Saturday, January 12, 2013

Notes on the Psalms – Psalm 3

My cousin and I recently started working on a Bible study that focuses on the selah psalms. According to this study, the Hebrew word selah is a variation of sâlâh (meaning to measure or weigh) that instructs the reader or hearer to pause and meditate on the previous verse or verses, to measure them and weigh their meaning. 

The first selah psalm is Psalm 3, in which selah occurs three times, after verses 2, 4, and 8. 

First, let's identify the context of this psalm. The inscription tells us that it is a psalm of David that he wrote and/or sang when he was fleeing from his son Absalom. This incident is described in 2 Samuel 15-18. Absalom, desiring his father's power and status, wins over the people of Israel and has himself proclaimed king. David, now an outcast, leaves Jerusalem but tells the high priest to leave the ark of God in the city. David trusts that if God wants him to remain king, He will bring him back to the city of the ark. He leaves the decision to God. This does not make his exile any easier, however. In 2 Samuel 15:30, we see David climbing the Mount of Olives, weeping and praying, barefoot with his head covered as a sign of mourning and penance. A little further on in his journey, David meets Shimei, a member of the family of King Saul, who ruled Israel before David. Shimei curses David, denouncing him as a murderer and scoundrel, and blames him for the blood of the house of Saul (Saul and his sons died violently in battle). He claims that Absalom's actions are David's fault and a punishment for his sins. David's companions are indignant, but David tells them to let Shimei alone, for perhaps God has inspired him to curse David. The king notes that his own son is seeking his life, which to him, is much worse than anything Shimei could say or do. As the story progresses, Absalom is defeated and killed, even though David had instructed his men to deal gently with his son. When the king hears of Absalom's death, he goes into deep mourning, crying out “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” No matter what Absalom has done, David still loves him.

Now let's turn our attention to the psalm's structure. It begins on a negative note. David is lamenting how many foes he has, how many are rising up against him, and although he doesn't mention it directly in the psalm, these enemies include and are led by his own son. He continues, remarking that many people have been saying to him that there is no help for him in God. Certainly Shimei would be numbered among among these, for he claims that David's troubles were the result of his own sins. But Shimei is not the only one filling the king's ears with such a negative message. Many Israelites had bestowed their loyalty on Absalom. 

Then the tone changes, for David realizes that God is a shield around him, his glory, the One who lifts up his head. God hears and answers him from “His holy hill,” from Jerusalem. The ark may remain in Jerusalem, but God does not. His presence still surrounds David.

Further, no matter what happens, David's life goes on. He sleeps and wakes in a regular pattern. There is some sense of continuity even in exile. Why? Because God sustains him. And David is not afraid. He may be grieving over his son's actions, but he has no fear. Even though ten thousands of people have set themselves against him (which probably isn't too far off considering that the sneaky Absalom had won over the hearts of the Israelites), David trusts in God Who upholds him.

Now David turns to a prayer. He asks God to rise up and deliver him. Then he notes, with graphic imagery, that God strikes all his enemies on the cheek and breaks the teeth of the wicked. This is a statement, not a prayer. David is not asking God to take those actions. He is merely stating a fact. God has done such things in the past. For instance, David's greatest enemy was Saul, and look what happened to him. David has indeed conquered enemies all around him through God's power. While David is not requesting God to do so again, he is reminding himself of God's mighty deeds on his behalf. 

Next, we see another statement of fact: “Deliverance belongs to the Lord.” God will decide whether or not to deliver David. While David is praying for that to happen, he is also resigning his will to God's will. 

David ends with another prayer: “May Your blessing be on Your people!” The phrase “Your people” typically refers to Israel. David is praying for the very people who have turned their backs on him. 

Selah. Spend some time this week reading and meditating on Psalm 3, discovering in it God's message for you, His beloved child. 

(For information on the Selah Psalms Bible Study please see

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