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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 3

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-8

Psalms 3:0

A Psalm of David when he fled from Absalom his son

1          Lord, how are they increased that trouble me!

Many are they that rise up against me.

2     Many there be which say of my soul,

There is no help for him in God. Selah.

3     But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me;

My glory, and the lifter up of mine head.

4     I cried unto the Lord, with my voice,

And he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah.

5     I laid me down and slept;

I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.

6     I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people,

That have set themselves against me round about.

7     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.

8     Salvation belongeth unto the Lord:

Thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah.


A Psalm of David when he fled from Absalom his son.—The title Mizmôr and the use of Selah (vid. Introduction) indicate the use of this Psalm in the service of the temple. It is particularly suited by its tone and subject for a morning Psalm (Psalms 3:5) in times of trouble, especially in the dangers of war.11 There is not the least occasion, in fact, or in the language, to deviate from the traditional view of the origin of this Psalm as it is expressed in the title. There are reflected in this Psalm the particular features of the story of the trouble of David in his flight from Absalom, especially 2 Samuel 15:13; 2 Samuel 16:7 sq.; 2 Samuel 17:1; 2 Samuel 17:11. [Delitzsch: “The derision of David as one forsaken by God, 2 Samuel 16:7; the danger by night, 2 Samuel 17:1, the myriads of people, 2 Samuel 15:13; 2 Samuel 17:11, and the high and honorable position of the Psalmist.”—C. A. B.] The expressions, especially of Psalms 3:6, transcend the description of the troubles of a private man of piety. If this fact is recognized against Seb. Schmidt, Olsh., Hupf., the supposition of an unknown king (De Wette, Sachs) is an unjustifiable criticism of the traditional view; for nothing speaks against David, and many things for him. The transfer of its time of origin to the period of the supremacy of Saul, especially the troubles of David after the destruction of Ziklag by the Amalekites, 1 Samuel 30:6 (Hitzig) is incompatible with Psalms 3:4 (vid. exegesis of the verse). It is true there is no apparent reference to Absalom, and many exegetes miss it; but they do not notice that we have here a lyrical effusion of a specific religious character, and this not here the expression of the experience of a sick and anxious father, as 2 Samuel 15:11, but the lamentation and the trust of a chieftain and sovereign, who is hard pressed, yet cheerful in prayer, and these experiences resound in such terse sentences and pithy words, that the reader hears the royal Psalmist sigh, cry, and weep from his inmost soul. [Ewald: “The grandeur, color, and language of David are unmistakable.”—C. A. B.]

At the same time, the rythmical arrangement of the four strophes (three according to Geier) is so artistic that it may properly be regarded as written down at a later time, and yet we have no reason to suppose that it was a later composition (Rosenm.), or that there was a long time between its conception and its production (Hengstenberg). Moreover, the origin of this Psalm of prayer does not, most naturally, fall upon the evening (Hengst.) of the first day of the flight, 2 Samuel 16:14, (Kimchi), on which David went bare-footed and weeping up the Mount of Olives, and experienced many bitternesses and mortifications, but in the morning hours, after the intervening night, in which Ahithophel would have fallen upon him, 2 Samuel 17:1, (J. H. Michaelis [Ewald]).

The Hollanders sang this Psalm according to their Psalm-book when they marched against the Belgians, Aug. 1st, 1831.

Str. I. Psa 3:1. [How.Mâh, an expression of lamentation (De Wette), on account of the crowd of enemies (Hupf.)—Increased.—Barnes: “How are they multiplied; or how numerous they are. Perhaps the idea is, that at first they seemed to be comparatively few in number, but had now so multiplied as to endanger his crown and life.”—Hupfeld: “That trouble me—in general of enemies or opponents.—Rise up against me.—Properly not rebels, but adversaries in general, those who stand up against him to oppose him.”—C. A. B.]

