Monday, May 30, 2016

Psalm 3: From Plight to Plea to Praise

1. Plight: David’s enemies (1-2) - The heading of this Psalm provides the context: be-baracho mi-peney Abshalom beno: the occasion of it, when he is fleeing from the face of Absalom his son.
  • The multitudes of them. The multitudes do not merely suggest the quantity but the quality, the strength of David’s enemies. Absalom received substantial allegiance from military personnel in high places and support from the Jews sufficient to wreak havoc through a civil war. Consider also the fact that David’s army was the most dreaded force at the time. Think of United States military. Without adequate resources, Absalom would not have the fortitude to attempt a coup.
  •  Rising against him (rise: qam-Heb, stand, cf. Ps 27:3b) intend to do harm. David’s enemies, God’s enemies and his people’s enemies have in mind nothing short of the total ruin of the church and his glory. This is still true today until the consummation.
  • Mocking and intimidation: “There is no salvation for him in God.” David’s God is either impotent or unwilling to help. The latter is more likely. Perhaps the enemies thought David sinned grievously during the Bathsheba incident in which he not only committed adultery, but also murder, so they thought that his case is hopeless. David has lost favor in God’s eyes. There will be no more divine support. This is the ground of enemies’ psychological warfare and confidence of their victory over him. Note they understand correctly the deadly consequence of sin. David not only deserves forfeiture of every possible divine favor but also death, a permanent punishment. But they are mistaken in that it is ultimately his actions that drive God’s actions. They are either forgetful or ignorant of the covenant that God made with David. One way God magnifies himself is in the revelation or demonstration of his faithfulness to the covenant he made with his people according to his sovereign election, despite their unfaithfulness, their treachery and many failures and find a way to deal with these. In other words, David’s enemies only have a partial knowledge of who the true God is, the God of justice who must punish sins. The missing piece is that punishment is not God’s only option to magnify his glory. He may choose to forgive although sins must still be punished (cf. Rom 9:22-23).
2.     Plea:
  • The basis of the plea:
    • Who God is (v.3):
      • Shield: one way God demonstrates his goodness is to defend his people from his and their enemies. Since his people belong to him by virtue of the covenant he made with them, his enemies are theirs and vice versa. Shield is a device to protect one from both land and aerial attacks (cf. Eph 6:16, shield of faith to extinguish the flaming darts of the evil one). God himself undertakes this work of defending his people. David could have said something else is God’s shield. God uses something else to defend him, but no, here David says, God interposes himself between David and the enemies and thus absorbing the effects of the enemies’ assault. The theme of God defending his people is linked to the attribute of God as divine warrior (see for example Exodus 15). The imagery of the interposition of God as the shield of his people points to the cross of Christ. But we may ask whether in this case God the Father is the enemy since at the cross Christ absorbs the Father’s just punishment due to sinners? The answer is no. The enemy is still the devil. His desire is the ruin of God’s people and the way to accomplish this is through accusation (Zech 3:1. Rev 12:10) of their deserving eternal condemnation, a just consequence of their sins. He challenges God to exercise his justice by punishing them and God responds through the cross. The cross satisfies God’s justice but also delivers his people from utter ruin, thus frustrating the scheme and the longing of his enemies.
      • Glory: Glory in Hebrew is kabod derived from the verb kabed – to be heavy. The glory of God is his attribute that brings a sense of awe, an awesome heaviness in our hearts, captivating us by his majesty and power. The glory of God is expressed for example in creation (Ps 19:1). We experience a sense of awe when we witness a beautiful sunset, Grand Canyon and the starry skies. We experience a sense of smallness in light of the great and mighty God who created this vast universe of which human beings are like the dusts of the land – Isa 40:15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket and accounted as the dusts on the scales. Indeed this is true when we observe the extend of the universe – how many galaxies and how far they are – how many millions of light years they are from our solar system. David bursts in wonder when he writes, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you remember him, and the son of man that you visit him?” Does any of us remember the dusts hiding at the back of our refrigerator at home? Yet despite the seemingly limitless extent of the universe, God remembers and visits humanity. In Romans 9:22-23, the glory of God is expressed in his sovereign dealing with fallen humanity. In his flawless wisdom, he decides to save some from eternal misery in Christ Jesus, and leaves others to perish in their sins. Which sense of God’s glory that David speaks of in this verse? I think it is the latter. An element of God’s glory is his execution of judgment upon the wicked, not necessarily the non-elect but those who are wicked in-time such as Paul before his conversion and even David himself when he committed adultery and murder although we may argue if judgment and wicked are the right designation which seem to be more appropriate for individuals like Pharaoh and Judas Iscariot. So when appealing to God’s glory, was David thinking about or did he desire that God would judge Absalom the way God judges reprobates? I don’t think so. David issues a command to the army that goes out to the battle to “deal gently” with Absalom (2 Sam 18:5). David mourns at the news of Absalom’s death (v.33-2 Sam 19:1). David desires Absalom to be brought to repentance and hence God displays his glory in this event. In any case, David’s deepest desire that God displays again his glory in this predicament that he is in. The repentance of Absalom did not happen. David’s greatest general disregards his command to spare Absalom. Joab is either lazy or too afraid to capture Absalom alive and decides to take matter into his own hands by killing him (2 Sam 14:18). Does God still get glory? Certainly. He gets the glory from David, among the people and all the royal officers and army and among the nations in this sad incident. He does preserve David and rescued the kingdom from split and perhaps a more bloody civil war. All were shown that God is still committed, he remains faithful to the covenant he made with David. God gets glory from David although David doesn’t get his wish. God gets glory in showing that sin has consequence. God’s honor will not be trampled under foot by anyone thinking that sin is not a big deal. The sin of “one-night-stand” adultery leads to murder. God pledges that the murder of Uriah will not go unpunished (2 Sam 12:10). The cycle of violence begins with the rape of David’s daughter Tamar by his half-brother Amnon (2 Sam 13). Then another murder follows when Absalom kills Amnon (2 Sam 13) for what he did to Tamar. Absalom himself was killed along with 20,000 of his fellow countrymen during the decisive battle in the forest of Ephraim (2 Sam 18:6). A seemingly harmless little act of sin, perhaps an hour or so of illicit sexual pleasure brings about fatalities among family members and kingdom officials (note Ahitophel’s suicide falls under this category – 2 Sam 17:22) and 20,000 casualties.  It is sobering to think that God does not need us to tell him how he is to be glorified. He decides on that matter and all matters by his own counsel. In the Absalom’s case God glorifies himself by putting Absalom to death in the demonstration of his covenant faithfulness, his commitment to David who is a type of Christ. The coup attempt by Absalom raises the question of whether it is ever right to pray that God gets glory in the destruction of the wicked. There is a place for imprecatory prayers in the Christian life (e.g., Ps 109, 73:18-20). It is sometimes legitimate to pray for the demise of the wicked that God display his glory in the execution of his justice by punishing them (e.g., ISIS). He answers these prayers favorably although sometimes he chooses to save them instead which takes nothing away from his glory but in his wisdom salvation is the best possible way to magnify his name in some particular cases and judgment in other cases. Regardless of his decision, our desire ought to be that his name be glorified and that he grant us the grace to witness, to experience deeply the display of his glory for all to see – Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen. 
      • Lifter of my head. Merim roshiy  - Merim is the participle of rom, to make high. Merim roshiy – the one who makes high my head. Here David expresses that his reputation depends on God. God was the one who brought him to fame from a humble beginning as a shepherd boy to a war hero. God is the one who anointed him to be the greatest king Israel ever knew. God’s power is the reason behind the reputation of David’s army as the most dreaded force in the known world at that time. And God made a covenant with him that his anointed one, his Messiah the true King of whom David is a type, namely Jesus of Nazareth will come from him. God is the one who initiated his covenant with David. God is the one who is in the end the faithful and righteous party in the covenant by upholding it to the end. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful” (2 Tim 2:13). David’s reputation is tied to Israel’s reputation and thus to God’s reputation since Israel in the OT was a theocracy. When saying “the lifter of my head”, is David thinking of his own reputation, or a bigger picture, the reputation of his nation and more importantly God? I think it is all of the above considering all three are intertwined under the heading of theocratic Israel. God’s covenant faithfulness, especially in the new Covenant, the Gospel is not to be taken as a license to sin. The tendency today is the same as the tendency of some Israelis in the OT that just because they are included in the covenant, they are safe regardless of what they do, whether they be faithful or forsake God and worship idols. May God grant us the grace to revere him for his goodness in bringing us under the new covenant, the covenant of Grace, aka., the Gospel by granting us the power, the ability to obey and follow Christ faithfully to the end just as he is faithful to us to the end.
    •   What he does (v.4-6)
      • Answers prayer. In Hebrew: my voice, the Lord I call. The fact that David adds a qualifier “my voice” suggests the intense groaning of his soul (cf. Ps 38:9), the urgency of his situation. Perhaps he distinguishes between silent prayer of the heart and a more audible and visible expression of it. ESV translates qoli (my voice) and eqra (I will call) with “I cried aloud.” This subject raises the question of the manner of private prayer regardless of our circumstances whether it should be done in silence or audible. In my view whichever way we prefer is not as important as the sincerity, the fervency, the diligence and the biblicality of our prayers. These four should define the characteristics of our prayers. The more urgent the issue, we pray that the more inclined we are to pray. It is true our habit of prayer should not be a function of our circumstances: we pray only when we need something. There are numerous passages in the NT where Paul, and Jesus urge Christians to pray at all times (Luk 18:1, 1 Thess 5:18). Although God is everywhere (cf. Ps 139). He is omnipresent, but he is said in Scripture to particularly dwell visibly in certain localities such as the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple in Tsion. In verse 4b, God answers David’s prayer from the hill of his holiness. Note this is Tsion, the same expression is used in the previous Psalm 2:6b where God is said to set his King on Tsion, the hill of his holiness. The use of Tsion as the place of worship where God reigns through his King and in Psalm 3 where David says that this hill is the very place God answers prayers from which his King reigns, I venture to conclude that these connections point to the Lord Jesus Christ as our Intercessor (cf. Heb 4:15-16, 7:24-25) one of his roles as the Great High Priest which is a major theme in the epistle to the Hebrews. He intercedes on our behalf before the Father. He truly and intimately is acquainted with us and our situations. Even the groaning in our hearts that words cannot express (Rom 8:26), he knows precisely what it is that troubles us and brings this up to the Father. With the coming of Christ where the Holy Spirit now dwells in the heart of every believer,  there is no need to go to Tsion to offer our prayers. We can pray anywhere and anytime and still have access to God by virtue of the high-priestly work of Christ. The fact that God answers prayer is contrasted to the pagan idols. Ps 135:17, they have ears but cannot hear. Here David speaks of the blatant worship of Ancient Near East gods made of silver and gold (cf. Ps 115:5). But keep in mind who we rely on in trying circumstances. We may rely on money and people that although God may use these means to deliver us but they are not the ultimate cause, the source of our deliverance. Do we commit modern-day idolatry where although we don’t literally bow before statues, but we seek help first from man or anything else other than God, the only One who knows our condition and the way out?
