Last Saturday, Sherry and I drove downtown to grab carryout for dinner. We noticed – right away – that there were more people milling around than in previous weeks. But then we notice something else – something unusual: a mass of law enforcement.
There were officers from the local police as well as agents from a variety of state and federal agencies. The officers – usually in pairs – either stood on street corners, walked the sidewalks, or rode in patrol cars. It was impossible not to notice – given the number. We didn’t have to wonder why they were there.
A person would have to be a hermit – cut off from society – to be unaware of all that’s been happening. To the weirdness of a pandemic – to the mishmash of information – we’ve added protests and riots surrounding the tragic death of George Floyd. We’ve added boarded-up store windows and strong law enforcement presence to communities already stressed about economic downturns and virus spread.
To borrow from John Lennon, these are strange days indeed and not in far off places but right here in our own community. And that’s the thing – isn’t it? It is one thing to watch the world news and see the rest of the world being impacted by something. It is entirely another thing to see how those things in the wider world hit home.
All of us have been impacted by the pandemic and all of us have been impacted by the protests and riots. The reason the police were out in such force here was because of unfounded rumor associated with a threat on social media from Antifa. There was nothing to those rumors but – wisely – events were postponed and law enforcement made their presence known. No – world events aren’t simply out in the world any longer – they are right here in our neighborhood. We are experiencing what so many others are experiencing – even if it is on a smaller scale.
Our world and our community are going through upheaval – a change. One theme that has consistently emerged from this time is a loss of confidence – a loss of trust – in the systems, institutions, and leaders. Losing confidence is disconcerting. For some who have put so much trust in systems, institutions, and people – this loss of confidence can be devastating and lead to all sorts of problems. But you know it isn’t the first time that people have experienced this sort of loss of confidence.
In Psalm 3 – David’s world was in chaos and the people had lost confidence and trust in him. It had to be devastating because David had been such a successful leader. But in the words of Psalm 3, we find the right place to put all of the confidence. It is not in confidence in ourselves – not in our government – not in systems or institutions. Psalm 3 teaches us to see the Lord as our confidence – especially during a time of uncertainty and a time of chaos.
Psalm 3 is one of only a handful of psalms that have a clear historical context. What I mean is that we can place it with a specific event and with a specific author. Right at the very beginning of Psalm 3, it states that it is a Psalm of David When He Fled From Absalom His Son.
A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.
 O LORD, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
 many are saying of my soul,
“There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah
 But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
 I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
 I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.
 Arise, O LORD!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
 Salvation belongs to the LORD;
your blessing be on your people! Selah (ESV)
Did you get that?
Talk about chaos. This psalm is from a time when David had to flee from Jerusalem – from his own city and his own son.
Imagine the fear that swept through that community when its king left Jerusalem – the City of David!
It is important to bear in mind just who David was. He was the sort of leader that people could get behind – and did. He trusted in God – so much so that when David was a young man, he went to battle with a giant named Goliath with only a slingshot, 5 smooth stones, and, with God’s help, won.
When David became king, he did something that no one -not even Saul – had been able to do. It was under his leadership that all twelve tribes of Israel were united.
David was not just a great leader and warrior, he was also a deeply spiritual man – who authored most of the psalms. It is clear from the Psalms that David loved God. His songs and prayers are some of the most beautiful texts in the Bible. He was a man said to be after God’s own heart. He was a man who knew how to pray, how to worship, and how to lead others to do the same.
Imagine that sort of leader. Imagine a leader who was not only able to lead people into battle successfully, a man who was able to lead you in worship, and a man who was also able to get 12 contentious factions to come together as one.
Now imagine losing confidence in that leader.
In Psalm 3, David clearly felt the panic of his community – felt the tremors that came from troubles – troubles that – well – he had a hand in making for himself and for the people.
Look, as great a leader and king as David was – he was no saint. He was just like us. He got some things right – clearly – look at the Psalms. But – David was also a man whose heart – and eyes – were prone to wander – as the hymn writer put it.
You see – that little bit before the Psalm starts – that little explanation behind the Psalm – “A Psalm of David, When He Fled from Absalom his son” tells a much larger tale.
Beneath the surface of Psalm 3 there is an awful thing. In 2 Samuel 11 – 19 we get the story of what happened. I’ve got to tell you it isn’t pretty. But the Bible does not try to cover up the reality that the world and the people in it are a mess.
