Psalms series message 5 – Psalm 3 – Resting through trouble (6 September 2020)

The psalms are so rich that my plan to cover two psalms this week has failed. So, it is just Psalm 3. We see David, God’s chosen king (who was the partial fulfilment of Psalm 2), in great trouble and yet still trusting the Lord.

The video is below, followed by the notes that I prepare for those who don’t have access to the internet.


Psalm 3 shows the reality of the words of Jesus: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). It follows the messianic promises of Psalm 2 by showing us that, while we wait for those promises, there will be trouble and opposition to the fulfilment of them. In Psalm 3, we see an example of an attack upon David, God’s chosen King – the one who foreshadows Christ.

The attacks upon God and His chosen King fall upon His people also. So, in this world we will have trouble. The psalms, and this psalm, help us to face that and to see how we respond and how we have peace.

I) Overwhelmed (v1-2)

The situation is given to us in the title of the psalm – “A psalm of David when he fled from Absalom his son.” Absalom, David’s son, has conspired against David; he has gathered some of David’s trusted advisers and army around him. The conspiracy is increasing and David is in great danger; he is forced to flee from Jerusalem (2 Samuel 15-18).

Notice the repetition of the first two verses: many, many, many. Furthermore, people are saying: “There is no salvation for him in God” (v2b). This is probably a reference to the accusations made against David by a relative of Saul in 2 Samuel 16:8.

It is often the words of others, the doubts and fears that are sown, and then repeated in our own hearts and minds, that can pull us down more than physical trouble. The suggestion is that there is no point in him praying, but – as we shall see – he prays anyway.

These verses suggest that David is feeling overwhelmed. Many of us have experienced that feeling also. The enemy loves us to feel guilty for feeling overwhelmed. But here we have David, the man after God’s own heart, feeling overwhelmed. In Matthew 26:38, the NIV translates Jesus as saying this in the Garden of Gethsemane: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”

It is not a sin to feel overwhelmed. But we do not need to STAY overwhelmed. And this is where the psalm takes us next.

Before we go there, a brief comment on the word “Selah.” It appears to be a musical term, but it also comes at points in the psalms where it is good to pause for reflection. So here we reflect, yes the situation is bad, but we move on to see how much greater the Lord is.

II) Overcome (v3-4)

This is not “overcome” in the sense that the trouble has gone, but a change in the mindset. Notice how verse 3 starts: “But you, O Lord.” In contrast to them and what they are doing, David turns his eyes to the living God.

Notice also, he starts with who God is and not what he wants Him to do. Praying starts with knowing. In v1-2, the more David looked, the worse it got. Now he has his eyes in the right place. God is

  • A shield. They may be attacking from every angle, but the Lord is the one who protects all around. And He is the Lord.
  • My glory. David is recognising that his own reputation and position is dependent upon the Lord. David’s reputation was in tatters. He is the failed king fleeing from his own son, but he can leave his reputation in God’s hands. So can we. Our job is to honour the Lord and leave what other people think of us in His hands.
  • Lifter of head (contrast 2 Sam 15:30). He is the lifter of despair as we fix our eyes on Him. He is the lifter of guilt as we confess to Him. He is the One who raises up in due time the person who humbles themselves before Him.

David then prays aloud (v4, NKJV). He spoke out his prayers. God knows our hearts; He doesn’t need us to speak out our prayers. However, to verbalise our prayers can help us focus, to stop our mind wandering off so that we actually tell Him what we need rather than just giving Him our jumbled thoughts.

In verse 4, he reflects on past answers, which gives confidence for the present. He is now an older man. This is important for us to build our faith – both to search the scriptures as to who God is and His work in salvation history, but also to review His own dealings with us throughout our lives.

He says that God answers from “His holy hill” (2v6). David was absent from the holy hill (that is, Zion, the place where the ark of the covenant was) but the Lord was still with him. We don’t think of a place on earth, but we come on the basis of the One who fulfils the tabernacle, God the Son, whose sacrifice has made the way for us to come before God. He is with us, wherever we are.

Pause for thought: The origin of this problem is in 2 Samuel 11, when David sinned by sleeping with Bathsheba and then arranging the death of her husband, Uriah, in order to cover up his sin. While the sin was forgiven, the consequences would live with David.

We get things wrong. We can say to ourselves, “if I hadn’t have done this, these things wouldn’t be happening to me now.” But notice that David’s past doesn’t stop him praying and seeking God to deliver him.