      • Providence. The significance of laying down and sleeping (v.6 I lay down and will sleep)  is to convey David’s trust and security under the guardianship of God. David just delivers to God an urgent plea for help since his formidable enemies are everywhere ready to attack him (qam – rise up in verse 2). But how can he lay down and sleep when there are many who are after his life and this many are individuals trained for battle and ready to kill? The reason is given in the second part of verse 6: for the Lord sustains me (samakhtiy). For Christians, there is no need to excessively fear of anything. There is a place for fear. It helps us to take appropriate precautionary measures. It helps us to be responsible to ourselves, to our family, to our employer and ultimately to God. But excessive fear suggests unbelief. There is no sweeter comfort for God’s people than knowing that he will not leave us nor forsake us (Heb 13:5-6, verse 5 may be an allusion to Deut 31:6, verse 6 is from Ps 118:6-7). The Lord is the Helper of his people. There is a reason why God arranges such that we need to sleep. We cannot function 100% all the time 24 hours a-day, 7-days a-week. While we all need sleep, God never sleeps (Ps 121:3-4 – the Psalmist repeated twice using different words for sleep or rest to highlight the ever-vigilance of God). For God to sleep suggests weakness. There are a few purposes why God ordains sleep. First for our bodily refreshment. Second, to remind us that we are finite creatures. We are prone to pride. With the little ability we have, we often presume that we have a God-like power. The same is true if there is no need for us to sleep. In other words, sleep is God’s means to humble us, that we are not God. At certain time of the day, we need to stop everything we do and completely give up control to God. It is not that God is not in control while we are in control because Scripture tells us that God is the First Cause of all things. He is the Primary Agent who ultimately directs the course of history, what should happen to nations and individuals and everything else in an absolute sense. By sleeping, we implicitly acknowledge our dependence on him and explicitly that as his people whom he has bound by the Covenant of Grace, God commits himself to preserve us to the end in faithfulness and kindness in Christ Jesus. We can rest in this promise that regardless of what happens to us we are secure in him, so we can say with David, “I lay down and will sleep, I wake again, for the Lord sustains me.” And again, “In peace I will together lay down and sleep, for you alone O Lord cause me to dwell in confidence (Ps 4:8).” May this be our strength everyday and may we express this assurance of God’s providential care of us back to him often with all praise, love and reverence.
  • The effects of his actions (v.5-6)
    •  I woke again. It is true that ultimately God acts on behalf of himself (Isa 43:7, Col 1:16, Rom 11:36), for his glory – Isa 43:7, one way to accomplish this is to defend his people. Throughout the ages many have lustfully desired to destroy the church of Jesus Christ once for all but their attempt have not and will never succeed.  As the hymn says, “The Church shall never perish! Her dear Lord to defend, to guide, sustain, and cherish, Is with her to the end:” The fact that David goes to sleep and wakes again as he is being besieged (v.7) by ten thousands of people that positioned themselves around me” signifies the security of God’s anointed and his people. Yes many have been martyred for their faith. The enemies may think that they have won. But the truth is they only advance God’s gracious purpose for his people. Those faithful servants killed for their faith enter glory, into an uninterruptible sweet enjoyment of fellowship with God worshipping and serving him throughout eternity. But their death, the blood of the martyrs, as Tertullian remarks, is the seed for the church. The testimony of the faithfulness of the servants of Christ points to his greatness, goodness and love, his glorious gospel that God has ordained to draw many to himself, to bring more elect to his fold. So regardless of whether “woke again” in this verse, when applied to God’s people at large, refers to physical or metaphorical waking, they point to the same thing: the blessedness of God’s people in their security by virtue of their union with their Head, their Lord Jesus Christ. No one is able to extinguish his people. We who are in Christ will always wake again, whether after a weekend nap, tomorrow morning or into an ever-blessed eternity.
