Singing with Jesus – Psalm 3: Great Gettin’ Up Morning

3 A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.

O Lord, how many are my foes! /Many are rising against me;

many are saying of my soul, /“There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, /my glory, and the lifter of my head.

I cried aloud to the Lord, /and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah

I lay down and slept; /I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.

I will not be afraid of many thousands of people /who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, O Lord! /Save me, O my God! /For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.

 Salvation belongs to the Lord; /your blessing be on your people! Selah [1]

BACKGROUND: 2 Samuel 13-16

We spent the last two Sundays looking at the two pillars that form the gateway into the Book of Psalms. In Psalm 1, we saw the blessed representative man speaking Torah day and night; he was like a fruit-bearing tree planted by abundant water. We noted the typology that took us back to Adam in Eden (Gen. 1-3) and forward to the Last Adam, Messiah Jesus, in the New Heavens and Earth (Rev. 21-22).

With Psalm 2, we saw the explicit introduction to the blessed representative man. He is YHWH’s anointed king (messiah). But he is also an ordinary man, just a harp-playing shepherd boy from an average family or the son of a poor carpenter conceived out of wedlock. We saw how, over the centuries, God trained his people to look for the Divine Extraordinary in the ordinary because God’s covenant of salvation is WAY bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside.

Hymn

When we come to Psalm 3, we see messiah (God’s anointed king) exercising his duty to rule his kingdom and subdue his enemies through prayer to YHWH (I AM). In fact, Psalm 3 is the first prayer of the collection since Pss. 1 and 2 are meditations on Law and Gospel that promise conflict with covenant outsiders. Psalm 3 is the first display of that conflict between messiah and the world. It is messiah’s prayer in the context of betrayal and the threat of imminent death.

Psalm 3 is titled as A Psalm of David. The word “psalm” means “a poem to be sung with musical accompaniment.” Psalm 3, like many others in the book, contains a musical direction, Selah, which Hebrew scholars have learned means “extended electric guitar solo.” Okay. Maybe not exactly that. But Selah may indicate a pause in the singing into which a guitar solo or any musical interlude could fit.

Psalm 3 is a song of lament and confidence.  It breaks down into 4 parts: Problem (vv. 1-2 with guitar solo); Protection (3-4 with guitar solo); Peace (5-6, no guitar solo); Praise/Benediction (7-8 with guitar solo).

PROBLEM (3:1-2; 2 Sam. 13-18)

David wrote this hymn when he fled Jerusalem during his son Absalom’s coup d’ tat recorded in 2 Samuel 15 and 16. If you read the history of David’s rule, you might conclude he was a great poet-warrior but he was not a great father or a beloved and successful ruler. David’s son Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar. King David did absolutely nothing about it. Tamar’s full brother, Absalom, waited two years to exact his revenge by having Amnon murdered in front of all his royal brothers and sisters at a family party. Absalom fled to the protection of his uncle, a neighboring king (2 Sam. 13).

Absalom spent three years in his uncle’s kingdom until David let him return to Jerusalem; but the king forbid Absalom from entering the royal palace. Absalom lived apart from the royal court for two years until David let him back into the palace. Absalom then scored himself a royal chariot and a 50-man entourage to cruise the streets of Jerusalem. Absalom was a dashing figure as he sat daily in the city gate politicking everyone that passed by. He was a skilled politician with a finely-crafted image. The more the Israelites liked Absalom, the less they liked David (2 Sam. 14-15).

David was not a great king. He lost the love and respect of his son and of his subjects. When Absalom was sure he had all the public and military support he needed, he told David he was going to Hebron to fulfill a worship vow. Which as true in a way – he vowed to worship himself. Absalom then declared himself king in Hebron, snatched up David’s best advisor (Ahithophel) and a few generals, a huge army and went on the warpath, forcing David to flee Jerusalem on a few hours’ notice (2 Sam. 15).

When David fled, he went down into the Kidron Valley and up the Mount of Olives dressed as a mourner and weeping. David was at the very place his greater son, Messiah Jesus, would suffer his betrayal at Judas’ hands. David ordered the Ark of the Covenant and the priests to stay on Zion to act as spies; he ordered his counselor Hushai to act as his double-agent in Absalom’s court. When told that his greatest advisor Ahithophel sided with Absalom, David prayed the prayer to which he refers here in Psalm 3:4. Here is David’s prayer:

“O Lord, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness” (2 Sam. 15:31). [2]

David and his little band fled from Jerusalem to the wilderness of the Jordan Valley. Psalm 3 is the prayer song David writes after his first night spent hiding in the wilderness during the lowest point of his public life. “David prays from the Jordanian rift, the lowest point on earth (1,385 ft. below sea level), to God on Mount Zion (2,500 feet above sea level) ….”[3]

He sings, “O Lord, how many are my foes! /Many are rising against me….[4] The whole nation is lined up with Absalom. David is in the disenfranchised minority. He has a small number of followers compared to Absalom. He’s on the run. He’s vulnerable.

