If you have your Bibles, go ahead and turn to Psalm 3. The book of Psalms, Psalm number 3. We’re going to be in the Psalms this summer. We were in the Psalms last summer. There are 150 of them. We are not going to run out of options anytime soon, but as we are going to be going through the Psalms, I want to spend a little time this morning and lay some foundation that we can build on in future weeks. Because when we come to any new part of the Bible, we’ve got to understand just what it is.
We finished a multi-year real time through Jesus, his life journey, through the gospel according to Mark, it took us about three years and that’s how long Jesus’s earthly ministry was. We finished that and now we’re coming to the Psalms, but Mark is different than the Psalms. Mark is giving us theological history and the Psalms are showing us heartfelt emotion that’s being poured out before God. And the Bible is literature. Whenever we want to understand through the Bible what God is saying to us, we have to learn to read it as literature. So what are the Psalms? How should we think about them?
Well, first off, they are songs, they would have been sung. They’re also prayers that would have been prayed. They’re written in versus like poetry is today. They have lines that are parallel to one another and lines that are opposite from one another to draw out a contrast and make a point. But they’re not just poetry for poetry sake. They instruct us in holiness, they give us wisdom, they show us what it looks like to live a happy and blessed life before the Lord. You could think of the psalms like they’re the heart of the Bible and maybe the epistles are the head and maybe the Old Testament books of history are the legs that do a lot of walking. But the Psalms connect with us on a level that’s for some people, nothing else in scripture does.
The main theme of the Psalms could be summarized by saying, the Lord is king. They show us the kingship of God and they consistently show God’s people relying on his promises in the past, counting on God to deliver them in the present and looking for that fulfillment of his promises in the future. Many Psalms will fit that pattern and today’s psalm is no exception. So let’s read that together. Psalm 3:1-8, it starts out saying,
“A Psalm of David when he fled from His son, Absalom, oh 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, 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. I laid down and slept. I woke again for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of the 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 beyond your people.”
This starts out telling us that it’s a Psalm of David when he fled from his son, Absalom. Now, often in our Bibles, you’ll see paragraph titles like there’s a paragraph, there’s a title that goes before it. In almost every case, those are helpful additions from translators today. That’s not what the original author wrote. That’s not the inspired word of God. They are helps to you to find your place in the text. So you might see Jesus feeding the 5,000. Well, Mark didn’t write that for instance, in that case, that’s just something that’s been added. But in the Psalms, when we see these titles, like a Psalm of David when he fled from his son, Absalom. Most of these are a part of the biblical text. That’s not something we’ve added. So usually when we’re preaching, we’re not going to read paragraph titles, but I just want to tell you that’s why this one’s important. It’s actually a part of the text as it’s been delivered to us.
It tells us that there is a father who is fleeing from his son. If a father’s fleeing from his son, something has gone gravely wrong, don’t you think? But this is not just any father. That would be bad enough if the son is forcing his father off of the throne of his kingdom. But what’s actually happening here is this is David who’s being forced off the throne of his kingdom. And in order for us to understand just the depth of what’s happening here, we need to understand who David is.
In fact, I would suggest to you that you can’t fully understand who Jesus is if you don’t understand who David is. David writes many of the Psalms, many of the Psalms are about him. And so once again, to set a little bit of foundation for our summer in the psalms, we’re going to talk about David. We’re going to go all the way back to genesis and do a quick recap of biblical history in about a minute and a half. So God creates Adam and Eve and they rebel against him. They’re in a garden, he has blessed them and they sin against him and sin enters the world because of their rebellion. God is holy, He cannot let sin go on punished, and he expels them from the garden.
Now when they sinned, they acted as our representatives. And so we inherit a corrupted nature and the guilt that they did on our behalf so as sinners, we sin. But in Genesis chapter 3, after that sin, God promises that He will send a descendant of Eve who will crush the head of Satan and death. So right after their sin, he promises them a deliverer. And then if we fast forward a few generations, you have Abraham. And he’s in that line coming down from Eve. God promised to make him a great nation that he would bless the world through. Then Moses comes and God reaffirms his promises to Moses. And in that line comes David and David starts out as a shepherd and God chooses him to be the leader of his people.
