A Prayer When Facing Enemies (Psalm 3)
This morning I want you to take a moment and to think of the darkest moment you’ve ever experienced in your life. This isn’t something that I ask you to do lightly. For some of us it’s very painful to even think about. Some examples:
- a period of depression
- the end of a relationship with someone – a spouse, a parent, a close friend
- the loss of a job
- a financial crisis
- the death of someone close to you
- a betrayal
- the news that someone close to you is going through a crisis of their own – a divorce, a depression, or a significant health crisis
Now let me ask you: how many songs did you have to sing during this period of crisis? I’ve noticed that there are some songs that you can sing in some periods of crisis. I actually have some songs in my iTunes library that are perfect for almost any kind of mood. There are good breakup songs, good angry songs, good sad songs. There are hymns that bring us comfort. Sometimes there is a song that we can sing that can be a big help to us when we’re going through a crisis.
But sometimes there aren’t songs that can do justice to the depth and severity of a crisis. This is especially true in church. If you flip through our hymnbook, or go online to read the lyrics to many of the songs we sing, you will find songs on almost any topic, but you won’t find many that give voice to hearts that are in severe pain. This is a problem, because we need songs that we can sing when we’re in crisis. We need songs and words that give voice to our pain, especially in the darkest moments of our lives.
That’s where the Psalms come in. We have all kinds of psalms in the Bible. We have psalms of praise and thanksgiving that point to who God is and the wonderful things that he’s done. But that isn’t all of life. “Life is not all cool breezes and beautiful birds” (George Guthrie). So there are other kinds of psalms, including the psalm we’re looking at this morning. It’s a psalm of lament. David Howard, a professor of Old Testament, says:
Laments are the psalms where David or the other psalmists are pouring out their hearts to God, being honest about the fact that life, at time, stinks! The psalmist has just experienced some trouble, sickness, or the persecution of enemies. He may have some people who hate him. I think the church is greatly impoverished because we don’t mine the lament psalms for truths that are there and the way they can open up new avenues of approaching God in times of great stress and sadness in our lives.
So let’s look at this psalm of lament, because you’re going to need it. You may not need it today, but you’re going to need it soon enough. I want to set up this psalm for you before we look at exactly what David says in this psalm as he goes through a very difficult period in his life.
So here’s a little bit about this psalm. I’ve mentioned that Psalm 1 and 2 are kind of gateway psalms. They set up the rest of the collection of psalms for us. Psalm 1 asks us to examine our lives to make sure that we’re part of the congregation of the righteous. Psalm 2 gives us a macro view of what’s going on in the world, and what God is doing about it. Now we get past the gateway and right into the psalms, and notice what happens. I love what Dale Ralph Davis has written:
You first go through the double doors of the Psalter – Psalms 1 tells you to settle your commitment and Psalm 2 to get a clear view of the kingdom. Then what? You walk into trouble (Psalm 3).
That tells you something, doesn’t it? It doesn’t take very long in the psalms or in life before we find ourselves neck-deep in trouble. That’s the nature of the world, and the psalms are very honest about it.
If you look at the top of the psalm, you find that this is one of 14 psalms that are directly linked to an event in David’s life. It says: “A psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.” A little bit of background: 2 Samuel 15 and 16 tells of the time when David’s own son rose up against him and stole his father’s throne. Absalom became immensely more popular than David, and David had to flee for his life. David’s trusted counselor turned against him. He was brutally mocked and everything was taken away from him. It’s hard to picture a worse moment in David’s life. Not only did he lose everything, but his own son betrayed him. 2 Samuel 15:12 says, “And the conspiracy grew strong, and the people with Absalom kept increasing.”
This is why this is important to us. This psalm gives us a model for how we can pray to God when we are going through the darkest moments of our lives. In this psalm, David is going to give voice to his desperate situation. Then he’s going to show us two things that we can turn to to help us in our darkest moments.
David shows us how to give voice to our suffering.
In verses 1 to 2, David describes his situation honestly to God. He doesn’t pretend that things are okay. There’s no need to pretend with God, by the way. God isn’t dishonored by our honest admission that things aren’t okay. Sometimes Christians have the crazy idea that we have to pretend with God. The psalms teach us the importance of being brutally honest with God about the situation we’re facing. They teach us that it’s okay to come before God and to be honest about our struggles.
