Before looking at Psalm 34 specifically here are a few tips I came across about reading and pondering The Psalms in general.
1) Read Contextually – For most of the Psalms we do not really know what the context is. But for some of the Psalms we do. In these cases read about the surrounding context and what prompted the psalmist to write what he did.
2) Read Theologically – In other words, as you read the Psalm try to understand what it teaches you about the character of God – how can the Psalm help us to know God better.
3) Read Devotionally – This is the way most of us approach The Psalms. We need nourishment for our soul. We need to know that someone else can identify with what we are dealing with, We need a way to appropriately express our sadness and fear and discouragement and depression and waywardness. The Psalms help us do this perhaps better than any other book in Scripture.
4) Read Christocentrically – How does the Psalm point us to Jesus? What does the Psalm say that looks forward to the coming of Messiah and how does it help us keep our eyes on Jesus?
Now about Psalm 34 specifically….
Psalm 34 is what is known as an acrostic Psalm. Each verse starts with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet… almost. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. There are 22 verses in Psalm 34. Successive Hebrew letters are used to begin most of the 22 verses. Why did David use this writing technique? Perhaps it was for pneumonic purposes (a memory aid) which is why most acrostics are used.
Reading it Contextually – This is what we are told: “Of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.” To get the full context you can read 1 Samuel 21- 22:2. The short story is this – David was running for his life from Saul who was trying to kill him. After his encounter with Abimelech (aka Achish), he took refuge in a cave along with his family and a bunch of other social misfits. It is probably while David is hiding out in the cave that he writes this Psalm. Knowing this is very helpful to understand the emotions and difficulties that he was dealing with and helps us identify with what he was going through.
Reading it Theologically – Some of things that see this Psalm teaching me and reminding me about God include…
He is my deliverer (vs. 4, 7, 17, 19)
He hears me (vs. 6, 17)
He is good (vs. 8, 10, 12)
He is my refuge (vs. 8, 22)
He is my redeemer (v. 22)
Reading it Devotionally – Verse 1 is my biggest devotional takeaway: “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” No doubt David was confused and afraid and crushed in spirit (v. 18) and yet he determined to praise the Lord no matter what his circumstances were and what his emotions suggested he do. What a lesson – praise helps us focus on God when we are prone to want to focus on ourselves. It is a biblical remedy for whatever ails us.
Reading if Christocentrically –
Some verses of Psalm 34 are referenced in the New Testament:
Verse 8 is quoted by Peter in 1 Peter 2:3 and verses 12-16 are cited in 1 Peter 3:10–12. No doubt this was a favorite Psalm of Peter.
Verse 20 is alluded to in John 19:36 where it is noted that not one of Jesus’ bones were broken during the crucifixion.
For bonus reading you might check out Psalm 57 which also was written during the same time frame as Psalm 34. Evidently when David was feeling like life was crazy, he was greatly inspired as a songwriter.
May this brick help you to better understand how to read the Psalms and to nourishment for your soul from Psalm 34.