A psalm of David, regarding the time David fled from his son Absalom.
O Lord, I have so many enemies;
so many are against me.
So many are saying,
“God will never rescue him!” Interlude[a]
But you, O Lord, are a shield around me;
you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.
I cried out to the Lord,
and he answered me from his holy mountain. Interlude
I lay down and slept,
yet I woke up in safety,
for the Lord was watching over me.
I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies
who surround me on every side.
Arise, O Lord!
Rescue me, my God!
Slap all my enemies in the face!
Shatter the teeth of the wicked!
Victory comes from you, O Lord.
May you bless your people. Interlude
So many enemies rise against me though I have faith I do not flinch or am not afraid for God is my savior and refuge he is on my side and keeps me safe he comes when I raise my voice out to him and call on him
Psalm 3 – Peace in the Midst of the Storm
This is the first psalm with a title: A Psalm of David when he fled from Absalom his son. James Montgomery Boice points out that since these titles are in the canonical text of the Hebrew Bible, “They are to be taken with absolute seriousness throughout.” The events are recorded in 2 Samuel 15-18, but the heart of David at that difficult time is recorded in this psalm.
A. David’s trouble and God’s help.
1. (1-2) What those who troubled David did.
LORD, how they have increased who trouble me!
Many are they who rise up against me.
Many are they who say of me,
“There is no help for him in God.” Selah
a. How they have increased who trouble me: At the writing of this psalm David was in a great deal of trouble. His own son led what seemed to be a successful rebellion against him. Many of his previous friends and associates forsook him and joined the ranks of those who troubled him (2 Samuel 15:13).
b. There is no help for him in God: David’s situation was so bad that many felt he was beyond God’s help. Those who said this probably didn’t feel that God was unable to help David; they probably felt that God was unwilling to help him. They looked at David’s past sin and figured, “This is all what he deserves from God. There is no help for him in God.”
i. Shimei was an example of someone who said that God was against David, and he was just getting what he deserved (2 Samuel 16:7-8). This thought was most painful of all for David – the thought that God might be against him and that there is no help for him in God.
ii. “If all the trials which come from heaven, all the temptations which ascend from hell, and all the crosses which arise from the earth, could be mixed and pressed together, they would not make a trial so terrible as that which is contained in this verse. It is the most bitter of all afflictions to be led to fear that there is no help for us in God.” (Spurgeon)
c. Selah: The idea in the Hebrew for this word (occurring 74 times in the Old Testament) is for a pause. Most people think it speaks of a reflective pause, a pause to meditate on the words just spoken. It may also be a musical instruction, for a musical interlude of some kind.
2. (3-4) What God did for David in the midst of trouble.
But You, O LORD, are a shield for me,
My glory and the One who lifts up my head.
I cried to the LORD with my voice,
And He heard me from His holy hill. Selah
a. You, O LORD, are a shield for me: Though many said there was no help for him in God, David knew that God was his shield. Others – even many others – couldn’t shake David’s confidence in a God of love and help.
i. Under attack from a cunning and ruthless enemy, David needed a shield. He knew that God was his shield. This wasn’t a prayer asking God to fulfill this; this is a strong declaration of fact: You, O LORD, are a shield for me.
b. My glory and the One who lifts my head: God was more than David’s protection. He also was the One who put David on higher ground, lifting his head and showing him glory. There was nothing glorious or head-lifting in David’s circumstances, but there was in his God.
i. Men find glory in all sorts of things – fame, power, prestige, or possessions. David found his glory in the LORD. “Oh, my soul, hast thou made God thy glory? Others boast in their wealth, beauty, position, achievements: dost thou find in God what they find in these?” (Meyer)
c. I cried to the LORD with my voice: “Surely, silent prayers are heard. Yes, but good men often find that, even in secret, they pray better aloud than they do when they utter no vocal sound.” (Spurgeon)
d. He heard me from His holy hill: Others said that God wanted nothing to do with David, but he could gloriously say, “He heard me.” Though Absalom took over Jerusalem and forced David out of the capitol, David knew that it wasn’t Absalom enthroned on God’s holy hill. The LORD Himself still held that ground and would hear and help David from His holy hill.
B. Blessing from and to God.
1. (5-6) God blesses David.
I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me all around.
a. I lay down and slept; I awoke: David used both of these as evidence of God’s blessing. Sleep was a blessing, because David was under such intense pressure from the circumstances of Absalom’s rebellion that sleep might be impossible, but he slept. Waking was another blessing, because many wondered if David would live to see a new day.
i. “Truly it must have been a soft pillow indeed that could make him forget his danger, who then had such a disloyal army at his back hunting of him.” (Gurnall, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. God sustains us in our sleep, but we take it for granted. Think of it: you are asleep, unconscious, dead to the world – yet you breathe, your heart pumps, your organs operate. The same God who sustains us in our sleep will sustain us in our difficulties.
b. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people: With God sustaining him, David could stand against any foe. Before it was written, David knew the truth of Romans 8:31: If God is for us, who can be against us?
2. (7-8) David blesses God.
Arise, O LORD;
Save me, O my God!
For You have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone;
You have broken the teeth of the ungodly.
Salvation belongs to the LORD.
