Read Psalm 3
The heading of this psalm says that it was written by David when he fled from his son, Absalom. In other words, this psalm was written in the midst of terrible circumstances. There was a rift in David’s family. Absalom killed another of David’s sons and then fled into exiled for three years. David longed to be reconciled to his son and he was persuaded to bring him back to Jerusalem. But Absalom was not to see the king’s face. For two years Absalom lived in the city but father and son never met. Eventually the king was persuaded to meet again with Absalom. Absalom bowed before him and David kissed his son.
It seemed like a rather touching reconciliation but, in the course of time, we are told in 2 Samuel 15, Absalom began currying favour with the citizens and criticising his father. He stole the hearts of the people of Israel. Eventually, he went to another city and had himself proclaimed king. Clearly this was a brazen conspiracy against his father.
David was told and immediately left the palace and fled Jerusalem, taking some supporters with him.
That was the context in which this psalm was written. David loved Absalom dearly. When Absalom was later killed. He wept, crying out, “O my son, Absalom! My son, my son, Absalom! If only I had died instead of you – O Absalom, my son, my son!”
Yet this son turned against him and would have killed his own father. David became a fugitive in his own country, running from his own son who had gathered the nation behind him.
As He left Jerusalem, David seemed very submitted to the Lord’s will. He said to Zadok the priest, “Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favour in the Lord’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and His dwelling place again. But if he says, ‘I am not pleased with you’, then I am ready: let Him do to me whatever seems good to Him.” (2 Sam 14:26)
Someone else cursed him and threw stones and dust at him. David’s response was, “My son, who is my own flesh, is trying to take my life. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse for the Lord has told him to do it. It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me His covenant blessing instead of his curse today.”
David put himself completely in God’s hands: Maybe God is angry with me. The king suffered the ignominy of being showered with stones and dust by an angry subject. Whatever God wills.
That is the context of this psalm. We can therefore understand why David said, “Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me!”
By-and-large, the nation had turned against him. David was abandoned with only a few supporters. More painfully of course, his own son had turned against him and now sought to kill him. He was like a hunted animal in the desert. There were enemies all around.
Many were saying, “God will not deliver him.” Maybe people thought that David’s situation now was so hopeless that not even God could help him. Or, maybe they felt that even God had abandoned David. The people had turned against him but God had also turned against him.
There are echoes here of the people around the cross saying, “Let His God save Him” obviously believing that God would not, as if even Jesus was beyond the help of God. Even the context of having been betrayed by one of those closest to him and the nation turning against him seems surprisingly similar to Jesus’ situation. There are parallels in the submission to the will of God too, even if that means suffering. Maybe the psalm prophetically talks of Jesus’ response as well. It certainly talks of David’s.
Verses 1 and 2 set the scene. David has been abandoned by his people and even by God, they thought. It is an utterly lonely and terrifying place.
And yet David is not terrified! The psalm reveals a sublime confidence in God. How can that be? We face difficult situation. It may be people opposing us. It may be health problems or money worries. What do we do when there are many enemies attacking us and people think even God won’t help?
Notice the first word of v.3: but. The situation is terrible but what is God like?
David uses three phrases to describe God. You, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory and the one who lifts my head high.
This is not Sunday School theory. This is hard-won personal experience of God. David can say these things with such confidence because he knows them to be true. It is not because the Bible tells me so – although it does. It is because I have discovered it to be so.
You are a shield around me. That is easy to understand. A shield keeps one safe. A shield stops the flying arrows and the thrusting sword. A shield takes the blows while, behind it, I am safe.
Of course, God is invisible. How much would you trust an invisible shield? And yet David says, “Lord, You are my shield. You keep me safe.” Nothing could touch David without God allowing it. Even though He is invisible, there is no better shield than God. He is able to keep us absolutely safe.
There are stories of missionaries in the early days of New Zealand walking out between warring lines of Maori and colonial troops, with musket balls flying around them, with hands upheld, trying to get both sides to stop fighting. I don’t know what was in their minds but I wonder if they were led by the Holy Spirit to do that and if they had this same sense of God being their shield. I don’t know. I am speculating. Maybe they were prepared to die for the sake of peace and that others might not die.
In any case, David says confidently, “Innumerable enemies rise up against me… but You, O Lord, are a shield around me.”
Then he says, “You, O Lord, are my glory.” David is humiliated. He is in danger of being deposed; he has left his throne to live in exile; he is pelted by stones and dust. There is nothing glorious about his situation. But God is his glory.
The other night, at the missional community, we broke into pairs to practice our conversational skills. I was with Hannah. Hannah introduced herself as “Hannah, princess, daughter of the King.” Hannah of course is a wonderful person but her glory, ultimately, is in the fact that she is a child of the King.
Most of us would possibly say that we are nothing special. But actually, we are adopted children of the living God. Naturally, we might have no glory but God is our glory.
That is how David felt. Humiliated and yet… in You Lord I have honour. We don’t have to fight for recognition; fight to be important. If we remember who we are in Jesus, that is all the glory we need.
Thirdly, he said, “You lift my head high.” It might be that when David’s head drooped through discouragement, God gave him new hope. More likely, it is referring to victory. Ultimately, God will vindicate him. Though he is bowed in shame now, he will stand tall because God will vindicate him.
Have you been badly treated? Can you trust that God will lift your head? Can you leave it with Him?
Verse 4 talks about David’s experience. I pray and God answers… from His holy mountain. The one and only exalted God hears my prayers and answers. That is what gives David confidence. He knows a powerful God who is faithful and compassionate.
So, in the first four verses we have two things: terrible situation, amazing God. If we put those on each end of a seesaw, which way will the seesaw tip? Which way does it tip for you? Difficult situation – faithful, powerful God. Which way? Are we overwhelmed by our situation or do we have peace and confidence because of God?
We know which is the right answer but which is the actual answer? Do we worry or are we at peace?
David says, “I lie down and I sleep.” Isn’t that an amazing statement of confidence? Remember his situation but he says, “I lie down and I sleep.”
There is a certain irony in this for me because just this week I went to a clinical psychologist because for many years I have had trouble sleeping. And it may be (who knows? She hasn’t finished with me yet) but it may be that somewhere in my mind is the belief that everything depends on me and I have to keep working on it – even through the night. It all depends on me. It may be that I don’t really trust God. Maybe I don’t believe I can leave the work of His Kingdom with Him and simply rest.
Here is David surrounded by enemies and he says, “I lie down and I sleep. I awake in the morning because the Lord sustains me. I am unconscious. Anything could happen. But I wake in the morning purely because, even when I cannot look after myself, God looks after me.”
“Even if 10,000 assail me on every side, I will not be afraid.” Again, it shows extraordinary confidence. “I could have enemies attacking me on every side and I would not be afraid.” Extraordinary confidence and calm – all based on who God is: You are a shield around me. You are my glory. You lift my head.
David’s problems have not gone away. In the midst of problems, he has peace because he trusts God.
And, because he trusts God, he beseeches God to rise up and deliver him. David, of course, was a great military general but he doesn’t rely on military power. He prays. He relies on the God who has proven so trustworthy in the past. “Arise, Lord! Deliver me, my God!”
“Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.” That possibly jars a bit for us. That sounds rather violent and not very Christ-like. How are we to understand it? We could say that these were more brutal times and David simply reflects that. Thankfully we have a different way demonstrated by Jesus. Jesus said we are to love our enemies. Or we could say that this is simply a prayer for justice – that those who have executed violence suffer violence. That would be justice.
Or we could say that David was not praying that Absalom, or the people with him, suffer in this way. Our enemies are not flesh and blood but the powers of evil. Maybe this is a prayer that God rise up against those powers of evil. Whichever way we look at it, David turns to God in prayer for deliverance.
Why trust in God? Because salvation belongs to our God. God is good, God is just. God is powerful. God has compassion. God answers prayers. God will do what is right. God, and God alone, delivers. No one else can. Nothing else can. Salvation belongs to God.
Even though David is in an awful situation, he finishes by praying for God’s blessing to be on others – on God’s people. He isn’t self-absorbed. Knowing God – knowing how good God is – he wants others to experience God’s blessing.
It is very easy to say, “Don’t worry.” It is not so easy to do and yet David shows complete confidence. The circumstances were real. He wasn’t denying the reality. But the bigger reality for Him was God. “God, You are all I need. I lie down and I sleep. How come I wake up in the morning? How come I am still alive? I awake because God looks after me.”
May you have that same confidence in God. May you too be able to say, “Even if 10,000 attack me from every side, I will not be afraid. You are a shield around me. You are my glory. You lift my head.”