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[Note. This is the first psalm which is ascribed in the title to David. It is supposed to have been written by him in an hour of peril and persecution after the ark had been long established in Jerusalem. The hymn-book of Israel properly begins with this psalm. It is the only psalm in the book which is expressly assigned to the period of David's flight from Absalom, The structure of the psalm is regular four divisions, with two verses of equal length (with one exception, Psa 3:7 ). The fifth verse would seem to suggest that the psalm was composed for a morning song, as Psalms 4:0 is an evening song. In both the psalms the number of verses is the same. Probably this psalm was used in the liturgical service of the temple. The character of David is almost fully delineated in this composition.]
The Divine Protector
"Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me" ( Psa 3:1 ).
When a man's enemies increase in number the man should bethink himself, for surely they will not increase without reason. This is a matter which cannot be decided without careful consideration. It is no argument against a man that his enemies are millions strong, nor is it any argument in favour of the man that his friends are at least equal in number. At the same time it may be spiritually educative and useful to consider why there are so many enemies. Enmity may be founded upon jealousy, or envy, or opposition of conviction; or upon assurance that the individual against whom the enmity is directed is pursuing a mischievous course. It is for the man himself to retire within the sanctuary of his own conscience to discover his moral purpose in everything, and according as his integrity can be proved to stand fast even in solitude or desolation. But there is a self-analysis that is irreligious. It is conducted upon wrong principles, and the conductor of it is resolved upon self-vindication rather than upon an absolute discovery of truth, be it on which side it may. It should be remembered, too, that there are some questions which cannot be decided in solitude; the help of social influences is necessary to modify the judgment and to chasten the feeling of the inquirer. A second thought arising in this connection is that the very fact of the enemies being all but countless in number may be a tribute to the man's greatness. Armies are not sent out to cut down mushrooms or bulrushes. The very magnitude of the host encamped against a man may say without words how great the man is and mighty, and how worthy of being attacked. To leave some men alone is to withhold from them every moral and intellectual tribute. We say we treat certain persons with contempt, because they are utterly unworthy of serious criticism or opposition. Such persons are said to be treated with silent disdain. On the other hand, in proportion as a man is powerful and resolute, and is of social consequence, it may be necessary to combine against him in overwhelming numbers, the numbers themselves being a tribute to the very greatness which they desire to modify or overthrow. Then a third thought arises which cannot be dispensed with by any man who is anxious to understand his exact position: it is possible for a man to create a host of imaginary enemies, and so to make himself miserable without a shadow of reason. Infinite mischief arises from this perversion of mind. Honest men are put in false relations and are subjected to unnecessary tests and standards. Words, which are perfectly simple both in their colour and in their intention, are discoloured and twisted from their purpose, so that the frankest spirit is brought under unjust and ungenerous criticism. The man who practises this habit is suffering from a most disastrous mental and moral disease. Whatever he touches he withers. His own house becomes a grim sepulchre. Childhood, beauty, innocence are all polluted or perverted by his touch or use. Speaking generally, it is as a whole a wise thing to look for advantages and encouragements rather than to look at difficulties and hindrances in the education of the spiritual life. Certainly in all social relations and customs it is better to mistake an enemy for a friend than to mistake a friend for an enemy. Everything is gained by the large and generous view, and everything is lost by contracted and suspicious criticism. Then there comes the great difficulty of undue self-importance. Everything turns upon relations to the mere individual, and thus the individual is exaggerated and ultimately settles into an unexpressed custom of self-consideration and even self-idolatry. It should always be remembered that when a great number of people are against a man the man himself is also against a great number of people. Both sides of the situation ought to be taken into due account if honest judgment is to be the result of examination. Speaking to God about our troublers and opponents, we seem to forget that the Lord himself is not of their number, and therefore in the very act of magnifying the opposition we forget the one thing that should throw that opposition into contempt and uselessness namely, the omnipotence of God, which is eternally pledged on the side of the good and honest heart. If David had spoken more about the Lord and less about his enemies, his spiritual tranquillity would have remained undisturbed. But even David is drawn aside from the higher contemplations to consider the number of his enemies. Even the sublimest worshipper is not safe when he takes his eye away for one moment from the king in whom should be all his trust.
"Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God" ( Psa 3:2 ).
In making statements of this kind a man should be exceedingly critical lest he unconsciously seek to tempt God. This may, in reality, be less a complaint than a challenge. A very subtle temptation thus assails the heart and clothes itself with religious forms and prostrates itself in pious attitudes. We know how this temptation works socially. We indirectly challenge our friends by reminding them of the position assumed towards us by our enemies. We quote or invent words supposed to have been uttered by the enemy, and these we pour into the ear of our friends with an unavowed but deeply-felt desire to stimulate them by the angry tones of those who are supposed to be in opposition to us. "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." At the same time it is perfectly possible for a man to be really mocked by the enemy and for these very words to be used against the devout soul. They were substantially used against Jesus Christ himself. The enemy said, "He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God." It should be remembered also that there is an external view of providence which would seem to countenance the doctrine that affliction, desolation, or trial, is a manifest proof of divine displeasure. When a man is hunted and persecuted, when everything to which he puts his hand seems to fail, when his days are nights and his nights are unblessed by a single star, when his fields are turned into deserts and his gardens into stony places without blossom or fruit, there is a strong temptation addressed to the observer to regard persons suffering from such circumstances as disapproved or forsaken of God. This heathenish view of God is contradicted by the history of the Church and the personal consciousness of good men. We should remind ourselves of the noble saints who under such circumstances through their prayers and their faith were actually richer in their poverty than in their external wealth, and stronger in their supposed weakness than in their fancied security. "When I am weak, then am I strong."
"But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me" ( Psa 3:3-5 ).
A vigorous realisation of the spiritual above the material. David seems now to be his true self. He has left the little and beclouded view and risen to levels whence he can survey the larger providence and purpose of heaven. Strange as it may appear, it is when material forces press against us with mightiest urgency that we see most of the nearness and sufficiency of the spiritual world. It is when we are driven to the very brink and our foothold seems to be insecure that we are enabled to commit ourselves to the security and love of the infinite. The twelve legions of angels seemed to be nearest Christ when his enemies were triumphing over him. That is a consideration which should sustain the soul in every night of assault and danger. Material help is then of no use, it is out of place because out of harmony with the soul's deepest and richest experiences. There is a poverty which money cannot relieve. There is a danger to which an offered sword is little better than an affront. There are extremities in life which God only can handle; but it is the experience of the Church that in such extremities God has magnified his grace towards his suffering ones and delivered them with great strength from the crises which afflicted the soul.
These verses show how much a man may have in reality when he seems to have absolutely nothing in appearance. David has described his estate as one of loneliness, amounting almost to utter desolation, so far as social relationships are concerned. He seems to be alone in the very midst of threatening and desperate enemies. His soul is mocked and his prayers are blown aside by the furious opposition of his pursuers. What then has David even in the midst of all this loss and peril and fear? He himself seems to give an inventory of his riches. First of all, he has a sense of security. This is evident from the words, "Thou art a shield for me." The image of divine protection under the type of a shield is of frequent occurrence in Holy Scripture. It occurs in the very first book of the Bible: "Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward." In the Psalms the same image occurs again and again: "The Lord God is a sun and shield," these are words which have comforted the Church in the hour of its saddest distresses. In the next place, David had a sense of prayer, he described God as the lifter up of his head: the meaning is that though sore driven, he could still turn his eyes towards heaven, expectant of spiritual deliverance and benediction, and that even when his enemies were most heavily pressing upon him he was lifted up higher than any of them a target to be shot at; but he knew that no arrow of the enemy could strike the head that was divinely sustained. Then David points out the fact of his own enjoyment of the quietness and refreshment of sleep, "I laid me down and slept." An eye so critical as this could never be without an object of divine care upon which to rest We are too prone to think of God only as at the head of battles and as leading great, hosts in orderly procession: we forget that he giveth his beloved sleep, that he dries the tears of sorrow, and that he does about us the work of a servant, ministering to our life in patience and tenderness and all-bountifulness of love. The warrior who talks about a shield and who rejoices in the lifting up of his head recognises in the gift of sleep the benediction of God. "I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety." "When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet." God will never allow himself to be excluded from what may be termed the more quiet and domestic spheres of life. He as certainly closes the eyelids of his loved ones in sleep as he makes the outgoings of the morning and of the evening to rejoice.