He’s the one that got singled out and anointed to lead his nation. And he promised that through David, a future savior would come, the Messiah. That’s Jesus. So Jesus is the son of David. You’ll see that title picked up in the New Testament, and interestingly, he’s both David’s son, and he’s David’s Lord. That’s something to think on, maybe after lunch. But God promised to David that he would establish his kingdom forever, that a descendant of David would forever sit on his throne and that he would bless the world through that person. You can actually see these promises of land and offspring all throughout the old testament. They’re not just random stories. They’re tracing the arc of how God is redeeming his people all the way from the fall in Genesis three through the new heavens and the new earth in the book of revelations.
That’s the David in our Psalm, the anointed King of God. It’s not just anyone who’s trying to overthrow another person. It’s not an interpersonal conflict only. This is his son rising up against the Kingdom of God. These events, which we’re not going to read today are described in second Samuel 15:1-19. That’s where we see this description of Absalom rising up against David. And what happened is, is that David’s oldest son Amnon had raped his half sister, Tamar, and Absalom avenges that rape by murdering Amnon and then Absalom flees into exile for many years. And finally he’s allowed to come back. But David won’t see him. And so Absalom starts to become resentful and he determines that he is going to steal the kingdom away from his father.
So here’s what he’d do. He would stand on the road into town and whenever anyone would come to see the king, he would say, “Well what’s your complaint?” And they would tell it to him. “What’s your concern?” And they would tell it to him and he’d say, “That’s a very legitimate complaint. You definitely have grounds to stand on there. But sadly, there is no representative of the king who is here to talk with you. I would love to do something about it. Like I said, you have a legitimate complaint. If only someone would make me king, I could solve your problems.” And after years of doing this, he wins the hearts of the nation of Israel.
Then finally he gathers hundreds of men and executes his coup against his father, and that’s where we pick up the story. This is not just any son overthrowing a father. This is Absalom trying to overthrow the anointed one of God through whom God had promised to bless the world. Let’s walk through this Psalm and see what David says in this circumstance. He says,
”Oh 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.”
One of the first things you might notice is David uses the word many, many times. He is painting a picture here.
This is not an isolated incident. This is the concerted effort of a group of people, and as we’ve just seen in the backstory with years of prep work, this is not just a little problem that might go away, but it’s also not just one person fighting another person, they’re saying that God has actually left him, that there’s no salvation for him in God. Now Salvation in the Bible means different things in different places. The Bible’s written over thousands of years. We shouldn’t expect one word to be used exactly the same way every time. Salvation here does not mean the personal forgiveness, washing of guilt type of thing we think of in the New Testament. You could substitute the word deliverance here. People are saying that God will not deliver him from this circumstance. God will abandon him. God has removed his hand from him.
You might understand why people would say that or why David might be tempted to believe it. I mean, if you’re running from your throne, from your son, at night, hiding in wells and hiding in caves when you were or are the king, you might be tempted to think that God has a left you. Perhaps this was due to David’s sin. I think of Bathsheba, which was adultery at best (rape at worse), which he covered up with a murder of her husband. So maybe they’re saying that God has left him because of that. Maybe God has left him because he’s lost face with the people. Now, most of us don’t experience this sort of circumstance. At least I’m not a king. I can’t speak for you.
I don’t have a son who’s chasing me off of my throne, but I do think many of us, perhaps many more than that might admit it at first conversation, are familiar with people saying there is no deliverance for you in God. Because there’s someone who knows you better than anyone else. Who often may like to say, “You’re not good enough for God to love you. You’re not good enough to be a Christian.” In other words, there is no salvation for you in God, and who might that person be? Well, if you’re anything like me, that person is probably you. We are our own worst critics. Our doubts, our self accusations are most often the most powerful things that confront our soul.