And because messiah is SO ordinary, and now SO weak, the people trust their observation rather than God’s revelation that David is YHWH’s messiah. The people conclude YHWH has abandoned David. “many are saying of my soul, /“There is no salvation for him in God.[5]

The primary problem for David is NOT his personal grief or danger (great though it is), but I AM’s glory. God has promised David an eternal dynasty. It’s too simple to read this psalm as merely a man in dire circumstances; this is a psalm of messiah crying out and expressing confidence in his Covenant God.

If David is killed, God has broken his word. So, when we read David’s lament psalms, they must first be appreciated for their role in speaking for God’s anointed servant, the messianic king. The overarching principle is this: as it fares with the messianic king, so it fares with each member of the messianic kingdom. David is speaking in the first person, but the final line of this psalm shows David’s deep concerns for God’s people, Israel. As David fares so fares Israel.[6] You can pray through the psalms personally, but if your prayers of lament don’t express concern for the well-being of ALL God’s people, you’ve missed the framework of the lament psalm you’re praying.

As messiah fares, so fare his people. This was why the apostle Paul was so passionate for the glory of Messiah Jesus alone. It’s also why the Jewish authorities wanted Christ hung on a cross – so they could show him as cursed by God (Deut. 21:23; Gal. 3:13) just as Absalom and his followers were claiming of David. This was also why Paul staunchly defends Jesus’ literal resurrection in 1 Cor. 15:14. As Messiah Jesus fares, so fare his people. If Christ is not raised from the dead, there is no resurrection for Messiah’s people; they have only the death-curse from God.

The unifying element of Book I of the Psalms is messiah David’s constant struggle with his enemies to establish the messianic kingdom of righteousness and peace. These central themes of constant confrontation and ultimate victory show the unending struggle of the ‘seed of the woman” the “seed of Satan” (Gen. 3:15) that characterizes the whole of redemptive history.[7]

But still, we CAN identify with David’s situation on a personal level. Maybe you aren’t facing a coming military battle with all your former countrymen lined up against you, but your battle is your job and the weapons wielded against you are gossip, lying, misrepresentation, and backstabbing. You don’t have tens of thousands of soldiers lined up against you, but it only takes one enemy to make your life into a struggle.

Perhaps your son is not leading an army whose only goal is to kill you. But you may have a child who has betrayed what you stand for or rejected your teaching and advice. Maybe he or she had wandered off into the weeds and rejected the faith you tried to instill in them. Or, it may seem to you that your marriage is a battlefield and the weapons arrayed against you are mistrust, anger, disrespect and unloving attitudes. And in your head, you hear the enemy taunting, “God will not deliver [you]” (v. 2). Spurgeon wrote, “It is the most bitter of all afflictions to be led to fear that there is no help for us in God.”[8]

David was an adulterer and a murderer. The consequences of his sins had come upon his household (2 Sam. 12:10) and his enemies are shouting that this man of blood” (2 Sam. 16:7) is under God’s just punishment, God’s curse. Remember, under the Mosaic Code, there was no sacrifice available to atone for deliberate sins David had so openly committed. Here, far below sea level in the wasteland, David is left to wonder whether God has truly forgiven his sins and whether God still has covenant loyalty (chesed) for David. Moses offers no hope for David the adulterous murderer. But Abraham does, because the righteous shall live by trust (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Phil. 3:9; Heb. 11:7).

David sets the musical directive Selah here so that during the extended guitar solo you can stop and think about the dangers surrounding you – the enemies that seem huge and the battles that cannot possibly be won – the employment struggle, the marriage drifting inexorably toward the rocks, the rebellious child, the huge pile of debt. It is in the midst of those kinds of hopeless battles when the enemy is shouting that there is no hope for you in God, that God shows up to comfort you with the unshakable fact of Messiah’s victory. Because, as it fares with the messianic king, so it fares with each member of the messianic kingdom.

Here’s the point: Messiah Jesus won! He overcame the death-curse of sin and was raised up in total victory. And if you are trusting into Jesus as your only hope to be right with God (because he dies the death David escaped shortly after David wrote this psalm), then you are IN CHRIST and ALL the benefits of his victory are yours for the taking.

That is the Divine Extraordinary lined up for battle against the seemingly-overwhelming ordinary. The ordinary looks large on the outside, but it’s cramped and claustrophobic on the inside. The Divine Extraordinary looks small on the outside – like a betrayed and shamed father fleeing for his life; like a carpenter’s son hanging cursed on a Roman cross – but it’s WAY LARGER ON THE INSIDE! The battles come, but the war is already won.

