Is There Any Hope?
Many years ago a submarine was rammed by another ship and quickly sank. Despite many efforts by many ships to rescue the crew it was feared their oxygen would run out long before anyone could get to them. Hours into the desperate tragedy the sonar men listening for any indication of life on the crippled sub heard a tapping, suddenly realizing it was the dots and dashes of Morse code. The question came slowly: "is... there... any... hope?"
That's the question we all ask. In a turbulent world, full of difficulties, depression, discouragement we want to know if there is any hope. We may feel overwhelmed by the financial or material or economic situations we are in. Or the difficulties of holiness in an unholy time, of being pure in the midst of so much impurity intimidate us and bother us. Perhaps we are concerned for our kids, or our parents, or some other loved one who is not serving the Lord. There is plenty to worry about today. So we ask "is there any hope?"
If you feel that way then Psalm 3 is for you. It was written by David, at a time when his whole life had been turned upside down. It articulates for us the concerns of our hearts before the Lord, and leads us to greater trust in God. Let's study Psalm 3!
Introduction to the Psalm
This psalm has a number of notable firsts to its credit. 1 It is the first psalm in the collection of psalms ascribed to David (3-41), and is the first of thirteen psalms to bear a superscription giving us historical data about the psalm. Further, it is the first lament psalm, a cry for help. Finally, it is the first psalm to use the term "selah," a term that is probably a musical notation perhaps meaning pause.
It is that historical setting that arrests our attention. David wrote this, in all probability, while actually fleeing for his life from Absalom. As a result of his sin with Bathsheba David was promised trouble in his house. What came he could scarcely have imagined -- his own son Absalom attempted to take the kingdom from him by force (read 2 Samuel 15:6ff for the background here). The situation became so grave that David actually left the walled fortress of Jerusalem to flee across the Jordan river. It was a desperate time. The king did not know who was with him and who was against him, who would come to his side and who would fight against him. All he could do was flee and hope that he would have the time necessary to regroup and get organized. But would he?
The other important note in an introductory way that you should know is that this is probably a morning psalm (note the language of verse 5). It is probably to be paired with Psalm 4, an evening prayer. But here David seems to be starting his day, aware of the precarious situation he is in and the need for God to help him.
Here is a brief outline we can use to break the psalm down as we study it.
I. Enemies are circling me, vv. 1-2
II. God is a circle of protection around me, vv. 3-6
III. God delivers, vv. 7-8
Enemies are circling me, vv. 1-2
Note carefully verse 2. Would any taunt of enemies so hurt David as this one? To charge that God was no longer with him would cut him to the quick. To be in the minority is always unnerving, but even more when that minority is shrinking! What will David do?
God is a circle of protection around me, vv. 3-6
Here is the real heart of the psalm. Watch as David moves his eyes from the enemy to God how the tone of the psalm changes. "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."
Verse 3 describes the protection needed - a shield, glory and the lifting of the head. David needs a shield because he is now outside of Jerusalem. He claims then the glory of God as his glory, in other words, that serving God is all he desires to do, it is the only way he receives honor. What a statement! That is followed then by what may be the most beautiful line in the psalm: "the One who lifts up my head." When we get down and depressed our heads droop and we are (literally) downcast. But God would lift our heads up and fill us again with renewed courage and strength!
Verse 4 shows how desperate David is for protection, while verses 5-6 make remarkable statements of assurance. David is able to sleep, able to awake and able to have courage and confidence in God. Do those statements mark out how I deal with times of trouble?
God delivers me, vv. 7-8
The psalm ends on a note of supreme confidence, and ends by including all people, not just David. Remember, in the Jewish way of thinking victory could only come if God fought, because human strength was never enough. So David is calling upon God to win this battle for him.
Thinking through the Third Psalm
What points of application can we make as we consider this powerful psalm? First, I need to ask myself how powerful are my enemies compared to David's? This is not to deny that any of us are suffering or going through hard times, but it does give us perspective, doesn't it? None of us have experienced a family revolt, our own child trying to kill us and see the throne! See - it could be worse, and indeed, has been worse for others.
Secondly, can I turn things over to the Lord and sleep or am I paralyzed with anxiety? There is no doubt that we must do all we can in service to the Lord. We can't expect God to do it all while we do nothing. But when we've done all we can do, when all that is left is to trust in God, do we? How we sleep on those troubled nights may be a better measure of our faith than we might care for it to be! David gets out of Jerusalem, races across the Jordan and then, exhausted and worn-out, he has to camp for the night. This is all he can do. His people can go no further. He can do nothing else. What does he do then? He goes to bed! No pills, no sedatives, no anti-depressants. For David, prayer and trust sustain him, that is what he needs. Is that me, or can I truly let things go, let God take over?
How upset and worried is the Lord over our troubles? I ask that for two reasons. First, to point out forcefully, almost ludicrously, that nothing that bothers us has any power over the Lord. The armies Absalom marshaled were nothing before the power of God, and they were swept from the field without fanfare as the Lord fought for David. God's might and strength are awesome to behold and to see in action. We do well to remember this. But I also ask this question to assess what view of the Lord we have? When we cry to the Lord do we believe He hears and cares? David certainly does. Look at his confidence in vv. 7-8. David is involved personally with God. He is not some casual "Sunday-only" church-goer, someone who serves God just to make sure he doesn't get struck dead at any moment. David genuinely walked with God. His belief, therefore, was that if something is bothering me it will bother the God who made me, cares for me, and who I serve. Thus, I can talk to Him about that. Do you feel like David did? It may be that if we are not sleeping due to troubles that we lack faith here. It is not a lack of faith in prayer but a lack but a lack of faith in the God who will hear and answer prayer!
Finally, do we think that deliverance comes from us or the Lord? What does verse 8 mean to you? We emphasize human responsibility so much that I am afraid we may end up excluding all of God's activity. For some verse 8 means "salvation must come from me if it is going to come at all." Again, that is not to say there is no role for me to play, nothing for me to do. Absalom's rebellion provides a brilliant illustration of that, as David does much to insure the victory of his forces. But at the key moments, in the deciding second, it is the hand of God that brings all together favorably for David. Do we believe in that God? Or have we put God out of business with our concerns about Calvinism's extremes on this side and charismatic extremism on the other side? Let's not forget that God still works, in His times and in His ways, but He still works!
Is there any hope? When we begin the day so many troubles and problems rush up at us. We ask ourselves how will we make it? Psalm 3 calls us to pause for a moment to be aware of God's attention to our troubles, and that He protects us and answers our prayers. He gave us rest and He will give us life. 4 Psalm 3 calls on us to count on the Lord!
"All the water in the world, however hard it tried, could never, never sink a ship, unless it got inside. All the hardships of this world, might wear you pretty thin, but they won't hurt you one least bit, unless you let them in." May this psalm help you keep the world and its concerns out by filling your heart with God's love.
1 Expositor's Bible Commentary, Psalms, page 72.
2 Craigie, Psalms, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 19, Waco, page 73.
3 Ibid page 74.
4 Ibid page 75.
By Mark Roberts
From Expository Files 8.9; September 2001