Tag Archives: David

A Psalm for Sunday Psalm 4

Read Psalm 4

Psalm 4If Psalm 3 is a morning prayer, Psalm 4 can be read as an evening prayer. Further, just as Psalm 3 provides some insight into David the leader, so Psalm 4 does likewise, if Davidic authorship is accepted. In some sense, then, these two psalms may be read together, and perhaps, have been brought together in the Psalter for this reason.

The first verse opens the psalm with a passion-filled fourfold petition. Most English versions render the second phrase as “You have given me relief.” There is some scholarly debate about the correct interpretation of the Hebrew verb here, and Craigie translates the phrase as, “When I am in distress, give me room.” This seems to fit the verse better than the English translations which place a confession of relief in the midst of two desperate pleas. In Craigie’s translation, the whole verse is one sustained cry to God for help. In fact, it is stronger than that; the psalmist is telling God what to do: Answer me! Give me room! Be gracious to me! Hear my prayer!

What has happened to arouse this desperate cry to God? Some indication of David’s circumstances is found in verses 2 and 6a: David’s reputation is under assault, his leadership is questioned, his honour has been turned into shame. Although we do not know exactly what has occasioned this reversal of his fortunes leading to humiliation, some scholars suggest that the nation is facing difficulties and David is being blamed. Lies, vain words and empty rumours circulate. Indeed many are saying, “Who will show us some good?” Perhaps God’s goodness has departed and they want to see the leader replaced. Politics has not changed much over the millennia!

In the face of this trouble and false accusation David protests his innocence: “Answer me when I call, O God of my right.” He reminds himself—and his accusers—of the Lord’s protection. Verse 3 is beautiful: “But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.” David’s confidence is not grounded in himself, his strategic ability, his military prowess, or anything else belonging to him. His confidence is confidence in God, confidence grounded in God’s call and God’s faithfulness. The God who called and anointed him will also sustain and keep him.

Verses 2-5 are unusual, as though addressed to his opponents, even as they are being spoken to God in the midst of his prayer. Perhaps David is “processing” his stress in prayer to God. Perhaps he is formulating his response to his accusers in this environment of prayer. In any case he counsels his opponents:

  1. Stop listening to lies and empty words;
  2. If you are angry – do not sin! Search your own heart, keep quiet. The moment   your anger leaks out in words or actions you sin against the innocent;
  3. Rather, offer right sacrifices to God and return to your trust in God;
  4. Remember: the Lord sets apart the godly for himself, and listens to me when I call to him.

In 6b David returns to petition, echoing the words of the priestly blessing in Numbers 6:26: “Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord!” (Compare also verse 1: “Be gracious to me!”) David is still telling God what to do! Craigie sees the petition continuing in verse 7 which he translates as “Put more joy in my heart…” It is worth noting that David is not praying for the destruction of these enemies, or for his own vindication. He prays rather that the light of God’s presence might shine upon all, and that his heart would be filled with joy. In so doing he comes to a place of peace and, trusting in God’s protection, is able to lie down to sleep (verse 8).


Being the object of blame is difficult enough when we are in fact blameworthy; suffering blame and false accusation when we are in fact innocent of the charges is hurtful, stressful and demoralising. Faced with such distressing circumstances, the psalmist prays through to a place of peace.

Prays through. Now that is the language of old-timers in the faith! It refers to the persistence in prayer that holds fast to the biblical promises, which wrestles with all the fears, anxieties and doubts that are faced, until one-by-one they are brought under the reign of God’s peace. In this psalm David’s prayer is both urgent and bold. Whence cometh this kind of boldness in prayer that dares to tell God what to do? What is the difference between this boldness in prayer and an unholy arrogance that presumes to tell God what to do?

David’s boldness is born of a long association with God in prayer, devotion and worship, and apart from this association could be nothing but presumption. There is a knowledge of God which comes through study; there is also a knowledge of God which grows through association, fellowship, obedience, and interaction. David knew the Lord, trusted God, relied on his promise in Scripture, claimed it and prayed it, and rested in the faithfulness of the God who had called, chosen and set him apart. Sure that he was in the Lord’s safe-keeping, he laid down in peace and slept. The prayer has not—yet!—made any discernible difference to his circumstances—in the morning all the enemies will still be there. But having brought his concerns and processed his stress in prayer, David goes to sleep a peaceful man.

Psalm 3 for Leaders

Read Psalm 3Psalm-3 and 2 Samuel 15:13-37

I wrote a short exposition of this psalm and its historical setting for yesterday’s post. There we noted that this is a devotional psalm, a morning prayer to entrust ourselves and our day to God in faith, trust and commitment. But there remains more to be said.

We noted the possibility that David sent the ark back to Jerusalem because he refused to presume on God’s grace and call, or to co-opt God for his own cause. Hidden in this narrative is a lesson for leaders, for Christian leaders are continually tempted to presume on the legitimacy and righteousness of their cause. Humbled, David allowed God to establish his position and cause – on this occasion, at least.

Yet David also obviously believed in God’s grace, and believed that God’s presence was with him even without the ark, and even in spite of the sin which had brought such terrible consequences into his life and family. When all around suggested that God had abandoned him, David continued to trust.

