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Tins psalm is entitled, "a Psalm of David when he fled from Absalom his son;" literally, "in his flight from Absalom his son." The historical correctness of the title has been questioned (Hitzig, De Wette), but without any sufficient reason. The Davidical composition is almost universally allowed. If it be asked at what time during the flight the psalm may be supposed to have been written, the best answer would seem to be that of Paulus, "on the eve of the battle which is described in 2 Samuel 18:1-8."
The composition is made up of three parts—a strophe, an antistrophe, and an epode, each terminated by the word selah. Some critics, however, make out four parts, by dividing the epode. But the absence of the word selah at the close of 2 Samuel 18:7 is against this.
Lord, how are they increased that trouble me: rather, Lord. how numerous are they that trouble me! We arc told, in the Book of Samuel, that "the conspiracy was strong, for the people increased continually with Absalom (2 Samuel 15:12), and again, "Absalom, and all the people, the men of Israel, came to Jerusalem, and Ahithophel with him" (2 Samuel 16:15). Ahithophel proposed to attack David with twelve thousand men only (2 Samuel 17:1), but the actual number which went against him must have been far larger, for some twenty thousand men, chiefly, no doubt, Absalom's partisans, fell in the battle (2 Samuel 18:7). Many are they that rise up against me; i.e. "that rebel against me, and rise up in arras to make war upon me" (comp. Psalms 18:48; Psalms 44:5; Psalms 59:1, etc.).
Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. When Absalom first raised the standard of revolt, there were no doubt many who looked to see some signal Divine interposition on behalf of the anointed king and against the rebel; but when David fled, and with so few followers (2 Samuel 15:18), and in his flight spoke so doubtfully of his prospects (2 Samuel 15:26), and when no help seemed to arise from any quarter, then we can well understand that men's opinions changed, and they came to think that David was God-forsaken, and would succumb to his unnatural foe (comp. Psalms 71:10, Psalms 71:11). Partisans of Absalom would see in David's expulsion from his capital a Divine Nemesis (2 Samuel 16:8), and regard it as quite natural that God should not help him. Selah. There is no traditional explanation of this word. The LXX. rendered it by διάψαλμα which is said to mean "a change of the musical tone;" but it is against this explanation that selah occurs sometimes, as here, at the end of a psalm, where no change was possible. Other explanations rest wholly on conjecture, and are valueless.
But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; or, about me(see the Revised Version). (For the sentiment, comp. Genesis 15:1; Deuteronomy 33:29; 2 Samuel 22:3; Psalms 28:7; Psalms 33:20; Psalms 84:9, etc.) The expression has peculiar force in David's mouth, who, as a "man of war," fully appreciated the saving power of a shield. My glory (comp. Psalms 62:7). And the lifter up of mine head. As God had raised up David to the throne (2 Samuel 2:4; 2 Samuel 5:3), and prospered him in his wars (2 Samuel 8:1-14), and exalted him above all the other kings of the period, so he was well able now, if he so willed, to restore him to his place and re-establish him in the monarchy.
I cried unto the Lord with my voice; rather, I cry unto the Lord with my voice; i.e. earnestly and constantly (comp. Psalms 77:1; Psalms 142:1). And he heard (rather, hears) me out of his holy hill; or. "the hilt of his holiness" (comp. Psalms 2:6). Though David is in exile at Mahanaim (2 Samuel 17:24), his thoughts revert to Jerusalem, to the holy hill of Zion, and the ark of God, which he has there" set in its place" (2 Samuel 6:17); and he knows that God, who "dwelleth between the cherubim" (1 Samuel 4:4), will hear him, though so far off. Selah (see the comment on Psalms 3:2).
I laid me down and slept; literally, as for me, I laid me down, etc. A contrast seems intended between the king and some of his companions. "I, for my part," he says, "confident in God, calmly laid me down and slept; I did not allow the danger which I was in to interfere with my repose at night." Others, probably, were less trustful. I awaked. When morning came, i.e; I awoke, as usual, from quiet and refreshing slumbers. For the Lord sustained me; rather, sustaineth me. Now and always I am sustained by the Almighty.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people. (On the vast multitude of people that had collected to attack the fugitive king, see the comment on Psalms 3:1.) David, however, did not fear them. Like Asa (2 Chronicles 14:11) and Judas Maccabeus (1 Macc. 3:18), he knew that there was no zeal might in ,' the multitude of an host" (Psalms 33:16). God could save equally with many or with few, and against many or against few. That have set themselves against me round about; or, ranged themselves against me (Kay)—a military term (comp. Isaiah 22:7).
Arise, O Lord (comp. Numbers 10:35; Psalms 7:6; Psalms 9:19; Psalms 10:12; Psalms 17:13; Psalms 68:1). This call is generally made when God's forbearance towards his enemies is thought to have been excessive, and his tolerance of sinners too great. Save me, O my God. David was in imminent danger. "All Israel" had come against him (2 Samuel 16:15). He was short of supplies (2 Samuel 17:29). He was doubtful how God was disposed towards him (2 Samuel 15:25, 2 Samuel 15:26). It was a time when, unless God would save, there could be no hope. Hence the intense earnestness of his prayer. For thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek-bone. Heretofore, i.e; thou hast always taken my part—thou hast smitten mine enemies, and given me victory over them, and by breaking their jaw-bones thou hast taken away from them all power to hurt (see Psalms 58:6). The reference is, of course, to David's long series of victories, as those over the Philistines (2 Samuel 5:17-25; 2 Samuel 8:1), over Moab (2 Samuel 8:2), over Hadadezer, King of Zobah (2 Samuel 8:3, 2 Samuel 8:4), over the Syrians of Damascus (2 Samuel 8:6), over the Edomites (2 Samuel 8:13, 2 Samuel 8:14), over the Ammonites (2 Samuel 10:7-14), and over the "Syrians beyond the river" (2 Samuel 10:16-19). Thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly (comp. Job 4:10; Psalms 58:6). The ungodly, enemies alike of David and of God, are represented as wild beasts whose weapons are their jaws and teeth. Let God break these, and they are harmless.
Salvation belongeth unto the Lord; or, salvation is the Lord's (Kay). "To him alone it belongs to save or to destroy. Therefore is my prayer addressed to him, and him only" (see Psalms 3:7). Thy blessing is upon thy people; rather, let thy blessing be upon thy people. "Whatever becomes of me," i.e; "let thy people be blest" (Kay). David is not deterred, by the revolt of almost the whole people against him, from commending them to God, entreating God's blessing upon them, and desiring their welfare. He echoes Moses (Exodus 32:31, Exodus 32:32); he anticipates Christ (Luke 23:34).
God the believer's Glory.
"My Glory." When Joseph said to his brothers, "Ye shall tell my father of all my glory," he meant the dignity and power to which God's wonder-working providence had raised him from the dungeon. In an hour it had suddenly become his; and any hour death might as suddenly bereave him of it. When God says, "My glory will I not give to another," he speaks of that which is eternally, essentially, unchangeably his own. But in the text, faith boldly blends these two in one. It claims as portion no perishable glory, but the everlasting Creator himself. He permits his creature, servant, child, to say, "Thou, O Lord, art my Glory!" How may we Christians make these words our own? How may we make God our "Glory"?
I. BY THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD. Knowledge is the key of power over nature. Man's pre-eminence over all lower creatures is in his intellect. The world pays homage to great thinkers and discoverers, who widen the sphere of human knowledge. But "thus saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 9:23, Jeremiah 9:24; John 17:3; 2 Corinthians 4:6).
II. BY OUR BELONGING TO GOD. What honour attends even the infant children of a king! But the humblest Christian is a child of God (1 John 3:1). What reverence is paid to relics, even of little value, that belonged to some great poet, statesman, warrior, etc.! But the poorest Christian is among God's jewels (Malachi 3:17, where the Authorized Version is more nearly literal than the Revised Version).
III. BY CLAIMING HIS PROMISE. His pledged word is ours. Men glory in wealth that lays the world at their disposal; in a fortress no foe can seize; a victorious army; a matchless navy. What are these compared with the wealth, security, triumph, of trust in God (Psalms 27:1; Proverbs 18:10; 1 Corinthians 3:22, 1 Corinthians 3:23)?
IV. BY LIKENESS TO GOD. (2Co 3:18; 1 John 3:2.) This will be the glory of the Church for ever (Isaiah 60:19).
HOMILIES BY C. CLEMANCE
A morning song in perilous times.
In this case, as in others, the words which in our version form the title of the psalm are in the Hebrew its first verse. And they enable us, with less than the usual uncertainty, to fix on the historic occasion on which it was written. This is one of those psalms which come under those in the first division of the introductory homily. It is an historical psalm, and as such it must be studied and estimated, £ As an illustration of the way in which excellent men have turned aside from the obvious intent of a psalm to put fancied dogmatic meanings of their own into it, Luther's interpretation of this psalm is a choice specimen. £ By such a process, men not only proceed on insecure bases, but they lose very much of the instruction which the historical psalms are calculated to afford. The evangelical truth which they think they find here is abundantly taught elsewhere; hence nothing is gained; while very much is lost by their failing to note the fine shades of personal experience, emotion, and character with which these psalms are marked. We have here one of the many priceless specimens of an Old Testament saint's experience—struggle, prayer, victory, song. "As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man." And it has brought comfort to many a struggling soul in the hard conflicts of life, to find how believers in bygone times have gone through trials even sharper than their own. We note in this psalm five stages of personal experience.
I. PERIL. (Psalms 3:1, Psalms 3:2.) (In order to introduce this psalm vividly to the people, a preacher should study closely the historic, incidents to which it refers. £) The writer was
(1) compassed with foes;
(2) surrounded with plots and snares;
(3) scoffed at for his piety.
"There is no help for him in God." These who were plotting against him thought they had laid their plans securely, and that none could upset them. So it was with Daniel and with St. Peter. Note: If the people of God have to struggle hard with opposers and revilers, let them remember that they have had and shall have "companions in tribulation;" and that the experience of the saints of old, and of the course they adopted, is here recorded as a help for them.
II. PRAYER. (Verse 4.) "I cried unto the Lord with my voice." The name of God used by the psalmist is the revealed name of Israel's redeeming God, Jehovah. Of the vast meaning of this name the scoffing heathen knew nothing. And now, when the world scornfully asks, "Where is their God?" they do so in entire ignorance of the blessed throne of grace to which the believer can repair. "With my voice"—while their voice defies God, my voice shall address God. The blessed reality of inter-communion with the infinite and eternal God, through his own appointed way of sacrifice and mediation, is one of which the carnal mind knows absolutely nothing. None laugh at prayer who understand what it is. Those who know God know well that he is a Refuge and a Hiding-place in any time of trouble.
III. RESCUE. In God he has a Deliverer. In three forms is this expressed, each one full of suggestiveness.
1. A Shield. The word means more than this, even a protection which compasses one around.
2. My Glory. The believer can make his boast in God, even when men are scoffing at the great Name.
3. The Lifter-up of my head. One who enables me to rise superior to my troubles, and to smile upon them. All these expressions show not only what God was to David, but what he is to the saints still. Note: Whether we sink in trouble or rise above it will depend on our faith and prayer. We may fetch such help from God as will enable us to "smile at the storm."
1. In spite of all his foes, he could lie down and sleep. How many a wakeful night would have become one of sweet repose if the troubled ones did but thus hide in God! As the little child sleeps away his griefs on his mother's breast, so we can have sweetest repose when we make God our Hiding-place. The prophecy is, "A man shall be as a hiding-place from the wind," etc.
2. As he sleeps in holy calm, so he awakes in holy courage. (Verse 6.) "I will not be afraid," etc. (cf. Psalms 26:1-12; Psalms 46:1-11.). The courage of David, Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel, etc; may well be repeated in us. "Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?"
3. The answers to prayer already received strengthen his confidence for the future. (Verses 4, 7.) "He heard me," etc.; "Thou hast smitten all mine enemies," £ etc.; and because this has been so, his faith in future deliverances is confirmed.
