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A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.
This and the following psalm have many points of resemblance, and evidently form a pair. Similarity of structure, thought, forms of expression, of mental condition, and external surroundings, prevails. Both evidently belong to the same general occasion, and would seem to have been written in close connexion; Psalms 3, a morning, (Psalms 3:5,) and Psalms 4:0, an evening song, (Psalms 3:8,) perhaps of the same day. The title of the former assigns it to the period of Absalom’s rebellion, and was, probably, written the first morning after the flight of David from his capital; the latter probably dates the evening after, at Mahanaim. See 2 Samuel 17:22-24. Its strophic divisions are four: Psalms 3:1-2, the lament; Psalms 3:3-4, David’s expression of trust in God; Psalms 3:5-6, his reassured confidence after a night’s repose; Psalms 3:7-8, his call upon God for help, and for salvation to Israel.
A psalm of David The first that bears his name. Mismor, here rendered Psalm, is not the same word which is used to designate the Book of Psalms. It is frequently found in the titles of the psalms, and occurs fifty-seven times, thirty-six of which are ascribed to David. It denotes a poetical structure set to music. Lowth says: “It signifies a composition which in a peculiar manner is cut up into sentences, short, frequent, and measured by regular intervals.”
When he fled from Absalom See 2 Samuel 15-17
1. How are they increased? The vast and constantly swelling number of the revolters threw the country into the greatest alarm. David three times mentions it in Psalms 3:1-2; Psalms 3:6 and calls them myriads, a Hebraism for a vast but unknown number. See 2 Samuel 15:13
2. My soul “Soul”” ( נפשׁ , nephesh) is here a Hebraism for me, myself; but is used sometimes in the psychological sense for πνευμα , or spirit, the mental ego. The reproachful words of his enemies “there is no help for him in God” had entered into his inmost being. See 2 Samuel 16:7-8; Psalms 71:11; Psalms 62:10. David’s order to Zadok to return the ark to Zion. (2 Samuel 15:24-25,) might have given plausibility to these envenomed words.
Selah A word occurring seventy-three times in the Psalms, and three times in Habakkuk. As a musical direction it denotes pause, rest, silence, that is, of the voice, to give place to a brief intermediate symphony, or ritornello. It may also be a sign to the reader to pause for meditation upon the import of what is just said. To human eyes David’s cause seemed lost.
3. But thou, O Lord From the desperate human aspect of things faith turns its eye to God alone.
A shield for me Or, a shield about me. See Genesis 15:1; Job 1:10. The figure is warlike, and implies David’s sense of his own danger.
My glory My honour and prosperity.
The lifter up of mine head To lift up the head not only denotes deliverance from trouble, but also restoration to former dignity, as in Genesis 40:20-21. He had fled from the capital in great humiliation, with his head covered, as a sign of mourning, (see 2 Samuel 15:30;) but God would reverse his sorrow, restore his glory, and so lift up his head.
4. I cried… he heard me Literally, I will cry, and he will hear me. Although the vauv conversive ( ו ) would make the future here a past tense, yet it should be construed as really future, and the preterite form only given for intensity and assurance, as if the answer had already come. The idea is, “I will cry, and he will assuredly hear me.” But see Psalms 3:6.
Out of his holy hill That is, Zion. The reference to the place whence the answer of prayer should proceed is a recognition of the ordained methods of inquiring of God, and suggests the strong churchly and pious heart of David.
5. I laid me down and slept This proves it to be a morning song, probably the day after he had left Jerusalem.
Sustained me See Psalms 37:24
6. I will not be afraid With the morning comes a clearer assurance. The perils of the night had passed. God had answered his prayer so far as to divide Absalom’s counsellors and defeat Ahithophel. See 2 Samuel 15:31; 2 Samuel 16:15-23. This gave David rest and safety through the night, and was the first visible pledge of the divine answer to his prayers. See Psalms 3:4.
Ten thousands Myriads, a definite number put for an indefinite; countless multitudes.
Set… against me Formed in firm line of battle. The term is a military one.
7. Arise, O Lord The rising, here, is to be taken in the military or hostile sense, as in Psalms 3:1, and Psalms 92:11. The crisis is upon him, and he calls upon Jehovah to take a position openly against his enemies. They had said, “There is no help for him in God,” Psalms 3:2; he had said, “Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of my head,” Psalms 3:3. Everything depended upon some manifest interference of God in behalf of the exiled king.
Thou hast smitten The perfect tense here either refers to past triumphs in support of present faith, and as an argument for present help, or is what is called the “prophetical perfect,” as indicating the answer which is immediately expected, as if it had been already made. And this latter appears to be the true sense.
Broken the teeth David’s enemies are here compared to wild beasts, who, with their teeth and strong jaws, tear their prey; but God had now rendered them as powerless as these beasts of prey would be with their jaws broken and their teeth dashed out. See Job 29:17; Psalms 58:6
8. Salvation belongeth unto the Lord Literally, to Jehovah (is) the salvation. The Hebrew is peculiarly expressive of Jehovah’s sole and sovereign possession and right of disposal of the blessings of the national covenant. No political combinations, no party uprisings of the people, can selfishly engross them.
Thy people Not the entire Hebrew nation, “for they are not all Israel which are of Israel,” but those true hearted of the nation who abide faithful to the covenant and the spirit of the theocracy. The spiritual application of this beautiful psalm to struggling individual faith in all ages is apparent.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 3". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter