Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4: 9. Anguish on the Run (Psalm 3)
Psa 3:1 Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me!
Nature & Structure: Before we get into the details of this psalm let’s first observe the nature, structure and the cause of it. First of all, the nature of this psalm: it is a prayer. Again and again David speaks directly to God: “Lord” (v.1), ”you Lord” (v.3), “Arise Lord” (v.7) and we see things being said directly to the Lord. Second, let’s suggest a structure. Although in your Bible it is probably laid out in four two-verse stanzas, I suggest that in fact it is divided as follows:
v.1,2 Prayer sharing concern.
v.3-6 Prayer of Testimony
v.7,8 Prayer of Request.
Cause: Third, consider the cause of this particular psalm. At the top of it we find, “A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.” The history behind this psalm, if we may put it briefly, is that king David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed (see 2 Sam 12), Nathan the prophet had confronted him with this and brought this terrible word of disciplinary judgment on him: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’” (2 Sam 12:11,12) The outworking of this is seen in 2 Sam 13-15 resulting in David having to flee Jerusalem because Absalom has taken control. In the course of this, David has acknowledged his guilt (2 Sam 12:13) and put himself in the Lord’s hands (2 Sam 15:25,26 & 16:11,12)
Prayer sharing concern: So we come to the first two verses of this psalm where David pours out before the Lord his anxiety: “Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” (v.1,2) Now consider how remarkable this is. David is on the run because he is suffering the disciplinary judgment of God that had been prophetically declared by Nathan, and he knows it. Many would make excuses for their sin, justify themselves and when the discipline comes, sulk. Have you seen it in books, plays of films, the challenge to a failing son, “Take your punishment like a man!” i.e. you know you deserve it, so face it, take it and don’t grumble or sulk!” The less mature Christian sulks by stopping reading their Bible, stopping praying, and maybe even stopping going to church. Not so David, the man after God’s own heart, even when he has sinned. He’s owned up to it, he’s facing it – and he’s praying! He still talks to God about what he feels, even in the midst of discipline.
God’s Intent: The deception, that the enemy would like to dump on us in such situations of failure, is that one failure will mean that the sky will fall on you and that is the end. With God it is not! You see it all over the Bible: God’s desire is that we come to repentance and are restored to Him. His desire is NOT our destruction but our restoration which is made possible through the work of Christ on the Cross. The apostle John, the apostle of love, understood this: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,” (1 Jn 1:9) and, “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 Jn 2:1,2) Both those sets of verses are about bringing our restoration to God.
Reality of relationship: David, of course, doesn’t know about the coming of Christ and all that he will achieve for us, but he does know something of God and he knows that God is there to be called upon and that he can still do that. Hence he appeals to Him: “Lord……”, but he doesn’t yet ask anything of the Lord, for that will come later. His first act within this prayer is to pour out his anxiety. The apostle Paul taught, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil 4:6) In doing this David is acknowledging something of the reality of the discipline he is experiencing. It is painful! (Heb 12:11) But we are to remember it comes from a loving Father (Heb 12:6). But that doesn’t make it less painful!
It’s people! David is on the run from his son, Absalom, and those who have sided with him against David. It is a horrible feeling when people gang up against you, and David feels it: “Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me!” It’s not just Absalom, it includes others of David’s people, people he perhaps had known for a long time. Joab, for example, had played a real part in brining Absalom back (2 Sam 14:1,2), Joab who had been commander in David’s army (2 Sam 8:16) even though he had proved himself to be an avenger (2 Sam 3:30) and had caused David anguish (see 2 Sam 3:28-34). There is a saying when we fail to deal with a wrong person or situation and allow them to continue for our own purposes: “Beware that they will not come back and bite you.” Yes, there had been a falling out between Absalom and Joab (2 Sam 14) and Joab had continued with David and yet it was going to be Joab who will eventually kill Absalom (2 Sam 18:14) to David’s even greater anguish (2 Sam 18:33). So there are not only the people on the other side who are against David, he has people with him who are also causes of angst. People tend to be the greatest cause of our anxieties, not just the circumstances.
Beware the Gloom Bringers: The trouble is that people lacking faith, whether against us or for us, can be real bringers of gloom. David has this: “Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” (v.2) Perhaps there were even people who knew of Nathan’s prophecy and so they applied it without grace. A word of disciplinary correction may come but that doesn’t mean that God has finished with His servant. Bear this in mind when leaders fall. Yes, there may be a period of disciplinary correction but that does not mean that that person is excluded from the future purposes of God. Perhaps they were people who didn’t know of the prophecy, but they just looked on what was happening and believed for the worst: this is the end of David, this is the end of his kingdom. Such people reveal themselves as hard-hearted, lacking grace and mercy, lacking compassion. David may have got it wrong on a number of accounts in respect of his family, but he is still a man after God’s own heart, open to correction, and one who anguishes over the deaths and downfall of others. We have much to learn from him!
And So? We can’t just leave it there can we. The lessons are clear and need highlighting. Even when we are be corrected after a failure, that is not the end of our relationship with the Lord. He constantly looks to restore us after we have repented. Still we can pour out before Him the things that concern us. His ears are still open to us. Hallelujah!