Psalm 3 Commentary

Psalm 3 Commentary

Let’s study Psalm 3!

Psalm 3 Commentary Genre

First, we’ll talk about the genre of Psalm 3. What kind of poem is it?

Well, it’s what we call a lament Psalm. You could also call it a complaint Psalm. And this kind of Psalm accounts for about 1/3 of the entire book of Psalms. So just about one out of every three Psalms that you encounter is similar to the Psalm that we’re studying today.

Now, I said this is a complaint Psalm. But let’s not get the wrong idea. This Psalm doesn’t simply record the Psalmist griping about something. These Psalms actually present the Psalmist’s strategy for mastering a crisis. So, he’s not whining. He’s actually working toward a solution for his crisis. And we get to listen in while he works through his problem. And so the lament Psalms give us an inspired way to deal with problems and situation that are common to all men.

So – what type of poem are we studying today? Lament/complaint.

Psalm 3 Commentary Underlying Situation

Now, most Psalms are a reaction of the poet to some stimulus. In Psalm 3, what is the stimulus? What is driving David to write this lament poem? What’s happening in his life?

Well, look at the first line of the psalm. What does it say? This is “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.”

When you think of David, you might think of him in pastoral settings out in the countryside. Or you picture him in his royal palace kind of taking it easy. But this man’s life was filled with conflict.

Even when he was a relative-nobody he was wrestling bears and lions away from his father’s sheep. He defeated Goliath and won some acclaim among the people and even in King Saul’s sight. But then Saul turns on him and David basically becomes a fugitive for years until Saul dies.

Finally, David becomes king. But he’s still constantly going to war – that’s what kings did in those days. But one time he doesn’t go out to war. He stays behind. And he ends up catching a glimpse of a young woman from his palace. As we all know, he ends up committing adultery with her and then ordering the murder of her husband. God rebukes David for those horrendous crimes. And God promises David that the sword will never depart from his house the rest of his life. He will have war and conflict until he dies.

And that’s where Absalom enters the picture. Absalom has a sister who is violated by one of David’s sons from one of his other wives. Absalom kills that brother and flees. Finally he’s persuaded to come back and live close to David. But David won’t talk to him – for years. So, Absalom eventually gathers a number of people together, wins their hearts, and leads a rebellion against his father David. Absalom and his entourage actually run David out of Jerusalem and are trying to literally kill him. And that’s the situation that called for the writing of this Psalm.

So, this Psalm captures some of the emotion that David felt as he fled for his life from Jerusalem. Can you imagine the embarrassment of being pursued by your own child who’s looking to take your life? Can you imagine the regret and self-hatred that David would have experienced – knowing that his own sin with Bathsheba so many years ago had caused this turn of events? Can you imagine the pain of being betrayed by so many trusted advisers and friends in addition to the people you served as king for so many years? All these emotions and many more I’m sure are in David’s heart as he flees Jerusalem.

So, we’ve discovered and rehearsed the underlying situation that called for the writing of this Psalm. And we’ve looked at what kind of Psalm this is. It’s a lament Psalm.

Psalm 3 Commentary Structure

And these lament Psalms have a discernible structure to them. There are actually 5 components to any lament Psalm. So, let’s discover the structure of Psalm 3.


The first component of a lament Psalm is the invocation of God. And we see that in this Psalm 3:1. What’s the first word out of David’s mouth in this Psalm? He says, “Lord”. He immediately invokes the Lord.

So, that’s the first component of the structure of this Psalm.


The next component of a lament Psalm is the lament or the complaint itself. And we find that in Psalm 3:1-2 verses.

“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.”

This is where the poet defines the crisis that he’s experiencing – and that he’s going to try to master with God’s help.


Another component of the structure of a lament Psalm is an expression of confidence in God. We see this in Psalm 3:3-6 where we have these reassuring statements from David regarding his confidence in God.

“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. 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.”

David is confident that God will deliver him from his multiplied adversaries.

So, that’s the 3rd component of a lament Psalm – the poet’s expression of confidence in God.


Then, comes the petition – where the poet actually asks the Lord for something. We see that in Psalm 3:7. And in this Psalm it consists of a petition to God for him to remedy David’s crisis.

“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.”

By the way, it took 6 verses for David to actually ask God for something.

So that’s the 4th part of the structure of this Psalm.


Finally, Psalm 3:8 ends the Psalm with the last component – which is the praising of God.

“Salvation belongeth unto the LORD: thy blessing is upon thy people.”

I think the praise here occurs when David proclaims that it is in the Lord’s power alone to provide deliverance. That’s a glory that belongs to the Lord alone. And so he’s to be praised for it.

So, that’s the structure of this Psalm. 5 parts – invocation, lament, confidence, petition, and praise.


Now, with the genre, underlying situation, and structure established, we’re going to discover the topic and theme of the Psalm.

The topic is what a Psalm is about. The theme is what the author says about that topic.

So, we’re going to try to summarize the content of Psalm 3 in one word (topic). And then we’ll summarize what David says about that topic (theme).

So, let’s read Psalm 3:1-2 again. Because usually the topic of the Psalm appears near its beginning.

“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.”

So, from Psalm 3:1-2 verses we get the idea that David is facing enemies. And their number isn’t dwindling or remaining steady, even. David is facing multiplied and multiplying enemies.

And what are these enemies claiming? They’re saying that God won’t help David. The word “help” has to do with salvation. Or in this context – deliverance. So, here David’s enemies are saying that God will not deliver David from their plans to kill him. And that happens to be the topic of this Psalm – deliverance. You want to know what Psalm 3 is about in a nutshell? It’s about deliverance. And we’ll see evidence of that throughout the Psalm.

Now, David has something to say regarding God’s delivering him from his multiplied enemies. Psalm 3:7 – he says “Save – or deliver – me, oh my God.” And in Psalm 3:8 he reminds himself that “salvation – the kind that David so desperately needs – belongs to the Lord.” There’s the topic again – salvation or deliverance. And it’s the Lord’s to grant deliverance like what David is looking for. And so, despite multiplied enemies claiming that God will not deliver David from their schemes to kill him – look at what David says in Psalm 3:6. “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.” Ten thousands – that sounds like multiplied adversaries. And yet, David is not afraid of them. Why? Because he’s confident that the Lord will deliver him.

So, here’s what David says about the topic of Psalm 3. He’s talking about Confidence in God’s deliverance from multiplied adversaries. He’s confident that God will deliver him.

Psalm 3 Commentary

OK, we’ve looked at the genre, underlying situation, topic, theme, and structure of Psalm 3. But now we’re going to dive into the details of this Psalm.

Psalm 3 Commentary Verses 1-2

We’ll go back to Psalm 3:1-2.

“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.”

You can sense David’s dismay from the very first verse. “Lord! How many…” he exclaims. He expresses amazement at how many enemies he’s acquired. He was their king, their leader, God’s chosen ruler for them. And now so many of them had turned on him. So, David is shocked.

Now, note once more the concept of increasing opposition. They’re – Psalm 3:1 – “increased”. There are – Psalm 3:1 again – “many” that rise up. And he goes ahead and states it one more time in case we missed it – Psalm 3:2 – “Many” speak discouragingly to him. So, let’s really sympathize with David’s utter dismay. His whole country has turned on him.

And these folks aren’t just sitting around. They’re actively opposing David. They’re troubling David. They’re rising up against him.

Let’s think about that image of rising up. And it is an image. Let me ask you – Were the enemies all previously sitting down, but now they’re standing on their feet – and so that’s what David is truly concerned about? No, David’s not concerned about their physical position. So when he tells us that these people are “rising up” he’s putting a picture in our mind. It’s like he’s imagining this large group of angry enemies physically rising up as one to confront and physically destroy him. It’s a terrifying picture. And it accurately portrays how David feels.

But these enemies aren’t just physically imposing in David’s mind. Their very speech is terrifying to David. They’re claiming that God will not deliver David. Can you think of why they might say this? How many people do you think knew about David’s sin with Bathsheba and against Uriah her husband? Nathan did. In addition, God through Nathan told David “by this deed [David’s sin] thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme” in 2 Samuel 12:14. So then, many people apparently knew of David’s sin. It was public knowledge. And what David was now experiencing was actually chastisement from the Lord for that sin. So, think about it. The very fact that these enemies were attacking and reproaching David was by God’s allowance. Can you see why these folks might think that God won’t deliver David from their plans to kill him? David’s own sin got him in to this mess. Maybe God was going to let David’s enemies finish him off.

And that’s where Psalm 3:2 ends.

I’ll briefly mention “Selah”. As far as I know and anyone can say, this probably calls for a musical interlude. But the fact is that no one definitively knows what it signifies. So I won’t be paying much attention to it in coming lessons.

Psalm 3 Commentary Verses 3-6

Now, in complete contrast to what these increasing enemies are saying about David, we have Psalm 3:3. God is David’s “shield”, his “glory”, and “the one who lifts up” his head. These sayings are obviously poetic devices. They’re images that put pictures in our minds. God does not physically manifest himself as a shield. His hand didn’t physically and visibly reach down from heaven and lift up David’s head. So let’s talk about what these images mean.


First, a shield protects from advancing attacks. The KJV has David saying that God is a shield “for me”. The word actually means “round about”. So, picture it – if an enemy attacks David from any direction, he’s not going to get David. Why? Because David’s “shield” is in the way. That’s the Lord – protecting him.


Next, the word “glory” can also mean “honor”. David is being supremely dishonored by men – his own son in particular. But in contrast, God gives him honor.


Lastly, God lifts up David’s head. You surely know what it feels like to have increasing opposition to you – at home, at work, even among God’s people, unfortunately. And does it ever make you just want to hang your head? That’s where David was. But God lifts his head from despair.

And David may or may not know it at this point, but God was going to restore David to his throne in Jerusalem. And by doing that, God would lift David’s head – so to speak – and get rid of his reproach.


Now, note one more thing in Psalm 3:3. Notice how intimate David is with the Lord. He personally addresses the Lord. He looks at the increasing enemies and distress in his life. And then he turns to the Lord alone and reminds himself and the Lord of what God really is to him.


Now, Psalm 3:4 brings us back in time a little. David explains how he came to be so confident in the Lord’s protection of him. He cried to the Lord. He didn’t whisper under his breath. This word is actually translated a few times as “scream”. It’s translated many more times as “call” or “cry” as we have it here. David was earnest in communicating with the Lord. He needed to be heard.

And what happened when David directed his prayer to God? God “heard him”. God answered David when he called.

And he did so from his holy hill. That’s probably a reference to Mount Zion or the Temple Mount – even though the Temple hadn’t been built yet.

And do you wonder what God told David? How exactly did God answer David’s cries? Well, we don’t have the response recorded. But whatever it was, it gave David the confidence that we saw in verse 3. It also results in what he testifies about in Psalm 3:5.


David says “I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the LORD sustained me.” Now, if you were being chased like a fugitive, could you imagine trying this? Laying down and sleeping? I think sleeping would have been very hard for David. And the reason it would be so hard is because he would be uncertain as to whether he would indeed awake in the morning. Or would his life have been taken overnight? But when God answered David’s pitiful cries, David gained confidence to sleep. And because God was protecting him, David actually woke up. The enemies didn’t hurt him. And they wouldn’t. Ever. Because God was with him. The Lord “sustained” him, it says. That word “sustained” is something like “propped up” or “supported”. How exactly do you sleep in the midst of gut-wrenching anxiety about your very life? David could because he knew that the Lord was the one who was propping him up and supporting him. David was confident in God’s deliverance.


And so because of all these considerations, David boldly proclaims in Psalm 3:6 – “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.” David won’t fear. Even in the face of overwhelming odds – ten thousands of people against just him. He’s confident in God’s deliverance. And that’s how he pictures it. It’s ten thousands of his enemies versus… how many? Just him. Even if those are the odds and that’s what happens, he’s going to remain confident in God’s deliverance.

Psalm 3 Commentary Verse 7

And so now David – Psalm 3:7 – finally makes petition to the Lord. “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.” So, in contrast to the enemies in Psalm 3:1 who rise up against David – now we have David calling on the Lord to himself rise up – and to save or deliver David from his enemies.

And we have some imagery here again. Did God literally smite David’s enemies on the cheek? Did he break the teeth of the wicked who persecuted David? Do we have that recorded anywhere? We don’t. So, what is David poetically expressing here?


First, a slap to the cheek was a sign of contempt. In other words, God thinks little of these enemies. He will not honor them. He honors David as we saw before.


And what about the shattering of teeth? Well, in a day and age before dentures – you lose your teeth and you’re rendered fairly incapacitated in certain ways. And that’s just what God was going to do to David’s enemies. They may be many, but their efforts against David would be brought to nothing and they themselves would be despised by the Lord – whom they claimed would not deliver David.

And so David can call upon God to rise up and deliver him – knowing that this is what God does. God has done these kind of things for David before. And he’ll do them in this very distressing situation.

Psalm 3 Commentary Verse 8

Finally, we come to the end of the Psalm. Psalm 3:8. “Salvation belongeth unto the LORD: thy blessing is upon thy people.” Now, I believe this is where the Psalmist praises God for his deliverance from increasing opposition. Literally – “salvation” – deliverance – “unto the Lord!” This is his domain. No man could give David the deliverance he needed. The Lord alone is able to deliver. It’s in his hands. And so he deserves our praise. And those who are truly his – God’s people – we get “the blessing.” What blessing is he talking about? Well, we get many countless blessings as God’s people. But in particular – we have what this Psalm is talking about – deliverance through our God.

Psalm 3 Commentary Conclusion

So, that’s Psalm 3. It’s David expressing his confidence in God’s deliverance from increasing opposition.

Now, if David could be confident that God was going to save him from multiplied and multiplying enemies who were intent on his literal physical death – can you and I be confident in that same God to deliver us from our troubles? We can argue from greater to lesser. If God can deliver his people from death, can he deliver from other lesser types of distresses?

We’ve just entered a new year. This message was delivered on the first Sunday of 2015. Look back over the past year. What has God delivered you from? What enemies has he delivered you from? What perils? What dangers? What temptations? Thank him for the deliverance he’s given you in the last year.

And then I would just encourage us to add this kind of prayer to our prayer arsenal. We’ve just been through an entire lesson breaking apart this man’s prayer. We’ve seen him call to the Lord and tell the Lord his bitter complaint. We heard him express his confidence in the Lord. Then we saw him ask the Lord for help. And finally we saw him praise the Lord.

I can tell you from just a little experience that this kind of approach to God helps. When you’re faced with a situation that just won’t quit and is just completely perplexing and disturbing, mimic what David did in Psalm 3. Let me lay out how you could do this, one last time:

Call out to the Lord. He’s the only one who can do anything anyway.

Then lay out your complaint before him. Give him details. Tell him what is so troubling to you. Approach him like a father who cares… because he is a father who cares! I know in our holier moments we wouldn’t dream of complaining to the Lord. But if it’s good enough for David, it’s good enough for us! God actually wants us to bring our complaints to him. So, do it.

Don’t stop there, though. Next, you can express your unwavering confidence in the Lord.

Then offer your request to him. Isn’t the order of this Psalm interesting? You don’t just blurt out your request if you’re following the pattern of this Psalm. It actually takes you a while to get to asking anything if you’re following the pattern of Psalm 3. But do make your request! God actually wants to hear it and wants to answer it according to his will.

And lastly praise the Lord for who he is and what he does.

I’ll just get real personal now and tell you how I’ve prayed recently after the pattern we see in Psalm 3. If there’s one thing that is most troublesome to me, it’s my wife’s health issues. Un-diagnosed weakness is something she struggles with constantly. And I have a few choices. I can sit and stew and get angry at God for letting this happen. That’s immature and just plain wrong. Or I could pretend like it doesn’t bother me, but it does. So, I prayed to the Lord about Lori’s health after the pattern of Psalm 3. And I’m not going to say that it solved all my problems or anything. But it was strangely calming. And I know the Lord heard it and will respond the best way possible.

What’s your single greatest burden? What is the thing that concerns you the most? The thing that makes you want to cry out? The thing you can’t do anything about? Would you consider taking it to the Lord? Invoke him. Complain to him. Express your confidence in him. Make your request to him. And praise him.


  1. Angela Cage Mitchell says:

    Thank you for the in-depth explanation of Psalms 3. It is exactly what I needed to hear. I am facing some adversities in my life on my job. I have enemies all around me that are trying to destroy me and cause me a lot of grief and despair. I am praying and crying out to the Lord to be a shield and protect me. This scripture was given to me to read. I have read it. I will cry out to the Lord and trust that he will take care of me. Thank you Lord! Amen


    1. Rj says:

      Angela I am hoping you can share a praise report since your April posting. If you would rather not I will respect that.


  2. Paul Matthew Duncan says:

    Who is the author of these studies and what denomination? Thanks


    1. Paul says:

      My name is Paul and I am a member of a Baptist church. I used to have an “About” page but it looks like something happened and it no longer displays correctly. I will need to fix that…


  3. Annalyn (from the Philippines) says:

    this blog really help me with my Bible study (which is part of my daily morning meditation). help me to understand it better and not to rely on my own understanding.


  4. Judith. says:

    All I can say is thank you very much…the way you outline your commentaries help me to see things and God in a different light.


    1. Paul says:

      Thank you so much for all of the encouragement, Judith.


  5. Judith says:

    You are most welcome


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