A PSALM OF DAVID, WHEN HE FLED FROM ABSALOM HIS SON.
O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; 2 many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. Selah 3 But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. 4 I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah 5 I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me. 6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. 7 Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. 8 Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people! Selah
A few thoughts for meditation:
1) David wrote this psalm while he ran away from the attempted coup of his son, Absalom (2 Samuel 15). Though David had many supporters who fled with him, Absalom “stole the hearts” (2 Sam 15:6) of many in Israel through his criticism of David’s reign. This led to civil war as Absalom’s army pursued David. The betrayal was bitter. Even one of David’s most trusted advisors had joined Absalom. Outwardly, it looked like God had forsaken David and many concluded “there is no salvation for him.” Such was the situation of God’s chosen king, homeless, betrayed and pursued by his own son, former followers, and friends.
2) But David did not despair. When faced with this life-threatening danger he turned to the Lord. The Lord was a “shield”, the same covenant promise God made to Abraham (Gen 15:1) and Moses (Deut. 33:29) long before. He trusted God to protect him and keep his promises. David called God “my glory”. He was zealous for the glory of God, while Absalom only cared about his own glory. And the Lord was “the lifter” of his head. In ancient times, when someone was in great grief, he might sit at the city gate with is head hanging low. Then his friend would come to lift his head and offer comfort. God was his “lifter” and comforter. And God answered his prayer for deliverance “from his holy hill”. The holy hill was of course Jerusalem, the place where God set David’s throne and the temple. God was the true king of Israel, and God’s decrees overruled the decrees of the usurper Absalom. This allowed David to sleep comfortably even though he was surrounded by enemies. God had strengthened him and removed his fear and he stepped forward confident that God would save him. Thousands of soldiers were no match for God.
3) Finally, David prayed an imprecatory prayer, asking God to save him by destroying the wicked who threatened him. Such may sound like a harsh prayer to our modern “tolerant” era. But those who suffer great injustice cry out for justice and God has promised to hear such prayers. Psalm 103:6 “The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” David had faced great injustices from his son, who not only stole his throne, but had raped his wives and sent an army to kill him. It is not wrong to pray for deliverance from enemies. It is not a contradiction to both love our enemies and pray for deliverance from them. The great cry of the Christian, “Come Lord quickly” is an imprecatory prayer, asking Jesus to return not only to save his people but to bring an end to the wicked. We ask God to defeat the enemies of his people either by converting them (like Paul) or by judging them (like Absalom). But also notice, this is a prayer for God to act not a call for individual revenge. In fact, David was not even allowed to fight in this battle with Absalom (2 Sam 18:3-4) even though he had every right as king to do so. The battle must be fought because Israel needed to be saved from her enemy. But he told his men to spare Absalom if possible (2 Sam 18:5). Such was his compassion for his rebel son despite his great sins. David was probably hoping for conversion rather than destruction.
4) This situation of David is also instructive for us too in our own times of trouble. We worship the same Lord. He is our shield, glory, and lifter of our heads. No matter what trials or troubles may come, and they will come, they can only do what God will allow them to do in order to further our own salvation and his own glory. Once this truth about our security in the Lord grips our heart, it drowns out our fears and enables us to sleep in peace. And even more, we have the assurance David did not fully understand yet. We can look back to the Cross of Christ, the ultimate expression of God’s commitment to us. If God was willing to give up his own Son to secure eternal life for us, what do we really have to fear in this life? Has this truth gripped your own heart yet? Does it give you confidence in the face of your troubles?