Salvation Belongs to the Lord
Universal Songs From Particular Situations
One of the most obvious aspects of the psalms is their universal relevance. For thousands of years, men and women, old and young, different races, cultures, and social classes have all found comfort and encouragement from the psalms. There is a universal resonance to these songs. They are the songs of the saints, the songs of the people of God. And often this is because the psalmist universalizes his sorrows and troubles. He doesn’t spell out the particulars of his situation; instead he says, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog.” He doesn’t give us the particulars; instead we fill in our own particulars and so the psalm has universal resonance and relevance.
But sometimes, the psalms get particular. They give us details about the original setting. And they do this in order that, by seeing the universal dimension in the original particular situation, we can better bring the universal dimension home to our particular situation. We want the universal, transcultural, age-to-age-the-same truth to come home, to come here, to meet me and to meet us. And sometimes one of the best ways for the universal to land in our particular is to see how the universal song emerged from David’s original particular.
That’s what’s happening in Psalm 3, with the superscript at the beginning: “A psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.” It locates this particular psalm in a particular time in David’s life and so in today’s sermon I want to draw two lines, one that connects the universal song to David’s life, and then, in light of that, draw a line to connect the universal song to our lives.
Review: The House of David, the Messiah, and Salvation
Before we do that, I want to situate this psalm in the book as a whole and in light of the last two sermons on Psalm 1 and 2. Two weeks ago, Pastor Jonathan noted that the Psalms, as the central book of the Old Testament Writings, testifies to the fact that there is a future hope for the house of David. The house of David is the Messianic line, the royal line through whom all of the promises—to Moses, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all the way back to Noah and Adam—will be fulfilled. And though by the end of the Old Testament the house of David is in disarray, as the people are exiled to Babylon and return and are governed by Gentile kings, the Psalms are a continuing witness that the promises are true, that the plan of God has not failed; there is a future hope for the house of David, and therefore for Israel, and therefore for the world.
Last week, Ryan Griffith explored Psalm 2 as a Messianic psalm, a psalm of enthronement for the Davidic king that ultimately points us to Jesus the Messiah, who is established by God, resisted by the nations, and triumphant over all, and in whom we take refuge. And though this isn’t always the case, sometimes the arrangement of the psalms from one to another is based on shared words or themes. In this case, there are a number of themes linking Psalm 3 to Psalm 2. For example, both psalms have the enemies of God and the Messiah rising and setting themselves against the Davidic king. “The kings of the earth set themselves against the Lord and against his Messiah.” “I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.” Both psalms refer to the holy hill, to Mount Zion, the temple in Jerusalem where God dwells in the midst of his people. God sets his king on Zion, his holy hill, and in Psalm 3, God answers his king from Zion with deliverance. Finally, both psalms, like Psalm 1, refer to the blessing of God. In Psalm 1, the blessing is on the righteous man who meditates on God’s law and does it. In Psalm 2, those who take refuge in God’s Messiah are blessed. Psalm 3 ends with a prayer for God’s blessing to be on his people. So there are a number of links between Psalm 2 and Psalm 3.
But Psalm 3 doesn’t just repeat these themes, it carries them forward. It adds a new element that will be prominent throughout the psalms—the theme of salvation. The psalm opens with the enemies of the king saying, “There is no salvation for him in God.” In verse 7, the king nevertheless cries out to the Lord, “Save me, O my God!” And the psalm ends with a triumphant declaration that “Salvation belongs to the Lord”. “There is no salvation for him” -> “Save me, O my God” -> “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” That’s the central theme of Psalm 3.
The Four Step Movement
With that background, I want us to look at the four step movement of the psalm. At each step, I’ll draw connections back to 2 Samuel 14-19 so that we can honor the superscript, the particular situation that produced this psalm. And then, at each step, I’ll draw implications and applications for us today. You might think of this as a model and case study for how to face trials and opposition and traumatic hardship.
1) Tell God what’s happening
“O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me. Many are saying of my soul, ‘there is no salvation for him in God.’”