"I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about" ( Psa 3:6 ).
Now a new tone occurs in the speech of David. The remarkable variation of experience depicted in this psalm is full of instruction and is set above all doubtful criticism by the fact that it is confirmed by our own knowledge of human life. We ourselves have passed through all this urgent and many-coloured transition. The sixth verse contains really no great boasting when the circumstances are fully considered. Why should a man set up in a castle of granite dare the tiny sparrows to invade his security? He that is for us is more than all that can be against us. "Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident." "If God be for us, who can be against us?" Yet on the side of our personal weakness this is surely no mean boast. When our children are against us, as Absalom was in this case, when we are poor, desolate, hunted, and persecuted in every way, it is something to have such a view of God as shall become to us a shield, a buckler, a strong tower, and a pavilion; then we do not compliment God, we felicitate ourselves upon the unmerited possession and enjoyment of his favour. It should always be remembered that by fear we dishonour God. We are not only without faith, which is to our soul an inexpressible loss of dignity and strength, but we actually dishonour the Most High by a spirit of fear, suspicion, and cowardice, leading the mocker to taunt us and to ask us bitterly as to our God and our hope.
"Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly" ( Psa 3:7 ).
Unless this prayer be the expression of the soul in its highest and heavenliest moods, it is the most insidious impiety. A man is not entitled to exaggerate his own cause, when he is putting the case to God, as between himself and his enemies. It is very natural for a man to think that whoever is against him must be a fool, a knave, and a wicked person altogether. We never see all the aspects of a case. In the wars of nations each side commends itself to God, assured that it is right and that heaven will bring its banners to victory. For the chastening of the soul it is always necessary to keep in view the fact that no man can see beyond the circle of which he himself is the centre; he only knows one set of circumstances or one aspect of facts, or he omits from his outlook objects and considerations which are absolutely necessary to the completeness of the case. Little prayers will be the result of little conceptions. The prayer, even in its utmost fervour, that is bounded by the selfhood of the suppliant is a prayer to which no great answer can be returned. Opponents are not without good qualities. The enemy himself has a conscience, a sense of responsibility, and it may be some apprehension of the value and blessedness of prayer. Better, therefore, pray that righteousness may succeed and that true justice may be done than that any particular individual should be honoured at the expense of others. Our prayer should not be "Arise, O Lord, and save me," but "Arise, O Lord, and vindicate equity, and bring forth righteousness and judgment as the morning and as the noonday." But who can pray that great prayer when his soul is encompassed on every side, and all the hosts of evil seem to be set in deadly array against him? Still, this pharisaism or self-satisfection must be utterly cleansed out of the heart before the heart can offer great and generous prayer. How apt we are to suppose that persons who are our enemies are also enemies of God! Thus we dishonour our Father in heaven. Thus, indeed, we perpetrate a kind of idolatry which is hardly at all disguised. When we pray the great impersonal prayer, "Not my will, but thine, be done," we shall have entered into the mystery of Christ's fellowship with the Father. Until we realise that profound communion with the infinite, our prayers must of necessity be narrowed and tainted by selfishness.
"Salvation belongeth unto the Lord: thy blessing is upon thy people" ( Psa 3:8 ).