Psalms 3:2. [Hupfeld: “His need has become so great and threatening that many doubt his deliverance, and deny that he has any help to expect from God.”—C. A. B.]—My soul.—This circumlocution for the person is not without significance (most interpreters). It is used in Hebrew not only with reference to the life (Gesen. [Barnes]), but also with reference to the spirit, and will (Hupfeld), and it here expresses the fact that the words spoken partly about David, and partly to him, as well by open enemies (Hitzig), as by friends who have become perplexed, wound his inmost soul (Hengstenb.), and pass in judgment his inmost character, and his personal relation to God (Delitzsch).—Help.—According to the context, the reference is to deliverance from danger to his life, which it is pretended David has no longer to expect from Elohim. The speakers here are not Atheists, who mistake the Divine power (De Wette), but men, who regard the ruin of David as unavoidable, and wish to express the opinion that now even prayer will not help. Herein is expressed their view that God will not, or does not wish to help the afflicted one; and this turn of expression must have stung the soul of David with all the more bitterness, as his heinous sin with Bathsheba had already brought upon him a series of Divine chastisements. But we are not to infer from this, that the speakers would say that there is now no more salvation with God for David, or he has been thrust out from the Divine grace (Delitzsch). The termination athah [termination of the Hebrew word for help—C. A. B.] is neither intensive (Kimchi), nor demonstrative (Gesen.), nor euphonic (Aben Ezra and the most of the later interpreters), but the accusative of design (Hupfeld [Delitzsch]), which in the Hebrew is about to pass out of use, and is only preserved in fragments in certain feminines in –ָ.ה in the poets (derived from the view of direction towards an end).

Str. II. Psa 3:3. [Hengstenberg cites Luther as saying: “The Psalmist here contrasts with the previous clauses three others. He has spoken of many enemies, he opposes them with, the Lord is his shield. Then, as they have set themselves against him to disgrace him before the world, he opposes them with, the Lord sets him in honor. Finally he laments over those who slander and insult him, against whom he boasts that it is the Lord who lifts up his head.”—C. A. B.]

[Shield.Vid.Genesis 15:1, where God is Abraham’s shield, Deuteronomy 33:29, where he is Israel’s shield. It is also a favorite expression of David, Psalms 7:10; Psalms 18:2; Psalms 28:7.—For me.—בַּעֲדִי. A better rendering is “around me,” “about me,” “round about me,” so almost all exegetes. Hitzig: “Jehovah stands behind him, and holds His shield before him (Zechariah 12:8; 2 Samuel 6:16).” Alexander: “Covering the whole body, not merely a part of it, as ordinary shields do.”—My glory.—Hengstenberg: “Because David’s glory, the exalted dignity with which he was clothed, had its source in the Lord.” Psalms 62:7.—Lifter up of my head.—Hengst.: “Indicates that he is delivered from the state of depression in which he went about in sadness, without spirit, and with bowed head.” Delitzsch, upon this verse as a whole, says: “Hourly he has to fear that he will be fallen upon and ruined, but Jehovah is the shield which covers him. His kingdom has been taken away from him, but Jehovah is his glory. With covered head, bowed to the ground, he ascended the Mount of Olives, 2 Samuel 15:30; but Jehovah is the lifter up of his head whilst He comforts and helps him.”—C. A. B.]

