Tom (not his real name) was, from my perspective, seeking godly peace in the midst of a very difficult and complex instance of church conflict. When asked how things were going, a term he used to characterize the attitude of those involved was “hopelessness.”. I thought about Tom as I began to prepare to preach on Psalm 3, and how this Psalm might encourage him. Then I also had to preach it to myself. Now I am preaching it to you, because you also need the encouragement and exhortation that this Psalm gives.
Will God help when things are hopeless? Recognize that you are involved in a battle. David faced Absalom’s rebellion. 2 Samuel 15-19 describes the rebellion, David’s flight, the defeat of Absalom, and David’s restoration to his throne. The conflict was an intensely personal one for David, but it also involved him in his office as king, and affected the covenant people over whom he ruled. This Psalm is David’s, but it is also intended for God’s people to use in worship. It is the song of the king, anticipating the One who would some day sit on his throne. The ultimate singer of the Psalms is the Lord Jesus Christ. And in him, this Psalm is intended for you. You are involved in conflict. You have been in the dominion of darkness, Colossians 1:13 until rescued by the Son. You are victors, but there are times that you may feel overwhelmed by problems, trials, and even enemies. That ought to be a call to worship. “As circumstances feel overwhelming and hopeless, it is normal to focus energy, time, and emotions on the conflict issues rather than on worshiping God. . . . Focusing on God and celebrating God’s eternal work in our church provide sources of joy, hope, and encouragement when we are in conflict This perspective also give us, and all of the members of our church, unity about a common vision, passion and mission; it helps make sense of the conflicts so as to bear up under them. Also, because conflict is so discouraging and all-encompassing, we may even begin to believe lies (such as God has abandoned us because we just can’t seem to get through these issues). Seeing evidence of his grace will comfort us, reminding us that he is still with us and that he is passionately at work in his church full of sinners saved by grace.” (Tara Barthel and David Edling, Redeeming Church Conflicts, pp. 50-51).
Your enemies surround you. Attacks on God’s people are directed ultimately against the Lord. The mocking cry against David was that the Lord had abandoned him. That struck home, because the ugly incident with Absalom was part of God’s chastening David following his sin with Bathsheba, see 2 Samuel 12:9-12. Tens of thousands may surround you on every side. The initial cry for the Lord’s help is followed by assurance that God hears (verses 3, 4), but even the assurance that David can lie down and sleep in peace (verses 5,6), does not mean that his problems vanish. Rather, the Lord’s grace is evident precisely in the midst of trouble and affliction. One of the tragedies of the health and wealth gospel is that it leaves people vulnerable when problems strike, and can even undermine their trust in God at that point.
The Lord is your shield! Cry to the Lord with the assurance that he answers. In any distress or danger, turn to the Lord! The Psalms are full of cries, sometimes almost desperate cries, to the Lord for help. David must have been well aware of his own guilt as he fled from Absalom, but he was able to reflect on God’s forgiveness, and move forward with the conflict that lay before him. Rejoice in the Lord’s forgiveness. Don’t let a sense of guilt for sins of omission or commission keep you from calling out to the Lord. No matter how complex your problem, cry out to the Lord. The Lord answers from his holy hill. The holy hill was where the tent containing the ark of the covenant stood. David recognized that Jerusalem was the place where God had chosen for his name, for his place. This Psalm, like others, recognizes the presence of the Lord among his people. (In recognition of that presence, David refused to have the ark accompany him on his flight–trusting rather that the Lord would bring him back to worship in Jerusalem.) The presence of the Lord in the ark has become a permanent reality in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, Colossians 1:15-20. You have a more certain assurance than David!
Rejoice in the deliverance and blessing that God provides. The Lord is your shield. The Lord does not simply provide protection, he is the protection of his people. David uses an intense preposition to emphasize that it is for him that the Lord is the shield. There is no event that will overtake you which can penetrate the shield–if your shield is the Lord. He is your glory. Whether you translate, “he is my glory,” or “he bestows glory on me,” the thought is similar. The glory you have comes from God himself and is bestowed upon you. As you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, you are the people on whom the glory of the Lord rests. In John 17:20-26 Jesus prayed to the Father that the glory that belongs to him might be given to you, the people for whom he died and rose. The victory the Lord gives does not come cheaply. It is purchased with the blood of the Son of God. It is only in him that you are forgiven. It is only in him that the glory of heaven shines on your life. For David to simply sneak away and survive would have meant victory for Absalom. He prays with strong language for the Lord to strike his foes. Although we need to be careful about confidently identifying God’s (and our) foes, do pray, “Thy kingdom come.” Don’t be satisfied with bare survival in your Christian life. “For David, called to kingship (as we are, Rev. 22:5), refuge is not enough. To settle for less than victory would be a virtual abdication; hence the uncompromising terms of verse 7. Verse 8 attests the basic humility behind it, which recognizes that without the Lord there is no solution or success; that is, none worth having (8b).” (Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72; An Introduction and Commentary of Books I and II of the Psalms, p. 55.) Because of the greatness and faithfulness of God in Christ Jesus, the Psalm can conclude with the confidence that deliverance, salvation, does come. It is God’s gift, but it is God’s gift to you. Notice the concluding benediction. God’s blessing comes not just on David, not on “my’ (his) people, but “your” people.
Hopeless? Barely surviving? How can you settle for that when the Creator is your shield, when the Lord, God of covenantal faithfulness gives you his glory in his Son?