10. Prayer of Testimony

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:   10. Prayer of Testimony (1)

Psa 3:3    But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.

Approach: In our introduction to Psalm 3 we suggested that verses 1 & 2 were David praying out his concern while he was on the run from Absalom, verses 3 to 6 are a prayer of testimony and then verses 7 and 8 a prayer of request. It is thus a psalm that shows us different aspects of prayer – acknowledgement, declaration, petition. I have a feeling that I have read all the psalms many times and yet have only a surface understanding of them and verse 3 that we are moving into is no exception. Some of it appears obvious but as I pause over it, I suspect it is not as obvious as I have usually thought. Let’s approach it slowly and carefully.

Contrast: Circumstances versus reality: The verse starts with a ‘But’. That always suggests a contrast with what has just gone before. In verses 1 and 2 David spoke of his foes and those who had risen against him, and the fact that many were saying that God will not save him. Such verses imply gloom and doom and leave a sense of concern, worry, anxiety, insecurity, threat; that is the cloud that hangs over him because of Absalom, those are the circumstances that bring the ‘down’ feeling. Isn’t that just how it can be so often, the circumstances look and feel bad and the temptation is to sink under them, but David shows us another way. He declares the truth that he has found through his experiences of the Lord. The reality is that God has been there for him. The classic illustration of that was when he testified to Saul in respect of Goliath, “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”  (1 Sam 17:37) i.e. God is with me and for me, that I know, because that is how it has always been. Now there are four things to note in the verse in respect of his testimony.

Yahweh/Jehovah/The I AM: Note how he addresses God: LORD, with the capital letters denoting the name given to Moses (Ex 3:14), “God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”  The One upon whom David relies is the ‘I AM’ of Israel’s history, the God who revealed Himself as, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob,” (Ex 3:6) and subsequently the God of Moses, the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan. This is the One he has experienced and knows, the Eternal One, the Mighty One who is there for His people. This is the starting place of his confidence which rises up to suppress all the negatives of verses 1 and 2.

A Shield: A shield is an instrument of protection against incoming missiles or other weapons. But David says God is a “shield around me”. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a futuristic sci-fi where a town is covered with a barely visible ‘force field’ that protects it. It completely covers it and protects it and that is how David sees the Lord’s presence, so it doesn’t matter if there is an army against him, he is safe. Elisha understood this concept although he expressed it in a different way. Do you remember when he and his servant were staying in Dothan and an enemy army surrounded it and scared the life out of the servant out for an early morning walk on the walls of the town. He ran to Elisha who knew it was simply a matter of revelation and so prayed for his servant, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17) There was the Lord’s shield for them, the angelic army of the Lord!

Glory: But he also refers to the Lord as, “my glory”. We see, “But you, Lord, are … my glory.” We know what the Lord’s glory is, for we see it at Mount Sinai (Ex 24:16,17), and as Israel travelled through the desert and it lit up a cloud by day and appeared as fire by night. When the Tabernacle was constructed according to God’s instructions, the glory of the Lord filled it (Ex 40:34). It was a bright light, so when David says you are ‘my glory’ he is saying, ‘You are the One who lights up my life with your splendour, revealing me for who I am, your chosen and anointed servant.’

Affirmation & Encouragement: There are perhaps a number of words that apply into what follows: “you, Lord, are …. the One who lifts my head high.”  All of the negatives of verses 1 and 2 weighed heavily on him, especially as he knew the ultimate cause of them, for they were God’s disciplinary judgment on him. I like how the Living Bible puts it: “You alone can lift my head, now bowed in shame.”  Have you noticed how people with very low self-esteem, those who feel utter failures, walk with the heads bowed down, their eyes on the floor; it is a common thing. So why is David’s head lifted?

God with us: Emmanuel: First, because the Lord is with him and with God on your side, God beside you, and in our case, and with God indwelling you as Lord and Saviour, you are someone special with no reason to have a bowed head. Yes, the enemy is there, the circumstances are bad, and the outlook is bleak, but with the Lord there with you, for you, in you, all that doesn’t matter. The Isaiah prophecy about Immanuel – God with us (Isa 7:14) – and fulfilled in Jesus (Mt 1:23), says it all, God is with us, not far off, not off down the other end of the universe, no, He is here with us!

