Psalm 3 has been considered a psalm of “firsts” in many ways. The third psalm is the first that is ascribed to David. Though we noted the New Testament writers ascribed the second psalm to David, this is the first superscription within the psalm that speaks of David. This is also the first psalm that is related to an event in David’s life. In particular, the event surrounding the writing of this psalm is the fleeing from his son Absalom. The third psalm is also the first psalm of lament. Finally, this is also the first psalm that contains the word “selah.” In consideration of the word “selah,” we cannot state with absolute precision as to the meaning of this word. The general consensus is that this word probably meant for there to be a break or pause in the music. Others say that the word means to increase the volume and lift up the strain. Some suggest that the word is a direction to change the music to a higher pitch. In any event, it seems that this is simply musical notation or a marker and should not cause us to be distraught over the precise meaning of the word.
Next, we want to consider the background for the writing of this psalm. The account of David fleeing from his son Absalom is found in 2 Samuel 15-17. Absalom had stolen the hearts of the people away from David and created a conspiracy to usurp the throne. Absalom had sent spies throughout the tribes to bring support for his cause. Further, Absalom had taken control of some of the armies of Israel . The coup was so sudden that David, with a few of his trusted counselors, fled Jerusalem to preserve their lives. The scene is interesting in 2 Samuel 15:30, “So David went up by the Ascent of the Mount of Olives , and wept as he went up; and he had his head covered and went barefoot. And all the people who were with him covered their heads and went up, weeping as they went up.” We see some of the sorrow and anguish that David experienced since he had been run out of town by his own son. With this background in mind, let us read the third psalm.
As the psalm opens, we are reading about the problems of David. David begins with an exclamation to the Lord concerning the great number of his enemies and foes. The enemies of David have risen up against him. Things are so bad for this man who is after God’s own heart that many of the people are saying to him that God will not deliver him. We are able to read one instance of a person cursing David in 2 Samuel 16:6-8. As David is fleeing, he passes through the town of Bahurim . A man named Shimai comes out cursing David and says in verses 7-8, “Come out! Come out! You bloodthirsty man, you scoundrel! The Lord has brought upon you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the Lord has delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom your son. So now you are caught in your own evil, because you are a bloodthirsty man!” This is just one instance of the many that David describes who are saying that God is not going to deliver him. How depressing when those around us are suggesting that we are getting what we deserve! How difficult to hear people say that God is not going to help us out of our turmoil! This is certainly a unique situation, one that I do not believe any of us can say we have fully endured. I do not suppose that we have had the trial of running for our physical lives from the hands of our own children. However, I believe all of us can relate to the feelings that everywhere we turn, there are foes who are rising up against us. We have enemies on a more contemporary level. We have foes that stand against us at our place of work, with our families, and against our governments. There are times when we are put to the point of distress. During times of distress, David leaves us a good example: express your grief to God. We have the right to bring our grief and our turmoil before God. Thus David begins this psalm “O Lord” in his call to God concerning his difficult circumstance. God desires that we bring our problems to Him. Hebrews 4:16 tells us that we can go before the throne of grace to receive help in our time of need. David’s first reaction is correct and we ought to emulate that in our lives. When trouble comes, turn to God. When problems appear on every side, turn to the Lord. Make this our first response.
David now speaks of the confidence that he has in the Lord. How is it possible as David is surrounded by his enemies that he is able to turn in confidence to the Lord? It seems clear that David is no longer focusing upon the woes he is facing, but now is focusing upon God. This was the fundamental difference in Numbers 13:31-33 in regard to the twelve spies. Why did ten say that they couldnot conquer the land? Because they were focusing on the enemies. Why did the two say that they could conquer the land? They were focusing on the power of God. Therefore David expresses three great things that God was for David.
