Lecture 13: Psalm 3
Course: Psalms by Dr. Bruce Waltke
Lecture 13: Psalm 3
We have been studying the various approaches to the Psalms; the first day we looked at the historical approach along with the kingship of the Psalms. Then we moved into form critical approach and began looking broadly at Hebrew Poetry. In order to read Hebrew Poetry, you must look at how lines are related to one another and how they can be differentiated from one another. This involved parallelism which we spent some time on. There are various forms of Psalms, basically four kinds in my judgement: hymns that celebrate his attributes, petitions where we see the distress of the Psalmist where he cries out to God for deliverance, Songs of Trust and Grateful Praise where God has answered your prayers specifically whereas the hymns are in the temple praying God for who he is and what he has done. The fourth kind includes instruction psalms such as Psalm 1. These are the various kinds of Psalms. We noticed the distinct motifs of praise psalms namely call for praise where we get the theology. The motifs of the petition psalms include the direct address to God. You can’t depend upon anyone but God; to do so is sin. We have been called to give him praise and if we didn’t praise him humanly speaking, God would die because no-one would know about him. What the press is trying to do is to kill God as no-one talks about him. They are trying to kill God but it will not work. If nobody praised him, the rocks would cry out in praise to him. There will always be praise. We are here and our purpose is to give praise to God. So we address God where he gets all the praise and that’s the point of the address. And then we noticed they have a lament section where they are very honest with their lament. We listed to all the different situations where they find themselves and then there is a transition of mood to that of confidence in God. We know who we are; we are the people of God and so with renewed confidence we pray with confidence. Then we have the conclusion where we are absolutely certain that God will answer their prayers and our prayers. There is a total transformation. We see that Luther wrote to Calvin praying for him feeling ‘the amen’ in his heart, a certainty. From this experience Calvin formulated the rule of prayer: in the midst of misgiving and wavering, we should force ourselves to prayer until we find illumination which calms us, not giving up until we see the faith that the battle has been won. So we pray through until we reach confidence in which we end up where we say, not my will but thy will be done.
After that we moved into part 2 at the imprecatory prayers which include 35 psalms that goes beyond asking for deliverance; they were asking God to punish the enemy, which we had to work through and understand as they did not relate to the Sermon on the Mound. These were offensive to the Christian and thus contradicted the Sermon on the Mound, but they were given in a situation of a theocracy, not a democracy where we depend upon the government to protect us. In conclusion, I realized that these psalms are necessary for sound doctrine, they assure us that there is a God of justice, that he distinguishes between right and wrong and that there is ethics and they are based upon firm faith in God of which I listed nine points. On the other hand for dispensation, I argued that they were not appropriate in light of what Jesus taught because we know that justice is by faith in the final judgement when Jesus returns. That justice is not being exacted now. In theology proper about prayer, we made the point that the petitions are doxological. Even with all of the complaints, it is always with praise never losing confidence in God. It was only in Job who had no praise except at the very end. Even Psalm 88, the black sheep of the psalms makes reference to the fact that God saves. The third book of the salter is the darkest of the five. But they were always doxological. They are always expressing a deep humility; they are dependent upon God and we will see this in Psalm 3 where we will look at the dependence a little closer and what it actually means. They also usually end with a wish for others receiving a blessing through it. In regards to praying, we need to pray, being conscience of other people and not just ourselves.
II. Psalm 3
Today we will look first at Psalm 3.This is the first lament psalm. This is a Psalm of David when he fled from Absalom his son. Psalms 1 and 2 are the introduction to the Book of Psalms. Psalm 1 is the wicket gate that you have to pass through to get the Celestial City that the Psalms are going to bring us to. You have to come with ethics and delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on his Word and if you are in that spirit of ethics then you are in a spiritually fit state to enter the Psalms. We have seen that God doesn’t want praise songs from the wicked for they are an abomination to God. The second psalm introduces us to the leading figure which is the King; it is a coronation psalm: ‘today I have set my king upon Zion, my holy hill; The Lord said to me, you are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, and the ends of the earth your possession.’ We think his coming will be idyllic but his enemies are many and his foes are great and we suddenly realize that it isn’t going to come easily but instead it will come with struggle. It is going to be a struggle of faith to bring about the Kingdom of God. Let us read it:
1 I AM, how many are my foes! Many rise up against me!
2 Many are saying of me, "God will not deliver him."
3 But you, I AM, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who lifts up my head.
4 I cry aloud to I AM, and he answers me from his holy hill.
5 I lay down and slept; I awoke because I AM sustains me.
6 I do not fear the tens of thousands of troops who are drawn up against me on every side.
7 Arise, I AM! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the cheek; break the teeth of the wicked.
8 Deliverance belongs to I AM. Your blessing be on your people.
Psalm 3 is called the Morning Prayer whereas Psalm 4 is the Evening Prayer. We see in this psalm, the whole nation has turned against him without cause. In Psalm 4 his own leadership has lost faith in him. We learn how he struggles with this rejection in what seems to be an impossible circumstance. This is the context of the Psalm. We spent some time on validating the superscript against normative academic scholarship. It is one of fourteen psalms where we are given the historical situation that prompted the composition of the psalm. We are told that it was when he fled from his son Absalom. It assumes you know the Book of Samuel where we have the story of his exile from Jerusalem caused by his own son who tried to take the throne from David. In reading the psalm, think about the motifs: the address, the lament, the confidence and the petition. They are all there in the psalm. It might be useful to identify those different points in order to reflect on the different theology.