    • Deliverance from fear. The theme of courage in the midst of adversity is highlighted a few times in Psalms (e.g., Ps 27:1-4, 118:6). It is easy to be discouraged by the outward display of the victory and prosperity of the ungodly. This phenomenon may lead to fear or despair (see for example the beginning of Psalm 73). Mecho Mamre translates meribebot as ten thousands while ESV, many thousands. I’m leaning more towards ESV since meribebot is not literal 10,000. This word sounds to me like a fusion of rav (many) and ribo (thousands) with mem prefix, so it becomes meribebo and hence, my agreement with ESV. The Lord has demonstrated his faithfulness in the past by granting David an unlikely victory against a Philistine monster Goliath. By God’s display of his mighty power, David’s military overwhelms the nations. The point here is that the ground of our courage is not in ourselves, what we are and what we can do or who our connections are in case we think that we are always safe since or if we have friends or allies in high places. If these are the grounds of our confidence for deliverance from fear, they will not only fail and disappoint us sooner or latter but in confiding in them we commit idolatry. We place our confidence which is tantamount to give glory to creatures that they will infallibly sustain us (cf. Rom 1:20-23). It is often hard to convince ourselves and to act based on that conviction that God is our ultimate deliverance, but this is what God’s Word is for, that we may preach to ourlselves the encouragement to cling to him. The Psalms are full of this and may the Lord grant us to take full-advantage of this blessed cordial for the good of our souls.
  • Fervent plea for help
    • Arise and Save (v.7a): David is known as a man of war. He is the only king of Israel who strikes fear in the hearts of surrounding nations. But David never hesitates to make known his dependence on the Lord where his strength lies. The reason for his victories is because he fights on God’s behalf and God is with him. David’s confidence is in not in what he is capable of doing, but what God is capable of doing. The plea for God to arise is the plea for intervention. The situation is urgent. The enemies “rise” against David. David calls on God to “rise” on his behalf. Think of the approach of the Egyptian army while the Israelies had nowhere to go. David faces a similar situation many times; the fight against Goliath, the persecution of Saul and now the coup attempt by his own son. The enemies rise up against David. Instead of self-encouragement to rise himself up, David calls on God to rise, to intervene in this dire situation on his behalf. May this be our response as well when facing physical and spiritual dangers that the Lord would intervene and lead us to safety and victory.
    • The confidence in God’s decisive judgment over his enemies: strike the cheek, break the teeth (v.7b). It is unfortunate that God’s image is sometimes distorted into a meek, melancholic, weak figure as a result of a neglect of reading the Old Testament or reading the Old Testament metaphorically which is a mistaken way to interpret OT narratives. When read properly, the imagery of God as a divine warrior is both comforting and frightening. Comforting to his people who are committed to cling to him regardless of the circumstances and frightening to his enemies or his own people who dare to even think of forsaking him. Again and again, the OT demonstrates the dire consequences born by the nations even the mightiest of them, their utter demise as a result of God’s judgment over their sins. When God is mad, it can get exceedingly and unbearably bad in a split second. This warning applies to both pagans and believers except the difference is between judgment and discipline. When God handed over Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar in 586BC, it served as a judgment for unbelievers among his people including the king of Judah and the false prophets unfortunately who were supposed to be role models for God’s people in devotion and faithfulness to the Lord. But it also served as a gracious discipline of a heavenly Father towards his wayward children leading them to repentance for their disobedient lifestyle. The incident at the Red Sea demonstrates God’s commitment to defend his people. The closing of the red sea serves as a shield that stops the march of the Egyptian army once for all, but also as a weapon that completely demolishes them. God striking his enemies to deliver a fatal blow is pre-eminently displayed in the death and resurrection of Christ. These events inaugurate the crushing of the serpent’s head spoken of in the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15. Colossians 2:15 is an explicit statement of Christus Victor, the victory of Christ the divine warrior over the ultimate enemy, the devil using the cross as a lethal weapon by which he “disarms” the devil and his minions, conquering and putting them to open shame once for all. Here is what striking the cheek and breaking the teeth point to beyond David’s deliverance from Absalom: the victory of Christ, his offensive operation to decisively defeat the devil. The use of cheek and teeth may refer to the disabling of the enemy’s defensive and offensive mechanisms. Their teeth are broken. God deals them a fatal combat damage in such a way that they are incapacitated and prevented from carrying out further assaults.  The same is done on their defensive mechanism, made disarray by God’s decisive strike to the point they are rendered defenseless.