You are a shield. First, David says that the Lord is his shield. In the midst of trouble, David has something to protect him, a shield. Shields do not carry as much imagery for us today with our modern warfare, but this was a necessary piece of defense when going to battle. The shield was for protection from whatever the enemy threw at you. Further, we need to see that the Lord’s shield is such that it fully surrounds the person of God. With the shield of God, there are no parts that are left exposed. Thus, David says that the Lord is a shield all around him. We know that we have to put on the shield of faith which can quench the fiery darts of Satan (Ephesians 6). But we may not have considered that our shield is also effective against our enemies. Our shield is effective in the midst of trials. We will not suffer utter ruin with the Lord as our shield. While the physical body may suffer and we may lose things near and important to us, we cannot lose that which is of utmost importance: God. Romans 8:39 tells us that there is absolutely nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ. We are protected. We have a shield.
You are my glory. Some translations capitalize the word “my” suggesting that the glory is referring to the Lord, and thus David is giving the Lord the name, “My glory.” However, I do not believe this to be the case. Remember that the translators are “supposing” when they capitalize pronouns in reference to God. The original manuscripts do not have such notations. I believe David is saying that the Lord is his glory. Though David is suffering the loss of the kingdom at this point, he still finds his glory in the Lord. David is suffering ridicule and cursings by his very subjects. But David does not find his glory in the words of man. True glory is only found in the Lord. We worry far too much about the glory of man and do not care enough about the glory of God. We can be so concerned about what others are saying and what others think about us. But these things amount to nothing. The glory of God is all that matters, and it is what can and must sustain us.
You lift up my head. David now describes what God is able to do for the downcast. This is a picture of being in utter despair such that one’s head hangs low. We all know what that feeling is when we simply hang our head and sigh. But God can lift up our heads. Hebrews 12:3-4 says, “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.” We must remember that while our sufferings are difficult, they truly are small. We have not resisted to bloodshed. We have not suffered for the name of Christ as we see Christ and his first century disciples suffering. It is a momentary affliction. I have personally endured difficult times when my parents divorced. I had a lot of suffering in high school concerning all the issues and realities that it brought. It changed how life would be for all the days that I will know. But I realize that even though this stripped me away from my father and means that there are problems every time I return to California and I have issues with trying to have equal visitation, these things do not matter when compared to the sufferings of Christ. I must always remain focused that I have not and will not endure more than what Christ has endured for me. I must be ready to face the challenge every day. One of the reasons that David gives for having confidence in the face of his foes is that the Lord is answering his prayers. David knows that his cries are being heard by the Lord and that he will receive an answer. This is true confidence and trust in the Lord. To know that though invisible, God is listening and will respond. David has complete faith in God to rescue him.
In the midst of all this trouble and fleeing for his life, David says that he is able to lie down and sleep. Though there are the tens of thousands that have drawn up against David, he is still able to lie down and sleep. How is that possible? When we are in the midst of turmoil, sleep is often the thing that alludes us. We lie awake at night, tossing and turning, as we ponder the problems that we are dealing with. For David, we would expect anxiety and worry to seize him during this time. Anxiety for his own life, sorrow for his son who has driven him out, and many other things would be running through David’s mind. David says that these things are possible because the Lord sustains him. In a very subtle way, we are reading about the confidence that David placed in the Lord to bring him through to the next day. David had confidence that he could go to sleep and God would bring him to another day.
But it is not just about having protection while he slept. David says that the Lord sustains him. This is not a commonly used word in our language today. However, we understand the meaning when we see this word in light of a word that we use more frequently, “sustenance.” When we speak of sustenance, we are usually talking about the things that keep us alive, like food and water. While on the run, it is the Lord that is giving the sustenance to David. The Lord is what is keeping David going. The ability to see the Lord as the one who sustains us through difficulties and will pull us through to the other side is so important for the Christian. We must always have the knowledge that God is in control and will bring about what needs to be done in our lives. David, in so many instances, would not kill Saul because Saul was the Lord’s anointed, though David was running for his life from him. Why didn’t David just take matters into his own hands? He had the firm belief and confidence that God would work all of these things out. And now, here, in this situation as well. Absalom his son has seized the throne. But David had confidence that the Lord’s will would be accomplished. If David was to remain king on the throne, then that is what would happen. God would do it. If this was not God’s plan, then David would go along with that as well. This is an important characteristic to be one who is a person after God’s own heart. We must be people who are fully trusting in what God is doing in our lives. The willingness to accept the circumstances and know that the end result will be a place that God will have us to be. I am fairly certain that if it were not for the divorce in my family, I would not have found my wife whom I love, I would not be in Florida , and I would not be preaching. Through turmoil, God had a direction and purpose laid out for me. We must always trust in the Lord, for He will sustain us.