Your blessing is upon Your people. Selah
a. Arise, O LORD…. For You have struck all my enemies: David’s mind was on both what he trusted God to do (Save me, O my God) and on what God had done (struck all my enemies…broken the teeth of the ungodly). Knowing what God had done gives David confidence in what the LORD would do.
b. Arise, O LORD: This recalled the words of Numbers 10:35, where Moses used this phrase as the children of Israel broke camp in the wilderness. It was a military phrase, calling on God to go forth to both defend Israel and lead them to victory.
c. Broken the teeth of the ungodly: This vivid metaphor is also used in Psalm 58:6. It speaks of the total domination and defeat of the enemy. David looked for protection in this psalm, but more than protection – he looked for victory. It wasn’t enough for David to survive the threat to the kingdom. He had to be victorious over the threat, and he would be with the blessing of God.
d. Salvation belongs to the LORD: David understood that salvation – both in the ultimate and immediate sense – was God’s property. It isn’t the property of any one nation or sect, but of the LORD God. To be saved, one must deal with the LORD Himself.
e. Your blessing is upon Your people: This showed David’s heart in a time of personal calamity. He wasn’t only concerned for God’s hand upon himself, but upon all God’s people. He didn’t pray for preservation and victory in the trial with Absalom just for his own sake, but because it was best for the nation.
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Psalm 3: When Life Falls Apart
Those of us old enough to remember the Watergate scandal recall the stunning, unprecedented resignation of President Richard Nixon. Whether you agreed or not with the man politically, it was a sad spectacle to watch. It must have been terrifically shocking, depressing, and humiliating for Mr. and Mrs. Nixon to endure.
One day, you are one of the most powerful men in the world. You are always the center of attention. You are always surrounded by a cadre of Secret Service agents whose job is to protect you at risk of their own lives. Your words are plastered on the front pages of newspapers around the world. At press conferences, reporters try to parse the nuance of your every sentence. What you say can make the stock market shoot up or down. When you give orders, a bunch of underlings jump to make it happen. You live in a mansion with servants attending to your every need. You have a private jet, helicopter, and limousine, plus a private retreat, at your disposal as you carry out the nation’s business.
But the next day, you resign in disgrace, your presidency a shambles. You leave the public eye. You move out of the White House. Nobody cares anymore what you say or think, unless you’re ready to confess your guilt in the scandal. Life changed drastically on that fateful day for Mr. and Mrs. Nixon!
But the resignation of President Nixon was not nearly as traumatic and humiliating as the events that hit King David when his son Absalom led a revolt against him. David had reigned for decades as one of the most powerful monarchs in the world. His military prowess was legendary. He had extended Israel’s dominion far beyond its borders. He had become fabulously wealthy, living in a palace of breathtaking splendor with his many wives and servants. He had absolute authority of life or death over everyone with whom he had dealings. No one dared to get on his bad side.
But then David sinned with Bathsheba and ordered the death of her husband, Uriah. Although David subsequently repented when the prophet Nathan confronted him, David’s sins set in motion a series of God-ordained devastating consequences. David’s oldest son, Amnon, raped his half-sister, Tamar. Tamar’s brother, Absalom, took revenge by murdering Amnon. Absalom fled into exile for several years, but later was permitted to return. But after his return, David refused to see his wayward son for two years. The resentment built and Absalom began to court the disgruntled people in the kingdom, offering himself as a more sympathetic leader than his powerful father was.
Finally, Absalom pieced together a strong conspiracy. David realized that to survive, he had to flee the capital immediately with all of his supporters and their families. All of his servants and their little ones hastily grabbed what they could and took off towards the wilderness. David followed them, weeping, and walking barefoot with his head covered in shame. To add insult to injury, a man named Shimei, from the family of David’s predecessor King Saul, came out as David passed by. He cursed at David, threw stones at him, and accused him of being a worthless man who had brought about his own downfall by being a man of bloodshed (these events are described in 2 Samuel 15 & 16).
It was David’s most traumatic, humiliating experience in his entire life. Everything that he had spent his life working for had suddenly unraveled. Many whom he had thought were allies and friends had abandoned him and sided with his rebellious son. And the most painful wound of all was the treachery and betrayal of Absalom. It brought home to David his own failure as a father. One son was murdered, a daughter was raped, and the murderer was now after his own father’s life in addition to his kingdom. Life was falling apart for David.
What do you do when life falls apart? Few of us have gone through anything close to the trauma that David was experiencing. But in lesser ways, you’ve probably had times when you could identify with David. Perhaps you thought that things were fine at work, but you suddenly got called into the boss’ office and were fired under false allegations brought against you by those you had trusted. You were out of work and the firing made the prospect of finding another job look bleak. You didn’t know how you would provide for your family. Life fell apart.
Or, perhaps one of your children turned against you and took up a lifestyle of drugs or sexual promiscuity that is totally opposed to your values. He leveled all sorts of false charges against you. He resisted your every attempt to talk or be reconciled. Your many years of love and sacrifice on his behalf were met with scorn and anger. Life fell apart.
Or, much to your shock, your mate suddenly announced that he was having an affair, he was leaving you immediately and filing for divorce. You had no hint of the situation in advance. You had thought that things were fine. You were happy. You trusted him. You were both involved in your local church and in your children’s activities. But suddenly, you realized that you had been lied to and deceived for a long time. Life as you knew it suddenly changed drastically and fell apart.
What do you do when life falls apart? David wrote Psalm 3. He wrote a psalm! Maybe that’s why he is called a man after God’s heart! Some scholars call Psalm 3 a morning psalm, and Psalm 4 (which may have been written at the same time) an evening psalm. Perhaps David wrote Psalm 3 just after he crossed the Jordan, awaiting the inevitable battle with Absalom’s forces. Verse 5 hints that he wrote it after waking up safely after a good night’s sleep. Psalm 3 shows us that…
When life falls apart, you can experience God’s peace by laying hold of Him in believing prayer.
