Psalm 3: The Story Behind the Song

Lord, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
Many are saying of me,
‘God will not deliver him.’
But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
I call out to the Lord,
and he answers me from his holy mountain.
I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
I will not fear though tens of thousands
assail me on every side.
Arise, Lord!
Deliver me, my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.
From the Lord comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.

– Psalm 3 (NIV)

I love it when I know the story behind the song, whether it’s an old hymn being sung in church or whether it’s a new song from someone’s latest album. In this Psalm, we are told ‘the story behind the song’. David fled from his rebellious son, Absalom, a story recounted in 2 Samuel 15-19 (if you think you’ve got family problems – don’t worry, you’re not alone!).

In the midst of personal crisis, with his private and public life collapsing around him, what was David to do? Firstly, he doesn’t deny reality: facts must be faced and things are not always good. Secondly, he acknowledges God in that reality and acknowledging God changes our perception of reality.

David reminds himself that God is his ‘shield’ but this isn’t some puny shield that leaves most of him exposed and vulnerable, rather this is the ancient equivalent of whole body armour, God is his shield all around him.

David might be downcast and seemingly beaten down but his trust is that God will answer him and lift his head high up. That confidence comes from David’s past experiences. David had been through some tough times but he had cried out to God and God had answered him (verse 4). It is that confidence in God’s care and God’s character that enabled David to lie down and sleep.  Peace is not the absence of difficulties in our lives but it is knowing God’s presence in the midst of those difficulties.

We, hopefully, don’t have quite the same problems as David did but there are things that can nonetheless threaten to overwhelm us. What do we do in those situations? The words of the hymn writer still ring true, ‘O what peace we often forfeit / O what needless pain we bear / All because we do not carry / everything to God in prayer!’ (Joseph Scriven)

The author of Hebrews tells us that, ‘we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses…(so) let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.’ (Hebrews 4:15-16).