Psalms 3:4. My voice.—Most exegetes suppose that קולִי is the accusative of instrument, or according to Ewald more correctly accusative of closer definition, and indicates that the call was a loud one. Hitzig, on the other hand (Begriff der Kritik, p. 23), Böttcher (Collectanea, p. 116), and Hupfeld, suppose that there is here a poetical use of a double subject, and that the active member appears, first, as the nearer subject in the nominative, and then, the person himself appears again in the verb. It is disputed here whether the imperf. is to be taken in the historical sense as preterite (Hupf., Hitzig, Baur), or as an expression of continued action, Delitzsch, et al. If we separate the imperf. in the latter sense with De Wette from the poet’s real hour of affliction, and regard it as a description of the constant state of his soul, so that the perfects in ver 5 must, contrary to usage, be taken in like sense; then this explanation which reduces it, “to be accustomed,” is clearly wrong. But the strict historical explanation is likewise carried too far when Sachs translates the following imperf. conversive: “and he has answered.” Hitzig puts even Psalms 3:6 in the past. But the poet expresses rather, what he has in Jehovah now and at all times, according to his faith and his experience (Psalms 3:3), in connection with his prayer (Psalms 3:4 a), and with the promise that he should be heard Psalms 3:4 b); and then passes over to the description of what has happened to him through Jehovah’s help, since the last evening (Psalms 3:5 a) until the present morning (Psalms 3:5 b), and in what frame of mind he now is (Psalms 3:6). It is out of this frame of mind corresponding with the dangers of his situation that the true cry of prayer then breaks forth.12Holy hill. Hitzig would think of the hill of God (1 Samuel 10:5), or the Mount of Gibeon (1 Kings 3:4, comp. 2 Chronicles 1:3; 1 Chronicles 21:29), if not of Sinai (1 Kings 19:8), or Bashan (Psalms 68:16). But there is no reference to a consecrated mountain on which at any time Jehovah appeared and spoke to men, or accepted their worship; but to the abiding-place of the revelation and authority of Jehovah among His people, whither the prayerful turn with the assurance of receiving an answer. This place was from the time of Moses above the ark of the covenant, and the ark had been brought by David from Kirjath-jearim to Jerusalem, 2 Samuel 6:0; 1 Chronicles 13:5, and in his flight from Absalom it was not taken with him, 2 Samuel 15:25. It can therefore only mean Mount Zion. The entire hypothesis of Hitzig is thus shattered. [Delitzsch: “He was now separated from the place of the Divine presence by hostile power. But his prayer presses through to the throne of the cherubim, and there is no wall of separation, either in space or the creature, to the answer given by Him who is there enthroned.”—C. A. B.]

[Str. III. Psa 3:5. I laid me down and slept.—A reference to the past night (Delitzsch). Barnes: “Notwithstanding these troubles and dangers, I had such confidence that God hears prayer, and such calm trust in His protection, that I laid me down gently and slept securely. The Psalmist mentions this as a remarkable proof of the Divine protection and favor.”—I awaked.—“Still safe and secure” (Barnes). Delitzsch: “It is because Jehovah has sustained him, the hand of God is his pillow, the gracious and omnipotent hand is under his head, he is inaccessible and without fear.”

Psalms 3:6. Barnes: “This exaltation may be regarded in some measure as the result of the calm and refreshing slumber which he had enjoyed. The mind as well as the body had been refreshed and invigorated. With the bright light of a new morning he looked with more cheerfulness and hope on the things around him, and felt new strength to meet the dangers to which he was exposed.”—Ten thousands.—Myriads without any definite number being thought of, only a very great multitude. This is not a supposed case, for all Israel had gone over to Absalom (Delitzsch). Delitzsch: “Selah is lacking at the end of this strophe, because it is not spoken in a tone of triumph, but of humility, and as a quiet expression of confidence and faith.”—C. A. B.]