Here the Psalmist happily escapes from the narrow circle of his own affairs and takes wing for the open firmament of heaven. The distinction as to divine favour is not so clear between one man and another as the Psalmist seemed to imagine, for the rain cometh down upon the just and upon the unjust, and God is kind to the unthankful and the evil. But the doctrine of this verse is universally and for ever true. All complete deliverance or salvation is from the Lord; and the divine blessing rests upon God's people in a sense which they alone can spiritually discern and appreciate. Whilst a man is confused by the details of his own cause he is at the mercy of every change of circumstances; but when he takes his stand upon God's sovereignty and righteousness he is resting upon a rock which cannot be shaken. Throughout the Bible God is careful to reserve his own sovereignty. "I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no Saviour." "There is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else." However great may be our spiritual liberties we are still bound to the eternal centre. However multitudinous and energetic may be secondary causes, and however helpful they may be, we must take the mind steadily and thoroughly back to the throne of God, and remember that there is but one majesty in the universe and one everlasting righteousness.
We may well ask why our circumstances are more trying than our neighbours'. The Psalmist represents the bitterest of all human experience and the loneliest of all forsakenness. It was the man's own son who had turned against him; his very house had torn up its own foundations, and all security and joy had vanished from the family circle. Let this extremity of pain represent the whole tragedy of human trial, and then we may find companionship and help in the society of the distressed king. Then will arise the inquiry whether the defence which saved David is unequal to our protection. David found his comfort in God. So long as he looked at his enemies he was bowed down with dismay. Whilst he fixed his vision upon external circumstances he saw nothing that could give him one moment's gladness. But when he turned towards the holy hill of Zion and cried unto the Lord, he fell asleep like a little child, and awoke with new strength because of the sustaining hand of God. After that divinely-given sleep David accounted ten thousand men as nothing, and regarded all their fortresses as but walls of straw. So between our present despondency and our future consciousness of power there may intervene but one night of religious sleep. Do not judge all life by the weakness of this eventide: true, we are faint, yea, we are utterly exhausted, and it seems as if the very least of our enemies could drive us into uttermost distress: what we have to do is to cry unto the Lord with our voice, and in answer to that prayer there will come not deliverance but sleep that is rest, a season of recruital and reinvigoration, and in the morning, awakened by the very hand who gave us sleep, we shall be able to account ten thousand as less than one man, and all the host of the enemy as but so many clouds which the wind driveth away. Is any man afflicted? Let him pray. Are we about to surrender our religious confidence? Let us hear the voice of ancient history "I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears."
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"Thy blessing is upon thy people." Psa 3:8
The reading should be, "Let thy blessing be upon thy people." The Psalmist is not stating a fact, he is rather praying for the Church. David's was a pastoral soul. A fine tone of solicitude runs through all his supplications and desires. But that which is literally a prayer may at the same time be also a fact, and in this case is proved to be so. Taking the text therefore as a fact, we are reminded that God has a "people," a community specifically his own; the reference is not to the total humanity, but to humanity specialised and set apart, humanity sanctified. By God's "blessing" we are not to understand a merely external sunshine, a light which floods the path and makes the physical man radiant: we are rather to understand a light that fills the soul with morning, and that gives promise of a nightless day. When God's blessing is upon a man it does not follow that the man is relieved from chastisement. The contrary doctrine is distinctly laid down in Scripture, "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth." A man often scourges his own child when he would not scourge another, simply because the child is his own, and he has the child's advantage at heart. No one can come into the church for the sake of the blessing. Then would church communion become a kind of commercial relationship. We do not come for the blessing; we get the blessing in coming. God's blessing is often a discipline; we do not set down on some green knoll and contemplate the landscape, nor do we bury ourselves in velvet sward and look up to the blue sky with the poet's contemplativeness; because the blessing of God is upon us we are to arise and pursue, we are to take the prey with a strong hand, and to show ourselves skilful workmen in the Lord's service. The Lord's blessing is therefore an inspiration as well as a benediction. Know that the blessing of God is upon you when you are going to do more work. Be sure that the divine blessing is resting largely and lovingly on you when you feel you must give away your substance with both hands that poverty may be relieved and that knowledge may be increased on the earth. When you are inclined to shut yourself up in elegant solitude, and to contemplate all life from a distance which deprives it of vividness, be quite sure that the blessing of the Lord is withdrawn from you. God's blessing is not set upon people with the view of discouraging others, but with the view of encouraging them towards divine fellowship and divine confidence.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 3". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany