good and evil is a serious evil in itself. We must be able to discern good and evil, and “Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good” (Romans 12:9).