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Psalm 3 – Deliverance at the Hand of the Lord
A psalm of David.
When he fled from his son Absalom.
1O Lord, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
2Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.” Selah
3But You are a shield around me, O Lord,
You bestow glory on me and lift up my head,
4To the Lord I cry aloud,
and He answers me from His holy hill. Selah
5I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
6I will not fear the tens of thousands
drawn up against me on every side.
7Arise, O Lord!
Deliver me, O my God!
For You have struck all my enemies on the jaw.
8From the Lord comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on Your people. Selah
Psalm 3 depicts how David’s view of a troubled situation went from hopelessness to confidence: hopelessness when he had his eyes focused on his situation; confidence when he considered the Lord’s hand in the situation.
As the inscription of the Psalm says, this Psalm of David concerns the time “when he fled from his son Absalom”. This episode in David’s life is found in II Sam. 15. During David’s reign over Israel, his son Absalom gathered a following by “bad-mouthing” David. Even some of David’s most trusted aids joined Absalom’s camp (II Sam. 15:12). Absalom proclaimed himself king, and David was forced to flee Jerusalem.
This episode demonstrates that even the most renowned of God’s children face trials; yes, even heavy trials. Jesus prepared us for this: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). The apostles in the book of Acts recognized this: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). So we should not be surprised when we, as children of God, face affliction. As Peter says: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed” (I Pet. 4:12-13).
So, we find that, according to the Bible, affliction is normal for the saints. This contradicts much “teaching” in the pulpits. Some would say that, when one becomes a Christian, there will be no more adversity, no more trouble, no more hardships. This view is not supported in the Bible. Moreover, this view is dangerous. If one comes to Christ on the basis that their life will be affliction-less (a faulty basis), they will most likely fall away when affliction comes. Since their “conversion” was not based on truth, odds are that it was not a true conversion. People must be brought to Christ “not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (I Cor. 1:17), but with the true gospel of Christ, that is, “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15:3,4).
The affliction of David described in this Psalm was a punishment from God for his sin with Bathsheba. After Nathan confronted David concerning his sin, Nathan said: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel’” (II Sam. 12:11,12). This prophecy was completely fulfilled when Absalom took David’s concubines: “So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and he lay with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel” (II Sam. 16:22).
We learn from this that the results of sin are far-reaching. Years had passed since David’s sin with Bathsheba; yet, David bore the consequences. We also learn an oft-mentioned principle in the Bible: what you sow, you shall reap. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:7,8). In this case, David, almost literally, reaped what he sowed: he lay with another man’s wife, so another man lay with his concubines.
God is a just God; yet, God is also a merciful God. Despite the afflictions and, yes, even punishment that we face, God is with us and He is in control of the situation. This is the theme of this Psalm. David confessed his sin to God and repented from his sin and, thus, David could look to God as his Savior. As the Lord says: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isa. 43:1-3).
This Psalm can be divided into four parts: vv. 1-2 - David looks at the circumstances without considering God; vv. 3-4 - David considers God in the circumstances; vv. 5-6 - peace as a result of trusting in God; vv. 7-8 - confidence for David that God is in control.
David begins with the words “O Lord”. Our advantage as children of God over our enemies in any situation is that we can turn to God for help. As Paul points out: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). And the Psalmist says: “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Ps. 118:6). I feel for those who do not turn to the Lord in their times of trouble. I have known the Lord most of my life and, so, I cannot imagine what it would be like to face affliction without His help. Turn to Him in your time of trouble!
When David says: “How many are my foes! How many rise up against me!” (vs. 1), he is not asking questions, but expressing exclamations of surprise. The Godly are often surprised when they face trials. They think that since they are God’s children, they are exempt from trouble. However, God has made it very clear in His Word that we will undergo hardship and affliction. The trials that we face are different than the trials that those of the world face. Our trials are for our good. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11). The Psalmist says: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word” (Ps. 119:67). And Paul points out: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (II Cor 4:17). Thus, rather than bemoan our afflicted life, we can rejoice, for “blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).
There were, in fact, “many” that rose up against David at this time. David’s estimation of the situation agrees with the historical account: “A messenger came and told David, ‘The hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom’” (II Sam. 15:13). Therefore, from a worldly point of view, David had reason to view the situation as hopeless. It is natural for men to consider a situation hopeless when they see no worldly help. However, the child of God must consider his Heavenly Father’s role in the situation. God is in control. He allows no affliction to strike us that He has not ordained for our good. God controls all the circumstances of our lives and, also, the length of our lives: “Man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed” (Job 14:5).
The “many” that rose up against David are certainly the same “many” who lauded David earlier in his life. The women would come out and sing: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (I Sam. 18:7). But people are fickle. The same who lauded David, rebel with Absalom; the same who lauded Christ as He entered Jerusalem, shouted “Crucify Him” just days later. Never set your hope on man or you will be disappointed. Put your trust in the Rock of Your salvation, Jesus Christ.
In David’s situation, the crowds were saying: “God will not deliver him.” Often people speak incorrectly for God. More often than not, the incorrect word attributed to God will result in discouragement for the hearer. The Spirit of God will strive to communicate the correct word of the Lord, which will conflict with the false prophecy. Thus, the hearer will be confused by conflicting “words from the Lord”. The book of Job contains examples of this. Much of the book of Job consists of Job’s friends incorrectly “speaking” for God, offering their own opinions about why Job is afflicted. Later, the Lord upbraids them directly when He speaks to one of Job’s friends: “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7). Be careful that you do not incorrectly speak the words of God. False prophecy is a serious sin, demanding death as a punishment: “But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death” (Deut. 18:20). Instead of boldly stating, “Thus saith the Lord!”, it is much safer to humbly say, “I believe the Lord may be saying such and such to you. Seek the Lord’s guidance on this issue.”
In David’s situation, the people seemed to know that David was under the rod of correction from God, but they were incorrect in presuming that David was no longer under God’s protection. They were misrepresenting God, not taking into account God’s mercy on the repentant. “God will not deliver him” was the worst that they could say concerning David. There is no worse position than to be out of the mercy of God. To be forsaken of God is the worst of afflictions, thus, Christ’s cry on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1; Matt. 27:46).
This section of the Psalm ends with the musical term “Selah”. This term is thought to have signaled a pause in the music or possibly a musical interlude. Whatever the case may be, the positions of “Selah” in the Psalms represent appropriate places for the reader to meditate on what has been written.
In verse 3, with the word “But”, David turns from looking with worldly eyes at his situation, and turns his eyes upward to God. How different a situation looks when God is seen as a participant! True faith turns to God in all calamities. He’s our shield from danger, the source of any glory we may have, the lifter of our heads in dejection. We not only can trust in God to execute His will in the situation, but we can also rejoice in the midst of trials, because of God’s sovereignty in the situation.
In David’s situation, he sees that the result of his afflictions will be “glory”. David’s chief “glory” is the fact that he was an ancestor and even a type of Christ. David as king suffered persecution from the rebellion of his subjects, just as Christ as King suffered persecution from the rebellion of His subjects. Thus, the result of David’s affliction was that he was given the honor of being a type of Christ in the Bible. What greater glory could there be for a child of God!
Next, in verse 4, David cries to the Lord in his affliction and the Lord answers him. We, as God’s children, can be certain our cries to the Lord are heard and answered with no exception. Often, when it seems like we do not receive an answer from God, it is because His answer does not conform to our expectation. We must be attuned to the Lord’s answer, even if it is not what we expect. In David’s case, the Lord did not deliver him from the trial; rather, the Lord gave David peace through the trial. This may not have been the answer that David wanted; nevertheless, David recognized it as the Lord’s answer to his prayer.
The Lord’s answer came from “His holy hill”, Zion, in the city of the Lord, the future site of the temple and symbolically the dwelling place of the God Most High. Zion was viewed as the place where the people met God in prayer. Just as David looked to the holy hill, so we can look to Christ, who has superceded the temple. In the book of John, Jesus said to the Jews: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19). Then John explains: “But the temple he had spoken of was his body” (John 2:21). The temple is a type of Christ in at least three ways: 1. He is the center of our worship; 2. We meet with God through Him; 3. He is the location of the final and ultimate sacrifice and atonement for sins.
In verses 5 and 6, we see the evidence of God’s answer to David’s prayer. God answered David’s prayer by giving David peace through the trial, as evidenced by the fact that David could “lie down and sleep”. Those who see the Lord’s hand in the situation can sleep in the storm, even as Jesus slept in the storm: “Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping” (Matt. 8:24). Jesus knew that His life was in the Father’s hands because He gave Himself totally over to obeying the Father’s will. So, in this situation, David entrusts himself to the Lord.
David says “I wake again”, as if he didn’t expect to. He resigned himself totally to the Lord’s will, even if it meant death. David realized that his life was in the Lord’s hands, for he says that he awoke “because the Lord sustains” him. The Lord kept the enemy away during David’s sleep. In the same way, the Lord sustains us in our sleep each night. Who but the Lord keeps us breathing, keeps our heart beating and keeps our life-blood flowing during the night as we sleep?
David goes on to say: “I will not fear”. In his time of danger, David not only finds solace (he sleeps), but also confidence (he does not fear). He receives not only peace of mind (evidenced by his sleep), but also peace in the situation (evidenced by his confidence). David’s confidence in the situation could only have come from the Lord. In the eyes of the world, it is a miraculous confidence that does not fear “the tens of thousands drawn up” on every side.
David’s confidence in the situation was not in himself, but the Lord, to deliver him. Because of this, he entered the battle with a prayer. We must remember to lean on the Lord for deliverance, even after He has given us confidence in our time of trouble. We have the tendency, after the Lord has given us peace of mind and confidence, to think that from then on we can make it alone. We must lean on the Lord in all phases of the battle. We must realize that “from the Lord”, and from the Lord alone “comes deliverance”.
Indeed, the passage of the Godly through trials is a testimony to those who do not know the Lord that “from the Lord comes deliverance”. David’s deliverance was a testimony to this; Job’s deliverance was a testimony to this; and indeed, Jesus’ deliverance from the grave by His resurrection from the dead was a testimony that “from the Lord comes deliverance”. Our deliverance is from the Lord, and from the Lord alone: it is not by our works or our abilities, but by His grace and mercy. “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Indeed, this is the main theme of the Bible and the message of the gospel: “From the Lord comes deliverance”.
David ends the Psalm with the prayer to the Lord: “May your blessing be on your people”. Though we pass through trials, God’s blessing is still on us. Moreover, it is stated in the Bible over and over that God’s people are blessed because of their trials. As cited above: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). Also, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10) and “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed” (I Pet. 3:14).
From the world’s point of view, those who submitted to Absalom’s leadership considered themselves blessed. In reality though, Absalom’s leadership was destructive to his followers because he put them at enmity with God’s people and, ultimately, with God Himself.