David concludes his psalm with the cry for deliverance. There is a cry of confidence as he asks for deliverance, for verse 4 states that he knows God is answering his prayer. The words of David actually appear to be a cry of war. Recall that during the wilderness wandering of the children of Israel , the people would be led by a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. When it was time to stop, the cloud would stop and rest upon the ark of the covenant. When it was time to walk, the cloud would rise up from the ark and lead the people. Notice Numbers 10:35, “Then it came about when the ark set out that Moses said, ‘Rise up, O Lord! And let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate You flee before You.'” David is requesting a call to action and victory of the Lord. Rise up and scatter the enemies! This was the cry of the Israelites as they marched to the promised land. David uses this language here as a call for God leading the way to victory and deliverance. In these verses, not only do we see a cry for deliverance, but we also see a cry for justice. David says “break the teeth of the wicked.” Those who stand against the Lord’s plan will be broken by God. Those who will be an enemy of the Lord will by struck down by the Lord. David asks for that to happen now to his enemies. David concludes his psalm by noting that deliverance and salvation only come from the Lord. There is no other place to turn to if we desire to have deliverance from what we are enduring. Salvation and deliverance belong to the Lord. Then David prays for the people, desiring God’s blessing to be upon them as well. David is not only concerned about his own well-being, but he is also desiring good and righteousness to be with the people of God. Thus concludes the third psalm.
In the midst of problems and troubles, the first place to turn is to the Lord. It is time to immediately stop all that we are doing and pray to the Lord. These are the first two words of the psalm, “O Lord.” Turn our attention to the Lord and tell him what is going on. Notice that David describes what his situation is to the Lord. We also need to express what we are enduring and the help we seek to God as well. When it seemed that everyone stood against him and the people declared that it would not be possible for the Lord to deliver him now, David turned to the Lord for deliverance and salvation. We make a faulty move when our first step is not to embrace the Lord and draw closer to Him.
Further, in the midst of problems we are not allowed to become self-centered people. This is usually the route that we take when we are suffering. We no longer pay attention to anyone else because we are wrapped up in our own troubles. But David’s prayer is not all about himself. He is also praying for the interests of God’s people in the middle of this turmoil. Remember the turmoil that the people of Israel are enduring as David is made to flee and Absalom has seized the throne. David remembers his people and prays for their blessing. We must make sure that we continue to be outward looking people, even in the midst of troubles. It is easy to become consumed in our own problems and wallow in the mire of self-pity. But our Lord did not teach us to seek the interests of others before ourselves if we do not have our own troubles. If he had, we would never have to fulfill this command, because each of us will always have troubles to one degree or another. Instead of focusing on ourselves, focus on God and focus upon helping and serving others. Seeing other people’s troubles and helping them not only will take our minds off our own mess, but will also make us realize that we may not being doing so badly after all.
Focus on the outcome
Finally, we also need to look at the bigger picture and see the final outcome. Though things seemed to be the darkest for David at this time, he looked to the end result for confidence. He had trust that God would deliver him from his enemies. We also need to try our best to pull ourselves out of the depths of the situation and see that there is an outcome that we can endure. There is deliverance that can be found in the Lord. The Lord demands our trust in Him and will test us to see if we are people after God’s own heart. Have confidence that the Lord will provide.