As we continue our singing through the Psalms at AVBC, I want to try to post some thoughts on each psalm we sing. It is important that we sing not just with our hearts, but with our understanding also. What good is it if we sing words we do not understand? (See Paul’s discussion of this concept in 1 Corinthians 14:13-16.) To that end, here are some thoughts on Psalm 3, which we’ll be singing tomorrow.
A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son. O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; 2 many are saying of my soul, “There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah 3 But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. 4 I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah 5 I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. 6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. 7 Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. 8 Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be on your people! Selah
Let’s begin by reflecting on the historical context that is given to us. In the title of the psalm, we are told that David composed it when he fled from his son Absalom. That account is found in 2 Samuel 15-18. Absalom was jealous of his father’s kingdom, conspiring to declare himself king by gaining popular support. Upon hearing this, King David and his household flee Jerusalem and head east toward the Mount of Olives. (More on that later.) We are told that David wept as he went, lamenting the potential loss of his kingdom at the hands of his son.
It was during this flight that David wrote this psalm. He begins with a complaint, lamenting the power and numbers of his enemies. The word “many” is repeated three times. Not only do they rise up against David, they also scoff at God’s power to save, saying, “There is no salvation for him in God.” This is significant, because not only are these enemies politically motivated against King David, they are spiritually and theologically motivated as well. They think God has abandoned David. The word “selah” is considered to mean something along the lines of “pause and reflect on what has been said.” It is indeed something worthy of thought and reflection that these enemies scoff against God.
In verse 3, David moves on from his complaint to reflecting on who God is and what he has done. He grounds his hope and his future in God. He calls God a shield, which protects him from his enemies; his glory, meaning that he trusted God to be able to pick up the broken pieces of his life and put them back together again; and the lifter of my head, meaning that David rejoices in God and God alone. He goes on to reflect on God’s character as one who answers prayers: “I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill.” Selah indeed.
Throughout this psalm, God as the sovereign protector of his people is proclaimed, but especially so in verses 5-6. That David can sleep peacefully and awake the next morning is evidence of God’s protecting hand, his “shield-nature,” as it were. “The Lord sustained me,” David says. Because God is on his side, he has no need to fear the many multitudes gathered against him. God will protect; God will restore; God will uplift.
Nevertheless, it is good that we call upon God to act, as David does here. He doesn’t end his prayer resting in God’s protection, but instead asks God to do what he must to end this persecution. “Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God!” David knows he needs God’s help in this situation. He also knows God will save him, because in the past God has stricken his enemies and broken their teeth. Salvation, as verse 8 so clearly says, belongs to the Lord. David cannot, in his own strength, defeat his enemies. Only the Lord can do that. Only the Lord can bless his people forevermore.
I said earlier that it was significant that David wrote this psalm on his way up the Mount of Olives. If you read the account in 2 Samuel 15, the narrative parallels between David’s flight and Jesus’ retreat to the Mount of Olives before the crucifixion are striking. Here we see how David typifies Christ. David was betrayed by his son Absalom; Jesus is betrayed by Judas, his disciple. David leaves Jerusalem, crosses the Kidron Valley between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives, and goes up that mountain weeping; Jesus similarly leaves Jerusalem after the supper with his disciples, crosses that same valley, and goes up the Mount of Olives, where he is tortured in spirit and pours out his prayers before the Father.
One could also go so far as to say that Jesus might have prayed this very psalm as he agonized in the garden. Jesus also had many foes gathered against him, but he trusted in the sovereignty of God to get him through his trial. He knew that his Father would hear his prayers; he knew that God would sustain him in his sleep (a veiled reference to his death and burial, perhaps?). Salvation belongs to the Lord.
There is much to learn from this brief psalm (as if that wasn’t obvious by how much I’ve been able to write about it thus far). David serves as an example for us in our prayers. We can and should take our complaints to God. Whether it’s a small thing like an interpersonal dispute at work, or a big thing like the loss of livelihood, we ought to say, “God, look at what’s happening. See my affliction.” God is a loving Father. He will listen when we are frustrated and needy.
However, we don’t stop there, as David so ably demonstrates. We don’t dwell on our complaint. Instead, we turn our thoughts to God. We meditate on his nature and power as the sovereign God of the universe, “our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days, pavilioned with splendor and girded with praise”! This act of lifting our thoughts up from ourselves and toward God has the wonderful effect of putting all our suffering into perspective. The reason David was able to say “I will not be afraid” is because he knew how powerful and mighty God is and how small and insignificant his enemies were. So too with our problems here on earth.
Finally, thinking about this psalm Christologically, we see in these words the cry of our Savior prior to his crucifixion and his utmost reliance upon God to deliver him. As Hebrews says, we have a High Priest who is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses. Jesus faced the biggest, most terrifying trial of them all: he had to bear the full weight of sin, and not only that, he took on the wrath of God for that sin. He was not above complaint; “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.” But he always brought it back to the sovereign will of God: “Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 23:42).
Jesus is great David’s greater Son, God in human flesh, the one who conquers sin and death. Believing in him means salvation and blessing (Psalm 3:8). We have no need to fear any created thing, because he loves us (Romans 8:31-39). Reflect on all these things as we sing.