God the encourager: I said there are perhaps many words that describe what God does for us, to lift our heads, encourage, affirm, empathize and comfort, declare victorious, the list can go on. It isn’t just that God is with us, it is that He is with us to do things, to bless us, deliver us, lead us in victory, and all these things work to the same end, they lift our down-turned faces in the face of the negative circumstances and negative enemies.

And Us? Are we confronted by negative circumstances (in this Fallen World there are usually plenty of them!) or negative enemies?  What is the answer? Not to dwell on their presence but to realize the Presence of the Lord God Almighty and His Anointed One with us, and as we realize that presence, to receive from Him all the good things He wants to bring to us: grace, goodness, love, joy, peace, patience, perseverance, endurance, affirmation, comfort, encouragement; they are all there in His outstretched hands to be received. As we pray, let’s remember who He is and who we are and rejoice in that wonder and put into perspective the negatives of the world. Amen? Amen!

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1. A Life of Strife

Meditations in David’s Psalms : 1 :  A Life of Strife – Psa 3

Psa 3:1,2   O LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.”

The heading over this psalm declares, “A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.” So much of David’s life was taken up with strife and battle. As a shepherd boy he fought lions and bears, as a soldier for Saul he fought Goliath and then went on to be a great army commander. As king he went on to subdue enemy states around him. Yet when the Lord disciplined him for his sins, he finds himself on the receiving end of the challenge from his son, Absalom, and has to flee Jerusalem (see 2 Sam 15-17).

It appears to be in this context that David writes this psalm. There are two interesting things to note before we get into it. First, that David took time so often to write down what he was feeling in poetic form, presumably to be sung, for he was a musician at heart (e.g. 1 Sam 18:10)

At this point David is aware of those around him who are against him: “O LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me!” (v.1) It’s not just one person (Absalom) but he is aware of many people who have banded together with him against David. So often when we find someone against us, they are not alone for others gather to them to pull down the children of God. It is not uncommon.

David has a reputation for being a man of God but now the negative voices are raised against him. Thus far he has received the blessing of God but now it is the discipline of God. What was taking place was to fulfil the word of the Lord after David sinned with Bathsheba: “”This is what the LORD says: `Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie 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)

So now the negatives rise against him: “Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” (v.2)  They saw what was happening and assumed that this was the end of David, but the Lord is not going to destroy him, just chastise him, for the Lord loves him and he is still the man who was described as “a man after God’s own heart” (see 1 Sam 13:14, Acts 13:22).

David has to cast off and reject these negative words and so declares what he knows through his experience of the Lord: “But you are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.” (v.3) He has known the Lord’s protection, he has known the Lord lift him up from being a humble shepherd boy to a great king, and he has known the Lord exalt him before others. That is what he relies upon now. If you have known the Lord for any length of time, think back to what you know He has done for you and rejoice in that, so that that becomes a stay in the face of anything you may be battling with at the moment.

What is the answer in such situations? “To the LORD I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill.” (v.4) Note the foundation stones of David’s praying. He prays to the “I AM” (Lord in capital letters in your text). He knows to whom he calls, the One who is Lord over all things, the Eternal One, the God of Moses, the One who has had dealings for centuries with this people. He cries aloud. He is not afraid to be public and extravagant with the Lord, for the Lord looks for those who will be wholehearted in all their dealings with Him: “you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut 4:29) and “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:5). But he also knows that the Lord is a God who answers. Not for David a God of silence. God talks to His child.

In the midst of such times of struggle and strife, anxiety can be the name of the game, and so David’s testimony is outstanding: “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.” (v.5) In other words the Lord gives him peace in his sleep, despite what is happening. With this peace David can proclaim, “I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side.” (v.6) If the Lord grants us peace, really it doesn’t matter the scale of the problems facing me; all that matters is that He is in charge and He will oversee me in this and He will bring a good outcome, so it doesn’t matter if it is a thousand or ten thousand!