After the superscription, which gives us the circumstances, the psalm falls into four strophes of two verses each. The first (3:1-2) reveals David’s peril. Strophe two (3:3-4) records his initial prayer. Strophe three (3:5-6) shows the peace that results from his prayer. The final strophe (3:7-8) gives a repeated prayer and an affirmation of faith that God alone can deliver and bless His people.
1. There are times when life falls apart (3:1-2).
David cries out (3:1-2), “O Lord, how my adversaries have increased! Many are rising up against me. Many are saying of my soul, ‘There is no deliverance for him in God.’” The first, second, and final strophes are followed by “Selah,” which is probably a musical notation meaning, “pause,” or “crescendo.”
David begins by crying out to Yahweh, translated Lord (in small caps). When the NASB uses “Lord” (not small caps), it is translating the Hebrew, Adonai, meaning “Sovereign Lord.” “Lord” in small caps translates Yahweh, the personal, covenant name of God. God revealed Himself to Moses with this name at the burning bush. It is related to the Hebrew verb, “to be,” so that God tells Moses, “I am who I am” (Exod. 3:14). For David to address God as Yahweh had the same connotation as New Testament believers addressing Him as, “Abba, Father” (Willem VanGemeren, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. by Frank Gaebelein [Zondervan], 5:74). It is an intimate, personal cry for help.
I’ve already described David’s traumatic situation, but note a few other features brought out by these verses. First, David’s adversaries were increasing in number. He always had enemies, but the ranks were growing daily. Things were snowballing against David. Like a dam that first leaks and then suddenly bursts, the raging torrent of the rebellion was threatening to sweep David and his loyal followers to their deaths.
Second, verse 2 reports the words of David’s enemies, who were impugning his relationship with God. The verse reads literally, “Many are saying to my soul….” That is, their words were hitting David in his heart or soul, saying, “There is no deliverance for him in God.” Probably, they were bringing up his now-public sin with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband. They were saying, “Hypocrite! Scoundrel! How can he claim to follow God? His claim that God has anointed him as king is a joke! God is not on the side of such a phony!” C. H. Spurgeon (A Treasury of David [Baker], 1:25) writes,
Doubtless, David felt this infernal suggestion to be staggering to his faith. If all the trials which come from heaven, all the temptations which ascend from hell, and all the crosses which arise from earth, could be mixed and pressed together, they would not make a trial so terrible as that which is contained in this verse. It is the most bitter of all afflictions to be lead [sic] to fear that there is no help for us in God.
Of course, Jesus, David’s Son, went through similar trials as He hung upon the cross. His enemies taunted Him (Matt. 27:43), “He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now, if He delights in Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And, even worse, as He bore our sin Jesus felt forsaken by the Father as heard in His awful cry (Matt. 27:46), “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” The difference was, David knew that he was being taunted because of his own sins. But, Jesus was without any sin or guilt.
Although I have never gone through anything close to what David experienced, I have had several times in the past 32 years of pastoral ministry when a disgruntled faction in the church rose up against me. These painful situations follow a pattern similar to Absalom’s rebellion. A leader or several leaders begin to spread seeds of discontent among the church. People who already are unhappy about something gravitate to these men, thinking that they may understand their complaints. These leaders, like Absalom, always seem understanding and ready to listen (see 2 Sam. 15:2-6). The word begins to spread and more people begin to air their grievances to these “sympathetic” leaders. The whole thing begins to snowball. In the process, the leaders of the rebellion impugn not only the pastor’s teaching and his leadership, but also his motives: “He doesn’t really care for hurting people like you.” “He isn’t walking closely with God.” When people that you have cared for and prayed for slander your motives, it really hurts!
Note that even though God knows all these details, David tells Him what’s going on. He’s not informing God, but rather laying his burden on the Lord. David is acknowledging to God that he is not able in himself to handle this overwhelming situation.
2. When life falls apart, you must know who God is and how to lay hold of Him in prayer (3:3-4).
“But You” (3:3) reflects David’s shift of focus from his frightening circumstances (3:1-2) to the Lord in prayer. This strophe shows the Lord to be our shield, our glory, the restorer of our joy, and our prayer-answering God.
A. THE LORD IS OUR SHIELD.
We recently studied this as we looked at the shield of faith as a part of our spiritual armor (Eph. 6:16). It first occurs in the Bible when God told Abram that He is Abram’s shield (Gen. 15:1). It also occurs frequently throughout the Psalms (5:12; 18:2, 30, 35; 28:7; 33:20; et. al.). It means that God is our protector and defender. He shields us from the enemy’s attacks. Note how David personalizes it, that the Lord is a shield “about me.” Your faith in the Lord must be personal.
B. THE LORD IS OUR GLORY.
Although David had great earthly acclaim before this catastrophe, he is acknowledging that his identification with the Lord is his only claim to glory. Whether the Lord restored David to his place of earthly prominence or not, God was his glory. The term points to “the comparative unimportance of earthly esteem, always transient and fickle” (Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72 [IVP], p. 54). As Christians, we will share in Christ’s glory (2 Thess. 1:10).
