Psalm 3 Study
Sycamore Presbyterian Church Friday Men’s Bible Study Psalm 3 (see notes)
Question 1. Give a name to each of the following sermon sections: verses 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8. What progression do you see through each section? How does the last section give us “tests” by which we can tell we have “triumphed” over suffering, even if we are still grieving?
A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.
1 O Lord, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
2 many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God. Selah
3 But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
4 I cried aloud to the Lord,
and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
5 I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.
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.
8 Salvation belongs to the Lord;
your blessing be on your people! Selah
Accusation or Opposition Section. David is being accused, perhaps as a preamble to Absalom’s rebellion, of not being saved. render him unfir to be king, and would make sense as part of a conspiracy to unseat him. David also laments the number of his foes and their actions to rise against him.
Who Justifies? Section. Because David clearly looks to God as the One who is on his side during his ordeal. David calls God his shield, glory, lifter of his head, and answerer of his prayer. The lifting of David’s head is interesting: this is a sign that David gives God credit for encouragement.
Rest and Courage Section. David sleeps and wakes up more encouraged and ready to deal with his oppressors (when Adam slept, God gave him a wife; when Abraham slept, God made him the father of many nations – God puts His children to sleep to prepare them for future growth, responsibility and blessing.)
To God the Victory Section. David calls on God to arise and smite his (David’s) enemies, and to save him.
In these sections we see a progression from despair and hurt, to meditation on God’s nature and petition for relief, to rest and restoration of faith (driving out fear), to a proclamation of God’s eventual victory.
The tests provided in verse 7 are given in the lines: “For you strike all my enemies on the cheek, you break the teeth of the wicked.” There is a temptation to over-spiritualize these violent and physical test descriptions. To David (who was eventually restored to his throne), God’s vindication had some very physical aspects (such as the death of his son), but also some less so, such as Shimei asking for and receiving David’s forgiveness for his support of the rebellion. In the dramatic improvement of the new covenant (which we Reformed ought to dwell on more) Christ has commanded us to pray for and love our enemies. David did that by being forgiving (typifying Christ) even as he wrote violent song lyrics. So ought we to make no distinction with our enemies: our sin, satan and the world. Oughtn’t we to be violent in stamping out these enemies but forgiving when necessary? More on this below.
Question 2. What are the two basic ways David’s enemies were opposing him? (If you wish, read about Absalom’s rebellion in 2 Sam 15-18.) How are the troubles you face similar to David’s?
David’s enemies were his son Absalom and all those gathered around him who opposed David’s rule as King, and who were prepared to stage a coup to gain the throne. According to this Psalm, they were rising against him and slandering him. The simple act of rising against the king was sinful, especially considering Absalom’s total ingratitude: as a murderer, he did not receive the just penalty for his killing his brother, and was instead banished (David’s refusal to apply the death penalty to his son became the bitter root from which the whole sorry affair grew – another instance of the sad & predictable result of ignoring God’s penal sanctions.) Absalom was violent, lighting Joab’s crops on fire to gain attention; disingenuous, pretending to be repentant by falling on his face in front of David at court; and dishonest, lying to people about David’s availability and willingness to judge them. Absalom rebelled against legitimate state and family authority at the same time. His lies, and their ready acceptance among his confederates, were interpreted by David as the notion that he had “no salvation in God.” This is a very damaging attack; during these Old Covenant times God’s people did not (apparently) discern the commandment to love their enemies; this particular lie gave them license to hate David without restraint and provided a rationalization for their plotting.
I wanted to get away with saying that I have never faced any trial like this: I’ve never been a king. But I recall a time when I served on the board of a private Christian ministry; we took a necessary yet unpopular action. A group of people plotted to leave and in the process told some lies – these two things seem to go together – but not in as hateful or dangerous a way as did David’s enemies. In retrospect it is clear that Christians could become blinded to the need for a dialogue, grow angry, and commit emotionally to divisive actions that required dishonest rationalizations as cover. Their response to power (however modest an amount) in my observation was anything but meek or carefully thought out. Thankfully I don’t face any such problems now, but doubtless those in ministry today have to face this constantly. Think: church split.
The whole affair would have never happened had David obeyed the law by putting Absalom to death. In our case, the board had allowed two chronic problems to exist: disunity on the board and shoddy financial controls. These two errors created the conditions that led to the eventual disruption.
Q.3 Verses 3-4. How does David find assurance and confidence in the face of physical attacks? Are we to believe that God will never let anything “really bad” happen to a believer?
David finds assurance by reminding himself that God is his shield, glory and encourager. “Crying aloud” to the Lord means prayer; God’s answer from His holy hill (i.e. Horeb) means God’s law (which, as a reference, is likely intentional as Absalom’s rebellion bore its bitter fruit at Horeb.) I would take this as the totality of God’s law-word (the whole Bible, but not in a way as to trivialize the Decalogue – note also that this is how Keller interprets the word “law” in Psalm 119 in this study.)
