April is poetry month. I’m celebrating by reflecting on a Psalm a day, and perhaps posting a poem of my own. Join me? (For this Psalm it is important to know that Selah is like a stage direction, telling the reader to pause and meditate a moment before going on.)
A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.
1 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.” Selah[a]
3 But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
4 I cried aloud to the Lord,
and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
5 I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.
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! Selah
David is fleeing from Absalom’s precipitous takeover, and this psalm begins with a triplet of complaint: many, many, many…are saying God won’t save him. Not directly confronting his son, David focuses on all the people, his people, who have turned from him to support his son as ruler without David officially passing the reign to Absalom. This isn’t just infighting and bickering (although it occurs to me as a good example for when we face that), it’s mutiny: betrayal and opposition to the king.
Then in the second section (after the first selah), David answers their false claim that God won’t save him, first by proclaiming God his shield, his glory, and the lifter of his head, and then narrating the crying out to God and answering. Lifter of my head is an odd phrase that I didn’t understand in my youth. But in my 20s and 30s, for reasons best left untold, I felt shamed, bowed down with cares, woeful. My head actually began to droop, and my shoulders to slump. When I went to church, when I fellowshipped with others, singing the praises of God, my heart was freed and my posture straightened. My head not only rose up but my face lifted (not facelift) to the sky, and it occurred to me what “lifter of my head” meant. Can you relate? Is there something that makes your head droop, and would you like to see what happens when you proclaim God’s goodness?
A chiasm is a structural element of Hebrew poetry where the content is like an outline, only it goes in and then out again. If it were rhyme, we would mark it a, b, c, d, d, c, b, a, but instead of rhyme it’s what the lines are about that moves. The third section of this poem is a lovely example of the reversing (or d, c, b, a portion) of chiasm. Verse 5 is a parallel to verse 4 in its action: I cried aloud to the Lord/he answered me/I lay down and slept/I woke again for the Lord sustained me. Both verses go in and out (reflex?) in their own action (I cried/he answered and slept/awoke sustained by the Lord) and they parallel in referring to David’s action and then the Lord’s action.
“I will not be afraid.”(v.6) It’s important to remember that we have a choice about fear. Fear comes overwhelmingly to take away our ability to do what is right, but the Lord as a shield pushes away that fear, sometimes just far enough for us to figure out what to do. Verse 6 responds to verse 3.
Verse 7 answers verse 2: if the enemies say of David that God won’t save him, David says of his enemies that God will kick their teeth out! (maybe not literally; it’s a reference to stopping their talk) No salvation in God? Arise O Lord and save me and by doing so, answer their lies with truth.
Psalm 3 ends with a blessing for the people, even those who seem to be his foes: salvation belongs to God, his blessing on his people. The godly king is saved from fear and able to do his job of blessing the people he is entrusted with. My takeaway: Even when we are attacked from within, friendly fire in the church or home perhaps, God will save. God is our shield and glory and he restores those who cry to him. He will answer the accuser from within your community (like a father settling a fight between his children), so cry to him rather than taking on your foe. Wait for God to straighten things out and be ready to speak his blessing. This psalm is a wonderful example of how to do that.
All thanks and praise to God!