[A Psalm] of David; when he changed his demeanour before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed.
Psalm 34:1 (JPS)
Demeanour – Do you ever stop to read the introduction to any of the Psalms? This introduction is particularly interesting. It’s referring to a time before David was king. It’s the story from 1 Samuel 21:10-15.
David flees from Saul and finds himself brought before King Achish. The King’s servants reveal him as the one of whom they heard songs about. At this moment David changes his demeanor and pretends he’s a crazy man to avoid becoming a captive.
In the annotation, the noun טַ֭עְמוֹ which means “his behavior” is the key to this. This noun is also used in 1 Samuel 21:14. The interesting thing about this noun is that it can also mean “taste.” Looking to verse 8, we see the verb טַעֲמ֣וּ which is a command to “taste.”
O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. (Psalm 34:8 (KJV))
So if we read the annotation as “Of David, when he changed his taste before Abimelech…” we might notice the wordplay. It appears that the whole psalm is focused on his repentance from his actions and attitude when he feigned madness.
David had been ashamed of how he acted because he didn’t look to God for deliverance from Achish, but rather devised his own scheme to escape—feigning madness—which relied on his own cunning rather than a trust of God. David, in his fear, had forgotten to look to God for rescue. The testimony to YHVH’s deliverance suggests that David is writing this after a significant amount of time has passed. He has repented of not seeking YHVH for deliverance and he has experienced that deliverance to a remarkable degree—he has been delivered from all his fears.
Here is the connection. David had changed his taste before Achish. He had taken refuge in Philistia from Saul, and now he had to take refuge from Achish by feigning madness. In his changing his taste due to fear of man, he took actions into his own hands. In light of this, David pleads with those listening to the psalm to taste the goodness of YHVH. Those who seek YHVH find Him and are content with His goodness. Even though it seemed like David had to solve his own problem in Gath, if he had sought YHVH, he would have been satisfied in YHVH Himself, even if he had been killed by Achish.
So the question comes to us. Have we changed our demeanor in life? Are we willing to glorify YHVH no matter the circumstance; in suffering, in death? Are we willing to taste the goodness of YHVH?