Theme: What a Morning!
In this week’s studies we learn how David overcame his adversaries by committing himself into the Lord’s protection.
Scripture: Psalm 3:1-8
After Psalms 1 and 2, which are foundational psalms—the first stressing the importance of the law of God in one’s life, and the second the ultimate triumph of the Messiah—there are a number of psalms dealing with various circumstances that come into the godly man’s life in which he must trust God. Psalm 3, which heads the list, describes a person who is in danger as a new day dawns.
It has been called a morning psalm because of verse 5: “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.” At first glance this does not seem sufficient reason to call Psalm 3 a morning psalm, as most commentators both past and present do. But it is, because if the introductory title is taken seriously, as I want to show it should be, the psalm describes a specific, dangerous morning in the life of King David and is a testimony to how he gained confidence and courage in those dangerous circumstances by his faith in God. Because of that setting, the psalm became in time a general morning prayer and was therefore appropriately placed at this early position in the psalter. It is then followed by an evening psalm, which is what Psalm 4 is.
The Hebrew title of Psalm 3 contains a number of important “firsts.” One, this is the first time the word “psalm” has occurred. The Hebrew word is mizmor, meaning a poem to be sung to musical accompaniment. Two, this is the first poem of which David is said to be the author. Generally, the psalms ascribed to David occur in the first two books of the psalter, that is, in Psalms 1-73, although some also occur later.1 Three, this is the first psalm which is given a historical setting: “Of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.”
Is this to be taken seriously? Since the titles of the psalms are in the canonical text of the Hebrew Bible (though, strangely enough, they are omitted in many English translations), the position I hold is that they are to be taken with absolute seriousness throughout. But even apart from this consideration, there are ample reasons for viewing Psalm 3 as arising out of the situation in David’s life to which the title alludes.2
The chief reason is the appropriateness of the psalm to that setting. The story of David’s flight is told in 2 Samuel 15 and 16. While David had been occupied with the affairs of government his son Absalom stole the hearts of the people and raised a rebellion in the nearby town of Hebron. The revolt was so sudden and unexpected that David had no recourse but to flee Jerusalem with whatever leaders remained faithful to him. He retreated down the steep descent from the capital, crossed the Kidron Valley and made his way up over the Mount of Olives to the temporary safety of the desert. The narrative says that he went weeping and barefoot, his head covered in sorrow.
Along the way David was loudly and openly cursed by Shimei, a Benjamite who had remained loyal to the house of David’s predecessor Saul. Shimei cried, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you scoundrel! The Lord has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned. The Lord has handed the kingdom over to your son Absalom. You have come to ruin because you are a man of blood” (2 Sam. 16:7, 8)! This is the situation Psalm 3 describes. It is true that there are no references to the specific details of David’s grim retreat from Jerusalem. Very few of the psalms are specific in this way, obviously so that they might be used by people in similar though not identical situations. Still, what is said in Psalm 3 fits 2 Samuel.3
With this psalm, what are some things that we notice for the first time in the Psalter?
Why is the occasion of this psalm significant? Review 2 Samuel 15 and 16. What is the chief reason for taking the psalm title literally?
1The first book of Psalms (psalms 1-41) contains thirty-seven psalms “by,” “of,” or “to” David. The second book (psalms 42-73) contains nineteen such psalms. The rest of the Psalter (books 3-5) has seventeen Davidic psalms scattered throughout, for an overall total of 73, that is, nearly half of the 150 in the collection. In addition to Davidic authorship, some of the psalms are also identified with Solomon (Psalms72, 127), Moses (Psalm 90), Asaph (twelve psalms), Heman the Ezrahite (Psalm 88), Ethan the Ezrahite (Psalm 89), the sons of Korah (eleven psalms), and the Director of Music (more than fifty psalms). Thirty-four of the 150 psalms have no titles and are therefore explicitly anonymous.
2Strangely, some of the best ancient commentators (Augustine and Martin Luther) ignore the historical setting in favor of spiritualizing the text. Augustine and Luther view the psalm as a prophecy of the passion and resurrection of Jesus, with Augustine saying, “The words…sound more appropriate to the Passion and Resurrection of Our Lord, than to that history in which David’s flight is described from the face of his rebellious son” (Expositions of the Book of the Psalms in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, vol. 8, ed. by Philip Schaff [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974], p. 4).
3 H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 59.