Str. IV. Psalms 3:7. Arise.—The accentuation kumáh instead of kúmah (Rise up! arise! a cry to Jehovah, for the first time, Numbers 10:35) is best explained by Hupfeld as: with the design of special emphasis [Delitzsch: “God arises when He interferes to decide the events of this world.”] The cry for help is based upon the following clause with כִי; and the perfects are the so-called prophetical perfects, which indicate the action as one certainly to be expected (De Wette), but a real one (almost all recent interpreters). The objection of De Wette that then the prayer would be superfluous, because no more enemies were present, is not to be refuted on the ground that כל, kol, all, is not to be regarded as numerical (Hupf.), or refers to many particular events (Delitzsch). The word refers rather to the myriads which now surrounded the Psalmist in hostility. He fears them not, because in previous cases God has always brought the enemies of the poet (my enemies) to shame and ruin, whether many or few. [The perfects here are real perfects, with Ewald, Delitzsch, Hupf., Alexander, Barnes, et al., and the reference is to the foreign enemies, Philistines, A morites, etc., and his enemies of the house of Saul, whom the Lord had destroyed before him. This is the most natural and logical order of thought. The Psalmist, in the last strophe, strengthens himself with reference to the experience of the past night, and in this strophe by remembrance of the experiences of his past conflicts with his enemies. As the experience of the past night gives him confidence, the experience of the past deliverances stimulates him to renewed prayer as he recalls his present dangers.—C. A. B.] As God is represented under the figure of a warlike hero and hunter, so the enemies are represented under the figure of ravenous beasts, from whom all power of injuring the friend of God has been taken away by crushing their jaws, and the teeth fixed therein. God prepares for them a complete and shameful overthrow (Hengst. and Delitzsch). The double accusative of the object, Psalms 3:7 b, should be noticed.

Psalms 3:8. “In the lamed of possession and the generic article before ישׁוֹעהּ there is an exclusiveness of possession and the free power of disposal” (Delitz.).—[Thy blessing be upon.—This is not the statement of a fact (A. V.: Thy blessing is upon Thy people), but an intercessory prayer. David prays for his own deliverance, and then, that the salvation of the Lord may rest upon his people. Thus almost all recent commentators.—C. A. B.] The closing word which “casts a clear light into the depths of the noble soul” (Ewald) turns now from the personal to national affairs (De Wette). It refers not only to that part of the people which had remained faithful to David, as the only genuine people of Jehovah (Aben Ezra), but it implores blessings instead of curses, and has as its antitype the words “Father, forgive them” of the other David whom His people had crucified (Delitzsch). Böttcher, however, considers this verse as a later liturgical addition. Bugenhagen, aptly: “benedictio Dei est Dei beneficentia.”


1. If the first word in severe affliction is to call upon the name of the Lord, then lamentation is changed into prayer, and the soul no longer swims in a sea of trouble, it lays hold of God again, and begins to believe and to hope.

2. The conspiracy of the adversaries is worse than their number; and the arrows of scorn are sharper than the sword, in piercing the heart. But the heart is wounded much more deeply when the complaints and condemnations of opponents cannot be refuted by a pure conscience as merely hateful slanders and wicked abuse. Then to the external affliction there is added internal conflicts which beget suffering for the soul, and lead to spiritual struggles. George von Anhalt showed his brother John three remedies against such struggles: Faith in the forgiveness of sins, in the resurrection, and in an eternal life.

3. In spiritual conflicts human judgment does not decide. Only the afflicted must not allow themselves to be pressed away from God, or to be wearied and lamed by doubting the Divine mercy. For those who resign themselves to Him, God is always as the faithful God of the Covenant, a Shield protecting on all sides, as He was for Abraham, Genesis 15:1, and for all Israel, Deuteronomy 33:29. It is God, who not only maintains the honor of His servants, restores them again when disgraced, and surrounds the abused king with the splendor of majesty, but He Himself is the essential idea of all honor, majesty, and glory; and the world cannot deprive the pious of Him even in the uttermost misery. Moreover, it is God who not only lifts up the head of the afflicted which is wearied, and has fallen upon the breast, and raises again the crown of fallen princes which has been thrown down; but does the same thing to the penitent sinner who has bowed his face to the dust, and with the down-trodden righteous man whose head lies upon the ground.

4. The assurance that prayer will be heard is a great comfort to the afflicted, especially if these have already had personal experience of it. Although separated from the place where God has previously given them the experience of His gracious presence, yes, although they are obliged to be deprived of the help of Divine service, and all the ordinary means of grace, the voice of prayer presses above all to God, and the answer of the Lord comes to those who sincerely supplicate Him.