I can deal with the accusations other people make against Christianity and me all day long. Yeah, I mean those sorts of things can get us down, but for me it’s the doubts I know. It’s the soft spots I know in my faith that are the places that when pushed on a little, maybe just through circumstances become the issues I have to deal with. So I think most of us can resonate with this idea, even if it’s just us, who is accusing us. That we doubt, “Will God actually deliver me? Has God actually saved me?” I think we can all resonate with this at points, whether it’s the world who’s against us, someone who sinned against us or whether it’s just us who’s against us.
But David has more to say. He doesn’t just stop there. In verse two he says, “but,” and that is always a key turning point in scripture.
“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.”
And he addresses God here as Lord. In your Bible, and the translation on the screen that’s in all capitals and that’s not some kind of typo. What’s going on here is David is referring to God with his name. God is not God’s name. God is the type of being that God is, but Yahweh is God’s name. In the Old Testament, in English, the way that the covenant name of God is shown to us as with these small all capitals lord that translates the name God gave to his people to call him. It was a special name for them. So when David is referring to God here, he’s using this close personal name that God gave especially to his people.
They’re saying God won’t deliver him and he’s saying, the Lord my God will deliver me. And David picks up this language of God being a shield and defender that others previously in the Old Testament had written. He relies on what had previously been encouraging to the saints to help his soul and help encourage his faith and he realizes that while the glory of His throne has been taken, God is the one who bestows glory. God is the one who lifts the head of the downtrodden. If you can say those things at perhaps your darkest moment, it shows what you really believe about God and this is true today.
Anyone can call on the Lord and he will deliver them. We’ll talk about what that might look like in a later sense, but as Christians, we have all been adopted into the family of God and we can call on our father when we need help. David continues,
”I laid 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.”
In these two verses, we see the tangible results of David’s trust. He’s being pursued, he’s running for his life, he’s hiding in caves and wells and all of those sorts of thing and yet he can lay down and rest his head, well not on a pillow but on something and rest in the promises of God that God will sustain and protect him because God is his shield.
I think for many of us sleep is our daily reminder that we have to rest in God. Whether we think of it that way, whether we acknowledge it, it forces us to realize we are not God, we are not in control of ourselves, but we try to play God oftentimes. So we stay up late, we get up early because there’s just so much that has to be done and at some point we will be reminded that we are not the creator. For me, that often happens about 8:30 at night when I’m trying to read a book and cannot stay awake. It’s my body’s way of reminding me, you are not the creator. You are the creation. You need to rest and God will sustain you.
Often we stay up late though worrying, having anxieties about today and tomorrow and things we can’t change, and yet I think what we see here is that anxiety will keep you awake, but faith and trust in God will help you sleep. I’m not trying to oversimplify something that may be a a medical condition or something like that. I’m just saying as a general principle, all things equal, trust in God brings peace. When we think we have to hold on to everything, when we think we are in control of our circumstances, we become anxious. But when we realize that God is our deliverer, he is the lifter of our head, we can rest more easily. Sleep is a gift and grace from God.
I continually see this more and more as I get older and as I have a little girl who does not understand that sleep is a gift from God, but God sustains us while we sleep. Like our existence is not contingent upon us. When I am not conscious of myself, I don’t cease to exist because God sustains me. But more to David’s point, he renews our strength. He protects us from the accusations of Satan, we don’t lose our salvation and cease to be saved when we sleep. It doesn’t depend on us. God secures that, but sleep is also a grace from God and that God withholds his judgment. A compelling and popular question today is why do bad things happen to good people? This has been asked for thousands of years and we’re not going to be able to dive into that too much today. But what I would actually say oftentimes is the better question is why does God allow anyone to wake up in the morning after the day before they rebelled and sinned against him and came against his kingdom in the same way that Absalom is coming against David?
Now, there’s so much more we should be able to say about that question, but the fact that God allows us to continue existing is a grace of God. So a question for us, do we sleep as those who have trust in God? Because how we live, will show what we believe. In verse seven, David finishes this Psalm with an excited cry. He says,
“Arise o Lord, save me. Oh my God, for you. Strike my enemies on the cheek. You break the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to the Lord. Your are blessing be on your people.”
He wants God to act. His enemies have said there is no salvation. We saw that in verse one he’s saying, I trust God. I can sleep at night because he’s my shield. God deliver me. Prove my trust in you to be right. And he realizes that if God, if he is to be delivered, God, will have to do it. He cannot save himself.
And time after time in the Old Testament, we see this play out where God shows his people, for instance, through battles with other nations that if they try to take it into their own hands and deliver themselves, they will fail. But when they depend on the Lord, not their works, not their effort, God will deliver them. David knows this to be true. Now David says two things here that might make us uncomfortable. He says,
”You strike all your enemies on the jaw, you break the teeth of the wicked.”
And there are two ways to understand this and I think both are likely true here. The first is that he’s simply saying God has done and does do these sorts of things. That God does strike enemies on the jaw, that he does break the teeth of the wicked. But you could also translate this as David calling for God to do this.
I think this is rather likely. He starts out saying, “arise o Lord, deliver me.”
This is what you do. This is how you deliver people. But regardless of how we understand it, he is calling for God to intervene and judge those who have risen up not just against David, but against the Kingdom of God. In much the same way as it is today, to get a strike on the cheek is humiliating. David is calling for God to humiliate his enemies here. He also asks for God to break their teeth. He likens his enemies to wild animals who lose their strength when their teeth are crushed. And you might be thinking, “Well, that sounds harsh. That doesn’t sound loving.” What would Jesus say about that? And it is harsh, but this is actually why we started out talking about who David is. This is not one guy saying, “I have a personal enemy and God, I want you to annihilate him.”
That’s not what this is. Because the enemies of David are also the enemies of God. They have arisen against the Lord, against his anointed and against his kingdom and promises. And so David wants the evil that is being done against him and against God to be stopped and punished and that’s actually a good desire. For us to desire evil to be vanquished is a good thing. Now, I’m not going to go so far as to say that David never sinned in his anger at any point. Anger is a dangerous thing, but these words that we have in the scriptures here are given to us under the inspiration of God and they are not sinful. But I am saying that his desire for God to judge and set the situation right is a good desire.
Now, like I said, this probably makes us uncomfortable and C.S. Lewis, who is a famous author and Christian has observed that Psalms like this one show that the psalmist takes right and wrong more seriously than we do. I think this is true. I think we as Christians today have been more influenced by our culture and its ideas of tolerance and niceness, not even kindness, but niceness to wear a strong rejection of evil does not sit well with us. And so we should think about that. How much have we been affected by how our culture speaks and thinks about evil? Does it even call it evil?
We have to be careful that we are not like frogs and a pot of slowly heated water that become more and more acclimated to something we shouldn’t, but it’s also important to point out this is not the only way David speaks about this rebellion or about his son. In 2 Samuel 18:5 when he’s giving instructions to his men as they’re going out to try and put this rebellion down. This is what he says about Absalom,
“for my sake, deal gently with the young man Absalom.”
So he wants this rebellion to be over. He wants justice, he wants God to vindicate him, but he loves and cares for his son. And there’s a tension there we have to hold. The psalm ends by saying,
“Salvation belongs to the Lord. Your blessing be on your people.”
He’s calling for deliverance, and this deliverance and salvation belongs to and comes from the Lord. And there’s that covenant personal name of God for his people again, and quite often in scripture, salvation comes through and because of judgment on evil and the evil doer. James Hamilton, who’s a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary says that, “you can summarize all of scripture by saying it’s about God’s glory and salvation through judgment.”
There’s a lot to think about there. It’s about God’s glory and salvation through judgment. God saves his people often through judging evil and in order for someone to be saved, something else has to die. We see this repeatedly in scripture. The sacrificial system of the Old Testament showed us that in order for sins of a person to be temporarily passed over, an animal, a spotless, blameless animal needed to be killed. The battles of the Old Testament show us that in order for God to fulfill his promises of blessing to his people, he was going to judge the evil of another nation and give Israel the land.