The narrative in 2 Samuel indicates that one of the means by which the Lord sustained David was via the great grace of faithful companions – not everyone around him was an enemy, and these friends could not help but be a means of support and encouragement for David.

David also acted, taking pragmatic steps in addition to his prayer. In 2 Samuel 15:31 David prayed that the Lord would turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness. In verse 34 he sent his servant Hushai as a spy to thwart the counsel of Ahithophel. David’s act is not a sign of lack of trust in the God toward whom he had just prayed. Prayer often gives rise to corresponding action; divine wisdom often supplies a strategy. Salvation is of the Lord, but God often uses various means to accomplish his purpose or answer our prayers.

“The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31). This proverb, echoing the words of the psalm, shows that faith is not simply passive or inactive; a person of faith prays and trusts, and on the basis of that prayer and trust also works, the works being the fruit and evidence of the faith. Without divine grace and help, without the divine presence and blessing, there can be no victory, no matter how well dressed the horse and rider are. Nevertheless, although victory is of the Lord, there are still preparations to be made.

So in the morning we awake and we pray, calling upon the Lord for his help, protection, guidance and blessing, committing our day and our very life into his care, in accordance with his purpose. And then we go to work, trusting in the One to whom we have prayed, who also is our shield and salvation, our glory, and the lifter of our head.

A Psalm for Sunday – Psalm 3

Read Psalm 3Psalm-3 and, for some additional background, 2 Samuel 15:13-37.

The title of the psalm locates its origin in a particular event in David’s life: his son Absalom has raised a coup against his father, and David and his companions flee from Jerusalem lest they be killed. David leaves weeping and barefooted, his head covered as though with shame (2 Sam 15:30). This is another incident in the terrible consequences which have befallen David in the aftermath of his adultery with Bathsheba and his consequent conspiracy to murder Uriah her husband. Perhaps God has deserted David, perhaps his blessing has departed? But – and this is critical – David refuses to allow the ark to accompany him. The ark was the symbol of God’s presence in the midst of Israel’s battle, the pledge of God fighting on behalf on his people – see the battle cry of Numbers 10:35-36. Rather, he sends the ark, Zadok the priest, and the Levites back into Jerusalem in an unreserved commitment of his life and future into God’s hands (vv. 24-29). Why would David send the ark back to the camp of his enemy? Is David deserting God?

The passage indicates that David hoped to hear news from Jerusalem, that the priests might function in some way as spies (vv. 32-36). But perhaps also, something deeper is going on here. Perhaps David is calling upon God to reaffirm and confirm his kingship in the light of Absalom’s challenge. David refuses to presume upon God or to co-opt God to his own cause. If David is Israel’s king, the Lord is King, and Israel is God’s people. David relinquishes his claim on the kingdom, and commits the welfare of the people into God’s hands, trusting that God has not abandoned him, nor annulled his call.

With this background in mind, Psalm 3 comes alive. In verses 1-2 David lifts up his worry to God: his enemies have increased, they are rising against him, they are saying that God has deserted him, that he has no help, no deliverance, no hope in God. Verses 3-6, however, express David’s confidence in God and his repudiation of their claim: he is not forsaken by God. He confesses God as his shield and glory, the One who lifts up his head, now covered in shame. David is so confident in God that he can lay down and sleep, assured of God’s protection: the Lord sustains me! Verse 7 is David’s petition, recalling the battle prayer of Numbers 10, and verse 8 brings the psalm to its conclusion with the confident affirmation that salvation, deliverance, victory and blessing belong to the Lord, and the Lord will give them to his people.

As in so many psalms, there is an evident change of tone when the psalmist shifts from complaint to trust. Craigie comments on this change which occurs at verse 3:

“The principle that is involved in this change of tone is one which is well established in the biblical literature. If one gazes too long upon the enemy and his might, the enemy grows in the mind’s eye to gigantic proportions … The hypnotic power of the enemy is broken when one turns one’s gaze toward God, who is able to fight and grant victory” (73).

There is much to glean from this short but wonderful psalm. From a historical-critical point of view, Craigie suggests that the psalm may legitimately be located in an event in David’s life, but that it then became more generally a “royal prayer for protection” in times of battle, and perhaps later became a part of Israel’s regular worship, and so was incorporated into the Psalter on this basis (Psalms 1-50, WBC, 72). By becoming a part of Israel’s regular worship, its scope and application was broadened and spiritualised: no longer was it simply a prayer for times of military engagement, but began to be used by God’s people whenever they were confronting all kinds of troubles or “enemies.”

Thus the psalm is a devotional psalm, a prayer of trust, faith and commitment. Kidner refers to it as an “evening prayer” (TOTC, 54), whereas Craigie more correctly I think, calls it a “morning prayer” (70; see verse 5 “I lay down and slept; I awoke“). The Lord has sustained us through the night and brought us safely to a new day, a day nevertheless, in which we face fresh challenges and opportunities, troubles, enemies and battles. Thus, we pray, and call on God to arise, and entrust ourselves to the One who is truly our glory and the lifter of our head, the source of all salvation, deliverance and help and blessing.

I wonder what might happen if we prayed this prayer each morning this week, committing our day and ourself to the Lord, and asking his help?