In 2 Samuel 9 – 19 we read of a chain of events in the life of David which impacted the nation of Israel – things that would keep the tabloids in our own time hopping.
David, who has received a great promise from God that his throne will be established forever (2 Sam. 7), has decided to stay home rather than go to war with the army. That wasn’t a normal sort of thing for a king to do. We do not know what led David to that decision, but we do know what David did with his time: he caught sight of Bathsheba and they spent some time together – which they shouldn’t have done – and she became pregnant – and then David schemed to get Uriah (her husband) home so he might spend time with his wife – and then think the baby is his – and it didn’t work – and then David had Uriah killed in battle to cover it up. And then David married Bathsheba.
Okay – all of that is terrible – but it got worse. Nathan, God’s prophet, confronts David about what he did. To his credit, David confesses his sin – see what I mean about David getting things wrong and getting some things right – sounds like a human being to me. David confessed and God forgave him.
However, and here is what most folks forget – forgiveness doesn’t mean that the consequences are cleared. Confession doesn’t reverse the course of things we’ve set in motion – like a stone thrown into the water – the ripples will roll out.
While God loves David – just as He does all of us – there remain consequences to David’s act – and it all spills over into his family life. While David may have been a great leader and writer – etc. – he wasn’t so great at the family thing.
Bathsheba wasn’t David’s first or only wife. He had kids by those wives and they didn’t always do right by one another. In fact, Amnon attacks his half-sister – Tamar. Absalom – who is Tamar’s older brother – hears of it and is enraged. He swears revenge. David tries to intervene but two years later, Absalom murders his half-brother Amnon for assaulting his sister – Tamar.
Absalom flees from David. He hides out in a sanctuary city for a while – but David is finally about to bring him home. But as soon as he does, Absalom puts his plan into motion to overthrow his father so that he can become king. And that’s where Psalm 3 begins.
I bring this up because the people of that time experienced chaos outside of their own making. They didn’t do what David did – but they felt the consequences of his actions. And – it wasn’t just David that had to flee. Lots of people did.
And there were lots of people who stayed back in Jerusalem as Absalom made his way into the city.
Which means that business was stopped. Restaurants and markets closed. Some people had to leave everything behind and make a run for it. Others swept into the city streets. People’s lives changed – quickly – and they lost confidence in the systems and institutions and leaders they once trusted.
Well – now we come to the text of Psalm 3 – we’ve got the story behind the text. Now we know why David is anxious – because – it is clear that he knows that people have lost confidence in him – and – maybe he’s lost confidence in himself – but there is something powerful in this text because it places confidence where it should have been all along.
This Psalm teaches us that we can have confidence in God in an upside-down world – even if its upside down because of us or because of things beyond our control.
Psalm 3 opens like a curtain on a great play with David, in the wilderness, praying. He is no longer in the palace – in the City of David. He’s on the run. Surrounded by enemies – some of which are his own children.
Amid all that – David cries out to God – with his fears and anxieties and concerns – because he knows that God will hear his cries: “O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; 2 many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God.”
Again – why wouldn’t they be saying that – they are on the run or their city is in turmoil because of David. But – David knows differently than that. Though the entire world falls into a pit – David knows that his only salvation is in God. David didn’t hide his sin from the Lord. He confessed it.
Just like you and me – remember the words of Jesus – I will never leave you nor forsake you – you will have troubles – Jesus said – but our confidence is in him because he overcame the world. Jesus didn’t say, I’ll only be with you if you get yourself cleaned up and right – then and only then will I be with you. Jesus promised to be with us – even though he knows that sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong.
David got it right sometimes. David got it wrong – very wrong – sometimes. But here – we see – that he knew that God wouldn’t desert him. Even if everyone else did, he knew that God wouldn’t.
Now look at David’s prayer here – there were thousands who were out beyond the horizon of his camp wanting his blood. David’s world is in chaos. Amid that chaos – David begins to pray with honesty, confidence, and hope.
And so he prays – as we should – and this is our confidence. David prays:
1) For You – God are a shield about me
A shield was a military tool – it was a light shield, easily held up to deflect arrows and other things used. David is saying God is his protector from both the literal and figurative arrows being sent his way.
2) You are my glory
This is a king speaking. But all the trappings of being a king are gone. His palace is in enemy hands. He doesn’t have servants running at his beck and call. He is in the wilderness. Running. But his glory – his significance is from God.
3) You are the lifter of my head
This is a figure of speech that has to do with setting one into the place of honor and dignity. David is saying that it is God who does this – not anyone else. God will do this.
David is down and out. But he says that God himself will lift his head. God will lift him up. He doesn’t hope in anything else. The things he’s done or left undone will not hold him down – God will be the lifter of his head.
4) You heard me when I cried out loud -You answered me from Your holy hill –
How does David know this – because he has seen God do it.
Here is where our faith kicks in – but it isn’t faith-based on nothing. It is faith-based on experience. God has answered David before. And his answering wasn’t dependent upon David. We can trust that God will hear us when we cry out to him because that is God’s character.
5) You sustained me when I went to sleep – You protected me through the night when my enemy was all around – thousands have set themselves against me.
We know that when this whole mess began when Absalom began his move – David began to pray. We have a record of short prayers in 2 Samuel where David asked God to muddle the advice of Absalom’s counselors. It isn’t too much of a stretch for us to think of David praying at night – for God to give him rest – for God to protect him and his household from the enemy that was just over the horizon – thousands who had gathered all around.
And he went to sleep and rested and the Lord gave him a new day. He did not need to fear. His confidence was in the Lord. He didn’t need to be afraid of thousands. He had confidence in the Lord.
This week has been crazy. People were concerned that Antifa was going to come to town and wreak havoc during the night – but we need not fear– our confidence is in the Lord.
We have nothing to fear from the world around us. We have nothing to fear of the enemy of our souls. There is nothing, as Paul tells us in Romans, that can separate us from the love of God.
Romans 8:38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.
This is the sort of confidence that David had, but we have even greater confidence – because we have been given access to the very throne of grace through the person – word and work of Jesus.
We can pray with confidence and with hope – in an upside-down world – just as David did – because our confidence is not in ourselves but in Christ – who took on evil and won.
We can pray – as David did – “7 Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. 8 Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be on your people!”
This sort of language often strikes us as difficult. As Christians, we have a hard time, occasionally, with the language of the Psalms. But David and the other writers understand what we need to understand. It is something that Walter Brueggemann points out.
“Nothing is out of bounds, nothing precluded or inappropriate. Everything properly belongs in this conversation of the heart. To withhold parts of life from that conversation is in fact to withhold part of life from the sovereignty of God. Thus, these psalms make the important connection: everything must be brought to speech, and everything brought to speech must be addressed to God, who is the final reference for all of life.”
What is it that David is asking of God?
By asking God to arise – he is asking God to “demonstrate his power and his glory in answering the prayer.” David is asking God to restore him. He is placing all his confidence in God to do this. Then he is asking
• For God to strike a blow to his enemies using David and those with him to do so. We know from 2 Samuel that David was going about actively working to set his organize the few troops that remained with him. So he is asking God to work through them.
• David ends this pray with praise – short as it is. It is as if his heart is now moved from lament – which is how it opened – to praise. His confidence is in God’s deliverance. He knows where his confidence lays – it lays in God himself.
Let me draw things up here –
One of the most significant things about the psalms is that they teach us how to pray. Sometimes a psalm will teach us how to lament, or praise, or ask God for something. But Psalm 3 teaches us how to remain confident in God – even as the world around us falls apart. That’s important for us to hold onto now when there is so much going on in our community and in our world. Lots and lots of people are losing confidence in the systems, institutions, and leaders. But God’s people have always been about placing their confidence in God – above everything and everyone else.
This psalm also teaches us that we can have confidence in God – even when the chaos is something we’ve contributed to. David blew it – big time. But he confessed that and turned to God with confidence. Yes, the consequences were in motion – but God hadn’t tossed him to the curb. No, God was with him. The rest of the story with Absalom is tragic. There was a chance that it would end well – but – Absalom had to deal with the consequences of his own action. But God delivered David.
These days are confusing and chaotic and folks are losing confidence. But God’s people can continue to be confident in God during the chaos of a crisis – even if it is something of our own making. We can have confidence that God will act because He promised he would. We know that is the case – when we look to Jesus we can see that God really does act in a chaotic world. Look to Psalm 3 – and be confident that God will be with us and keep us and sustain us – even in the midst of chaos.