PROTECTION AND PEACE (3:3-6)

David lifts his eyes away from the desert, away from Absalom’s army, away from the seemingly-overwhelming ordinary to the Divine Extraordinary: God’s anointing covenant of kingship and eternal victory. In verses 3-4, David looks to the Great I AM who does not change and whose promise will not fail. “But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, /my glory, and the lifter of my head.[9]

“When a believer gazes too long at his enemies, the force arrayed against him seems to grow in size until it appears to be overwhelming. But when he turns his thoughts to God, God is seen in his true, great stature, and the enemies shrink to manageable proportions.”[10] When David calls God his shield, he’s likely appealing to God’s saving covenant with Abraham:

…the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great” (Gen. 15:1; Deut. 33:29; 2 Sam. 22:2-3).[11]

David sings I AM is the lifter of my head. “Bowed by humiliation, David flees Jerusalem with his head covered (2 Sam. 15:30) but vindicated in victory he returns as king with head held high. Similarly, the Son’s sacred head is bowed low on a cross outside of Jerusalem, but today his head is exalted in the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Luke 21:28).”[12]

4 “I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah” [13] David’s prayer on the Mt. of Olives was that Ahithophel’s advice to Absalom would be thwarted. God frustrated Ahithophel’s advice to set out after David immediately with 12,000 men while David’s forces were small and the king was helpless. Absalom rejected that advice for the illogical and disastrous advice of David’s double agent: Absalom should wait for a better time to strike. Ahithophel knew, when his advice was rejected, that YHWH had won the war already. He slipped out of the palace, went home, and hung himself. David received word from his spies that Absalom was not in hot pursuit (2 Sam. 17). I AM answered David’s prayer.

Absalom may have occupied Jerusalem, but God had not left his holy hill. God was present even in the midst of the enemy. God hears the prayers of Messiah. He hears the prayers of those IN Messiah. Again, David invites us to stop and think about this as the guitar solo kicks in: Selah.

Now, David could sleep in the confidence of answered prayer. He would wake up the next morning to sing this hymn of oppression, trust, and thanksgiving to I AM for his covenant loyalty to a notorious sinner, a bad husband, a horrible father, and a lousy ruler. David’s hope was not in his ability to keep Moses’ Law. Paul sang, in Eph. 5:14,

Awake, O sleeper, /and arise from the dead, /and Christ will shine on you.” [14]

David’s hope was in the salvation covenant made with Abraham that I AM would be Abraham’s shield because the Promised Seed was coming to crush Satan’s head.

David sings, “I will not be afraid of many thousands of people /who have set themselves against me all around.[15] David wasn’t kidding about the many thousands. All Israel, but for a few, turned their hearts against him. Absalom had 12,000 men at the ready to pursue David within hours of David’s leaving Jerusalem. In the final battle between Absalom’s and David’s armies 20,000 men (including Absalom) were killed. David is not afraid because he knows the inside of God’s saving covenant is WAY LARGER than the army lined up against him,

PRAISE AND BENEDICTION (3:6-7)

David sings, “7Arise, O Lord! /Save me, O my God! /For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; /you break the teeth of the wicked.[16] This is not hate speech, as some suppose. This is God’s anointed king exercising his duty to pray for I AM’s justice to dominate the kingdom.  And David is so confident in the fact of God’s rule, he uses verb forms that describe the actions as already-accomplished acts. God’s justice is certain; he will defend and preserve his messiah.

“Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you” (Num. 10:35)[17] was Moses’ war cry when the Ark of the Covenant marched before the people of Israel. It was Moses’ call for God to exercise his covenant loyalty to his people, in the same way that David now cries out with certainty that I AM will defend his covenant with his messiah king.

If you think this is mean-spirited hate speech, you need only go back to 2 Samuel and hear David’s inconsolable wailing over Absalom’s death. Or, if you don’t want to read too much of your Bible today, just look at the very last verse of Psalm 3. “

Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be on your people!Extended guitar solo[18]

Who were God’s people for whom messiah David prayed? The very same Israel who held David in contempt, who sided with Absalom, who were cheering for David to die as one cursed by God. For these hateful rebellious people to be blessed, Messiah had to be delivered from death. Because, as it fares with the messianic king, so it fares with each member of the messianic kingdom.

As David prayed for his people’s blessing, so prayed his greater Son Messiah Jesus in the midst of his great war upon sin and death.

32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with [Jesus]. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”[19]

Salvation belongs to I AM by means of Messiah Jesus who loved even his enemies and defeated death. The just died for the unjust and rose again for his people. He has shattered the teeth of the enemy for the blessing of his people, no matter the appearance of their circumstances.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 3.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), 2 Sa 15:31.

[3] Bruce K. Waltke, James M. Houston, and Erika Moore, The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 203.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 3:1.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 3:2.

[6] Robertson, 63-64.

[7] Id., 65.

[8] C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1a, Psalms 1–26 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), 23.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 3:3.

[10] James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 1–41: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 32.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ge 15:1.

[12] Waltke, et. al., 202.

[13] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 3:4.

[14] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Eph 5:14.

[15] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 3:6.

[16] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 3:7.

[17] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Nu 10:35.

[18] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 3:8.

[19] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Lk 23:32–34.