Psalm 3 is a song written by King David, inspired by a devastating time in his family and in the life of the nation of Israel. (Visit this link to hear the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir sing from Psalm 3.)
In response to the rebellion of his son Absalom, David, along with his immediate family and the residents of his palace, including his bodyguard, fled over the Mt. of Olives, through the wilderness, across the Jordan River, to the city of Mahanaim – a flight of about 60 miles.
In the meantime, Absalom seized the capital of Jerusalem and soon put his forces on the road to capture and kill David.
1 Lord, how they have increased who trouble me!
Many are they who rise up against me.
2 Many are they who say of my soul,
“There is no help for him in God.”
3 But thou, O Lord, are a shield for me;
my glory, and the lifter up of my head.
David realized that, even in times when it appeared all hope was lost, God was still his Protector.
David also realized that, if there were any honor or glory in him personally, it was there because God had put it there. He knew that all of the glory of the creation found its source in God.
Finally, David praised God for being “the LIFTER OF MY HEAD.”
As he trudged hurriedly along with his companions, David went barefoot over Olivet in humiliation, his head bent down and covered in his blanket with no glory, no dignity left, bearing the shame and reproach of those who should have been his supporters. Yet David did not panic, nor did he despair.
Simply put, David knew that the same God who had raised him from the lowly estate of a shepherd to the throne of Israel, and who had delivered him in times past from the sins of others as well as his own failures, would not fail him now, and would either deliver him from or at least carry him through this time of adversity.
All of us have gone through times in our lives when it seemed the whole world was against us – when we bowed our heads in shame or humiliation, either because of our own sin or because of the sins of other – times when we felt like a nobody with no value in the world other than to be walked on by those who would ridicule and harass our every step.
You may even be in such a situation as you read this today.
This is where David was as he fled from Jerusalem. He traveled over the rocky steps of Olivet, trudged through a wilderness, and forded a river – all with bare feet. However, we need to pay attention to what David did as he traveled those grueling miles of adversity.
Psalm 3:4 I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and He heard me out of His holy hill.
David knew that he would not find the answers to his problems in his own strength or even in the strength of other men. He knew that the problem he faced was not a family problem or a social problem or a political problem, but a spiritual problem, and that he would only find an answer in prayer.
So he cried aloud to God.
Do you remember the Ark of the Covenant?
On top of the Ark between the two over-arching cherubim was the mercy seat – the dwelling place of God among the people of Israel – the place where God met with Moses and later with the priests to proclaim His will to the people.
The Ark typically rested in the Tabernacle on the hills of Jerusalem. Two priests, Abiathar and Zadok, brought the Ark as part of David’s exodus from Jerusalem. When David realized it, he commanded them to carry the Ark back to Jerusalem.
David knew that, no matter how much distance there was between him and the dwelling place of God, God was aware of his situation and could hear his cry for help. He knew that his prayers would reach God, even if the dwelling place of God remained in the Tabernacle in Jerusalem.
That’s why David wrote, “…and He heard me out of his holy hill.”
Today, we can be assured that no matter where we are and no matter how dismal the situation of life might appear, God will always hear us when we call on Him. His answer may not coincide with our expectations, but any answer is evidence that our prayer was heard.
Here is where it is critical that we remember that God has a perfect purpose in everything He does.
Isaiah 46:9-10 “…I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’”
In Psalm 2, David expressed this same confidence in God to care for His people.
1 Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
3 “Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 “As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
What the Lord purposes to do, He does permanently. Those He rescues, He rescues completely. Those He calls into the kingdom, He calls with the intent to protect and to deliver and to comfort.
Those who truly know God as Father through their relationship with Jesus Christ should be encouraged that we have nothing to fear from this world.
Because of his knowledge and faith in the power of God, even in the face of adversity and possible death, David could testify…
Psalm 3:5 I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for Jehovah sustaineth me.