Now this may seem odd. Doesn’t God already know what’s happening? Doesn’t he see? He does. He knows it better than you. But you should tell him anyway. You should bring your reality, in particular your felt reality, to God. Reality is what is actually happening. Felt reality is what is happening from your vantage point. It’s your experience of reality. Bring all of it to God. What are you facing? What do you see before you? What are other people saying about it? Bring all of it to God and lay it before him. No pretense; no fakery. No putting on airs. Don’t deny reality—either the objective reality out there, or the felt reality in here. Bring all of it to God.
What felt reality did David bring to God? This is where the story becomes important. Recall the details of the latter half of David’s life, after he sinned with Bathsheba and repented when Nathan confronted him. David has many son and daughters by many wives. Absalom and Tamar were siblings from one mother, and Amnon was a son of David from another. Amnon violated Tamar and then cast her out, and though David was angry, he did nothing about it. As a result, Absalom, her brother, takes vengeance himself, and kills Amnon. This whole story shows the way that sin multiplies generationally. Just as David violated the marriage bed with Bathsheba, Amnon takes that violation to another level. Just as David secretly had Uriah killed, so Absalom takes it to another level, killing Amnon in public where everyone can see. What David did in secret, his sons do in public (and there’s a lesson in that for us; we reap what we sow). Absalom then fled Jerusalem and lived among the Gentiles for a few years before returning to Jerusalem and eventually being welcomed back into the king’s presence (2 Samuel 14).
Now Absalom was handsome and impressive (he had long amazing hair, 14:26), and he plotted to overthrow his father. He would stand in the city gates, and pull aside anyone who was going to the court to have their case judged. And he would tell these people with grievances, “I’m on your side. If only I was king, you would have justice,” implying that David won’t even hear them (2 Samuel 15:1-6). So he would glad-hand and sow discontentment among the people, and as a result, he “stole the hearts of the people of Israel.” After doing this for a while, he eventually journeys to Hebron, the city where David was anointed king, under false pretenses. He sends spies throughout the land with this message, “When you hear the sound of the trumpet, say, ‘Absalom is king at Hebron!’” And he invites 200 prominent men of the city to feast with him at Hebron, as a show of his popularity (15:11). And he wins over Ahithophel, one of David’s most trusted counselors, to the conspiracy. The Bible says that in those days, Ahithophel’s counsel was so respected, that his words were like the words of God (16:23). And so, we’re told that “the conspiracy grew strong” (15:12).
A messenger comes to tell David that the people have all gone over to Absalom. Ahithophel, the prominent men of Jerusalem, the common people with grievances—all of them are on Absalom’s side at Hebron. So David flees with his household, weeping as he goes up the Mount of Olives outside of Jerusalem, leaving behind a few trusted friends as spies in Jerusalem. As he’s leaving, a man named Ziba comes to him and supplies him with bread, fruit, and wine. Now Ziba was a servant of King Saul, and after Saul was dead, David was looking to show kindness to the house of Saul, so he asked Ziba if anyone was still alive. And Ziba pointed him to Mephibosheth, the grandson of Saul, who was a cripple (2 Samuel 9). So David gives all of Saul’s land to Mephibosheth, and tells Ziba and his sons and servants to work the land on Mephibosheth’s behalf. So David has shown unusual kindness to Mephibosheth. Now Ziba comes and brings him the fruit of the land to supply him in his hour of need. And David asks, “Where’s your master? Where’s Mephibosheth?” And Ziba says, “He stayed in Jerusalem, because he thinks that he’s about to get his kingdom back.” So David showed incredible kindness to the crippled grandson of Saul, and now that crippled grandson has abandoned David in his time of need.
And then, to top it off, as he’s leaving the city, a man named Shimei (also of the house of Saul) comes out and begins throwing rocks at David and his entourage and cursing David, saying, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man! The Lord has avenged on you all the blood of the house of Saul, and has given the kingdom to your son Absalom. Your evil is upon you, you man of blood.” In other words, “David, God is cursing you. There is no salvation for you in God.” And so David escapes Jerusalem, and Absalom enters in triumph, and makes a brazen statement about what he thinks of his father. He goes to the palace and takes his father’s concubines into the tent in the sight of all the people.
