David was a “man after God’s own heart,” a warrior and a poet. The epitaph he wrote for himself names him, “the sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Sam. 23:1). Anointed as king around 1000 B.C., David was the ideal leader, worshiper, ruler and prophet who shaped Israel’s vision of the Messiah. But David’s prominence didn’t exempt him from grief. One of the great lessons of the psalms is that all of life is fuel for worship, even the messy, painful parts.
Psalm 3 describes David’s turmoil as he fled from his own son, Absalom, a handsome and passionate man, like his father. But Absalom’s desire for power was stronger than blood. Secretly currying favor with David’s political and military opposition, Absalom had himself crowned in David’s place. Rather than risk a battle in the middle of Jerusalem, David and his supporters fled the city, weeping as they went. Psalm 3 expresses the sorrowful heart of a godly king as he contemplates the conflict which will either destroy him or his beloved son.
There is a progression in these verses divided by the mysterious word, “selah.” Although we do not know its exact meaning, it was probably a musical interlude appropriate for meditation. The verses which come between are meant to be pondered. When we first meet David, he is despairing, head bowed and tearful, contemplating his own heavy footsteps. We humans are easily tempted to believe that God has abandoned us when we focus on our bleak circumstances. For David, as the anointed king of God’s chosen people, that fear had a very real face: exile, war and death. This is a man who is wondering if he is still chosen. But instead of retreating from God in anger, David pours out his grief in prayer. When he turns his eyes toward God, he grows calm, remembering who controls his destiny. Selah.
With remarkable peace and deep assurance in the Lord, David sleeps quietly on the eve of battle. Can’t you see his fighting stance in verse 7 as he awakens ready for the conflict, taking up his weapons, both physical and spiritual? We, too, have a fierce enemy, Satan, who will take a firm bite from our soul at every opportunity. With David, we can confidently pray, “Strike your enemy on the jaw, Lord! Break his teeth and deliver me from his grasp!” David has gone from a posture of dejected mourning to one of peaceful repose and, finally, to brave resolve. In the process his gaze has been lifted from the ground to the sky. When the King of Everything lifts our head to look at Him, we, too, can stride boldly into the battle of life. It’s going to be messy, and perhaps painful, but our strength is from God, the Lifter of our head.
- What struggles are you facing right now? What are the stakes? Are spiritual enemies involved?
- Are you more focused on your circumstances or upon God?
- Crying out, quietly waiting on God or fortified for battle – which describes you at this moment?
- With which verses in Psalm 3 do you most closely identify?