With that established in his thinking, he approaches the Lord boldly, confident in his relationship with Him: “Arise, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.” (v.7) In such a situation there is only one thing to ask for – deliverance! And when that is deliverance from an enemy the only way that can happen is if the enemy is brought down and defeated. Jaw? Teeth? Perhaps he likens his enemies to the bear or lion he defeated in the long distant past (1 Sam 17:36,37) who came ravenously to devour him with its teeth. To smash its teeth renders it harmless. This is David’s colourful way of saying, ‘Lord, render this enemy harmless.” Maybe within this there is a reticence in David to say, ‘Destroy them, Lord’, because he is talking about his son here. Yes, he is the enemy leading others against him, but his later behaviour when Absalom is eventually killed, indicates this is something David didn’t want to happen. Thus his cry to the Lord is, render him harmless, but don’t kill him!

To conclude he makes a testimony and requests a blessing: “From the LORD comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people.” (v.8)   In his heart he knows this will not end in his death and so, to the end, he desires God’s blessing on His chosen people. That blessing is a decree of God, and whatever has happened in the past and whatever is going on now, still David’s desire is that God will bless this people. Excellent!

Walk of Grief

WALKING WITH GOD. No.26

2 Sam 18:33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you–O Absalom, my son, my son!”

There is so much that could be said about this episode in history but we will limit ourselves here to the expression of grief that we observe in this verse, and what caused it. Grief is that emotional response when we have lost a loved one. What is strange about it here, is that the grief David is expressing, is for the loss of his son who has been hunting him and trying to kill him! Let’s get the bigger picture.

Yesterday we saw Nathan rebuke David for his activity with Bathsheba. Part of that rebuke declared, “Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own….: `Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you” (2 Sam 12:10,11). In other words discipline will come upon David because of what he has done, discipline in the form of a similar thing happening to him. In chapter 13 we see Amnon taking Tamar and subsequently being killed by Absalom – and they are all David’s children. Absalom was exiled but eventually allowed back, but David refused to see him (Chapter 14). Absalom then conspired for the crown and David and his closest men had to flee Jerusalem (Chapter 15) when Absalom turned the nation against David. David eventually fled across the Jordan and settled in the town of Mahanaim (2 Sam 17:27) to the east. Absalom and his troops eventually follow and Absalom is killed in a battle with some of David’s men. When the news is brought to David in Mahanaim, he weeps. He leaves the messenger and, weeping, he walks up to his room over the gateway to the city. It is a walk of grief.

Of course his people don’t know how to cope with this. They are overjoyed that Absalom is dead and the threat to David has been removed, but the word gets out that David is weeping about it. The troops returned in silence (19:2) instead of victory shouts and their general, Joab, is livid with anger and confronts David (19:5-7). David returns and takes his place where he should be, accessible to his men, but why did David respond like that?

To answer that we have to go even further back. David you may remember was described as a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14) and we find in Scripture, “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD.(Ezek 18:32). God does not rejoice when sinners die. Yes, it is right that they die if they refuse His grace and mercy, but it is not a thing for rejoicing. To see this more fully, look earlier in David’s experiences as a leader when Saul had been pursuing him and was killed in battle. When the news of Saul’s death is brought to David we find this same grieving (2 Sam 1:11,12). In his lament that followed, David only remembered the good about them: “How the mighty have fallen!(2 Sam 1:19,25,27). David anguished over what could have been. In this Fallen World there is always that anguish – if only… what could have been!

David feels as God feels and thus he shines out of the pages of Scripture on occasion (there are bad times as well!) as an example. Yes, he has every reason to rejoice over the death of one who was hunting him down, trying to kill him, but that one was his son. It was a tragedy the way it had all happened, and David would remember Nathan’s words to him – it was because of his own sin that this all occurred. Did God make it happen? No He simply stepped back and let the unrestrained desire of Amnon have its way while David was so little involved with his children that he knew nothing of what was going on. Then the Lord stepped back and let the unrestrained anger of Absalom bring judgement on Amnon, and so it went on, unrestrained, undisciplined desires, just like David’s had been with Bathsheba, all working to bring this discipline to David. At the end of it he weeps. He knows he has contributed to this outcome. He grieves.

When such similar circumstances, effects of the Fall, are encountered by us, do we understand the tragedy of them, do we weep? Do we walk the walk of grief as we share in the Lord’s anguish as we observe the effects of sin, and ponder what could have been instead? How deep is our understanding of this terrible thing called Sin?