George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 1

Psalm 3

1. Sacrifice and Prayer

Psalms 3 through 6 seem to follow one another in close sequence, spanning two days of David’s life (not, however, two successive days). The sequence of morning, evening, morning, evening....reminds us of the daily sacrifices, offered both as the day began and as it ended. These two times of the day are particularly suitable for meditation and prayer upon the themes of sacrifice being enacted at God’s sanctuary:

The lamb offered twice daily (Exod. 29:38-42). Our morning and evening meditations should always lead us to Christ, the lamb slain in God’s mercy for our justification; and we certainly find Christ in these morning and evening hymns.
The incense burned twice daily (Exod. 30:1-8). Incense symbolizes the prayers of the saints (Rev. 5:8-10; 8:4; Luke 1:10), ascending upward to the Lord perpetually. Thus David prays on another occasion:

“Let my prayer be set before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice” (Psa. 141:2).

These morning and evening hymns are models for our own personal and private meditations and prayers. The Old Testament saint could turn toward the sanctuary of God each day and realize that daily services were being carried on there; he could then incorporate his own devotions into the great cloud as the smoke and incense ascended for a witness to God.

We too can be a part of such a host, for our association with Christ has brought us into the true camp of Israel, to spiritual “mount Zion”. Here we may stand in the unity of the Spirit with the “general assembly and church (ekklesia) of the firstborn”, offering our united devotions through “the mediator of the new covenant” (Heb. 12:22-24). It is our business to make these inspired psalms part of our own lives, so that we can think as David thought, and pray as he prayed. Thus the experiences shaping his character may become our experiences, and we may grow up into Christ.

2. Historical Background

Psalms 3 and 4 appear to have been composed at the same time, perhaps in the morning and evening of the same day. Possibly this was the day when David was forced to flee from Jerusalem by the revolt of Absalom (see title: A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son). He prayed to God for deliverance and then learned of his son’s death. There are many points of comparison between these two psalms, and the historical account (2 Sam. 15-18), some of which are outlined below (cp. John Carter, Ephesians, pp. 105,106):


2 Samuel
“How are they increased that trouble me....”
“The conspiracy was strong....”
“Many are they that rise up against me....”
Pursued by 12,000 men.

“All them that rose up against me.....”
“Many....which say....There is no help for him in God.”
The cursing of Shimei, as David fled the city. (This cursing, endured by David, is the most important historical background of these psalms).
“The lifter up of mine head”.
Contrast David, with head bowed and covered, fleeing Absalom.
“I cried unto the Lord with my voice.”
“O Lord, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.”
“I laid me down and slept.”
Ungry, weary and thirsty in the wilderness.
“I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people....”
15:6, 10, 13
So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.”
“How long will ye turn my glory into shame?”
16:7, 8
He glory of David’s selection as king led inevitably to the downfall of Saul and his house, for which is unjustly blamed by Shimei.
“How long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing (lies)?”
Absalom’s base treachery, described here in detail.
“Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart.”
16:9,10; 19:21
Humility, subjection to God’s will, even in suffering – as in the case of Shimei.
“....upon your bed, and be still."
At the news of Absalom’s death, David retired to a chamber and wept.
“Offer the sacrifices of righteousness....”
Instead of the hypocritical “vow” Absalom professed in order to gain David’s favor.
There be many that say, who will shew us any good?”
Those chronic complainers, pessimists and agitators who were ready tools for Absalom’s ambitions.
Lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us....”
Carry back the ark....if I shall find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me again....”

There is now no priest with David to pronounce the traditional blessing of Num. 6:24-26.
Thou hast put gladness in my heart.”

A gladness which can look beyond and through present sorrow, as David illustrates.
Thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.”
16:9, 10
Because the Lord hath said unto him, curse David.”

3. Notes

Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! Many are they that rise up against me. The righteous are rarely in the majority: Matt. 7:13,14; Luke 13:24; Gal. 1:6; 2 Tim. 4:3,10. A man might almost wonder what he is doing wrong if no man is against him! It is not pleasant to run afoul of troublesome and hateful (or even malicious and murderous) men (Heb. 12:11). The only salvation in such straits — and, indeed, the reason for the trials — is that the righteous man may turn to God. He must realize that no device of his own can deliver him, and that no amount of worry can turn aside the difficulty.

With each increasing level of trouble, the believer must increase his level of dependence upon God. If all our problems were small ones, then we would probably drift blissfully along, unconscious of a God who can heal the blind and the lame, a God who understands the anguish of a broken heart, a God who can renew a life in hope after the death of a loved one.
Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. Notice how wicked men do not use the covenant name of Yahweh/Jehovah, but rather “Elohim”. These are worshippers of the true God in name only, like Job’s miserable comforters. But they prefer to see God only as a righteous Being, quick in punishing “sinners” of their own choosing. They cannot (or will not) see Him as a merciful God, fulfilling His purpose in saving repentant and faithful sinners out of their sins. So when a hitherto righteous man falls into distress, his trials are invariably compounded by a Shimei, eager to point out the reason for his “punishment” (2 Sam. 16:5-8). Our Lord was not lacking in such “counsellors” when he suffered (Matt. 27:43; Mark 15:31; Isa. 53:3,4). Therefore when we experience frustrations and bitterness, at our trials, we may gain strength from his example: 1 Pet. 2:20-23.
Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me. The Hebrew has two primary words for “shield”. The one, magen, used here, is the small shield, or “target”, so light as to be carried by bowmen along with their weapons. The magen protected the heart and the head, but could not by itself protect the whole body. The other word, zinnah, is found in Psa. 5:12. It was the great shield, capable of covering and protecting the entire body. The contrast between these two shields is epitomized in Christ’s saying: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul” (Matt. 10:28). In our daily lives we are protected only by the magen, but as to our eternal life we are absolutely protected by the zinnah.

