Psalm 3 — Salvation Belongs to the Lord
Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me.
2 Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. Selah.
3 But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.
4 I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah.
5 I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.
6 I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.
7 Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly.
8 Salvation belongeth unto the Lord: thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah.
The inscription reads, “Alexamenos worships his god.” It underscores a third century drawing retrieved by archeologists. The rendering depicts a man hanging on a cross with a donkey’s head. His schoolyard peers made sure Alexamenos is seen bowing his knee to the mocked figure, and under the boy is the inscription, “Alexamenos is faithful.” Christians are called to follow Christ into the soul distressing place of persecution. Often, trouble comes from one’s own family as was the case with King David.
Psalm 3 is the song of a father who trusts in God in the midst of tragic circumstances. The historical background of the psalm is the coup attempt by King David’s son Absalom (2 Sam 15–18). As David grew older, rumors insinuated that God had forsaken His anointed king for Israel.
Absalom was a handsome man of forty years, who presented himself as a judge in Jerusalem. His treachery as a man, however, began when he murdered his half-brother Amnon for raping his half-sister, Tamar. Absalom was eventually recalled from exile at Geshur (2 Sam 14). David would not see him for two years after his return to Jerusalem. They eventually met together at Absalom’s insistence, as demonstrated by his burning Joab’s crops in order to get a meeting with his father, the king. David and Absalom were reconciled, but Absalom was ambitious to take his father’s office as king of Israel.
Through his public self-positioning, Absalom won over the hearts of the people of Israel (2 Sam 15). They became antagonists toward David as his political power was decreasing. Absalom requested the opportunity to depart the presence of his father to pay a vow at Hebron; but instead, he declared himself king.
Word of the coup came to David at Jerusalem, and he recognized the people were with Absalom. He led the faithful remnant from Jerusalem to cross the Jordan. His enemies swarmed like bees and pursued him (2 Sam 16). At some point during his relegation to the rocky mountains of Transjordan, he wrote Psalm 3.
The third psalm presents the first title used in the collection. The title presents the setting and is considered part of the inspired text in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the title we have the first instance of the word “psalm” (Heb. mismor). The title likely post-dates the psalm itself, but the content of the psalm fits the context. This is the historical account of David’s flight and eventual victory over Absalom and his company of betrayers.
David lamented the addition of enemies and their aggression toward him (v. 1). Synthetic parallelism is the poetic device used to connect verses 1 and 2. Repetition of the problem David faced adds emphasis to his opening lament. “O Lord” is the utterance of grief over a situation. The momentum of adversity brought increasing demonization of God’s anointed (2 Sam 16:5–8). The scoffers were not just speaking, but they were mobilizing against David’s leadership of the nation.
David reiterated the God-forsaken rhetoric used against him (v. 2). “Many” were the detractors, who were of the opinion that YHWH had forsaken His chosen king, “There is no deliverance for him in God.” Still, the wicked usurpers showed no interest in God, His covenant promises, or His Word. They had forgotten David’s anointing and coronation at Hebron before the Lord of hosts (2 Sam 5). They suffered the aging monarch and judged his administration to be less than glorious. They convinced themselves David had lost favor with God, and yet, they did not consult God, nor the Scriptures for themselves. By their own might and power, they would take charge of the kingdom.
Absalom arrived in Jerusalem, took up residence in his father’s house, and publicly had relations with his father’s concubines to send a message to David and the nation. The disloyal, evil counsel of Ahithophel informed Absalom what he should do to succeed David (2 Sam 16:15).
David contradicted his opponents’ musings with theological propositions (v. 3). Using the metaphor of a shield, David declares God is his protection. He also proclaims that God is David’s glory. In this most humble of statements, David reduced his achievements to nothing in order to ascribe all glory to YHWH. In the third statement, the king is portraying God as the one who “lifts my head.” From the state of rejection, David was plunged into dejection and despair. This is vividly displayed in his humble enduring of verbal assaults by Shimei, of the house of Saul.
David added evidence by arguing God had answered his prayer (v. 4). In our moments of lament, God’s people turn to prayer as their first spiritual inclination. David goes to the heart of God with unfettered emotions expressed before the Most High. Psalm 51 could be read as David’s personal confession and supplication for a new beginning, “Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation (51:12).
The king’s performance was valiant at times and treacherous at other times. Still, God honored His promise to David as a display of covenant faithfulness (2 Sam 7:8–16). David was quick to repent, and God answered him with the promise of restoration. The answer came from “His holy hill.”
The holy hill allusion is to Zion, the place of the ark of the covenant. This was the symbol of God’s presence and power. Jerusalem was also the place of subsequent Davidic coronations. God alone was faithful to perform in David what He had spoken. The vanity of ambitious men always ends in the utter futility of foiled plans.
David revealed God had preserved him and given him rest (v. 5). David slept well through circumstances typically entertaining insomnia. Psalm 3 is sometimes called a “morning prayer.” David awoke from a good night’s sleep and praised God for His care and concern for His chosen vessel, “the Lord sustains me!” David’s life was conversely joy and tragedy. Such is the life of the Christian walking through the troubles of this world. No person represents this manifestation of grace in the midst of trial more than Jesus Christ. David serves as a type of Christ, a man acquainted with sorrows, destined for an eternal reign (Rev 22:5).
David proclaimed God’s presence had made him fearless, though his enemies encircled him (v. 6). The claim to fearlessness is a lie, unless it is the Lord who instills confidence in the man of God. Whom shall I fear? If God is for me, then who can be against me?
Here are the words of Scripture that remind us that God’s perfect love is the catalyst to cast out fear in the elect. “Tens of thousands of people” encircled David’s remnant group hiding out in the mountains. The reference back to “Many” adversaries in v. 1 and v. 2 is also supported by the body count following the battle between David’s faithful minority following and the armies of Israel, led by Amasa, the betrayer. 20,000 men of Israel died in the struggle for the throne.
David prayed for God to insult and silence his opponents (v. 7). “Arise, O Lord” was the common prayer of request for YHWH to aid Israel in battle as the ark of the covenant was removed from the holiest of holies for battle. Humbly, and lacking the superstitions of Saul, David rejected the presence of the ark in the flight to refuge. He trusted God’s will to be done for better or worse.
To strike a man on the cheek is the proverbial “slap in the face.” Some are offended by David’s raw requests of God, but the king knew the battle belonged to the Lord. Enduring the slander of his opponents also inspired the request that their teeth be broken, thus hindering their ability to rage against God and His anointed (Psalm 2:1–2).
David proclaimed God’s blessing and salvation were already his to enjoy (v. 8). “Deliverance” or “victory” are the closest translations from Hebrew and understood by us as salvation. God delivers and God gets the glory. His salvation is our blessing. My help comes not from the mountains, but from the Lord who is mighty to save (Psalm 121:1–2).
In sum, David laments the machinations of the multitude of adversaries, led by Absalom, who got his hair caught in a thicket while riding his donkey. Precarious was his state as the Lord exacted vengeance on him for the harm he would do to the Lord’s anointed.
Prayer was David’s faithful action, and it resulted in God’s protection from his enemies. This protection produced an internal state of peace, as prayer is designed to do. The Lord brought David victory in the day of battle and restored him to his God-appointed position.
Whatever befalls you today, and whoever encircles you to do you harm, you are encouraged to pray in the name of your Deliverer, Jesus Christ. He delights to give you peace and protection. Humble yourself before God, receive His salvation, and remember “Alexamenos was faithful.”
Spokane Valley, Washington
May 21, 2021