V. TESTIMONY. The psalmist had prayed to Jehovah; he now testifies for him, as the result of his experience.
1. Experience furnishes the best answer to the scorner. In verse 2 David quotes the words of the heathen, "There is no help for him in God;" but he knows better. He has tried what prayer will do. He has asked for help, and help has come. So that in direct opposition to wicked men, and as the result of positive knowledge, he can affirm, "Salvation belongeth unto the Lord," i.e. (same Hebrew word as in verse 2) "help" or deliverance. This, of course, would be true of salvation from sin, etc.; but that is not its reference here. It means deliverance or help in any time of trouble.
2. Experience warrants a confident statement of the truth. "Thy blessing is upon thy people." How rich this blessing (or favour) of God is cannot be told in words. Not even the Old Testament saints knew its fulness of wealth and glory. Not till such teachings as Romans 8:31-39 were known to believers was it possible that they should. Of this blessing it was then true, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man, what God hath prepared for them that love him." And in Revelation 7:1-17. the double form of that blessing is given (see the present writer's homily thereon), viz. safe keeping now, while in the tribulation; and safe leadership out of the great tribulation, to the glory yet to be revealed!—C.
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
Bright morning after a dark night.
I. THE SORROWS OF THE NIGHT. The darkness without images the darkness within.
1. There is the consciousness of danger. Enemies are numerous. Thrice are they called "many." They are also strong and merciless—wild beasts that make the night hideous with their roaring.
2. Worse still, there is the feeling of helplessness. Friends are gone. Solitary and forsaken, all seems lost. There is no star of hope to break the gloom. The piteous cry of onlookers is echoed by our own hearts, "No help!"
3. But worst of all is the sense of sin. If conscience were clear, if we could say that trouble had come upon us without fault of our own, this might help us to be brave and patient. If all were right within, we might dare the rage of our enemies, and defy the babble of an idle world; but alas! it is otherwise. We have been foolish and disobedient. We have obstinately persisted in our own way, and have not set the Lord before us. Hence the heart sinks. At such a time the peril is great. We are on the brink of the gulf. Well for us if in our misery we turn to God.
II. THE JOYS OF THE MORNING. As the true light shines, we see things more clearly. We gain more self-control, and better thoughts arise. As from a troubled dream awaking, we look back with shame at our weakness and our fears. If the "many" are against us, "God is for us." This is enough. Therefore we put on the armour of light, and gird ourselves with invigorated strength and hope for the work of a new day.
1. Refreshment. "Slept." Body and soul have been benefited. We feel that virtue has come to us. It is of God. He giveth sleep.
2. Renewed hope. Another night is gone, and we are not only spared, but saved. If there is work to do, we have now the will to take it in hand. If there are difficulties before us, we have now the heart to face them with resolution. Our enemies may shoot at us, but God is our Shield.
3. Anticipated victory. (Psalms 3:8, 9.) We rise to a better conception of God. So far as we are in sympathy with him, we are in the right. So far as we are on the side of God, and fighting for him, we are strong and must prevail. His honour is concerned for our defence. What he has promised, he will surely perform. Alleluia! But let us take a word of caution. While we seek the destruction of evil, let us work for the salvation of our enemies. Also a word of encouragement. Relief does not always come, or does not come in the way we wish. The grief that saps the mind may be ours, the burden of care and trouble may lie heavy on our souls. The morning, which brings joy to others, may leave us still in gloom. Our very trials may be enhanced by contrast. The light once sweet to the eyes may now be bitter. The music and the flowers and the beautiful things of earth, that once brought us delight, may only aggravate our wee. Our interest in others may falter, and our capability for the duties of life may fail. But still let us hope in God. The morning cometh, and also the night; but for God's people there is the sure hope of the morning that will usher in eternal day.—W. F.
The truth about numbers.
