While Psalms 1 and 2 are written in more general terms, Psalm 3 has a very specific context from which it originated. King David’s son Absalom was in pursuit and David had to flee. This is described in 2 Samuel 15:13-17. The situation and outcome did not look promising. Not only his kingdom, but also his life was in danger. David spells it out in his evaluation of his enemies’ thoughts:
“… many are saying of my soul, ‘There is no salvation for him in God.'” (Psalm 3:2).
This refers not only to his physical life, but also his spiritual state. The enemies saw David as separated from God and claimed God would not intervene on his behalf. This was indeed a huge predicament for David. His son had a substantial size army that followed him (verse 1), and Absalom was not out to put him in jail. His intention was to kill his father and take his kingdom from him. This in and of itself would have been enough reason to lose heart and fall into a life of despair. That is what this Psalm of Lament starts with. It shows David in the deepest pit of misery, considering his enemies and their claims of Divine rejection. Both in quantity and influence David had no chance of surviving this onslaught on his life and kingdom.
Usually at this point despair overpowers and convinces there is no hope. Or it puts the mind in overdrive looking for outcomes from any available source. In all regards, it derails from a focus on God and His power to save and give refuge.
This is normally presented by the unbelieving world as the “way of wisdom”. You have to dig deep into your own resources and skills, and you will find the solutions to all of the present problems. The argument is either YOU have the PRIMARY answers to your problems, or you have no outcome. The first forces you into overdrive working on the solutions; the second, unfortunately, deepens the misery and in many cases ends up in suicide, or a permanent life of depression.
David’s response to his current dilemma shows this is clearly not the true nature of wisdom. It is rather a show of true foolishness. Reliance on the self or a giving in to the enemy is nothing but a foolish disregard for God.
God is our shield
In verse 3 David expresses a confidence that surpasses the normal thinking in these situations:
“But you, oh LORD, are a shield about me.”
God is his confidence because God is his protection. This thinking diametrically opposes the way the unbelieving world thinks. The world deems David’s response as weakness. A weakness that surrenders to some unproven higher being. The world demands self-reliance and self-focus. And yet, Scripture holds this to be true wisdom. It is summarized in David’s words: “But you”. This is not only a declaration of confidence, but a confession of faith in God as the source of his deliverance.
David’s progression from despair to confession
There is a progression in David’s actions moving him from despair to confession. First, he submits himself and his situation to God in prayer.
“I cried aloud to the Lord” (verse 4).
This is an indication of his despair and in a prayer of anguish he turned to God. Prayer is not a method of manipulation, but a deep and humble submission to the authority and protection of God. It is to believe the contrary of what the world says (see verse 2).
This is followed by a peace that surpasses understanding (verse 5). Paul writes of this peace in his letter to the Philippians in chapter 4:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
This David did and it resulted a rest found in the person, character, and abilities of God.
True wisdom follows this path in times of anguish. It submits to God who will give peace and remove all anxiety. It is convinced the “Lord is at hand”. Where foolishness sees darkness and misery, wisdom sees God, ready to deliver His people.
And David rested (verse 5).
This was followed by the confidence and removal of fear (verse 6). Note that David did not rid himself of his fear by being positive and relying on his own abilities. His confidence came from a deep trust in God who removed his anxiety and sustained him in these difficult times.
Then David rose like a mighty prayer warrior and asked God for His intervention. His prayer of anguish evolved into a prayer of war (verse 7).
For each action that David takes, God is intensely involved. First, He answers David’s prayer of anguish (verse 4). From His position of authority and power, symbolizing His presence, i.e. “His holy hill”, He gave David the assurance of protection. He gave him a peace that the world cannot comprehend nor experience.
Then He gave David rest and sustained him during his rest. David could close his eyes and sleep knowing God was present and gave him rest from his enemies (verse 5).
Finally, God rose victorious in David’s favor, shattering Absalom and his army and restoring the kingdom back to David (verses 6-7). See also 2 Samuel 18-19.
The result is David’s confession in verse 3: “But you”. David believed if it was not for God and who he is, he would not survive. Thus, his confession: God is a shield around him; God restores his dignity to him, and God is his ultimate joy!
Therefore, the Psalm also ends with an answer to his enemies’ taunting in verse 2:
“There is no salvation for him in God.”
David confesses to the contrary. In fact,
“Salvation belongs to the Lord” (verse 8).
He goes even further to pray that God will also bless His people so that they can share in God’s salvation given to David.
Worldly wisdom, or foolishness, is embodied in the statement of verse 2, while God’s wisdom is declared in verse 8. Paul confirms this in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us s wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Verse 30 is especially important, as it declares Christ Jesus as the embodiment of God’s wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
The Psalm does not teach a quick escape path. To assume that would again be falling into the trap of foolishness. Living in God’s wisdom realizes there might be a difficult path ahead, but that path is to be walked in submission to God who is “at hand”, able to answer, sustain and grant victory, thus restoring dignity and honor and remove despair and depression.