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.“ Selah. 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. Selah. 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. Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God. For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be on your people! (Psalm 3)
The King is on his throne ruling! Hooray! This was the news Israel was waiting for, and now it had happened. Psalm 1 and 2 declare the glory of the reign of David, and they point us forward to the coming rule and reign of Christ and all is well, right? Not really.
It can be easy to think that the Christian life will be one successive victory after another, and frankly, that is the tone that we would expect the Psalms to take after the announcement of the King. But the Psalms do anything but present a sugar-coated presentation of the Christian life. In fact, they are decidedly real about the missed expectations we face so often.
Unfulfilled dreams, lost status, the threat of enemies from outside, and the voice of the enemy within—this is where we find King David and his son Absalom threatening to kill him and to take the kingdom from him, a massive betrayal. In the face of this betrayal, he cries this lament out to God.
David starts with, “O Lord!” He calls on the covenant name of God. He reminds God that he is the covenant-keeping God that put David on the throne, and he says, “Look, all around me are my enemies! They are everywhere. They are attacking me physically and spiritually. I am desperate. I don’t see any escape.” I wonder if you know what it is to be David at this point. It may be from physical enemies, broken friendships, cancer, or divorce. It may be Satan, the age-old enemy accusing you at every step. You are exhausted and feeling hopeless, yet you still know what is supposed to be true about God.
David is afraid, in a dark, scary place. Here we read these beautiful words, these words of hope and life: “But you, Lord.” Notice the great reversal of fortunes, even in the middle of the same circumstances. David has enemies all around him, pressing in on him, calling into question God’s love and care for him, the king. He turns from this state of confusion to remembering God, and that brings him back to a place where he rests in the work of the covenant-keeping God on his behalf. David goes from someone who had enemies all around him, feeling the oppression of his enemies and the questioning of his beliefs to a man who is rooted and grounded in his covenant-keeping God.
David calls out to the heavens, and God answers. C.S. Lewis in his book Surprised by Joy talks about praying and having the feeling that the doors to heaven are closed and are made of brass, so often this can be our experience. This is really frustrating, and we wonder where God is. This Psalm assures us of two things: first, God is on his holy hill. He is in heaven, where he hears us. Second, God answers us from this holy place of power.
This brings the king to the point where he is able to escape sleepless nights, full of hope and rest instead of fear. Look at the way verses 4–6 start (notice the progression): I cried; I lay down; I woke again; I will not be afraid. These four staccato verbs present four ordinary actions that come from one extraordinary God. When I am in the middle of the strife, when I am in the midst of suffering, and when I have come to the end of myself, the only thing I want to be able to do is to sleep. A few years ago, my wife miscarried. It was devastating. When we thought that we had finally made it through the worst of the mourning, we were plunged back in again. I found out that I was losing my job. All I wanted was to sleep. I felt like we would never get out of it. I longed to feel the trust in God that David did.
David turns to God in verse 7 and speaks to him with confidence: “Arise! Save me!” What we don’t notice as we read this in English is that these verbs are imperatives. This gives the impression that David is commanding God to do something. He is calling on God to show himself to be what he is, a “shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head” (v. 3).
How can we have this confidence? How can we know that even though we were God’s enemies, even though we were and still act like the wicked, that God will not break our teeth? It is because Jesus was struck, and struck, and struck again to the point where he was unrecognizable. He had his flesh ripped from his bones. He had his teeth broken as if he was one of the wicked. He was nailed to the cross, died, and was buried. He had enemies all around him, and yet he prayed, “Father … not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus placed his confidence in his Father, the covenant-keeping God, and even when it seemed that the heavens turned to brass for him when the Father poured out his unmitigated wrath, Jesus never faltered. He had his head laid in a grave, and three days later, he awoke by the power of the Spirit as the conqueror.
He did all of this so that when we fail, when our faith falters, Jesus’s perfect record stands in our broken place. So now we can sleep and awake, knowing that this same covenant-keeping God is our God. This thought should so fill your heart with joy that you can cry out just like David did, “Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be on your people!” (v. 8).