5. Those who awake after a night full of danger, and give the Lord the glory with thankful recognition of the protection and assistance of the Almighty, whose hand has been under the head of the slumbering (Song Song of Solomon 2:6), those are usually filled with fresh courage and faith. From the thankfulness of the morning psalm springs joyfulness for the work of the day; fearlessness, in spite of all the enemies which surround him, and heartfelt confidence in Divine help; and thence again prayer and supplication take a fresh start with an earnestness and a fervor which urges to the boldest importunity, yet without overstepping the bounds assigned to the creature.

6. Whoever has the true God for his God may be forsaken by all the world, and experience that human assistance is of no profit; but “if all kinds of misfortune, affliction, and tribulation, are heaped upon him, yet it is the Lord who then saves him; in His hand is help and blessing” (Luther); and whoever, on the basis of the revelation of the covenant is in communion with Him by faith, makes the experience in his heart through faith, that he is comforted by Divine promises, and has the experience in his life that to the previous help he has received from the hand of God, new deliverances are constantly added.

7. However it is not enough merely to have a God, to believe in Him and call upon Him; the question is: What God? For Jehovah, the God of the historical revelation, is the only God who possesses and distributes those things which afford help, deliverance, and salvation, in bodily and spiritual needs, for time and for eternity.

8. Those who are truly pious think not only of their own deliverance, and their personal salvation; if they earnestly care for this, they pray at the same time for Divine blessings upon the whole people, that Divine judgment may be turned away from the guilty, and for the salvation of all who return in repentance to God. Deus est satis idoneus patientiæ sequester. Si injuriam deposueris apud eum, ultor est; si damnum, restitutor est; si dolorem, medicus est; si mortem, resuscitator est (Tertull. de patient. 15).


To truly flee for refuge is to flee to God, for that leads us, 1) from the tumult of the world into the peace of God; 2) from earthly oppression to everlasting salvation; 3) from the power of men to the hands of God.—He who can pray in time of need is in the way of salvation; for 1) he looks beyond the multitude and strength of his oppressors, to the power and favor of the Most High; 2) he hears not the scorn and threatenings of his enemies, but the comforting voice and answer of his God; 3) he experiences, amid all the afflictions and anxieties of his heart, the comfort of communion with Him, who is the sole help in time of need, and the true deliverer of the faithful.—The sword of the enemy threatens his body, the scorn of the ungodly aims at his soul, but God is a shield and protection against both.—He who prays in faith, casts all his care on the Lord, therefore he goes to sleep trusting in Divine protection; even after a day full of calamity he is calm, and awakes to the battle of life full of fresh boldness of faith, with renewed prayer for the help of the Lord.—Let him, who would not be ruined in time of danger, take refuge with the Lord, for then: 1) He does not complain, but prays; 2) he does not doubt, but trusts in the living God; 3) he does not tremble, but gains hope and courage. Personal experiences of grace bring an enduring blessing; for: 1) They protect against the scorn of unbelievers in times of calamity; 2) they strengthen the assurance that our prayers will be heard in time of strong opposition; 3) they lead to a lively resignation to God in days when all human greatness, skill, and power, seem to be nothing.—Against the enemy of our country we fight not only with the sword, but with those spiritual weapons: 1) prayer; 2) trust in God; 3) humiliation under the strong hand of God; 4) çxaltation in the name and power of the Lord.—The necessity of the times is no sign that we are forsaken by God, but, 1) reminds us of our weakness; 2) refers us to the works of the Lord; 3) encourages us to pray; 4) warns us against devotion to the world; 5) exhorts us to seek the blessing of the Lord.—He who gives the glory to God, makes the best provision for his own elevation: 1) From a previous fall; 2) from present need; 3) from impending death.—A king can present to his people nothing more noble than a lively piety; nothing more precious than salvation by Jehovah; can ask nothing better than the blessing of the Lord.—We may have many enemies, but our help comes from one only true God, who is the best friend to those who trust in Him.—The blessing of God belongs to the people of God.