At Easter the commemoration of Psalm 3:5 was most intently cerebrated: ‘I lay down and slept; I awoke because God sustains me.’ They saw that in Jesus that they could lie down and go to sleep. On Good Friday, he lay down in death and on Easter Sunday, he awoke because the Lord sustained him through death. David is a type of his greater son, the Son of God; a type of Jesus when the whole nation rejected him and put him upon a cross and went into the sleep of death and woke again in triumph because the Lord sustained him. They did not have the historical context that we have today. Back in the fourth century twelve psalms were sung in the morning prayers and then twelve psalms at night. That became the early practice beginning in the early morning with Psalm 3. So, this psalm has been celebrated by the people of God throughout church history; they would begin by reciting Psalm 3. They would end with Psalm 140 along with the prayers of the 3rd, 6th and 9th hours. This became the tradition of the liturgical hours and during the manual labors of the day, the psalms were constantly chanted. Palladius (363-431) reports that around 3 pm, one could stand and hear the divine psalmody issuing forth from each cell and imagine one is high above, in paradise that is with the angels. This was the time of day of the main meal, or in more ascetic forms, the single meal of the day.
The literary context consisted of 12 psalms of what the Germans call the Sitz im Buch which were composed of ten prayers of two groups of five (Psalms 3-7, 9-13), with a sixth that characterizes the human condition (Psalms 8, 14).
B. Historical Background
The background to Psalm 3 is covered in 2nd Samuel chapter 14-16 and in 17 and 18. Not only Absalom turns again David but the whole of Israel turns against him causing David to flee Jerusalem. Before this, we see that Absalom kills his brother Amnon for raping Tamar causing Absalom to go to Beersheba and declare his kingship over Israel. This in turn causes Ahithophel, David’s councilor to turn against David and become Absalom’s councilor, but Absalom’s didn’t listen to him but instead sought Hushai’s advice who along with Zodok and Abiather had already sided with David.
1. Absalom Revolts
We see in verse 6 in regards to the tens of thousands of troops, a military scene, taking it as face value, not metaphorical because of the superscript. This fits the Absalom revolt of that day. We can see in 2nd Samuel 14-16 the story of Absalom with the battle being in chapter 17 and 18. But when David fled, we see this in chapter 14-16. The background to the whole thing starts with Psalm 51 when David sins, a real turning point in David’s career with what happens with Bathsheba and her husband. David has passions of sex and adultery and murder. That had its effect on David and his family where Amnon, his oldest son rapes his sister Tamar, thus modeling his father’s sexual passion. The next heir to the throne was Absalom and since David doesn’t act, Absalom takes it into his own hands to avenge the wrong instead of waiting for the father to do it. Absalom is one who avenges himself instead of trusting in God. Absalom kills Amnon and as a result of this, Absalom has to flee and goes into exalt and eventually David invites him back but there was never a clear confession or righting of the wrong. There was a coldness between the father and the son which causes Absalom to eventually revolt against the father. Absalom was really wicked, he is the enemy, and he is truly wicked. You can see this in his plans to murder David in order to take the throne. And the way he gets his followers, he has no regard for God for he uses God as a pretense. He went down to Hebron and installed himself as king in Hebron, the ancient capital where David began as king. Before going to Hebron, Absalom lied to David saying that he had made a vow to offer sacrifices at Hebron.
2. Ahithophel Turns Against David
These actions show how deceptive Absalom was because he is using this to dethrone David. While he was offering these sacrifices he was sending out messengers throughout the kingdom declaring himself as king at Hebron. All of this was in fact misusing God’s name. He gets Ahithophel, David’s counselor who was also Bathsheba’s grandfather to join him. It seems that Ahithophel never forgave David for what he did. Ahithophel was a brilliant person and David even considered him equal to a prophet. When David realized that Ahithophel joined Absalom, David prays that God would frustrate the council of Ahithophel. In taking over the harem, they would have sex with all the women, thus declaring themselves in power. This shows you the evil of these people: adultery, murder and misusing God’s name and the nation is following them and he steals the hearts of the people. So you see Ahithophel and the evil that David is up against. So this is not just a military war but a spiritual war. The writer wants us to understand what this war is all about; it’s a war between good and evil, justice and injustice, might verses right.