C. THE LORD IS THE RESTORER OF OUR JOY.
“To lift up the head” is a Hebrew expression for restoring someone who is cast down to his dignity and position. Joseph told the cupbearer (Gen. 40:13), “Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office.” (See, also Gen. 40:20; 2 Kings 25:27 [NASB, margin]; Ps. 27:5-6). By way of application, it refers to God restoring to us the joy that we had before the crisis brought us low. He humbles the proud, but lifts up the humble who cry out to Him, bringing joy to those He restores (1 Sam. 2:1-10; Ps. 107:9, 33-42).
D. THE LORD IS OUR PRAYER-ANSWERING GOD (3:4).
J. J. S. Perowne (The Book of Psalms [Zondervan], p. 123) observes that David’s crying to the Lord with his voice does not express “a single act, but the habit of a life.” Spurgeon said (ibid., p. 26), “We need not fear a frowning world while we rejoice in a prayer-hearing God.”
God’s “holy mountain” (or hill, 3:4) refers to Mount Zion in Jerusalem, where the ark of the covenant remained. Zadok and the Levites were carrying the ark to join David in his escape. But David sent them back into the city, saying (2 Sam. 15:25-26), “Return the ark of God to the city. If I find favor in the sight of the Lord, then He will bring me back again and show me both it and His habitation. But if He should say thus, ‘I have no delight in you,’ behold, here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him.” David’s heart was humbled before God. If the Lord restored him, David would worship Him. If the Lord did not restore Him, David still would bow before His just and holy ways. But even though now David was separated geographically from the symbol of God’s dwelling place, the separation was no hindrance to his prayers.
We should learn to humble ourselves before God, realizing that our only plea is His grace. Also, no matter where we’re at or in what kind of difficult circumstances we find ourselves—even if our difficulties are the result of our own sin or failure—we can cry out to the Lord for grace and know that He will hear and answer according to His purpose.
Thus when life was falling apart, David laid hold of the Lord in prayer. Then what happened?
3. When you lay hold of the Lord in prayer, you will experience His peace (3:5-6).
The whole of Psalm 3, but especially verses 5-6, is a real-life drama illustrating Philippians 4:6-7: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” David cried out to God in prayer, then he went to bed—not in the palace, but camped in the wilderness—and slept through the night. It reminds me of Peter on the night before his intended execution. He was so sound asleep in the prison between two guards that the angel sent to rescue him had to hit him to wake him up (Acts 12:7)! David awoke safe and sound, because the Lord sustained him. As reports came in of the tens of thousands set against him, he was not afraid (Ps. 3:6).
When the Lord is your shield and the one who sustains you, the odds or numbers against you don’t matter. As someone has said, “One plus God is a majority.” Or, as Paul puts it (Rom. 8:31), “If God is for us, who is against us?” As he goes on to say, even if we are like sheep for the slaughter, “in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). Even if our enemies kill us, we can have God’s peace in our soul.
4. Believing prayer depends completely on God for deliverance (3:7-8).
In a make-believe world, David could have said, “Amen” after verse 6. But in the real world, when not only you, but also hundreds of loyal supporters and their families are depending on you, anxiety has a way of creeping back in. So David cries out to God again (3:7-8), “Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God! For You have smitten all my enemies on the cheek; You have shattered the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to the Lord; Your blessing be upon Your people.”
In verse 1, many were rising up against David. Now, he uses the same verb to ask God to rise up against his enemies. In verse 2, David’s skeptics had said that God would not deliver him. Here, David uses the same verb to ask God to save him. He pictures his enemies as ravenous beasts baring their teeth, ready to devour him. So David asks God to break their teeth, which would render them powerless. The verbs may be translated as petitions (VanGemeren, 5:78) or they may reflect David’s sure confidence that God would act. So he wrote as if He already had acted (Alan Ross, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. by John Walvoord & Roy Zuck [Victor Books], 1:793).
David’s final exclamation, “Salvation belongs to the Lord,” shows that David was not depending on his troops, or his counselors that he had planted to mislead Absalom, or on any military strategy. Rather, he acknowledges that any victory would come from God alone. When we cast ourselves on God alone for deliverance, He gets all the praise when He answers our prayers.
David’s final request, “Your blessing be upon Your people,” shows that David was not praying selfishly. He was the anointed king of God’s people. Absalom’s rebellion negatively affected the entire nation. So when David asked God to deliver him, he saw it in terms of God’s blessing His people.
Believing prayer always keeps this kingdom purpose in focus. The Lord’s prayer teaches us to pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). If your world has fallen apart because you’ve been wiped out financially, or your marriage is in trouble or your child has rebelled, don’t just pray selfishly so that your happy world might be restored. Pray in light of God’s kingdom purposes. Pray that God will act so that He will be glorified and His people will be blessed and strengthened.
David turned this horrible experience of betrayal, emotional pain, and nearly being killed into a song of praise. This teaches us that God can use our worst trials to deepen our trust in Him and to produce praises that will encourage His people. When life falls apart, you can experience God’s peace by laying hold of Him in believing prayer. When He answers, He gets the glory, you get the joy, and God’s people get the blessing.
Although, as I said, I’ve never gone through anything close to David’s experience, I have weathered a few difficult attacks. On one such occasion, as I faced a difficult meeting that evening, I spent the day fasting and seeking the Lord in prayer. I realized that not only was my survival as a pastor at this church at stake, but also the well being of the church. About mid-day, the Lord encouraged me with a phone call from the man who had succeeded me as pastor in California. He had learned about the crisis here because one of my opponents had called him to try to dig up some dirt to use against me. But this pastor told me that the elders at my former church had been up past midnight praying for me. They were standing behind me.
