This psalm is entitled “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son” (Psalm 3 ESV). Before we begin delving into the psalm it would be worthwhile to provide some context. For those who are not familiar, David was the King of Israel who ruled after Israel’s first King Saul was slain in combat. David was considered a man after God’s own heart and was highly favored by the Lord and man. That being said, David’s life and reign were at times tumultuous. He endured two coup attempts against him by his own children, the first by Absalom, who conspired to take him from his throne (2 Samuel 15:1-12). David flees the capital upon hearing of Absalom’s treachery with a small retinue of loyal followers (2 Samuel 15:14-17). Keep in mind at this point that King David is in his later years and what a shock and humiliation it would be to have to up and get out of your own home due to the treachery of your own son. So this provides the context for this psalm, David is in much bitterness and distress and we see that reflected in this psalm (see also Matthew Henry commentary for more background).
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.”
(Psalm 3:1-2 ESV)
Now we hear it from David himself, he is surrounded by enemies and they are taunting him and reviling him and declaring that God has abandoned him. For a man with such a close relationship with God this must have been difficult to hear. Some also have commented that his guilt over his previous adultery may have given the Devil an opportunity to pull at his conscience and make him believe that he deserves to be and has been forsaken by God (Henry id). David is facing external taunts and potentially internal doubts; he is very much in the furnace at this time similar to the three Jewish counselors in Daniel (Daniel 3:8-30).
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.
(Psalm 3:3-4 ESV)
Yet David is steadfast and does not turn away from the Lord. He turns toward God and affirms his goodness and the protection he provides. He affirms that he has called out to God and God has heard him. This saintly confidence comes from a man who has been through many trials and can pull on the depth of his salvation experience (in addition to his knowledge of the saving power of God from the Pentateuch) to give him the confidence that God will save him.
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.
(Psalm 3:5-6 ESV)
I think oftentimes we take a peaceful night’s sleep for granted. Imagine what it would be like to be in David’s predicament and be able to sleep. And David’s confidence is rewarded for he awakes again (Henry id). We should be thankful for every time we awake for such is a gift and I think it is not accidental that this act of sleeping and waking is mentioned; it serves as a reminder for the things we may be taking for granted in our lives. It may also be a foreshadowing or symbolic of (as Martin Luther suggests in Spurgeon’s commentary notes) Christ’s resurrection.
We see from the last verse that the Lord’s anointed have nothing to fear from their enemies. Not even if (perhaps especially when) there are thousands of them. The “odds are against you” has no meaning to God because he determines the odds as he determines the lot (Proverbs 16:33); he is the god of “chance.”
Arise, O Lord!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
(Psalm 3:7 ESV)
At times we should not be hesitant to call the Lord to action and to “Arise!” and bring us salvation. Not that the Lord is ever laying down on the job (we would cease to exist if he did) but he responds to fervent and honest need. And what will he do? He will destroy our enemies by rendering them toothless. Imagine a wolf, a lion or a bear without any teeth; the picture is comical and just so he will make light of our enemies. Teeth are also used to consume or devour and without their teeth these predators or wicked people will be rendered unable to devour their prey and therefore no longer a threat.
Salvation belongs to the Lord;
your blessing be on your people!
(Psalm 3:8 ESV)
What was the end result of Absalom’s rebellion? He was hung up on a tree and killed (2 Samuel 18:9-15). The throne was returned to David. Salvation belongs to the Lord and his blessings be on his people.
Lord Almighty, in the name of your son Jesus Christ I pray that we remember, even when the “odds” are against us, that you are for us and encamp around your anointed protecting them from all harm. Though man may betray us you will never forsake us. Praise the Lord!
*ESV=English Standard Version