My glory. A wise man must not glory in his wisdom, nor a strong man in his strength (Jer. 8:9; 1 Cor. 1:19,20), but rather all men should only glory in knowing God (Jer. 9:23,24). If we glory or rejoice in knowing God, then we may expect that He will know us: i.e. that He will oversee our ways and try our hearts (Psa. 11:5). Such oversight is not always comfortable and pleasant; in fact, it may lead to trials (Rom. 5:3).
The lifter up of my head. ‘Though I hang my head in sorrow, yet I shall very soon lift it up in joy and thanksgiving.’

I cried unto the Lord....and he heard me. Distress makes prayer fervent as does nothing else (Psa. 120:1). Here is the key to the question of human suffering: that man may thereby be turned back to the Father. Even the Lord learned obedience by the things which he suffered: Heb. 5:7,8.
I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me. So simple are these words, and yet how powerful in their simplicity! Who can know what thoughts race through another’s mind as he comes to the end of a long day, seeking a few hours of refreshing sleep? But the sleep is slow in coming; the events of the day ebb and flow across the mind, and unresolved conflicts bob back to the surface. “Be not anxious for the morrow....your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need....” (Matt. 6:32,34).
Ten thousands is a Bible symbol of a great multitude: 1 Cor. 4:15; 14:19. At times it is connected with the manifestation of God in a multitude: Deut. 33:2; Jude 14. This number finds expression in David’s life, for he was the slayer of “his ten thousands” (1 Sam. 18:7); in later years, as he fled from Absalom, David was comforted by his men: “Thou art worth ten thousand of us” (2 Sam. 18:3). The antitype is Christ, the Anointed of God, and “the chiefest among ten thousand” (Song 5:10).

People is am, Hebrew word for the people of Israel.

That have set themselves against me round about. Though Jesus was compassed about multitudes of dogs and lions and strong bulls of Bashan (Psa. 22:12,15,21), they could only take his life. He looked to the end of his sufferings and submerged his fears in his Father.
Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God. (1) David’s plea for God to preserve his life. (2) Resurrection of Christ: John 20:1; 1 Cor. 15:4, 14,18,20. (3) “Arise”, as the sun of righteousness (Mal. 4:2; Isa. 30:26), with healing in your beams, calling forth the dew of resurrected saints (Psa. 110:3; Isa. 26:19), and heralding the dawn of a new “day” (2 Pet. 3:13).

Thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon (or, better, with) the cheek bone. Lehi (“cheek bone”) is the name given to the site of Samson’s great victory with the jawbone of an ass (Judg. 15:15). So David is classing Absalom and his followers as Philistines!

Thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly is a reference to the wild beasts of David’s youth, or that other “wild beast” of the Philistines, Goliath. Breaking the teeth is equivalent to bruising the head of the serpent-power of sin (Gen. 3:15). For symbolism, cp. Psa. 58:4-6; 1 Pet. 5:8.
Salvation belongeth (or “is ascribed”) to the Lord. Compare Jer. 3:23; Jonah 2:9. “Salvation” is the same word as “help” in v. 2. This is the answer to the infidel’s taunt: “There is no help for him in God.”

Thy blessing is upon thy people. See 4:7, with which this psalm is linked by a closing “Selah”.

4. Subscription

Neginoth belongs to Psalm 3 as a subscription, and not to Psalm 4 as a superscription. It also appears at the close of Psalms 5, 53, 54, 60, 66, and 75. It also appears in Habakkuk 3:19 and Isaiah 38:20.

“Neginoth” signifies “to strike”, as in affliction. This well identifies the subject matter of this psalm, and so also for the other “Neginoth” psalms. Another implication is the striking of a musical instrument. The combination of these two meanings suggests the exhortation that we must rejoice in tribulation, that we must sing in the “Philippian jail”.

These trials are for the development of our characters; thus our prayers, born of our sufferings, will arise as beautiful music to our Father’s ears. Finally, we know that one day our smitings will be at an end, and our last and greatest enemy (the power of sin) will be smitten upon the head, all his power to tear and devour broken for ever (v. 7)!

5. Postscript

He who did keep me waking
Has kept me still
Through the dark, silent night;
And now I thrill
To greet once more the light.

His power unseen, from sleep
Unlocked my eyes,
With strength afresh renewed;
And I arise
With song of gratitude.

Thus, if death’s night at length
Should darkly close,
And in my earthly bed, confined and deep,
I take repose,
Stiller, profounder sleep,

To know a yet more marvellous waking,
A fairer morn....
May I with gladness say
I slept, but wake new-born
To brighter day.

B. Ladson

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