David’s language is very physical. We have to realize that in the Old Covenant, the physical tokens of God’s kingdom (the temple, priestly garments, animal sacrifices, etc.) typified the reality to come in Christ (let us avoid the gnostic error of conflating immateriality per se with goodness and physicality with evil.) Even with this language of physical rescue, David did not claim that bad things didn’t happen: they did. His test was severe; he was exiled beyond the Jordan, and people died (including, to David’s pathetic melancholy, Absalom.) So the answer to the latter part of this question is: no; God does let “really bad” things happen to believers. Any believer who denies this is self-deceived or just waiting his turn. Do we see that David, failing to apply justice to his son, later grew in his ability to administer justice? Did God use this sad (and thoroughly avoidable) episode to burn some dross from his anointed? Perhaps. We ought to see this kind of growth happen to us when “really bad” things happen to us.
I know for a fact that when I lost my airline job and suffered severely financially (a long story), that was “really bad.” Today, I know that I could lose everything again, and still be OK. God used “really bad” in my life to make me stronger and more faithful. I’m sure He has more in store, and when I go through the next “really bad” episode, I’ll probably call it unbearable. But He will be faithful.
Lastly, we do have Jesus’ warning not to fear them that can kill the body but after that have nothing they can do (Matt. 10:28). This is a further revelation to us over and above the Old Testament revelation about how He challenges and grows us.
How does David find assurance and confidence in the face of accusation? What makes him think that God will not finally forsake him? How can we know God won’t forsake us? (Hint: read verse 3 from a Christ-centered perspective).
David finds assurance and confidence based on his lifetime of dealing with God as his savior. By the time of the sorry episode with Absalom, David had already:
- Served as a shepherd (not easy)
- Defeated Goliath
- Served in king Saul’s court
- Been pursued by Saul
- Lived in a cave
- Fought in many wars
- Suffered through a famine
- Taken a census at Satan’s behest
- Fell into adultery
There were many instances of temptation and sin, and God had been faithful to David the whole time.
What was the salient point about David? He’d been anointed by the Lord, meaning he had the Holy Spirit. After the cross, Christians have had the Holy Spirit poured on them in even greater measure; we can remember our baptisms and know that Jesus said he would baptize us with the Holy Spirit; Paul tells us that any work of the Holy Spirit in us is a pledge of God’s salvation. For many reasons, David was a greater man than you and I; but we should also not shrink from apprehending this reality: if we have the Holy Spirit, we are also men after God’s own heart. And so we can know we’ll persevere through trials like David’s.
Reading verse 3 from a Christ-centered perspective is all any Christian should do: the capitalized LORD is a translation of YHWH who is Christ. If we have to be told to interpret YHWH as Christ, we lack some important knowledge about Him. Nonetheless, verse 3 tells us that Christ is our hero, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat by giving us salvation in the face of all our sins and spiritual death. David’s history shows us many instances of this divine attribute in his life; YHWH saving him time and again despite his sins.
Q.5. In what ways can a Christian pray against enemies as David does in verse 7? In what ways can we not do so? (Read Romans 12:17-21.)
We can definitely pray for God to defeat enemies as David did. This would be right, assuming we are talking about the most tenacious enemies we have: our own sins, the world and the devil’s lies. We ought to ask God to break the teeth of our pride, lust, sloth, hatred, larceny and evil speech; we ought to ask God to strike the world’s unbelief on the cheek; we ought to ask God to not only refute the devil’s lies but to mock the devil relentlessly. The point is, David was asking God to do these things. Two things stand out from this:
- Romans 12:17-21 seems to be a call to peacefulness; however, the conclusion is not peaceful: “… for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Rom 12:20b). Warfare against enemies, not peace, is the goal and constant reality. The difference now is that the Christians’ weapons have been changed to love and good works; acts of mercy; studying the Bible; preaching; missions; obeying God’s laws. So we should pray for God to crush, destroy, smite, hit, tear down and pulverize His enemies. We just have to use the weapons He has chosen for us.
- David himself knew this even back then; despite his violent worship song lyrics, David would not touch Saul, God’s anointed; he pardoned Shimei who cursed him during the Absalom rebellion; he even provided for his concubines whom he’d left in his house in Jerusalem for life. David did not habitually use violence unless it was legitimate state use (war; justice, etc.) So even David understood (for the most part) that violence in prayer is a form of wrestling with God in prayer, not a justification for the illegitimate use of physical violence.
In conclusion then: we ought to pray exactly as God commands us to pray in the Psalms without restriction. We should sing imprecatory Psalms (check out what happens when you Google that phrase) in worship all the time! We are asking God to win the battle, and to let us join the fight using Christian weapons.
Q.6. What have you learned in this psalm that can help you “pray your difficulties” better?
The most impressive thing about this study has been what I learned after diving into 2 Samuel 15-17 (and musing on David’s troubles generally) to understand context. David’s stupendously difficult life, fraught with murder, rape, adultery, rebellion, war, Satan’s unwanted attention and other difficulties, is a source of vicarious growth for a thoughtful Christian. Here is a man who followed the Holy Spirit, fell into one disaster after another, and continually called out to God for help. And he received the help, rising to victory time and again. We ought to grow after meditating upon David, especially since the author of Hebrews told us: “And what more can I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, …” (Hebrews 11:32.) This author told us that because of a deadline, he couldn’t give us more detail about David’s faith as our tutor. But we can go back and study him.
And since David wrote imprecatory song lyrics, yet was peaceful and a man after God’s own heart, we know that we can lift up imprecatory prayers against God’s enemies and our own without self-consciousness. We ought to do so loudly and with regularity. We ought to pray that God would find victory against His enemies today.
Using Praying the Psalms Group Study Product
All Bible quotes ESV