David says the same thing here. Deliverance must come from the Lord and the Cross of Christ shows us the same thing. In order for our sin to be covered and salvation to come to us, God had to judge a substitute. Salvation comes through judgment and is for the glory of God. So how should we think about this Psalm? What are some takeaways that I might have for us today? Well, I have three things that I’d like to leave you with.
In trial trust in the promises of God
And the first is that in trials we should cling to and trust the promises of God. In trials we should cling to and trust the promises of God. They become the pillow on which we rest our heads and we realized that God holds the world in his hands. We do not.
Now, God has not made the same sorts of promises to us as Christians that he made to David. He’s not promised us land and offspring. He’s not promised as physical prosperity in this world, and if someone says he has run the other way, but he has promised us to better and bigger things, and if we don’t actually think they’re better and bigger than our conception of what’s important has not been formed as well as it should be by scripture. Because God has promised that he will conform us to be like him. The Creator has said and promised that he will conform us to his image.
Isn’t that remarkable that he would adopt us into his family? We are the Absalom. We are the rebels against the king and he’s saying, I want to deal kindly with you. I want to bring you into my family. If you repent of your sin and trust in him alone. He’s promised that he’s perfectly good and that nothing can separate us from him, that he holds us in his hand and that no one can remove us. So in trials we trust in and rest in the promises of God.
Love people and pray against evil
The second thing I’d like to leave you with, we should love people and pray against evil. We should love people and pray against evil. Now Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to bless those who persecute us, bless and do not curse. And people think this is new with Jesus or the Old Testament is like wrathful and gory and the New Testament is just love and flowers and fancy Instagram photos. And that’s not the case. I would actually suggest to you there’s more judgment per year in the new testament than there is in the Old Testament.
God has been consistent in his character. He was loving in the Old Testament. He is loving in the New Testament. He judges sin in the Old Testament and he judges sin in the New Testament. And when Jesus tells us to love our enemies and love our neighbor, that’s not new in the new testament, he’s pulling that right from the Old Testament. The Old Testament tells us to love our neighbor. The Old Testament tells us to love our enemies, but we struggle oftentimes to understand just who our enemies are. Is that the person who cuts us off in traffic? Is it the person who says bad or negative things about us at work? Is it someone who cheats on us in a relationship. Like who are our enemies?
Well, as Christians I think we have to recenter and remind ourselves of what our primary identity is. Our primary identity is as people who are a part of the kingdom and family of God, everything else is second to that. And not like a close Olympic finish second, like the second that’s so far down the road like if I were running a race that you couldn’t see it. There’s not a contest between what it means to be a part of the Kingdom of God in any of our other earthly and culturally created identities. And so if that’s true, then who are the enemies of the kingdom? They’re people and forces that oppose God and his kingdom, and this is key: We may be a part of this battle and we are a part of a spiritual battle, but people are not our enemies. People may be the enemies of God, but people are not our enemies. That is an incredibly important distinction, but God has given us weapons. Or maybe you would like to say tools for fighting in this battle.
He’s given us prayer and the message of the Gospel. But when we pray against evil, we must be careful. We must be careful to remove selfishness and judgmentalism, vindictiveness and bitterness.
I’m convinced that one of the hardest things, even for the maturing Christian, is not to sin when we are sinned against. I’m not an angry person, as long as everyone around me is calm, right? I’m a patient person until someone starts rushing me. I think the hardest thing for many of us is not to sin when we are sinned against. So when we see evil, let’s not do evil even in our hearts and response to that. Now, it’s not evil to call God to rise up and stop what’s being done. But do we do that as people who realize that we used to be the rebels and enemies against God? Do we do that as those who have received grace and we should be more in tune with our own sinfulness? Because you see, we don’t win our battle by destroying those who oppose us, but by converting them.