But as I walked up the sidewalk towards the meeting that evening, I was anxious. I asked the Lord why I didn’t have His peace in this situation. I was reciting Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Those two words, “with thanksgiving,” hit me between the eyes. It was as if the Lord said, “I haven’t heard you thanking Me for this opportunity to trust Me.” I stopped, bowed my head, and whispered, “Lord, thank You for this trial.” I immediately sensed His peace. He worked that evening to deliver me.
Whether it’s a minor crisis or whether life is falling apart at the seams, if Jesus is your High Priest you have access through His blood to the same prayer-hearing God who rescued David. Even if the crisis is the result of your own sin, humble yourself before Him in repentant, believing prayer and He will exalt you at the proper time.
1. Why does God not always remove the consequences of our sins, even after we’ve repented? See Hebrews 12:3-11.
2. David not only prayed; he also escaped and then organized his army to fight the enemy. Where is the proper balance between prayer and the use of permissible means?
3. Some say that to pray in faith means to “command God” to act according to His promises. Why is this wrong? See 2 Sam. 15:25-26.
4. Why is it essential not just to pray for your problems, but also to pray for God’s greater purpose and glory for His people?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2008, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
FROM THE SERIES: PSALMS
Related Topics: Prayer
Psalm 3 Commentary
Let’s study Psalm 3!
Psalm 3 Commentary Genre
First, we’ll talk about the genre of Psalm 3. What kind of poem is it?
Well, it’s what we call a lament Psalm. You could also call it a complaint Psalm. And this kind of Psalm accounts for about 1/3 of the entire book of Psalms. So just about one out of every three Psalms that you encounter is similar to the Psalm that we’re studying today.
Now, I said this is a complaint Psalm. But let’s not get the wrong idea. This Psalm doesn’t simply record the Psalmist griping about something. These Psalms actually present the Psalmist’s strategy for mastering a crisis. So, he’s not whining. He’s actually working toward a solution for his crisis. And we get to listen in while he works through his problem. And so the lament Psalms give us an inspired way to deal with problems and situation that are common to all men.
So – what type of poem are we studying today? Lament/complaint.
Psalm 3 Commentary Underlying Situation
Now, most Psalms are a reaction of the poet to some stimulus. In Psalm 3, what is the stimulus? What is driving David to write this lament poem? What’s happening in his life?
Well, look at the first line of the psalm. What does it say? This is “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.”
When you think of David, you might think of him in pastoral settings out in the countryside. Or you picture him in his royal palace kind of taking it easy. But this man’s life was filled with conflict.
Even when he was a relative-nobody he was wrestling bears and lions away from his father’s sheep. He defeated Goliath and won some acclaim among the people and even in King Saul’s sight. But then Saul turns on him and David basically becomes a fugitive for years until Saul dies.
Finally, David becomes king. But he’s still constantly going to war – that’s what kings did in those days. But one time he doesn’t go out to war. He stays behind. And he ends up catching a glimpse of a young woman from his palace. As we all know, he ends up committing adultery with her and then ordering the murder of her husband. God rebukes David for those horrendous crimes. And God promises David that the sword will never depart from his house the rest of his life. He will have war and conflict until he dies.
And that’s where Absalom enters the picture. Absalom has a sister who is violated by one of David’s sons from one of his other wives. Absalom kills that brother and flees. Finally he’s persuaded to come back and live close to David. But David won’t talk to him – for years. So, Absalom eventually gathers a number of people together, wins their hearts, and leads a rebellion against his father David. Absalom and his entourage actually run David out of Jerusalem and are trying to literally kill him. And that’s the situation that called for the writing of this Psalm.
So, this Psalm captures some of the emotion that David felt as he fled for his life from Jerusalem. Can you imagine the embarrassment of being pursued by your own child who’s looking to take your life? Can you imagine the regret and self-hatred that David would have experienced – knowing that his own sin with Bathsheba so many years ago had caused this turn of events? Can you imagine the pain of being betrayed by so many trusted advisers and friends in addition to the people you served as king for so many years? All these emotions and many more I’m sure are in David’s heart as he flees Jerusalem.
So, we’ve discovered and rehearsed the underlying situation that called for the writing of this Psalm. And we’ve looked at what kind of Psalm this is. It’s a lament Psalm.
Psalm 3 Commentary Structure
And these lament Psalms have a discernible structure to them. There are actually 5 components to any lament Psalm. So, let’s discover the structure of Psalm 3.
The first component of a lament Psalm is the invocation of God. And we see that in this Psalm 3:1. What’s the first word out of David’s mouth in this Psalm? He says, “Lord”. He immediately invokes the Lord.
So, that’s the first component of the structure of this Psalm.
The next component of a lament Psalm is the lament or the complaint itself. And we find that in Psalm 3:1-2 verses.
“LORD, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me. 2 Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God.”
This is where the poet defines the crisis that he’s experiencing – and that he’s going to try to master with God’s help.
Another component of the structure of a lament Psalm is an expression of confidence in God. We see this in Psalm 3:3-6 where we have these reassuring statements from David regarding his confidence in God.
“But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. 4 I cried unto the LORD with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. 5 I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the LORD sustained me. 6 I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.”
David is confident that God will deliver him from his multiplied adversaries.
So, that’s the 3rd component of a lament Psalm – the poet’s expression of confidence in God.
Then, comes the petition – where the poet actually asks the Lord for something. We see that in Psalm 3:7. And in this Psalm it consists of a petition to God for him to remedy David’s crisis.
“Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly.”
By the way, it took 6 verses for David to actually ask God for something.
So that’s the 4th part of the structure of this Psalm.
Finally, Psalm 3:8 ends the Psalm with the last component – which is the praising of God.
“Salvation belongeth unto the LORD: thy blessing is upon thy people.”
I think the praise here occurs when David proclaims that it is in the Lord’s power alone to provide deliverance. That’s a glory that belongs to the Lord alone. And so he’s to be praised for it.
So, that’s the structure of this Psalm. 5 parts – invocation, lament, confidence, petition, and praise.
Now, with the genre, underlying situation, and structure established, we’re going to discover the topic and theme of the Psalm.
The topic is what a Psalm is about. The theme is what the author says about that topic.
So, we’re going to try to summarize the content of Psalm 3 in one word (topic). And then we’ll summarize what David says about that topic (theme).
So, let’s read Psalm 3:1-2 again. Because usually the topic of the Psalm appears near its beginning.
“LORD, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me. 2 Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God.”
So, from Psalm 3:1-2 verses we get the idea that David is facing enemies. And their number isn’t dwindling or remaining steady, even. David is facing multiplied and multiplying enemies.
And what are these enemies claiming? They’re saying that God won’t help David. The word “help” has to do with salvation. Or in this context – deliverance. So, here David’s enemies are saying that God will not deliver David from their plans to kill him. And that happens to be the topic of this Psalm – deliverance. You want to know what Psalm 3 is about in a nutshell? It’s about deliverance. And we’ll see evidence of that throughout the Psalm.
Now, David has something to say regarding God’s delivering him from his multiplied enemies. Psalm 3:7 – he says “Save – or deliver – me, oh my God.” And in Psalm 3:8 he reminds himself that “salvation – the kind that David so desperately needs – belongs to the Lord.” There’s the topic again – salvation or deliverance. And it’s the Lord’s to grant deliverance like what David is looking for. And so, despite multiplied enemies claiming that God will not deliver David from their schemes to kill him – look at what David says in Psalm 3:6. “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.” Ten thousands – that sounds like multiplied adversaries. And yet, David is not afraid of them. Why? Because he’s confident that the Lord will deliver him.
So, here’s what David says about the topic of Psalm 3. He’s talking about Confidence in God’s deliverance from multiplied adversaries. He’s confident that God will deliver him.
Psalm 3 Commentary
OK, we’ve looked at the genre, underlying situation, topic, theme, and structure of Psalm 3. But now we’re going to dive into the details of this Psalm.
Psalm 3 Commentary Verses 1-2
We’ll go back to Psalm 3:1-2.
“LORD, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me. 2 Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God.”
You can sense David’s dismay from the very first verse. “Lord! How many…” he exclaims. He expresses amazement at how many enemies he’s acquired. He was their king, their leader, God’s chosen ruler for them. And now so many of them had turned on him. So, David is shocked.
Now, note once more the concept of increasing opposition. They’re – Psalm 3:1 – “increased”. There are – Psalm 3:1 again – “many” that rise up. And he goes ahead and states it one more time in case we missed it – Psalm 3:2 – “Many” speak discouragingly to him. So, let’s really sympathize with David’s utter dismay. His whole country has turned on him.
And these folks aren’t just sitting around. They’re actively opposing David. They’re troubling David. They’re rising up against him.
Let’s think about that image of rising up. And it is an image. Let me ask you – Were the enemies all previously sitting down, but now they’re standing on their feet – and so that’s what David is truly concerned about? No, David’s not concerned about their physical position. So when he tells us that these people are “rising up” he’s putting a picture in our mind. It’s like he’s imagining this large group of angry enemies physically rising up as one to confront and physically destroy him. It’s a terrifying picture. And it accurately portrays how David feels.
But these enemies aren’t just physically imposing in David’s mind. Their very speech is terrifying to David. They’re claiming that God will not deliver David. Can you think of why they might say this? How many people do you think knew about David’s sin with Bathsheba and against Uriah her husband? Nathan did. In addition, God through Nathan told David “by this deed [David’s sin] thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme” in 2 Samuel 12:14. So then, many people apparently knew of David’s sin. It was public knowledge. And what David was now experiencing was actually chastisement from the Lord for that sin. So, think about it. The very fact that these enemies were attacking and reproaching David was by God’s allowance. Can you see why these folks might think that God won’t deliver David from their plans to kill him? David’s own sin got him in to this mess. Maybe God was going to let David’s enemies finish him off.
And that’s where Psalm 3:2 ends.
I’ll briefly mention “Selah”. As far as I know and anyone can say, this probably calls for a musical interlude. But the fact is that no one definitively knows what it signifies. So I won’t be paying much attention to it in coming lessons.
Psalm 3 Commentary Verses 3-6
Now, in complete contrast to what these increasing enemies are saying about David, we have Psalm 3:3. God is David’s “shield”, his “glory”, and “the one who lifts up” his head. These sayings are obviously poetic devices. They’re images that put pictures in our minds. God does not physically manifest himself as a shield. His hand didn’t physically and visibly reach down from heaven and lift up David’s head. So let’s talk about what these images mean.
First, a shield protects from advancing attacks. The KJV has David saying that God is a shield “for me”. The word actually means “round about”. So, picture it – if an enemy attacks David from any direction, he’s not going to get David. Why? Because David’s “shield” is in the way. That’s the Lord – protecting him.