God disciplines those He loves but the consequences are in His gracious hands and loving providence, designed to draw us to seek Him more. So let’s not allow our past to drive to despair but our present to drive us to prayer. Let’s not allow the “what ifs” and “if onlys” to keep us from experiencing the “what is” of grace of God now.

Again, another “Selah”, a pause. Thus he is now in a position to respond by… sleeping despite everything!

III) Overnight (v5-6)

While insomnia is a real thing that people can have even when they are not worried, this trust in the Lord of verses 3-4 is so great that David is confident to lay down and sleep, even in the face of danger. One commentator says:

It is because Jehovah has sustained him, the hand of God is his pillow, the gracious and omnipotent hand is under his head, he is inaccessible and without fear.

Delitzsch quoted it John Peter Lange et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Psalms (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 65.

Or Wade Robinson, the hymn writer.

“Things that once were wild alarms
Cannot now disturb my rest;
Closed in everlasting arms,
Pillowed on the loving breast.”

George Wade Robinson, Loved with Everlasting Love, verse 3

This is not the sleep of someone who is just laid back, who can’t be bothered with the problems and so goes to bed anyway. He says: “I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.” This is him sleeping in confidence in the Lord’s protection and provision.

Yet, notice that the problem itself is still real (v6). He is not in denial of the reality of the problem. Rather he is trusting the Lord.

IV) Overturn (v7)

He is asking God to turn the situation around (v7). V1b says “many are rising against me,” so here David is asking God to rise and help him. This is very bold. It is as if he is saying, “Lord, get up and do something!” The language reflects the urgency. It also shows that he believes God is the defender of His people. Numbers 10:35: “And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, ‘Arise, O Lord, and let Your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate You flee before You.'” This is part of the Lord’s covenant commitment to His people. It hasn’t changed under the new covenant. Although our bodies may perish, the true believer is kept by Him and cannot be lost.

David prays, “Save me”. The context is physical deliverance. Praying for physical rescue, deliverance, protection is absolutely right for us to do.

But all these physical deliverances point us to something greater. Every person’s situation is perilous. Before we were saved, we were lost, outside of Christ, without salvation. But salvation has come for the Christian, because of Christ’s suffering. You can’t read verse 2 without thinking of Jesus on the cross and the crowds that said, “He saved others but He cannot save Himself.” The chosen King of Psalm 2 came to His own but His own did not receive Him. He suffered in place of His people, and He was laid down in death and rose from death and defeated death. Now He sits upon the throne and will return as judge.

And because our Saviour has done all this for us, we can be confident that He is with us in the trouble.

It is important to understand: Psalm 3 is a cry of someone who believes in the Lord. The confidence is for those who are the Lord’s, who have turned to Him, believed in Christ the Saviour who died and rose again and cried “Save me, O my God.” They have cried not just for earthly salvation but for eternal salvation. Have you?

The second half of verse 7 doesn’t seem a very Christian way to pray. We will look at this kind of praying later on in the series because there are other psalms that have more of it. But just very briefly:

  • People who hurt us make us angry. It is better to tell God how we really feel because He knows anyway.
  • This is a prayer for vindication. It is saying “let them become toothless”, so that their attacks are of no effect. While we might not use such vivid language, it is completely right to pray that attacks against the church and ourselves come to nothing.
  • We place the people who hurt us and the church in God’s hands. He is the defender of His people: “It is mine to avenge; it is mine to repay.” (Romans 12:19). But we leave the results to Him.

V) Overflow (v8)

As He helps us, so we can give thanks and pray for His people.

Salvation belongs to the Lord (compare verse 2). Deliverance on earth and eternal salvation. It is His work and His work alone. So He deserves the glory. Let’s be careful that we give Him the credit, lift our voices to Him in praise and about Him in testimony.

And we pray. “Your blessing be upon Your people!” His favour and goodness, that come to His because of His mercy in Christ. As You have helped me, won’t You help them! As You have heard my prayer, please answer theirs! As You have encouraged me, please encourage them! So His help for us inspires our praying for others.


Many commentators refer to this as a morning psalm. “I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.” He woke because he was able to sleep because his security was in the Lord.

This is not pie in the sky but nitty gritty reality. Many of us are surrounded by troubles that mean we have troubled nights and we wake each morning with dread. This psalm gives us a different way.

May I encourage you:

  • Meditate upon this psalm and use it to pray.
  • Turn your attention to Him.
  • Tell Him. Cry aloud to Him.
  • Be real about how it is, but place the troubles and the people in His hands and leave them with Him.
  • Thank Him for what He has done. Salvation belongs to Him.

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