Starke: David had fled from God his true Father, now he must flee from a rebellious son. This is the retribution of God; like with like.—Even blood relationship is destroyed by sin and Satan.—Unhappy children, who drive away their parents; blessed parents, who are driven to God by the wickedness of their children.—Pray to God, who is able to convert even lost sons.—If the Lord show thee the multitude of thine enemies, He will likewise show thee the riches of His help.—We must not heed the talk of the enemy, but hold fast to the word of our God—The world judges perversely; the pious are always accused of being ungodly, whilst on the contrary the irreligious would be considered nearest God.—God often lets His children appear to be forsaken in their own eyes, and the eyes of others, that their faith may be tried, their belief in the Word of promise purified, and their childlike hope crowned.—Faith and prayer go together. For faith is experienced by prayer and prayer receives from faith its true form and validity.—Our strength is derived from both.—If the danger and the necessity are great, the inward strengthening of God is regulated accordingly.—Whoever desires God to grant his prayers for assistance, must be able to call the Lord his God, not only because He is Creator and Redeemer, but also because He sanctifies those who accept Him.—With the pious the cross has ever a sorrowful beginning but a joyful ending.

Luther: There is no trouble, however severe it may be, that is to be compared with that against which Jeremiah (17:17) prays with trembling, when God contends with man.

Osiander: When God’s promises are received with faith, they give to a godly man a peaceful heart, because he trusts himself to God, his true Father.—Strigel: We must above all notice the gradation of thought: When attacked he prays, when he prays he is saved, when saved he gives thanks.—Selnekker: Whoever will serve God must suffer persecution, and must have the whole world, yes, his own flesh and blood, for enemies; but whoever trusts God belongs to Him, and shall remain His, though the whole world persecute him.—Arndt: It is the essential character of faith: 1) That it lays the care and burden of the heart upon God, 2) that it expels fear and terror; 3) that it trusts God against all enemies.—Frisch: When faith brings peace into the heart the body is likewise benefited.—Herberger: Distress teaches to pray, and prayer drives all trouble away.—The heart as well as the head belongs on high.—Rieger: Although relief is delayed, still the blessing of the Lord is with His people.

[Matt. Henry: True Christian fortitude consists more in a gracious security and serenity of mind, in patient bearing and patient waiting, than in daring enterprises with sword in hand.—A child of God startles at the very thought of despairing of help in God; you cannot vex him with anything so much as if you offer to persuade him “there is no help for him in God.”—A cheerful resignation to God is the way to obtain a cheerful satisfaction and confidence in God.—Promises of salvation do not supersede, but engage our petitions for it,—Barnes: That we are “awaked” in the morning, after a night’s refreshing slumber; that we are raised up again to the enjoyments of life; that we are permitted again to greet our friends, and to unite with them in the privileges of devotion, should always be regarded as a new proof of the goodness of God, and should lead to acts of praise.—Who has not experienced the influence of the slumbers of a night, and of the light of the morning, in giving new vigor, and inspiring new hopes, as if the returning day was an emblem of brighter scenes in life, and the passing away of the shades of night a token that all trouble and sorrow would flee away?—Spurgeon: May we ever wait with holy confidence in our hearts, and a song upon our lips.—Search Scripture through and you must, if you read it with a candid mind, be persuaded that the doctrine of salvation by grace alone is the great doctrine of the Word of God.—C. A. B.]


[11][Delitzsch: “The first two Psalms, which are prologues, are succeeded by a morning Psalm, Psalms 3:0, and an evening Psalm, Psalms 4:0, as we would naturally expect such Psalms to come first in a Psalm book.”—C. A. B.]

[12][Barnes: “He gave utterance to the deep anguish of his soul in words. So did the Saviour in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39).”—C. A. B.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 3". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/psalms-3.html. 1857-84.
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