Next, the word “glory” can also mean “honor”. David is being supremely dishonored by men – his own son in particular. But in contrast, God gives him honor.
Lastly, God lifts up David’s head. You surely know what it feels like to have increasing opposition to you – at home, at work, even among God’s people, unfortunately. And does it ever make you just want to hang your head? That’s where David was. But God lifts his head from despair.
And David may or may not know it at this point, but God was going to restore David to his throne in Jerusalem. And by doing that, God would lift David’s head – so to speak – and get rid of his reproach.
Now, note one more thing in Psalm 3:3. Notice how intimate David is with the Lord. He personally addresses the Lord. He looks at the increasing enemies and distress in his life. And then he turns to the Lord alone and reminds himself and the Lord of what God really is to him.
Now, Psalm 3:4 brings us back in time a little. David explains how he came to be so confident in the Lord’s protection of him. He cried to the Lord. He didn’t whisper under his breath. This word is actually translated a few times as “scream”. It’s translated many more times as “call” or “cry” as we have it here. David was earnest in communicating with the Lord. He needed to be heard.
And what happened when David directed his prayer to God? God “heard him”. God answered David when he called.
And he did so from his holy hill. That’s probably a reference to Mount Zion or the Temple Mount – even though the Temple hadn’t been built yet.
And do you wonder what God told David? How exactly did God answer David’s cries? Well, we don’t have the response recorded. But whatever it was, it gave David the confidence that we saw in verse 3. It also results in what he testifies about in Psalm 3:5.
David says “I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the LORD sustained me.” Now, if you were being chased like a fugitive, could you imagine trying this? Laying down and sleeping? I think sleeping would have been very hard for David. And the reason it would be so hard is because he would be uncertain as to whether he would indeed awake in the morning. Or would his life have been taken overnight? But when God answered David’s pitiful cries, David gained confidence to sleep. And because God was protecting him, David actually woke up. The enemies didn’t hurt him. And they wouldn’t. Ever. Because God was with him. The Lord “sustained” him, it says. That word “sustained” is something like “propped up” or “supported”. How exactly do you sleep in the midst of gut-wrenching anxiety about your very life? David could because he knew that the Lord was the one who was propping him up and supporting him. David was confident in God’s deliverance.
And so because of all these considerations, David boldly proclaims in Psalm 3:6 – “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.” David won’t fear. Even in the face of overwhelming odds – ten thousands of people against just him. He’s confident in God’s deliverance. And that’s how he pictures it. It’s ten thousands of his enemies versus… how many? Just him. Even if those are the odds and that’s what happens, he’s going to remain confident in God’s deliverance.
Psalm 3 Commentary Verse 7
And so now David – Psalm 3:7 – finally makes petition to the Lord. “Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly.” So, in contrast to the enemies in Psalm 3:1 who rise up against David – now we have David calling on the Lord to himself rise up – and to save or deliver David from his enemies.
And we have some imagery here again. Did God literally smite David’s enemies on the cheek? Did he break the teeth of the wicked who persecuted David? Do we have that recorded anywhere? We don’t. So, what is David poetically expressing here?
First, a slap to the cheek was a sign of contempt. In other words, God thinks little of these enemies. He will not honor them. He honors David as we saw before.
And what about the shattering of teeth? Well, in a day and age before dentures – you lose your teeth and you’re rendered fairly incapacitated in certain ways. And that’s just what God was going to do to David’s enemies. They may be many, but their efforts against David would be brought to nothing and they themselves would be despised by the Lord – whom they claimed would not deliver David.
And so David can call upon God to rise up and deliver him – knowing that this is what God does. God has done these kind of things for David before. And he’ll do them in this very distressing situation.
Psalm 3 Commentary Verse 8
Finally, we come to the end of the Psalm. Psalm 3:8. “Salvation belongeth unto the LORD: thy blessing is upon thy people.” Now, I believe this is where the Psalmist praises God for his deliverance from increasing opposition. Literally – “salvation” – deliverance – “unto the Lord!” This is his domain. No man could give David the deliverance he needed. The Lord alone is able to deliver. It’s in his hands. And so he deserves our praise. And those who are truly his – God’s people – we get “the blessing.” What blessing is he talking about? Well, we get many countless blessings as God’s people. But in particular – we have what this Psalm is talking about – deliverance through our God.
Psalm 3 Commentary Conclusion
So, that’s Psalm 3. It’s David expressing his confidence in God’s deliverance from increasing opposition.
Now, if David could be confident that God was going to save him from multiplied and multiplying enemies who were intent on his literal physical death – can you and I be confident in that same God to deliver us from our troubles? We can argue from greater to lesser. If God can deliver his people from death, can he deliver from other lesser types of distresses?
We’ve just entered a new year. This message was delivered on the first Sunday of 2015. Look back over the past year. What has God delivered you from? What enemies has he delivered you from? What perils? What dangers? What temptations? Thank him for the deliverance he’s given you in the last year.
And then I would just encourage us to add this kind of prayer to our prayer arsenal. We’ve just been through an entire lesson breaking apart this man’s prayer. We’ve seen him call to the Lord and tell the Lord his bitter complaint. We heard him express his confidence in the Lord. Then we saw him ask the Lord for help. And finally we saw him praise the Lord.
I can tell you from just a little experience that this kind of approach to God helps. When you’re faced with a situation that just won’t quit and is just completely perplexing and disturbing, mimic what David did in Psalm 3. Let me lay out how you could do this, one last time:
Call out to the Lord. He’s the only one who can do anything anyway.
Then lay out your complaint before him. Give him details. Tell him what is so troubling to you. Approach him like a father who cares… because he is a father who cares! I know in our holier moments we wouldn’t dream of complaining to the Lord. But if it’s good enough for David, it’s good enough for us! God actually wants us to bring our complaints to him. So, do it.
Don’t stop there, though. Next, you can express your unwavering confidence in the Lord.
Then offer your request to him. Isn’t the order of this Psalm interesting? You don’t just blurt out your request if you’re following the pattern of this Psalm. It actually takes you a while to get to asking anything if you’re following the pattern of Psalm 3. But do make your request! God actually wants to hear it and wants to answer it according to his will.
And lastly praise the Lord for who he is and what he does.
I’ll just get real personal now and tell you how I’ve prayed recently after the pattern we see in Psalm 3. If there’s one thing that is most troublesome to me, it’s my wife’s health issues. Un-diagnosed weakness is something she struggles with constantly. And I have a few choices. I can sit and stew and get angry at God for letting this happen. That’s immature and just plain wrong. Or I could pretend like it doesn’t bother me, but it does. So, I prayed to the Lord about Lori’s health after the pattern of Psalm 3. And I’m not going to say that it solved all my problems or anything. But it was strangely calming. And I know the Lord heard it and will respond the best way possible.
What’s your single greatest burden? What is the thing that concerns you the most? The thing that makes you want to cry out? The thing you can’t do anything about? Would you consider taking it to the Lord? Invoke him. Complain to him. Express your confidence in him. Make your request to him. And praise him.
What does Psalm 3:3 mean?
David is fleeing from a massive army, sent by his own son, Absalom. It is only through the influence of an ally that this army did not rush on him in a vulnerable moment (2 Samuel 17:15–16). Prior verses indicated that many were writing David’s situation off as hopeless (Psalm 3:1–2). And yet, as he had in the past, David successfully overcame his enemies’ threats and taunts by trusting in the Lord.
He addresses the Lord as a shield around him, his glory, and the lifter up of his head. Just as a shield protects a warrior from swords, arrows, darts, and spears, so David envisions the Lord protecting him from his enemies. This is the same confidence David expressed as a youth, when he confronted Goliath. At that time, he called out to Goliath, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand…For the battle is the LORD’S, and he will give you into our hand” (1 Samuel 17:45–47).
The Lord was David’s boast, and David fully expected Him to restore him to his position as king of Israel.
Psalm 3:1–6 discloses David’s plight, arising from the violent coup being waged by his son, Absalom. David’s enemies abounded and mocked him. Those around David said God would not deliver him. Psalm 7 complements this passage by expressing David’s concern that his enemies constantly assault him. Despite their opposition, David trusts in the Lord as his shield and deliverer. He anticipates God’s judgment on his enemies. The mockery expressed in Psalm 3:2 is similar to that of those who crucified Jesus (Luke 23:35–37).
David cries out to the Lord while being pursued by many enemies. Others are telling him the situation is hopeless, that he cannot be delivered from his trouble. However, David testifies that the Lord is his shield and deliverer. He says the Lord answered him from the site of Mount Zion. This answer to prayer led to a good night’s sleep and confidence that he had nothing to fear from his many foes. He closes the psalm by declaring that the Lord had slain his enemies in the past and would do so again. The Lord would strike down David’s enemies with crushing blows to the head. He knew the Lord delivers those who trust in Him, so he asks the Lord to bless His people
What Does Psalm 3:8 Mean? ►
Salvation belongs to the LORD; Your blessing be upon Your people! Selah.
How frequently we take our eyes off the Lord and focus on our own mounting problems and the multitude of enemies that seem to accumulate outside our door. How often our trust in the Lord falters and we allow our hearts to fail within us, for fear of what is happening in our lives and the lives of those we love.. instead of looking to the Lord for our strength and relying upon Him to provide all that we need, according to His riches in glory, for His blessing is upon His people for eternity/
David was a man whose emotions fluctuated from ecstatic joy to despondent disquiet, for although he acknowledged the faithfulness of God to finish the good work that He had started in his life, and to fulfil all that He had promised to this man after God’s own heart. David too easily was swayed by the immediate circumstances of his life. He was too often moved by the monumental tasks he was called upon to complete and he was too often overwhelmed by the taunting terrors that stalked his earthly pathway.
David however learned from his youth to quickly get his eyes off his enemies and to keep His focus on Jesus – the God of heaven and earth, Who alone was his shield and buckler and Who alone was his shepherd and the lifter up of his head. David knew that the Lord Jehovah was his Rock, his Fortress and his Salvation, Whose blessings are upon all His people forever and ever – amen.
When David sought to depend on his own ingenuity and might he discovered the inadequacy of his own abilities and energy, for David knew in his heart that salvation belongs to the Lord alone and that God is our refuge and strength – a very present help in time of trouble.
Our God and Saviour is the same yesterday, today and forever, for His promises are altogether sure, His mercies are new every morning and His grace is sufficient for all our mountainous problems and every taunting terror. He has promised to undertake for all our immediate circumstances.. if only we would cast all our cares upon Him, for He cares for us. Great is His faithfulness for the Lord our God is our Salvation and His blessing is upon all His people throughout time and into eternity.