Life is hard enough with all of its pressures and demands from outside of our homes, but when the dividing lines which fracture our lives run through our families, the stress can break us.
The Bible does nothing to hide this from us. If anything, it puts family brokenness up front and center. Genesis 3 has husband and wife accusing each other. Genesis 4 has brother killing brother. And it keeps going from there. You can’t read the book of Genesis without thinking, “Wow! These people are a mess,” all the while knowing these are the people God will be using to bless the whole earth.
The longest continuous narrative in the Scriptures centers around the life of David, the second king of Israel. Raised as the forgotten son of Jesse and semi-adopted into the family of unstable King Saul, David was on track for poor parenting of his own, considering how he’d been parented himself. And he didn’t disappoint. He provided us with considerable familial fireworks all the way through to his deathbed, where he ordered hits like a mafia don.
So, when we come to Psalm 3, its meaning takes on significantly different nuances if the reader notices the superscription. There are lots of theories about the superscriptions in the Psalter, but the reality is this: We don’t know who wrote them or when. We have no idea if they’re accurate at all, since they seem to have been added at a later date (probably during the final collecting and editing of the 150 into a single book). And yet, this is how the text comes to us. We have them and therefore we take them seriously. Regardless of which human hand wrote them, we believe the Holy Spirit is equally their author — similar to the Incarnation, the Scriptures are fully human and fully divine in authorship.
And Psalm 3 offers us a doozy of a superscription: “A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.”
How much tragedy can be wrapped up in so few words! David is running for his life from his son. You can’t break apart a family much more than that.
Both the names Absolom and Solomon have the Hebrew word shalom at their root. Solomon simply means “peace” and Absolom ratchets it up a bit more, meaning “father of peace.”
David knew so little of peace in his lifetime that naming not just one, but two, of his sons as shalom kids shows just how much he longed for it. He wanted to gift his boys with the peace he lacked by writing it into their names. Sadly, it didn’t take.
In 2 Samuel 13, we read the grievous story of Absalom’s sister Tamar being raped by their half-brother Amnon and of Absalom’s subsequent murder of Amnon. Both the rape and the murder take place in what should be the safest of places, while food is being served. The law of hospitality in the ancient Near East required safety for every person hosted at your table. Guards were down and the opposite of hospitality ensued.
After a temporary banishment from Jerusalem because of the murder, Absalom sets out on an effective campaign to ingratiate himself with the people of Israel, paving the way to replace his father David as king. Next, Absalom rebels, takes over Jerusalem, sleeps with his father’s concubines on the roof so all will know what he’s done, and makes some tactical mistakes, resulting in the crushing of his revolt and his own death (2 Sam. 15-18). In the midst of this, David is on the run and from that we get Psalm 3.
But there is no hint of family drama in the brief eight verses of the psalm. If anything, it’s the “many” referred to in the psalm whom David objects to, not his son. This is no surprise, considering his propensity to let Absalom off the hook.
Not only are an uncounted “many” actively standing against David, but there seem to be another “many” who are standing on the sidelines, passively standing against him, using their tongues to fight him.
LORD, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.”
“But” is a gospel words. And we discover things are not as people say they are. God is a shield. He will deliver. David even calls God “my glory” — my reputation, my authority, my purpose. David glories in him and he in turn lifts David’s head high above the “many.”
But you, LORD, are a shield around me,
my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
Because of this, David calls out to the Lord and gets an answer. (The holy mountain refers to Mt. Zion, the location of the temple that would be built later on by Solomon. The reference causes some to question David’s authorship of the psalm.)
I call out to the LORD,
and he answers me from his holy mountain.
Receiving an answer is a huge relief. It’s enough to enable him to lie down in the midst of the “many” and sleep. Praying and sleeping are the turning point in the psalm.
Sleep is essential to biblical spirituality. Stopping to sleep in the middle of an urgent situation, when nothing is figured out and everything looks like it’ll fall apart tomorrow is contrary to the control freak American culture. Instead, we exhibit the confidence of a child, a willingness to be vulnerable, to stop working, to stop trying to control the situation, to trust, to let go for the moment.
Done godlessly, this is foolhardy. But what happens? Does it all fall apart while sleeping? No! God sustains and David wakes up. Even with a ridiculously large army arrayed against him, he rejects fear. Even with them attacking from every side, he doesn’t slide in apprehension.
I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.
I will not fear though tens of thousands
assail me on every side.
David’s four actions in the psalm — calling, sleeping, rising, not fearing — are matched by four actions from God — arising, delivering, striking, and breaking.
Deliver me, my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.
The violence of the “many” rebounds on them, a theme seen throughout the Psalms.
They bad-mouthed David and God by saying God wouldn’t deliver and yet here’s the reality. God has in fact delivered. The truth about David and God has been verified as David has been vindicated.
The mouths that spoke falsely have been defanged. They have no teeth, no bite. Their words have become toothless gums.
From the LORD comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.
Our God is in fact a God of deliverance. He blesses his people, regardless of what onlookers say or how we feel in the midst of things.
In the midst of our get-busy, never-stopping culture, we discover in David’s most anxious trauma of his life the simplest recipe for spirituality: praying and sleeping. Only by sinking ourselves into them do we get up the next day to fearlessly join God in what he’s doing in the world, something he’s been at work on while we lay there curled up snug in our beds.
Questions for consideration
Where is family drama unsettling you?
What threatens your sleep?
With you, Lord, there is rest. Rest from my worries. Rest from my mistakes. Rest from drama. Rest from myself. I offer over my problems to you, each one, and rest in the knowledge of your loving care and deliverance.