David, the most celebrated king of Israel, wrote Psalm 3 on the first night of the uprising of his son Absalom against him (2 Sam 15:16). Absalom was very handsome and all the people adored him. Like most fathers, David himself had a great love for Absalom (2 Sam 18: 5, 12, 29, 32) even though he had been a problem child all his life. But, because a Psalm is a song written for use in the liturgical service, Absalom is not mentioned by name except in a prefatory subtitle. To place a personal reference in the body of a Psalm would have been inappropriate.
The Psalm illustrates the position in which David finds himself: running away from Jerusalem and his son and his son’s armies; his friends have turned against him; everyone is saying he, David, will not find help or salvation in the Lord. But David refuses to accept these proclamations by man. He describes his own experiences with God and expresses his confidence that God will save him and all who follow the Lord.
1 Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me.
2 Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. Selah.
3 But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.
4 I cried unto the LORD with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah.
5 I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the LORD sustained me.
6 I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.
7 Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly.
8 Salvation belongeth unto the LORD: thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah.
David begins by stating his troubles: His son has turned against him and his people have risen up to remove him from the throne. What was once a small band of foes has grown. Their numbers increased to the degree that he can trust no one and must flee his palace. Samuel (2 Sam 15: 31) says that even his friend and counsellor, Ahithophel, turned against him.
On top of all this, his enemies are also saying that he, David, has no hope in the salvation of the Lord — that God has forsaken him (Ps 3: 2). One source says that many of David’s foes were of the opinion that God really didn’t participate in earthly affairs — some even felt that God had no interest or awareness of earthly affairs and conditions. David subscribed to neither of these views.
The Psalm is paused here by a word: Selah. Selah has lost its meaning through the years. Most scholars believe it signifies a musical interlude or at least a pause in the congregation’s participation, allowing them to reflect on the content of the Psalm to this point. I personally like this latter explanation because if we pause and meditate on the preceding passage, we are better able to understand the predicament of David because we are allowed time to let the words “sink-in.”
In verse three, David refutes what the people are saying about God’s lack of support for him. This whole verse is a recollection and an affirmation of God’s past protection and of David’s belief he’ll have protection in the present. That is to say that David’s knowledge of the workings of the Lord in his own life makes him believe that since God had protected him in the past, there is no reason that he would not do so now. The very first word of the verse, “But,” signals the reversal and the beginning of the contradiction that David is taking to “what the people say.”
“But you, O Lord are [note the present tense of the verb] a shield [protection] for me; “A common shield is a protection only from frontal attack, but some commentators refer to Psalm 139: 3, 5 and think David is talking about a shield which encompasses him – protecting front, back, and both sides.
David goes on, saying, “You, O Lord, are my Glory and the lifter-up of my head.” When David speaks of God as being “the lifter-up,” he is speaking of things that have happened in the past — the times when God saved him from other attacks, matured him to his present status as king, and held him up in honor. My Glory shows that David is attributing all his success to the Lord.
Throughout his life, David talked with God. He asked God to guide his actions in all facets of life. Okay, so sometimes he didn’t — like with the affair he had with Bathsheba and that came to a disastrous conclusion. But he did talk with God and sought guidance. At times, he cried out to Him and the Lord answered. David is not talking of the present in verse four – it is a continuation of the rebuttal and affirmation of the previous verse. He says he cried out and the Lord heard him. His hope is that if the Lord heard him in the past and protected him, why would he not do so now?
David cried out and he cried out verbally. It wasn’t a silent scream in his head or a low moan in his throat, it was a cry and a prayer with spoken words. When we pray, we can pray inwardly, but the prayer “solidifies” when we actually vocalize the words.
Because of the assurance that David has that God is going to protect him, he is able lay his head down to sleep. He has faith that God will sustain him through the night. When he awakes in the morning his faith is strengthened and in verse six he has new strength and states that he will not be afraid of the “ten thousands of people” that have risen against him. Now he cries out in a loud voice his prayer.
“Arise … Save me …” David is very confident, now. He declares what God has done for him in the past and is very specific about how God has lifted up his head and has been a shield for him. He describes the humiliation God has heaped on his enemies: “Smitten … upon the cheekbone;” and how God has rendered powerless those who would rip David to shreds: “Thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly.”
I can see David raising a defiant and fisted right hand over his head declaring in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to the Lord” not to man. It is God’s gift to give. It is not for his enemies to decide who merits it or who does not.
Finally, “blessing” refers to salvation. Salvation is the blessing which God gives to those who follow the Lord.