“The Dark Hour”
King David wrote Psalm 3 “when he fled from Absalom his son” (see the title), the events of which are recounted in 2 Samuel 15. The personal grief of having raised a rebellious son (2 Sam. 18:33) was the knife-twist amid a larger aching pain of national disloyalty. Mixed with the popular public sentiment that God had withdrawn from David, this time of exile made for torturous mental agony. He had been on the run before from the previous king, Saul, but that time he had been innocent. This second flight from Jerusalem, however, was partially due to his own moral failings (2 Sam. 12:11).
Human Enmity (vv.1-2)
O Lord, how my adversaries have increased!
Many are rising up against me.
Many are saying of my soul,
“There is no deliverance for him in God.”
David was part of a shrinking minority, which is itself a test of nerve. His opponents, pictured as multiplying, were active in their search for him and accusatory – it looked as though God had abandoned him. David had already acknowledged his sin and thrown himself at the mercy of God (2 Sam. 16:11-12). But he was facing “increasing” human enmity. Hunted, alone and weak, to whom could he turn to now?
Divine Protection (vv.3-4)
But You, O LORD, are a shield about me,
My glory, and the One who lifts my head.
I was crying to the LORD with my voice,
And He answered me from His holy mountain.
Where else can anyone go in pain of fear but to the LORD? Each phrase in v.3 grows in confidence. It’s as if David begins by reminding himself who the LORD is and increases with each fresh remembrance. He considered the LORD his “shield” encompassing him in divine protection.
David, a king to whom much “glory” had been bestowed in the form of power, privilege and possessions, had been stripped of that glory hiding as a wanted man. He had squandered those gifts, using them for his own gain and to his own ruin. But now, broken in the wilderness, David finally realized the LORD was his only true claim to “glory” (Gal. 6:14).
Though he had been weeping “with his head covered” as he “walked barefoot” in miserable dejection (2 Sam. 15:30), the LORD “lifts” his head. Despite his failures as a husband, a father and a king, and despite all the favor he had lost with his subjects, the merciful God gave him grace.
God’s “holy mountain” was the place where David was installed as king and where the ark, the symbol of God’s earthly throne (2 Sam. 6:2) and covenant, was kept. Though Absalom was the sitting king, David knew there was another King reigning in Jerusalem (Psa. 2) whose decrees issued from Zion, the LORD himself. David cried to him and was “answered.”
Peace of Mind (vv.5-6)
I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the LORD sustains me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me round about.
Such was David’s certainty that his “crying” prayer had been heard (1 Jn. 5:14-15) that he “lay down and slept”! His security in answered prayer was well founded for he “awoke” by the sustaining power of the LORD.
Awake, alive, refreshed and encouraged, David was ready to face any threat. No matter how “many” (vv.1-2) enemies encircled him, even “ten thousands,” he had the peace of mind that the LORD’s protection brings (Phil. 4:4-7).
Victory & Blessing (vv.7-8)
Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God!
For You smite all my enemies on the cheek;
You shatter the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the LORD;
Your blessing be upon Your people!
For David, the anointed of God, refuge from his enemies is not enough. Anything less than total victory and being reinstated as king was tantamount to defeat. So David called upon the LORD his God for “salvation” from his “enemies,” confident God would provide deliverance.
David trusted in God’s power to save because he realized that “salvation belongs” to God. Without the LORD there is no salvation to be had. But this is no presumptuous prayer. He was not asking anything from the LORD that the LORD had not already promised. God has always exalted the lowly and humbled the proud. Within David's humble cry for "salvation" was his desire for God to be glorified through his salvation.
So the psalm ends looking beyond David to God’s “people” and beyond David’s rescue to God’s “blessing.” God’s people will not only survive but be delivered; we will not only be delivered but be victorious; we will not only be victorious but be eternally blessed.
David’s situation in Psalm 3 mirrors ours in so many ways. We were created to reign on God’s earth (Gen. 1:28) but abdicated our throne and exchanged our authority for slavery to sin and Satan (Gen. 3). But thank God that he sent his Anointed Son to dethrone the enemy and reinstall us to our rightful position! (Jn. 1:12; Rev. 22:5) “Salvation belongs to the LORD”!
(adapted from Kidner Classic Commentaries: Psalms 1-72)