A Morning Song
I love the early morning, and always have — since I was a boy. It is the freshest time of day. The bustling activities of life have not yet begun their distractions. Dawn’s early light is an ideal time for meditation; indeed, for thanksgiving to the Creator. Regardless of the mistakes of yesterday, Heaven’s compassions are renewed each morning and the soul is invigorated — for those whose minds are centered upon God (Lamentations 3:22-23).
Psalm 3 is a prayer song of the morning. It is brief, but brimming with instruction and comfort. The superscription (that brief descriptive just before the first verse) identifies the song’s author as David, and the occasion as one of those dark times in the king’s life — when he was fleeing from Absalom.
Absalom, a favorite son of David, led a rebellion against his father, driving him from the holy city eastward into the seclusion of the forests beyond the Jordan. While the superscriptions of the Psalms are not a part of the sacred text, they are nonetheless very ancient and most likely reflect the historical contexts underlying the poetic compositions.
David’s life was in danger. His administration was fraught with disarray, and his reflections upon the relationship with his son doubtless was tormenting. There was nowhere to turn but unto God; but that was solace enough.
An analysis of the song reveals that it quite easily falls into four logical divisions.
The Conspirators (vv. 1-2)
The record of Absalom’s exploits is recorded in 2 Samuel 13-19. After the youth murdered his brother (for molesting their sister), David banished him from Jerusalem for five years. When he finally was permitted to return, the young man carefully plotted to wrest the kingdom from his father. Little by little he “stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (15:6). This somber comment was recorded by the author of 2 Samuel. “And the conspiracy was strong; for the people increased continually with Absalom” (15:12). In view of this, David exclaims:
“Jehovah, how are my adversaries increased! Many are they that rise up against me. Many there are that say of my soul [life], There is no help for him in God.”
The psalmist begins by laying his case before the Lord. The opposition was increasing (cf. the use of “increased” in 2 Samuel 15:12). Some had vowed to take his life, and arrogantly declared that not even God would be able to help him.
One cannot but be reminded of the challenge issued by Sennacherib to Hezekiah, in the demand that the king of Judah surrender Jerusalem to the Assyrian forces. Jehovah would be unable to deliver his people, they chided. Presently, however, 185,000 Assyrian corpses mutely testified to the folly of that boast (read carefully Isaiah 37).
David’s Conviction (vv. 3-4)
David, however, continues to entertain a strong conviction that the Lord’s promise regarding his role in the Messianic plan of redemption (see 2 Samuel 7:12-13) would remain steadfast, and thus he would not forfeit his life in the present distress. And though the king’s head might bow in sorrow and trepidation, the Lord would lift it up again. And so he says with consummate trust:
“But you, O Jehovah, are a shield about me; My glory and the lifter up of my head. I cry unto Jehovah with my voice, And he answers me out of his holy hill.”
The king is confident that the Almighty’s protective shield will surround him. God is his glory, and he lifts the head of the sorrowful. David audibly calls to the Lord, and praises him for his consolation from the “holy hill.” (Have you ever tried speaking audibly to the Lord, even in your private prayers?) The “holy hill” is Zion, where the Ark of the Covenant was located and the presence of Jehovah was focused. The king was absolutely certain God would stand by him.
The Shepherd’s Tranquility (vv. 5-6)
The tranquility of the shepherd ruler is seen in the following lyric, somewhat reminiscent of our own childhood petition, “Now I lay me down to sleep?”:
“I laid me down and slept; I awaked; For Jehovah sustains me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of the people that have set themselves against me round about.”
Remarkably, the stately ruler lay down (even in the wilderness, and likely on the ground) and slept peacefully. He was not assassinated in the night, nor did he awaken in a cold sweat, wondering if his vengeful son was lurking nearby. He rested well and awoke refreshed. Why was that?
It was because he trusted the Lord to sustain him. Contrast this with those tortuous times when he was burdened by the memories of his terrible sins. Undoubtedly on occasions he experienced some heinous nights (see Psalm 32; cf. 6,38,143). In this instance, however, he was calm because he knew his cause was righteous, and his God was would not be intimidated by numbers — not even ten thousand.
The King’s Fervent Appeal (vv. 7-8)
The song concludes with a confident call upon the Lord.
“Arise, O Jehovah; Save me, O my God: For you have struck all mine enemies upon the cheekbone; you have broken the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs unto Jehovah: Your blessing be upon your people.”
“Arise” recalls Israel’s customary marching shout anticipating victory (cf. Numbers 10:35). The king’s petition is that his God will “save” him. Salvation is a frequent refrain in the Psalms, and the nature of the term depends upon the context. In this instance, he seems to ask for deliverance from the present peril, though the ultimate realization will be in the Messiah’s deliverance.
David gently appeals to the Lord (with an argument) on the basis of past experiences. He recalls Jehovah’s protective care in certain events of his life. For example, as a shepherd youth he had been saved from wild beasts by the Lord’s power, he had slain the lumbering infidel, Goliath — when others in Israel quaked, and he had repeatedly escaped the pursuits of the crazed Saul.
There was ample precedent of Heaven’s providential care. Indeed “salvation” belongs to the Lord. While David’s use of the term likely was temporal, the word “salvation” blossoms in meaning with the passing of the centuries and the appearance of the Son of God.
The psalm concludes with a most remarkable petition. “Your blessing be upon your people.” It is a prayer for the very ones who, significantly, were in revolt against him, and seeking his life.
One of the greatest challenges of any saint is to pray for those he knows are seeking his destruction. That is so hard! But it is required, and one is blessed if he can rise to the occasion, as did the Savior: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Psalm 3 is a wonderful morning song. Try it sometime.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.