Listen to what David writes:
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. Selah
So here’s the brutal situation David faces: an abundance of enemies who are rising up against him. Not only does he have a bunch of enemies, but they say that God has no interest in saving him. Remember that this is God’s anointed king. They are saying that God has turned his back on David. You can see why they said this. It sure looked like it. God had anointed David as king, but now it looked as if God had turned his back on David, and the enemies against him were accumulating. They’re moving in for the kill, and they believe that God has abandoned him.
We need to see what David does here. For all intents it looks like God has abandoned David. But David turns directly to the God who supposedly has abandoned him. He doesn’t gloss over his troubles. He pours out his heart to God. “Prayer is the way we slog our way through troubles” (Dale Ralph Davis).
Here is one of the most important lessons from the Psalms. Philip Yancey writes of a Catholic sister who counsels troubled women. They’re displaced homemakers, abused wives, women returning from college after years away. They’re going through anger and hurt. Some spiritual counselors tell them, “Bear it up; keep smiling; suffering makes you strong.” But not the psalms. The Psalms teach them how to express the rage that some try to repress.
They do not rationalize anger away or give abstract advice about pain; rather, they express emotions vividly and loudly, directing their feelings primarily about God. The 150 psalms present a mosaic of spiritual therapy in the process. Doubt, paranoia, giddiness, meanness, delight, hatred, joy, praise, vengefulness, betrayal – you find it all in the Psalms. Such stewing of emotions, which I once saw as hopeless disarray, I now see as a sign of health. From Psalms I have learned that I can rightfully bring to God whatever I feel about him. I need not paper over my own failures and try to clean up my own rottenness; far better to bring those weaknesses to God, who alone has the power to heal. (The Bible Jesus Read)
David shows us in this psalm, as he does in many others, how to give voice to our suffering. He honestly describes in verses 1 to 2 that he has a growing number of enemies, and that it looks to almost everyone that God has turned his back. David teaches us that we can be honest with God about the troubles that we’re facing.
But then David shows us that there are two things about God that we can rely on even in the middle of our suffering.
The first thing about God we need to know in the middle of suffering is that God has not abandoned us.
Do you remember the way that David’s enemies saw things? “There is no salvation for him in God,” they said in verse 2. Well, David knows otherwise. David knew better than to think that God had abandoned him. He says in verses 3-6:
But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.
Here David demonstrates something that we need to do if we’re going to survive our problems. The person who put it best is Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure
Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you…The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself…You must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world..That is the essence of the treatment in a nutshell.
That’s exactly what David does. We have emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. We don’t have direct control over our emotions, but we do have control over our thoughts and behaviors. What David does here is to honestly acknowledge his emotions, but then to begin to work on what he knows to be true. He reminds himself of God. Specifically, he reminds himself about four things about God and his character.
God protects. David says, “But you, O LORD, are a shield about me.” A shield is a defensive weapon. If you have a shield, you’re able to deflect the attacks of the enemy. Soldiers would hold a small round shield, big enough to provide protection but small enough to allow movement. But David goes even further. He says that the LORD is a shield about him, not just in front of him, but all around him. David says that God is his complete protection. When we’re under attack, we can remind ourselves that God is our protection. He is our shield.
God is enough. David says that God is his “glory”. What does it mean that God is his glory? David was king. Kings had a glory that nobody else had. They had public dignity, recognition, honor. But now David was on the run, and he had lost his glory. Actually, David says, he hadn’t. He had temporarily lost almost everything, but he never lost his glory, because God, David says, is his glory. We all get meaning from something in life. You can lose your career. You can lose popularity and acclaim. If you get glory from anything other than God, you can and will lose your glory. David says that God is his glory. He’s lost the glory of his kingdom to Absalom, but he has all the glory that he needs in God himself.
God restores. David says that God is the “lifter of his head”. You don’t need this one explained. You know what it means to hang your head. In war, those who were conquered would lay on the ground while the conquerers put a foot on their necks. David says that God has lifted his head again. God has a way of restoring his people even in the middle of impossible situations.
Finally, God is accessible. God answers from his holy hill. David had fled Jerusalem. He’d left the site of the tabernacle. He couldn’t go there to pray and to ask God for help. But David says that his prayers get to God’s holy hill just fine even though he can’t be there. God hears prayers even when we’re nowhere near church. God is accessible no matter where we are.
This is a picture of God that can help us in the middle of life’s difficulties. God protects. God is enough even when we lose everything. God restores. And God is accessible. He’s present to help no matter where we are or what we’re going through.
What’s significant is what happened to David as he remembered all of this. Read verses 5 and 6 again.
I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.
Nothing had changed in this situation. Absalom was still out to get him. He was still surrounded by enemies. They still thought they had him beat. David was still in the middle of a huge mess. But in the middle of that mess David said, “I know my God.” We can experience the same thing. We can continue in the middle of our mess and still look at thousands of our enemies and sleep well at night because we know who God is, and that he is in control. David reminds us that God has not abandoned us in the middle of the mess, and that makes all the difference.
There’s one more thing:
The second thing about God we need to know in the middle of suffering is that God will set things right.
Do you know the problem when enemies rise up against us? It often looks like they’re getting away with it. As David wrote this psalm, Absalom was still increasing in popularity. It still looked bad for David. If you asked David for his plan for how we was going to get his kingdom back, he didn’t have a plan. It often looks like this. Someone steals from us; we don’t have a hope of getting that money back. Someone slanders us; they will probably never apologize. Someone betrays us; they often seem to get away with it.
But David sees past the immediate. Look at what he says in verses 7 and 8:
Arise, O LORD!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the LORD;
your blessing be on your people! Selah
This sounds harsh at first. But it’s so important that we need to pay careful attention to this. Do you know what happens when there’s no justice, when nobody puts a stop to evil? People take things into their own hands. Vigilante justice. The only way that this is prevented is if we know that there is justice, and that evil will be stopped, and those perpetrating the evil will be held accountable.
Here David says that he knows he doesn’t have to take things into his own hand. Why? Because he knows that God will look after it. David knows that God will take care of all of David’s enemies. Because of this, David is free from having to take matters into his own hands. He leaves the vengeance to God.
One website says this about those who wrong you:
1. Get mad….then get even. It’s justice, plain and simple.
2. Revenge is healthy. Don’t listen to those mealymouths who tell you otherwise. You’re teaching people to behave better. At the same time you’re getting icky poisonous feelings out of your system once and for all. What could be healthier?
4. Revenge is excellent self-therapy. It’s far cheaper than a therapist and much healthier than pigging out on a box of donuts.
6. Always aim your revenge where it hurts the most. Go right for the jugular.
7. Let your creativity blossom. Don’t go for cliches like slashing tires. Yawn. Be original. Enjoy yourself. Give your mark an experience they’ll never ever forget.
9. If you have to do something you’re not proud of, be sure to cover your tracks well.
David wouldn’t approve of this list, and the Bible doesn’t either. Paul writes in Romans 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” Do you see that? The reason we don’t have to get revenge is because God will repay. As someone’s said it, “A soft view on hell makes hard people.” When Bonhoeffer was imprisoned by the Nazis, and shortly before he was hung, someone asked him how it was possible to feel love for such evil people. Bonhoeffer replied, “It is only when God’s wrath and vengeance are hanging as grim realities over the heads of one’s enemies that something of what it means to love and forgive them can touch our hearts.”
Let’s review. We need songs that give voice to our troubles. The psalms help us learn that we can be honest with God even in the middle of our difficulties. This is so important. We need to learn the lessons of these psalms.
This morning you’re invited to come to God just as you are, and to lay out what you’re going through before him. God can handle your honesty. But also gave the courage to preach to yourself. Remind yourself of who God is. Most of all, remind yourself of who you are in Christ. You have a Savior who died to save you, to make you right with God. Remind you that if you have trusted in Christ, you’ve been adopted. You are now God’s own child. You never have to worry about God abandoning you. He has said that he will never leave you and forsake you.
Then see that God is a God who judges. You don’t have to judge your enemies, because God will do a better job of judging evil then we ever could. But look to the cross and see that this is where perfect justice and mercy meet, where God repays evil, but where forgiveness is extended to all those who want it.
When facing crisis, turn to God who has your back and who saves you from your enemies. Let’s pray.