3. Zodok, Abiather and Hushai Supports David
When David learns of the coup and learns that everybody is following Absalom; David realizes that it is not safe to stay in Jerusalem because there are too many spies that could do him harm. In fleeing the city, David has these different encounters. Ittai the Gittite gives David his total loyality. So the picture is his own people are rejecting him and here is the Gittite gentile from Gath where Goliath came from, being loyal to David. This is a picture of Jesus where his own people put him on a cross and those who were with him, they were almost all gentiles. This is a simple picture and reality of the situation. The next person David meets is the priest Zadok and David says to him that he needs a prophet to direct him. Zadok tells him to take the Ark back to Jerusalem, so Zodok and Abiather carried the Ark of God back to Jerusalem, and they remained there. In doing this, David set up a counter spy system where Zadok was to be his eyes and ears. Zadok’s son, Ahimaaz and Abiathar’s son, Jonathan would act as runners to keep David informed. As he gets to the top of the mountain, he prays that God will frustrate the Council of Ahithophel and at the same moment another councilor by the name of Hushai who was a Archite befriends David and returns to Jerusalem to frustrate the Council of Ahithophel. Ahithophel tells Absalom that David is weak and without an army and Absalom should strike him. But instead Hushai tells them of David’s cleverness and to be careful. And so Absalom listens to Hushai instead of Ahithophel. Ahithophel knows this is to be the wrong council and realizes there will be no hope and then returns home and hangs himself. He knows David will win as a result of this. So, this is the background to the story. Within the narrative, you can better understand the Psalm and what it is all about. David doesn’t praise Hushai but realizes that God is at work behind all of this. So the theology here is that it can take more faith to put your life under certain people and situations; this is faith in action. David prayed to God, trusting God to act and David acted also. David’s faith wasn’t without human means. This is profound theology. Just trusting in God without action is a false dichotomy but it is necessary to believe that God is going to work in whatever way he will. It doesn’t mean we don’t do anything. Faith works.
C. Psalm 3 Analysis
The address is to ‘I AM’. The lament is in verses one and two where it says ‘how many are my foes! Many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, God will not deliver him.’ Verse 3 moves into confidence and moves to four, five and six. We get the petition in verse 7 where it says, ‘deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the cheek; break the teeth of the wicked.’ So it says delivery and then it says, ‘punish the enemy’. This is a double petition. Then we have the confidence in verse eight where it acknowledges that deliverance belongs to God and your blessings be on your people. In verse 1, they are not only enemies but they are also attacking him, a synonymous parallelism. David was the anointed king and everybody knew that he was the anointed king. He was a person who had defeated Goliath and had given them their kingdom and had done so much good for them but he only faced total ingratitude from them. They wanted to put him to death; they had no faith that God would deliver him. This was exactly what they said of Jesus on the Cross. I AM is the shield around David and David acknowledges this. David knows who he is and who God is. He knows that God is going to protect him and he knows who he is as the son of God and he knows that God will hear his prayers and God will honor him and bestow glory on him. We need to know who we are in God in order to know that God will protect us. We are the children on God. The prophet Samuel told David that he was the King and David heard this as the voice of God. It came to him as the Word of God. I believe that this took a lot of faith to understand. When the oil was poured on him, the Spirit of God came down upon him and he became different and went out to do the work of God. We know that we are the children of God because the Word of God came to us acknowledging that we are. The Spirit of God has come upon us and dwells with us. So we hear it as the Word of God and we accept it as the Word of God and it is a gift to us. The Spirit of God is in us and he has changed us and works with us. This causes us to live different for God and we live different from the world. I know that I am different and if we are children of God then we know that we are different.
For God to have moved like this on David’s heart and his whole life; God hasn’t abandoned David and David knows this because for God to abandon David, it wouldn’t make sense. David has risk his whole life on this. God wouldn’t change his mind on this for it isn’t his nature and this is the same for our own lives. It is not his nature to abandon us. ‘I will never leave you, I will never forsake you.’ That is what makes Christ different; we trust him even if death is holding our hands. So, here is God, represented by the Ark of the Covenant on the Holy Mountain of Zion. For David is at a geographically low place when he is praying this prayer; but space makes no difference to God. And thus even though God is in heaven, he is near us, he is in us as the Holy Spirit and he hears our prayers which enter into his very presence. David proves his faith in verse 5 and 6 where he says, ‘I lay down and slept; I awoke because God sustains me.’ This is a validation of confidence and faith: to sleep secure in trust is unique in the ancient Near East. Pharaoh said to his son, ‘even when you sleep, guard your heart, because no man has adherents on the day of distress.’ So he is saying never go to sleep because there is no one that will stand with you. And here is David who went to sleep, what a contrast. As you remember when David goes into the camp taking his water jar and his spear from the bedchamber of Saul where he could have killed him. David told him that he had his life and death in his hands, the water jar and the spear. David gave Saul his spear back but not his water jar. David would not touch God’s anointed. This was faith. In poetry, it was Sisera who went to sleep and he was killed. And remember in verse 7 David ask God to deliver him; David has a right to ask God this because it was right; he was God’s anointed.
In the imprecatory prayer, when he says to strike all his enemies on the cheek, he is saying ‘make them defenseless.’ In conclusion, he states that deliverance belongs to God. This is the key and ends with a communal wish for blessing on his people. For us today, we are the people and David’s blessing is on us today. It is just amazing! It is wonderful words of God.
Transcribed by BT Ambassador Phil Smith