If our intent is simply to defeat people physically or even in an argument, we do not understand the mission God has given us as the church. We’re not being faithful to that mission. The church does not fight its battles with anything but prayer and the gospel of Jesus Christ. God has ordained government as an institution whose job is to punish evil and promote good, but that’s not the church’s job at that level. So we should pray against evil and this will take multiple forms perhaps. We should pray for the salvation of those who are perpetrating the evil. If we can’t bring ourselves to pray that God would extend grace to someone else like he extended grace to us, we have a grave problem, but it’s also appropriate to pray that God would rise up and deliver his people who are being persecuted across the globe for their faith, that God would protect those who innocently are following him.
That is a good prayer that may involve a government sanctioned used to force. I don’t know. God may choose to do it however he wants, but our goal should not simply be the destruction of an enemy, but the deliverance of God’s people and the salvation of those who persecute them. And ultimately every time we pray, come Lord Jesus, we are asking God to come in judgment. The New Testament tells us that when Jesus comes back, it will not be as before. Revelation portrays him as coming with a sword coming out of his mouth. I don’t know what that means, but it’s not going to be pleasant. When he comes again, he will come in judgment and through judgment, deliver his people.
This is how Paul encouraged oppressed Christians in 2 Thessalonians, what he told them is, “Yes, you are being persecuted, but find comfort in the fact that Jesus will come back and vindicate you through judging those who persecute you.” This is admittedly a difficult tension for us to hold. I’m not claiming I do this very well myself, but we should love people and pray against evil.
Salvation is from the Lord
Third, and finally we must remember that salvation is from the Lord. Now Salvation for David meant deliverance from his circumstances, but what we understand salvation to be in the new testament is that we are declared righteous of our sin. We are declared not guilty. We are credited with the righteousness of Christ, and that only comes through God’s action. And this has always been how it is. If you think back to our quick timeline, through biblical history, when Adam and Eve rebel, it’s God who clothed them with animals clothes to cover their shame.
When Abraham and Sarah were promised to be the parents of a great nation, they couldn’t conceive. God had to give them a child. And David who was ousted from his throne had to count on God to deliver him. And this way of God interacting with his people didn’t end in the Old Testament. It is still how God fulfills his promises today. Consider Romans 4:4 which says,
“when people work, their wages are not a gift.”
They’ve actually earned them, but people are counted as righteous, declared righteous, credited with righteousness not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners.
In other words, if you are trying to earn goodness, you’re not going to get it. The only way we become righteous in God’s eyes and that is the standard for salvation is if he gives us his righteousness through us trusting in him alone for deliverance. Jesus says in John 6:33,
“the spirit is the one who gives life; Human nature is of no help.”
If we are to be saved from our sins, it must be because we cry out to God and say salvation is from the Lord.
If you’re not a Christian and you’re here today, I would encourage you to consider what it would be like for the end of this Psalm, David’s prayer, to be your prayer. Something like, “Arise, o Lord, save me God. Strike down the enemies of sin and rebellion in my life. Break the teeth of sin and Satan’s hold on me. Salvation belongs to you. God May your blessing of life and salvation beyond me.”
We must humble ourselves before God if we are to be saved from our sins and for the Christian. This Psalm can be our prayer too, while we have salvation as a present reality, we’ve been forgiven of our sins. We still struggle with it and we cannot deliver ourselves from our daily sins. It will only be through God and the work of the spirit that we put to death, sin in our bodies. We know that evil will not be completely vanquished until Jesus returns. So we are awaiting our final salvation. The Bible says we have been saved, we are being saved and we will be saved.
We look forward to the day when we will be saved, when the kingdom will be seen and enjoyed in its fullness, when justice will reign down like water and be carried out fully and impartially, and when righteousness will be upheld and evil will be punished. When we will experience the grace of God to its deepest decree and degree. That is what we should long for as Christians. That deliverance for us is not done. Personal salvation is not all Jesus came to do. We await for him to come back and usher in his kingdom in its fullness. Would you pray with me?