We are told in the book of Job that man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. In the third psalm we discover what it means to find our rest and comfort in God alone. When David fled from Absalom, it was one of the greatest troubles of his life. “LORD, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me . . .” (Ps. 3:1-8).
The context was this. Absalom, a wicked and ungrateful son, successfully surprised his father with his revolt. At the same time, there were early causes larger than Absalom’s ingratitude. Although David was forgiven for his sin with Bathsheba, there were long term consequence nonetheless (2 Sam. 12:11-12). David, despite a long and prosperous reign, had thousands of enemies within Israel. The night when David fled from Jerusalem, he had six hundred men with him. The counsel to Absalom that night was to send an army of twelve thousand after David. Another significant detail is that David told the priests to keep the ark in Jerusalem. The Lord hears David’s prayer in this psalm “out of his holy hill.” Absalom thought he was in control in Jerusalem, but he was not.
This psalm is the first in which the Hebrew word selah occurs. It only occurs in poetry, and there has been much discussion over what it means. Many commentators hold that it indicates a pause in the singing to provide time for meditation or reflection. Others hold that it indicates a “lifting,” either of volume, or perhaps of key.
So this is David’s cry to God. He may have written this after the crisis, when he was reflecting on it. But it is more likely, given the nature of the psalm, and the tone of it, that he composed this during his flight from his son. The psalm divides readily into four strophes.
“Many there be.” The rebellion against David was centered in the ten northern tribes, those seduced by Absalom. The magnitude of the revolt was considerable. There were many who troubled David (v. 1). Their numbers troubled him, but so did their words. As Shimei curses David in his flight, many said that God was done with David (v. 2). This shaft went home. David was an adulterer and murderer. Did he deserve all this? In one way, yes. But was it true that there was no help for him in God? Absolutely not.
But David turned to God. God was a shield, a shield which completely surrounded him (v. 3). God was David’s glory, and in his time of trouble, the lifter of his head (v. 3). They said to him that God would not hear. But David has not lost his voice (v. 4). God hears the prayer, and He hears it from His holy hill, Zion (v. 4).
And therefore comfort comes. This is the peace that passes understanding. David laid down and slept soundly, not wracked by anxiety. He woke up, and the Lord had sustained him. Sleep is a manifest type of death. David was dead, but he faced it quietly, and woke in the morning (v. 5). David rests in the Word of God, and he will not be afraid, regardless of the numbers set against him. Nathan’s prophecies had come true—his son had died, and another son had slept with his concubines. But Nathan had said nothing about losing the throne.
David therefore summons God to arise. God has been seated (v. 7), and David cries to Him. Rise up. God has broken the teeth of the wild animals who would devour David—they cannot do him any harm (v. 7). Salvation is from God; it truly is (v. 8). His blessing rests upon His people.
What applications might we draw? How are we to sing this psalm? What are we to learn?
You think you got troubles? The Scriptures are given, in part, to comfort us in all our afflictions. Throughout the Word of God, we find more than enough examples to encourage us.
And we see here that only God can shield. Every self-protective device we might invent is a shield made out of tissue paper. Only God can shield us in this world.
As David cried to the Lord, so may we. His arm is not too short to save. He hears the cries of His people. He knows your distress, and wants you to cry out to Him from the midst of it. And it does not matter if Absalom controls the Temple physically. The Lord still answers out of His holy hill.
And therefore we rest in the fact that salvation is the Lord’s. We learn to pray when we learn who answers prayer, and who alone answers prayer. The answer to our prayers is not the result of a cooperative effort between us and God. We cry out, and He answers us from His holy hill. Our cry for help is not part of the answer—it is the prayer. Salvation is of the Lord, and of the Lord only.