3.     Praise (v.8, v.9 BHS)
  • Salvation belongs to the Lord. The last verse may not sound like praise compared to the more explicit expression of praise (e.g., Ps 107: 118:1, Give thanks to the Lord: Hallelu – second person plural imperative of praise – Yah, the Lord as the explicit object of praise) but I still think that this is an implicit praise. It is an affirmation that God is the sole initiator and executor of salvation. “Salvation belongs to the Lord” is the summary of David’s reflections on the previous verses beginning from his dire circumstance, a recollection of who God is, his Person, what he does, his sovereign rule and providence, power and faithfulness. There is no more fitting conclusion that salvation, deliverance indeed belongs to him. Does “salvation” here refer to a particular case of deliverance or salvation in the Gospel sense, from our sins, God’s wrath and hell? The central meaning in the original context to the first and OT audience in general is deliverance from Israel’s enemies as a nation. But it does point to the deliverance of God’s people, the church from the ultimate enemy, the devil. The devil is spoken of as a liar and a murderer, two characteristics that Jesus explicitly calls out in John 8:44. His aspiration is to disseminate lies so that those who believe would be brought into utter ruin just like what happened to him. Christ on the other hand came to destroy his works (1 John 3:8, Col 2:15). Just as the devil is the embodiment of lies. God’s truth is embodied in Jesus Christ (John 1:17, see the link between John 1:1 and John 17:17. Christ is the Word, the revelation of who God is and this Word is truth). Going back to my argument that the first part of the last verse of Psalm 3 is a praise. What is praise? It is an expression of adoration, reverence, allegiance, love for who God is and what he does. In Psalm 118:1 for instance, the Psalmist calls the congregation to praise God for he is good (kiy – tov, one may argue that what the Psalmist meant was that it is good to praise the Lord, although I think it is more likely that he means that God is good). The second reason given is “his faithfulness, his steadfast love – chesed endures forever.” Psalm 3:9 does not have an explicit command to “give thanks” but it gives the reason. Salvation belongs to the Lord. So what? Praise him! Thank him! I doubt that anyone who is not drawn to any of these responses after a revelation of God’s glory in defending his people is a Christian. Anything that speaks of the glory of God and draw others to savor this truth can be considered an indirect praise.
  • Your blessing be upon your people. Literally: On your people, your blessing. Is this a form or prayer or a parallel expression of praise to “Salvation belongs to the Lord?” I’m leaning towards the latter since both halves of this verse seem parallel to each other. Furthermore, grammatically, prayer is expressed either in cohortative (let me + verb, e.g., let me not be put to shame - al eboshah, Psalm 25:2) or jussive (let God + verb, e.g., let your faithfulness come to me O Lord - viybou-ni chasadekha Adonay Psalm 119:41). There is no either element in this statement. In fact there is no verb at all. One would think that David would use bo (come) or hayah (is, to be) in jussive if this phrase were intended as a prayer. In my view it is a support to the other half of the verse: God is to be praised because he saved his people and this is the essence of one element of the glory of God, namely he blesses his people by saving them. All other blessings flow out of this one act of deliverance. Think of the initial deliverance of Israel from Egypt. This is salvation. But more blessings came beyond the rescue from the slavery in Egypt: The blessings of the privilege to be bound under the covenant, to enter the land flowing with milk and honey, to be a theocratic nation that draws others to the worship of the one and true God are some of multitudes of other blessings derived from God’s gracious work of deliverance or salvation. Again, all these narratives in the OT point to Christ from whom all the blessings flow. Thus the whole Psalm is a Triple-P movement, from Plight to Plea to Praise. May we not be discouraged and paralyzed by our plights or the plights of the church at large. May we not stop at merely pleading for deliverance. The deliverance has come in Christ Jesus. He has won the war. He has decisively defeated the enemy at the cross. And we as his people win with him by virtue of his union with us. May we then ever praise God for his gracious provision and condescension to undeserving, and more, ill-deserving sinners like you and me. Amen.

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