When David turned a test into a testimony. – Psalm 34
Psalm 34 is classified as an individual hymn of thanksgiving. There are fifteen individual hymns of thanksgiving that occur in the book of psalms. In them, psalm singers give thanks to God for deliverance from various life-threatening situations: illness, enemies, and dangers. Psalm 34 consist of 22 verses and while the liturgy of today’s Eucharist dwells on eight of them, I will also take you into a journey of the whole psalm. Please READ THE TEXT AND KEEP IT OPEN WHILE YOU FOLLOW THIS EXPLANATION. Then you will experience the miraculous healing in this psalm.
In Psalm 34, David praises God for deliverance from a life-threatening situation. How do we know this? If you look at your Bible you will see a title to the psalm or as we call it a superscription. In this case the superscription includes the name of the author and the circumstances that caused him to write the psalm. Most psalms include a superscription but scholars believe that the superscriptions were not originally written with the psalms that they accompany, but were added later.
This superscription places the psalm within a particular life situation of King David: “when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.” Ironically, the Bible doesn’t include a story of David pretending to be insane before Abimelech. So how did this title get it all wrong? The only story in the biblical text that might be associated with Psalm 34’s superscription is found in 1 Samuel 21:10-15 which tells us of David feigning mental illness before Achish, king of Gath (Philistines). David fled from Saul and went to King Achish, not Abimelech but Achish recognized him and David was afraid for his life, so he feigned madness to disguise his true identity. It is possible that the person adding the superscription inadvertently substituted Abimelech’s name for Achish’s name.
Before we dwell into the psalm itself, we must acknowledge the psalms literary style which is unique. Psalm 34 is an alphabetic acrostic. What is that you may ask? Acrostic poems and psalms were the works of highly skilled literary artists. These psalms begin the first verse with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet (alef) and each successive verse with the next letter of the alphabet. In short, they summarized all that could be said or that needed to be said about a particular subject, summing it up from alif to tav, from A to Z. The acrostic model is one of several models of Hebrew poetry and were most likely memory devices to aid in private and public. To write an acrostic psalm requires great ability and discipline, so it isn’t unusual that the psalmist skips a letter or two, as this psalmist does in this case.