Do you see how the story makes the universal song concrete and real? And do you see how the particulars help us to see the resonance of Psalm 3 for our particulars? For example, notice the range of people who are rising against David. You have his son Absalom. And this is shocking. God promised that the son of David would reign on the throne forever. And now a son of David is usurping the throne, uncovering his father’s nakedness by brazenly seizing his concubines, and threatening to kill his father. This is traumatic. On Friday, Matt Lapine defined trauma as “a narrative collapse.” It’s when you can’t fit a new event into the story that you’ve embraced. This doesn’t make sense. The son of David is David’s foe? How can that be? And then not just David’s son, but David’s trusted counselor and friend, Ahithophel, who had been in his court for decades. And then Mephibosheth, the cripple that he’d shown kindness to. And then all of the people of Israel, the prominent men of Jerusalem, who are flocking to Absalom. And then to top it off, this random member of Saul’s household, who adds insult to injury and mocks and taunts David as he flees. At that point, I have to think that David said, “Really, God? This too? Did I really need this too?”
And so it is with us, right? Family can become our foes. Friends and trusted counselors can become our enemies. People that we’ve helped can rise against us. Even random strangers can add insult to injury. Just one thing after another. Everything goes wrong, everything is hard, and then your dog dies, or your transmission goes out, or your basement floods. And you think, “Really, God? This too?” And we look around and we feel what David feels. “Look how many people are opposed to me. Many are rising against me. Many are writing me off. They’re saying that God has abandoned me, and from where I sit, it looks like they’re right.”
But that’s the only way that David’s particulars make Psalm 3 resonate for us. Reading Psalm 3 on its own, you might think that it’s a psalm for the super-saints, for those who have walked faithfully with God. But when you read it in light of the particulars, you realize that this psalm was written for sinners. Absalom’s rebellion was the result of David’s sin. When Nathan the prophet confronts David over the Bathsheba incident, he says, “Because you have done this evil to Bathsheba and Uriah, the sword will never depart from your house,” and “I will take your wives and give them to your neighbor, and he will lie with them in the sight of the sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing in broad daylight” (2 Samuel 12:10-12). Absalom’s rebellion and his brazen violation of David’s concubines is a chastisement from God for David’s sin. And this pattern is as old as Genesis. Like Adam, David seized that which is forbidden. And like Adam, David’s sons kill one another and rebel against God and their father. And like in Genesis, sin and destruction and violence spread throughout the whole land, because of Adam’s sin. What’s more, Ahithophel likely joins Absalom because he is Bathsheba’s grandfather and is angry with David for the shame that he brought on his household and his granddaughter.
Not only that, but notice something else about the situation. I said earlier that David is bringing his felt reality to God, but that felt reality is not always the same as actual reality. David sees that many are rising against him. But how many? Absalom is. Ahithophel is. Shimei is. But remember those 200 prominent men with Absalom? 2 Samuel 15:11 tells us that those 200 men were innocent and ignorant of Absalom’s conspiracy. They weren’t rebelling against David; they thought they were just having a feast with the prince. But David sees them with Absalom and says, “O Lord, how many are my foes.” Or remember Mephibosheth, the crippled grandson of Saul who abandoned David? In 2 Samuel 19, when David returns to Jerusalem, we find out that Mephibosheth hadn’t abandoned him at all. He had asked his servant Ziba to saddle a donkey for him to go support David, and instead Ziba went himself and slandered Mephibosheth to David because Ziba was tired of serving a cripple and wanted the land for himself. But David believes the lie and says, “Many are rising against me.” And Shimei’s curse (“The Lord is judging you, you man of blood”) becomes a chorus in David’s ears. Many are saying of my soul, “There is no salvation for him in God.”
In other words, this is not a psalm for super-saints. David’s foes (Absalom and Ahithophel) are the result of his own sin. What’s more, David’s felt reality isn’t actual reality. He overestimates his enemies. He exaggerates their influence. He believes the reports and he feels the world crashing in around him. And isn’t that how it is for us? If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that often we have contributed to our own hardships. Our sins and our foolishness have brought foes and enemies and opposition and hardship into our lives. What’s more, if we’re honest, we know that in our low moments, our felt reality isn’t actual reality. We don’t see things clearly. We catastrophize and feel that things are worse than they are. We draw false conclusions and believe lies about ourselves and others. Some of those that we feel are against us aren’t really against us.
And here’s the big point: none of that keeps David from crying out to God. Not his past sin, not his present ignorance. He brings all of it to God. He tells God what is happening from his sinful, limited, weak perspective, and he calls upon the Lord to save him and deliver him and he’s confident God will do it. So that’s the first step. Tell God what’s happening and bring your felt reality to him, even when it’s flawed.
After you bring your felt reality to God,
2) Remember who God is and what he’s done for you.
And not just who he is in general, but who he is for you in this moment. Who you need him to be for you in this moment. Notice what David highlights. You, O Lord, are a shield about me. There are foes surrounding David, and David needs protection. God is a shield, a protector, a refuge from the many rising against him. But not only a shield, but David’s glory. Shimei says God has abandoned David, that the brightness of God’s face has turned away from David. But David says, “You’re my glory. You’re my brightness. You’re my treasure.” And not just a shield and glory, but the lifter of my head. And this is a beautiful picture. What do we do when we feel low? We’re downcast. Our heads slump to our chest in defeat and despair. And God lifts our heads. He is our Head-Lifter. He sees our slumped shoulders and downcast eyes, and he puts his head under our chin and lifts up our head and looks us in the eyes and reminds us, “I’m your shield and protector, your glory and your treasure, your comforter in your time of need.” And so as we bring our felt reality to God, it’s crucial to remind ourselves of who he is for us. And so I’ll just ask you, “Who is God? Who do you need him to be right now? A protector? A comforter? A refuge? A rescuer and defender? A very present help? A king and ruler? A rock beneath your feet? Remind yourself of who God is for you in the particulars of your situation.
But not only who he is. Remind yourself of what he’s done for you, especially in recent days. Here’s what I mean. David prays, “I cried aloud to the Lord and he answered me from his holy hill.” And then I think he specifies: “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.” Here’s what’s happening. As David flees Jerusalem, he hears that Ahithophel, the wise and shrewd adviser, is with Absalom and he prays; he cries aloud to the Lord, “O Lord, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness” (15:31). He then tells one of his faithful counselors (Hushai) to stay behind and infiltrate Absalom’s counsel and oretend to be on Absalom’s side in order that he can defeat the genius of Ahithophel.
So Absalom asks for Ahithophel’s advice. Ahithophel says, “Give me 12000 men right now. I’ll pursue David. I’ll find him when he’s weary and discouraged and I’ll kill him. Only him. I’ll spare everyone else, and they’ll all come back to Jerusalem and accept you as king.” And that’s a good plan. David is desperate; he’s weak; he’s weary. So don’t give him time to get away and regroup. Finish him now. But then Absalom asks Hushai what he thinks. And Hushai says, “Ahithophel’s plan is no good. David and his men are warriors. They’re not weary; they’re enraged, like a mama bear robbed of her cubs. And David’s no dummy. He’s not sleeping where you can find him. He’s probably in a cave somewhere, camouflaged. You’ll never find him. And instead you’ll get into a battle with his mighty men, and you’ll lose some troops, and the people will hear about it, and they’ll wonder whether you’re a match for your dad. Instead, stay here in Jerusalem, gather all of Israel together, and you lead them into battle. You’ll crush David and all the people will acclaim you as king.” And Absalom listens to Hushai, not Ahithophel. And 2 Samuel 17:14 tells us that Absalom listened to Hushai, “For the LORD had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the LORD might bring harm upon Absalom.” This was a direct answer to David’s prayer.
So again, in Psalm 3, David cries out to God. “Bring Ahithophel’s counsel to nothing. Give me one more day. ” And then he lays down and he goes to sleep, weak and weary and discouraged, not knowing whether he’ll wake up the next day, or whether Ahithophel will have his head. And then he wakes up, because the Lord literally sustained him through the shrewd counsel of Hushai.
Notice how this helps us to think about our own prayers to God. First, we should cry aloud to the Lord for big things and little things. “God, just give me one night’s sleep, one more day.” Second, prayer to God is not at odds with action from us. David prays, and then leaves Hushai behind to defeat Ahithophel. Which means we pray for daily bread, and then we go to the store and buy daily bread. We ask for God to provide, and then we go to work. We pray for the darkness to lift, and then we get some exercise to help our depression. We pray for relief from chronic anxiety, and then we take our medication. We ask for God to heal our disease, and then we go to the doctor. We pray for God to resolve the conflict in our family, and then we go have a hard conversation. We pray, and then we act with wisdom. And then, when God answers the prayer through our action, we acknowledge him as the one who sustains us. We remember who God is and what he’s done for us, especially in the small things.
After we bring our felt reality to God, and after we remember who God is and what he’s done for us recently,
3) We face our fears, we trust him, and we ask him for big things.
Because God answered David’s prayer for one more day, David takes heart and says, “I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.” My many foes who are rising against me? I will not be afraid of them, because I’m remembering who God is and what he did for me last night. And I can’t be sure, but I don’t take this statement “I will not be afraid” as a statement of triumphant confidence; I take it as a statement of faithful defiance. This is a fight: “I will not be afraid.” Yes, I see what I’m facing. My felt reality is heavy. But I won’t be crushed by it. I will fight to believe in who God is and what he’s done. And, as the next verse indicates, this is a fight between two stories—the story of the felt reality and the story of God. What were the many saying? “There is no salvation for him in God.” What does David pray? “Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God!” “No salvation” vs. “Save me!” That’s the fight of faith. It’s believing God and rejecting fear of man. And it’s asking for big things from God. Arise! Save! Help! And it’s entrusting one’s cause to God, including the use of imprecatory prayers. “You strike all my enemies on the cheek. You break the teeth of the wicked.” That too is a prayer of faith. David is not taking vengeance himself. In fact, when his mighty men want to kill Shimei for cursing and throwing rocks, David says, “Don’t touch him. Maybe he’s right. Maybe the Lord told him to curse me. Or maybe the Lord will look upon the wrong that is being done to me and repay me with good.” In other words, I’m leaving justice in God’s hands. I’m entrusting myself to him who judges justly. If I’m wrong, I’ll accept it. If I’m not, the Lord will put it right. He will strike me enemies. He will shatter their teeth with his mighty hand and outstretched arm.
And that’s exactly what happens. Think about what happens to David’s foes? Absalom heeds Hushai’s advice, goes to war with David, and is slain by Joab in the forest of Ephraim when his long hair is tangled in a tree. When Ahithophel’s advice is rejected, he returns to his home, puts his affairs in order, and hangs himself. Mephibosheth is restored when David finds out that he didn’t forsake David. And when David returns to Jerusalem in triumph, Shimei repents using the same words that David used with Nathan (“I have sinned”) and David shows him the same mercy that God poured out on David when he sinned.
4) Salvation belongs to the Lord
This brings us to the resolution of the Psalm and to the table. David brings his felt reality (sinful and flawed as it is) to God. He remembers who God is and what he’s done for him. And then trusting in the Lord, he asks him for big things and entrusts the outcome to God. And God answers and David ends his particular song with the universal and triumphant cry: “Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be on your people.”
Now this psalm is a psalm for sinners, for the weak and weary and ignorant like David. But the story behind it has some remarkable anticipations of another story. David faces foes and opposition from his family, his friends, and from the people of Israel, just as a thousand years later, the True Son of David faces opposition from his family (who think he’s out of his mind), from his friends (who fall away in his hour of need) and from crowds of people who cry out “Crucify him!” David fled Jerusalem, weeping as he ascended the mount of Olives, just as a thousand years later, the True Son of David left Jerusalem, ascended the mount of Olives and wept in the garden of Gethsemane. David was betrayed by a close friend who eventually goes and hangs himself, just as a thousand years later the True Son of Man is betrayed by a close friend who then goes and hangs himself. David is scorned and mocked and cursed by a stranger who tells him that there is no salvation for him in God, but who eventually repents and receives mercy from David when he comes into his kingdom, just as a thousand years later the True Son of David is scorned and mocked and cursed by a thief on a cross, who eventually repents and is remembered by the Lord when he comes into his kingdom.
This universal song, written at a particular time and place, when David fled from Absalom his son, echoes through the ages and climaxes at the cross, where Christ lays down and sleeps and three days later wakes again, because the Lord sustains him. That’s what we remember at this Table: who Christ is and what he’s done for us. Here we remember that Salvation truly belongs to the Lord. Come and welcome to Jesus Christ.