Our Avenging Shield (Psalm 3)

The martial character of many of the Psalms should not give us pause.  Paul, after all, encourages Timothy to “wage the good warfare” as a soldier of Christ (1 Timothy 1:18).  Wearing the whole armor of God, Christians stand firm and unbending against the devil seeking their destruction (Ephesians 6:10-20; 1 Peter 5:8-9).  The Lord, after all, is the Lord of hosts, that is to say, the Lord of armies who guides and protects His people.

Psalm 3 is the first psalm to bear an inscription.  These titles appear originally in the text and frequently provide some information about the circumstances surrounding the psalm.  In this case, the most likely reference is to 2 Samuel 15:13-17.  David, upon learning about the conspiracy of his own son Absalom, flees Jerusalem.  Certainly, some of Absalom’s faction reviled David as fleeing in terror.  David, however, trusts firmly in the Lord even in the face of imminent danger, which in this case is amplified coming from his own family.

David begins by alluding to this danger.  “O Lord, how many are my enemies!  Many stand up against me.  Many say to my soul, ‘There is no salvation for him in God.’”  David’s enemies taunt him, saying that God is unable to deliver him from their hands.  God will not be able to save you now!  David, on the other hand, does not minimize the danger, as if trusting in the Lord meant that it wasn’t real.  Rather, even in the midst of a very real danger to his own body, he continues to seek the Lord.  Even if we must suffer, God himself will “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish” us with an eternal glory (1 Peter 5:10).

The term selah, which appears here for the first time in the Psalter, is a matter of debate.  It may be a musical direction, related to the idea of “lifting up,” which might mean to lift up the voice in pitch.  Nevertheless, I will pass over it for the time being.

“But you, Lord, are a shield surrounding me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.”  The Lord surrounds His own like a shield wall, protecting against attack from every direction.  Elisha comforted his servant by reminding him that “those who are with us are more than those who are with them” for the Lord surrounded them with horses and chariots of fire (2 Kings 6:16-17).  Further, God lifts up the head of David, bowed down with the troubles and dangers of life.  “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

“I called [with] my voice to the Lord, and He answered me from His holy hill.”  God hears the cries of His people.  No prayer of the faithful goes unheard.  Further, the “holy hill” is Zion, the site of the temple.  God dwells in the midst of His people, and the temple served as the place of His dwelling for a time.  Now, as the Lord dwells within us, His temple (1 Corinthians 3:16), we have an even greater assurance, because the Spirit Himself prays within us (Romans 8:26).

“I lay down and slept.  I woke up, for the Lord supported me.  I will not be afraid of a multitude of people encircling, who set themselves against me.”  So confident is David of the Lord as His salvation that anxiety does not consume him.  He is able to sleep even though men are seeking his life.  Anxiety accomplishes nothing (Matthew 6:34).  It is the sign of a doubting heart.  Even if ten thousand foes surrounded David, what could they do?  “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

“Get up, Lord!  Save me, my God, for you strike all my enemies on the check.  The teeth of the wicked you break.  Salvation [belongs] to the Lord!  Your blessing on your people.”  The imagery of striking hard enough to break teeth loose is not disjointed here.  When the Lord protects His people, it is not merely a passive act.  “Vengeance is mine, and recompense” (Deuteronomy 32:35; see also 1 Thessalonians 4:6).  Many of the promises of God include the destruction of His enemies, because then those who assaulted His Church will receive their just reward (Psalm 110:1; Hebrews 10:13-14).  The point, therefore, is that deliverance or salvation comes from God alone.  Revenge is forbidden, because our own hand accomplishes nothing.  God alone will save us at the proper time.  “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6).

Let us pray this Psalm confidently, therefore, knowing that the Lord protects us in the midst of all dangers.  The Christian rests safely in His hands, and the Lord will set all things right.