Have you ever had a night when your troubles and woes have kept you awake? Something big and daunting, that has got you in its grip and it is shaking you and won’t let go, or a whole lot of little things that have somehow come together… like a pack of small yapping dogs nipping at your heels, that won’t give you rest. You find yourself tossing and turning in the dark, time seeming to slow down so there is no end to the darkness. Your usually comfortable bed seems to have turned into a bed of rocks and your pillow into a stone. No this is not an infomercial for a bamboo pillow or a new mattress topper… rather on night like that there just does not seem to be an answer and a way forward, and exhaustion and tiredness compound the problem.
Psalm 3 has the feel of being from the midst of one of those nights… in fact we know that it is from one of those nights, we are told which night the psalmist has in mind… It’s the first psalm to have a superscript introduction that tells us it is a psalm of David, it’s one of only thirteen psalms in which that introduction places it in a specific occasion in David’s life. This one tells us that is from ‘when David had to flee from his son Absalom’. The story of which is told in 2 Samuel chapter 15-17. David is old and Absalom plots to become king, gathers an army and comes to Jerusalem to kill him, so David has to flee, become a refugee once again. It’s as if all his problems are now compounded. Some of his advisers go over to Absalom’s side, Mephibosheth, Saul’s nearest living relative whom David had looked after, stays in Jerusalem hoping that now the people will give him the throne. AS David flees he is cursed Shimei one of Saul’s relatives, telling him that the LORD is not going to help him, that this in fact may be God’s judgement on David. After a day like that you could imagine that David would find it hard to sleep. But David turns to the LORD… I wonder if this isn’t part of 2 Samuel 16:14 where it says after he had reached his destination David refreshed himself… in prayer and in faith as well as with food and drink and rest. While this prayer may come from there its beauty is that it speaks for all God’s people facing trouble and difficulty. It is a prayer of finding hope in the character of God, the LORD’s faithful love, power and presence.
This spring we looking at selected psalms in a series we are calling ‘Psalms in the key of life: songs of hope amidst real life”. Psalm 1 and 2 form the introduction to the collection of psalms, focusing on God’s blessing, they speak of God’s blessing for those who build their life on God’s word, and God’s blessing on the those who put their trust in God’s anointed king and son. Then it’s interesting because right after that upbeat introduction Psalm 3 starts a series of five laments and prayers for help amidst trouble. As Old Testament scholar Walter Breuggermann says "its gives voice to the note of realism that is prevalent in the psalms”, that attest to the historical vagrancies, the trials and troubles, that assail even the king who is under divide promise”… “But they also attest that in such a world of trouble, where neither scriptural assurance nor divine promise makes one immune from threats, that there is a God to whom one may turn in Hope...The reality of God is as real as the reality of pain and suffering”. Songs of hope amidst real life… My Daughter Bethany’s favorite verse John 16:33 sums it up well for us when Jesus says “in this world there will be trouble, but do not be afraid, for I have overcome the world.”
Psalm 3 is broken into three sections, each ended by the Jewish term, ‘selah’ which acts like musical direction and appears 71 times in the psalms.
Verse 1-2, focus us on the psalmist’s troubles. Like all three sections its starts with the psalmist proclaiming the name of the Lord. Here the Psalmist begins to pour out his woes. The word ‘many is used three times, to denote that the psalmist is being assailed by many people from ever side. The imagery used is one of being embattled surrounded by your foes who are pressing in for the kill. I like watching rugby, if the psalmist was a kiwi he might have talked of being passed the ball and as he started to move forward being meet by the opposition forward pack and finding himself at the bottom of a ruck.
But at the heart of the psalmist woes is the fact that he is being told that “God will not deliver him”, it is an attack on the very nature and character of God, on all the psalmist know of God and God’s goodness. It is as if the psalmist enemies want to strip him of any hope.
There are times when we can feel that God has forgotten us, or that God has closed up shop and gone home for the day, and fallen asleep in front of the TV. We can focus on the problems about us and loss sight of our Lord and saviour.
Then there is that selah, that rest that change of tune perhaps… and the second section v.3-6 changes the focus… with the words “but YOU, LORD” the psalmists gaze changes from his problems to who God is. He makes four assertions about God, things that he has learned from God’s dealing with his people in history and also his gracious dealings with the psalmist in the past.
You are a shield around me. In the midst of being embattled and having his enemies push in for the kill, that God is his shield. The shield mentioned here is the small round shield designed to protect a soldier in a fight while they can parry and respond with their own sword. But the psalmist sees her that God as a shield surrounds him completely. Psalm 125 picks that idea up on a national scale and says “as the mountains surround Jerusalem so the lord surrounds his people”. It picks up the whole idea in Psalms of God being a refuge, not to allow us to escape from the world but to face the world, knowing God’s presence with us.
My Glory. The psalmist realises that his own strength and his own power and ability is not enough to defeat the situation he is in, but he comes to realise that in actual fact it is God whom he look to for strength and power. The psalmist comes to realise that he is dependent on God. He might look back and see how Israel had been bought of slavery in Egypt not by their own strength or Power but the LORDs. David would look back and see the LORD, helping him against the giant Goliath, and other battles and realise it is God’s strength not his own. AS Paul says in the book of Philippians which we looked at last month “ I can do all things’…not in his own strength… but through him(Christ Jesus) who strengthens me.
The ‘lifter of my head’. This image comes from warfare again in the ancient world. A conquering king would make the vanquished kings bow down before him and he would place his foot on their neck, acknowledging his victory over them. But also as one bows before the sovereign in humility the king could also raise a person’s head up to acknowledge they have dignity and honour. The psalmist sees his dignity and honour coming from God, not himself. It is reflected in psalm 23 where David says “you anointed my head with oil in the sight of my enemies”. For you and I from beyond the cross and resurrection we hear Jesus words I no longer call you servants but friends… The affirmation from the beginning of John’s gospel that we have been adopted as children of the Lord most high.
“I call out to the Lord, and he heard me from his Holy mountain”, the affirmation that God answers prayer. Often when we face troubles it is as we look back and see what god has done in the past that it gives us strength to trust for the present. David when facing Goliath talks of God being with him as he faced the lion and the bear who came to attack the sheep, because of that he can trust God now.
As the psalmist has realised what God actual is like and what God has done, he actually has confidence in God in the midst of the situation he is facing and so with that confidence he is able to find rest and sleep and wake refreshed in the morning because it is God who sustains him. You even get the affirmation of the confidence even if ten thousand come against him he will not fear.
Garth Gilksen, the drummer for the worship band Rend Collective, talks of going through a deep depression. He said the root cause of that was being aware of things he didn’t have, he saw friends and others getting ahead and having the seemingly perfect life while he continued to struggle and wrestle. As a friend told him comparison is the thief of Joy. In response to that he began to focus on the blessings he had in Christ… going back to what the gospel says we have in Christ… sight for our spiritual blindness, life even in the face of death. In that God lifted his head and gave him rest.
Then there is again that word selah and the tune again changes.
In verse 7 with this renewed confidence and a good night’s sleep, the psalmist calls on the Lord to arise and intervene on his behalf. To deliver him, from his enemies. We might not be comfortable with the violent imagery used here, of striking the jaw and breaking the teeth. But they come from seeing his enemies as wild animals that have him in their death grip. When I was younger I loved reading Jack London’s books, and in white fang, white fang is stolen, brutalised and forced into dog fights. He wins all his fights until one day a bull dog Cherokee is put up against him Cherokee gets a bite on the skin round his neck and won’t let go and slowly strangles the life out of white fang. Then a saviour steps into the ring, Jack come into save the dog. He tells the owner of the bull dog to call him off or he will break his jaw and teeth to set white fang free. Jack then nurses white fang back to health and teaches him to trust and love again. This is the image used here, the psalmist calls for God to come and break the grip of the problems and enemies that assail him.
It is the same cry and the same confidence that we can have. That God is the one who is our strength and our dignity, who will come and be involved in our situations and bring his redemption and salvation.
The psalmist finishes by asserting in direct opposition to the taunt of his enemies that God is the one who from whom deliverance comes. Not only deliverance but God can be trusted to bring wellbeing and blessing to his people. It’s as if the Psalmist turns and looks down through history to all God’s people and to you and me here today, as face the troubles and problems that would try and strangle the joy and the life and dignity out of us, that we too can trust in the Lord to be our shield, our glory and the lifter of our head, to hear our cry and to answer us from our of his holy mountain.
In fact that is our experience. The word used for deliver here is the same root of yeshua, ‘Jesus’ God has answered us from his holy hill, God has delivered us through the death of Jesus Christ, to forgive our sins and bring us into abundant life with him.
God has indeed arisen, God raised Jesus to life again and sin and death are defeated, their grip on our life is broken, the kingdom of God has come and while we face trouble we can rest and trust in God’s unfailing love in Christ Jesus. We are going to celebrate communion today and that reminds us of that saving grace, God’s presence and the assurance that we are with and in Christ and he will come again to set all things right.
Paul brings that home in the reading we had from Romans we had today. That there is nothing in this world that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing, not death, not physical things or spiritual…nothing. We can rest assured in that, and as it says in Isaiah 40 those who wait on the lord will renew their strength. In that we have hope in that we can find rest we can put our trust in God to deliver and bless.