David was able to lay his head down and sleep the sleep of one who knows that, even in the midst of the worst storm of life, God is still faithful to deliver those who belong to Him. As Charles Spurgeon wrote, David “reclined his head on the bosom of his God, slept happily beneath the wing of Providence in sweet security, and then awoke in safety.” [i]
Certainly, David was a man of courage, but there is more than courage at work here. There is evidence of a confidence in the providence of God to “give his beloved sleep,” (Psalm 127:2) even in the face of adversity.
Thus David would write in the next psalm…
Psalm 4:8 In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.
The Bible tells us that God has not given those He has called into the kingdom a spirit of fear, but of “power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7) The ability to sleep and to arise in peace, even when the world seems to be falling to pieces, is granted to those who “keep sound wisdom and discretion” (Proverbs 3:21) and who maintain a steadfast trust in the Lord. (Isaiah 26:3)
There is also in this verse an intimation of the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. In fact, in a sense, this is a messianic psalm, prophesying concerning the life of Jesus.
He, too, was pursued by those who would destroy Him, who actually believed they were successful in doing so in the crucifixion.
He, too, was laid down and slept the sleep of death – the sleep of perfect peace for those who are righteous.
Having passed through to the other side of death, He, too, suddenly awaked into life through the resurrection, for God the Father had sustained Him throughout the whole ordeal.
After a night of repose in the trust of the Lord, God’s hand having served as his pillow,[ii] while making preparations for the battle that certainly lay before him, even then David could say with assurance…
Psalm 3:6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.
Absalom was following hard after David with the intent to kill him and to destroy David’s rule over Israel. The Bible does not specify how many men were in Absalom’s army, but in the ensuing battle, over 20,000 of those men were killed. (2 Samuel 18:7)
David was aware of the degree of danger before him and of the power and cunning of his foes, yet he did not put his trust in his own strength or in the strength of his followers, but in the strength and faithfulness of the Lord.
David knew that, even as he prepared to face the adversity before him, he was still standing in the need of prayer.
Psalm 3:7 Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.
David does not have such confidence in the Lord by nature. His confidence comes from his own experience with the grace of God.
David is the mighty adulterer and murderer who allowed his pride and lust to override his reason. Yet when confronted with his sin, David repented and thus was able to experience the redemption of a loving and graceful God.
David knew that, even though he had an army to defend him against the army of Absalom, he could not depend on flesh alone to win against the prevailing evil in the land. In the words of the writer of the Proverbs…
Proverbs 21:31 The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD.
This truth David states emphatically in the last verse of the psalm…
Psalm 3:8 Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people! Selah
As Jonah was carried into the depths of the sea in the belly of a fish by the judgment of God for his disobedience, Jonah cried out to God in prayer, confessing, “Salvation is of the Lord.”
Just as Jonah realized that there was no rescue apart from the delivering hand of God, David declared that his deliverance, too, lay within the power and the purpose of God’s will.
…the God of Creation…
…the God who is all-knowing and all-powerful
…the God who is righteous, and holy, and just
…is the same God who seeks out the sinner so that He might save him from the penalty of sin, which is death and eternal separation from the presence of God…
….so that He might bless and comfort him.
Paul wrote of this relationship between salvation and blessing in his second letter to the church at Corinth…
2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
Even as you read this article, you may have reached the end of your own rope and be at your wits end, but along with David, I want to remind you of the comforting hand of our God who has determined His counsel before the foundation of the world and will accomplish all of His purpose.
For that reason, once He calls you into the kingdom, He will never leave you nor forsake you.
He is our shield and defender…
…our glory and our honor…
…and the one who lifts our heads when we are overwhelmed by sorrow, shame, and adversity.
I will close with one of my favorite sections of Scripture that captures this idea of God’s rescue and God’s salvation.
23 Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters,
24 They see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep.
25 For He commands and raises the stormy wind, which lifts up the waves of the sea.
26 They mount up to the heavens, they go down again to the depths; their soul melts because of trouble.
27 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses.
29 He calms the storm, so that its waves are still.
30 Then they are glad because they are quiet; so He guides them to their desired haven.
31 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! (NKJV)
[ii] Keil and Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary, Online Bible Software.