A Meditation on Psalm 3

O 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.” Selah

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. Selah

I lay 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.

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 be on your people! Selah

The third psalm is the first lament of the psalter. It is telling that it appears so early and immediately after such a strong profession of faith in God’s sovereignty. “Man born of woman is few of days and full of trouble,” and the example of the psalter invites us to cast our troubles on the Father. He is the God who answers cries: the cries of Abel’s blood coming up from the ground (Gen 4), the cries of barren Rachel (Gen 30.22-23) the cries of captive Israel enslaved in Egypt (Exd 2.24), the cries of Jonah in the fish’s gut (Jonah 2), the cries of Daniel confessing the sins of Israel from Babylon (Dan 9.23), the cries of Zechariah and Elizabeth asking for a son (Luke 1.13), the cries of Cornelius the righteous centurion (Acts 10.1-8), and the cries of all the martyrs (Rev 6.9-10; 19.1-2). Cast your cares on Him day to day, for He hears your cries.

I say that the psalm is a lament, but it is hard to categorize. Is it truly a lament? It clearly seems to be up until the first Selah, but there is no more lamentation in the remainder of the psalm. In fact, the lamentation itself comes to rest on the psalmist’s concern for God’s glory: “Many are saying of my soul, ‘There is no salvation for him in God.’” The psalmist fears for his life, but he fears more for what his death will do for the reputation of God. Oh, that we should have such faith!

The psalmist’s enemies may doubt the salvation of God, but the psalmist does not. The remainder of the psalm professes confidence that the Lord can save and that He will save. In fact, the psalmist sees the salvation of God proleptically, as if it has already happened: “I cried out to the Lord, and He answered me from His holy hill.”

The psalmist sprinkles this profession of faith with an imprecation against his enemies: “For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; / you break the teeth of the wicked.” What is most striking about the imprecation is its object. The superscription before the psalm tells us that David composed this psalm as he fled his son, Absalom, so we are to read Absalom into David’s description of God slapping cheeks and breaking teeth.

Absalom’s rebellion comes at the tail end of a series of sordid events. The trouble begins in 2 Sam 13 when Absalom’s half-brother, Amnon, rapes Absalom’s sister, Tamar. Tamar gives ample proof of the misdeed, but David refuses to act against the crown prince. This leads Absalom to put Amnon to death himself and eventually take the throne from his father, whom he sees as a failed judge.

David doesn’t mention his own culpability for Absalom’s betrayal in Psalm 3. Reading the story in 2 Samuel, one is unsure if David is even aware that his passivity drove Absalom to kill Amnon and attempt a coup. How many of us are aware of all our shortcomings and sins? Psalm 3 teaches us to call upon the Lord regardless. We do not have to be perfect to entreat the Lord, only faithful.

It is not a light thing that David asks of the Lord. The Lord indeed saves David from the hand of Absalom, but it is a pyrrhic victory. Twenty thousand men of Israel perish in the battle. Worse, in David’s estimation, is Absalom’s death at the hands of Joab, despite David’s command to spare him. “The king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept…. So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the people” (2 Sam 18-19).

David was faithful to ask God to save him, and God was faithful to do so, but sin will out in a man’s life. “You break the teeth of the wicked” is a true but fearful thing to pray, for it turns against us as much as it turns against our enemies. Let us turn our hearts to the Lord, and may the Lord’s blessing be on His people.

A Meditation on Psalm 2

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

The second psalm is one of my favorites. Like all of the Old Testament, it uses its immediate context to foreshadow and foretell the coming of God’s Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 4.24-28; 13.32-33). It gives us an image of Christ as a conquering King who will establish His just rule over the earth and crush the rebels who foolishly oppose Him. Our Lord is so powerful that He treats all of earth’s rebellious kings with contempt. In an age dominated by softness and sentimentality about the character of the Father and the Son, it is refreshing to read Scriptures that remind us of God’s firmness, justice, and certain victory.

The second psalm was not first received as a Messianic psalm, though. Our English translations encourage us to read it only as a Messianic psalm by capitalizing the right words, like “Son” and “Anointed.” In its immediate context, though, the psalm speaks of the King of Israel. The nations are the heathen surrounding Israel. This reading of the second psalm is a little more prosaic, a little more literal than the Messianic reading, but it contains a powerful message that we miss if we think that the psalm is only about Jesus. It reminds us that God’s people have a special place in history. Israel was God’s chosen people under the Law of Moses, a signal of hope and of justice to their heathen neighbors. Notice how often, for example, we see Daniel shining his light to King Nebuchadnezzar and King Darius. In the covenant of Christ, the Church is God’s chosen people. We are the light that shows the world God’s salvation and His judgment. We are on the Victor’s side.

Seen in its immediate context, the message of Psalm 2 is similar to that of Rom 13.1-7 and 1 Pet 2.13-17. The government is God’s government; God anoints the king (1 Sam 16.1-3). Just as the heathen kings of David’s day should have looked on him in wonder and terror, so too should we reverence our leaders and pray for their success. This is far from saying that our leaders are perfect or holy or even acceptable in their personal lives–have you ever looked at the life of King David? We revere our leaders not because they deserve it personally but because the Lord demands it from us.

Whether we look at the psalm as it was received or as we understand it now in the light of Christ, it makes universal claims on us. “Serve the Lord with fear,” the psalmist tells us, “rejoice with trembling.” There is a certain tension in our reverence for the Lord; we are comfortably at home with Him and in terror of Him all at once. It is the tension we always feel under the benevolent care of someone dangerous, perhaps best understood when we call the Lord “Father.” If we are His sons, though, then we can rest assured, for “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”