We have heard of the vox regis, and in these last days we are threatened with the equally dangerous and delusive vox populi. Let us consider—
I. NUMBERS DO NOT DETERMINE THE QUESTION OF RIGHT. There is a tendency with many to shirk responsibility. They look to others. Surely what the many say must be right. But this is folly. God has given us reason and freedom. We must judge for ourselves. Only what we know to be true can be truth to us; only what we feel in our consciences to be right can be binding upon us as duty. Besides, we see how often in the past the few have been in the right, not the many. Noah by his faith condemned the world. Elijah stood alone against the priests of Baal. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego dared the fiery furnace rather than bow with the multitude before the golden idol. Only when the people are all righteous can they be all right.
II. NUMBERS DO NOT DETERMINE THE QUESTION OF SUCCESS. No doubt there are times when numbers prevail. The few are crushed by the mere weight and force of the multitude. It has been said that "God is on the side of the biggest battalions;" but this is true in only a limited sense. Suppose the battalions are undisciplined or badly commanded, defeat may come instead of victory. But in the nobler fields—in the strife of truth and falsehood—how often has the victory been with the few, instead of the many! Besides, the question, in the deepest sense, is not—What wilt succeed? but—What is right?
"He is a slave, who will not be
In the right, with two or three."
Further, we must not measure success by the poor standards of this world. What seems failure to us may be victory in the sight of the holy angels and of God.
III. NUMBERS DO NOT DETERMINE THE QUESTION OF HAPPINESS. It is hard to stand alone. It costs a struggle to dare to be singularly good. But better far have peace within than sacrifice conscience to convenience, and freedom to popularity. St. Peter was happier shut up in prison than when, in fear of men, he denied his Lord. St. Paul was infinitely more calm and joyous when he stood before Nero than when, with all the authority of the Sanhedrin, he set out on his fierce crusade against the Christians. Better be true than false; better be free than the slave of opinion; better, with St. Stephen and the martyrs, press heavenwards through "peril, toil, and pain," than follow a multitude to do evil.—W.F.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
David's dependence on God.
This psalm written by David at the time of Absalom's revolt, reminds one of the poet's lines—
"Most wretehed men
Are cradled into poetry by wrong;
They learn in suffering what they teach in song.
I. A COURSE OF AGGRAVATED TROUBLE AND DANGER.
1. Caused by a tenderly beloved son. And yet David never mentions him; a sign how deeply he was wounded. The silence tells more than speech would do.
2. Not only his throne, but his life, was in danger. See the account of David's flight in 2 Samuel 15:3. His enemies charge him with being abandoned of God. As well as deserted by the people. His late sin with Bathsheba would make the charge plausible, and tend to shake his faith in God.
II. DAVID'S RESOLUTE FAITH IN GOD.
1. Inspired by his past experience. (2 Samuel 15:3, 2 Samuel 15:4.) God had been his Defence, Inspiration, and Help in times past, in answer to his constant cries. "Shield" (Genesis 15:1). "Lifter up of my head." The head hangs down in trouble. "Holy hill:" Zion, where was the ark of the covenant.
2. Inspiring a present sense of peace and security. (2 Samuel 15:5, 2 Samuel 15:6.) The Divine arm was his pillow, and he slept; the Divine hand raised him up, and he woke with such a sense of security that he was not afraid of the thousands that were encamped against him.
III. A PASSIONATE CRY FOR HELP AND VICTORY IN HIS PRESENT STRAITS. Urged again by an appeal to the past. "Thou that didst save me from the teeth of the lion and the bear, and didst destroy mine enemies on every side, rise up now for me against them that rise up against me." "Help me, O God!" This is his courageous answer to the mocking exultation of his enemies when they say, "There is no help for him in God. He replies, "To Jehovah belongeth help, or the victory; help, not in this strait only, but help for the needy in all times and in all places.
IV. A NOBLE PRAYER FOE HIS MISGUIDED, REBELLIOUS SUBJECTS. He thought of the horrors of a civil war, and he forgot himself in his anxiety for the welfare of his people. This is royal and generous—when we in our utmost danger can cherish a deep concern for the safety of others. David reminds us of St. Stephen, who, with the spirit as well as the face of an angel, cried, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge;" and preeminently of him who said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20