Psalm 4 Commentary

This is our lesson studying the Psalms. We started last time studying a sub-set of psalms known as lament or complaint psalms. Last week we dealt with Psalm 3. Now we’ll move one psalm further onto Psalm 4.

Psalm 4’s Genre

We’re again talking about a lament Psalm. So we can expect a certain type of structure in this psalm. We can also expect to be able to sit and listen in while the Psalmist develops a strategy for mastering a crisis in his life.

Psalm 4’s Underlying Situation

Now, let’s talk about the situation underlying this Psalm. And it’s not nearly as easy to figure out the underlying situation in this psalm as it was in Psalm 3. In Psalm 3 we had the context given to us right in the superscription. David was fleeing from his son. And that story is well-documented in the Old Testament books of Samuel. So, that was easy.

But it’s really hard to figure out Psalm 4’s context. It’s not plainly stated. So we need to try to piece together details from this psalm to give us an idea of why exactly the Psalmist wrote this psalm. I’m aware of two good possible interpretations. I’ll tell show you both and give you the one that I prefer and why.

Here’s the first possibility of why this psalm was written. Look at Palm 4:1. What does David call God? “Oh God of my – what?” Righteousness. OK, then God is the one who can attest to David’s righteousness. But despite David’s righteousness and God’s willingness to back up the fact that David is righteous – look at what David needs to tell certain Israelites in Palm 4:2. How long will you guys make my honor a reproach? In other words, David is righteous and that’s his honor. But these guys are making it seem like David isn’t righteous. They’re reproaching him. They’re calling into question his integrity and righteousness. But it’s obviously all nonsense what these guys are saying. Why? Because, again, God will vouch for David’s righteousness. And so David tells these enemies in the 2nd line of Palm 4:2 that they’re loving what’s worthless and aiming at deception. Their accusations against David are worthless in reality. And the only way the enemies can make their accusations seem legitimate is to use deception – to aim at deception. Contrast what the enemies are saying of David to the reality presented in Palm 4:3. The Lord has set apart the godly man, no matter what these enemies are saying. And God hears David. So, to sum up, David is righteous. But some people are lying about him and making it sound like he isn’t. And that’s the underlying situation here in this psalm.

So, this interpretation of the underlying situation is plausible so far. And this is actually the way I was leaning at the beginning when I first started studying the psalm. But then you start into Palm 4:4 and really in my mind this interpretation just falls apart. Nothing else after Palm 4:4 makes much sense if the psalm’s context is David’s being slandered by enemies. Why would David tell the slanderers to tremble and not sin? Why tell them to meditate on their beds? He tells them to offer righteous sacrifices and trust the Lord. What does that have to do with slandering David? Then some of them are asking who will show us any good. How does that fit in with the rest of the psalm if it’s all about David being slandered? And on, and on. As I say – the rest of the psalm is still kind of a closed book if we’re trying to understand it as stemming from David being slandered by some bad guys.

So, that’s the first possibility for the underlying situation in this psalm – that David’s being slandered. One of the commentaries I purchased that comes highly recommended by conservative Christians is Peter Craigie’s book in the Word Biblical Commentary series on the Psalms. And in that book he endorses this kind of way to look at Psalm 4.

But I don’t think this is the best explanation for why Psalm 4 was written. I think there’s a scenario that better explains why certain things are said in this psalm. So, let’s try to discover the real underlying situation of Psalm 4.

And we need to start with Palm 4:7. Look at the mention of “corn and wine” abounding. That happens during a harvest time. And harvest time in ancient Israel would have been a joyous time. The food finally comes! Who wouldn’t be excited? And yet, look at Palm 4:6. These words don’t sound very joyful. Some were asking “who’s going to show us any good?” Well – what do you mean? I mean, it’s harvest time. There’s grain and new wine. Right? Well, there should be. And yet, those of us who live out in the country or who need to drive through the countryside on the way to work or church – we know what it’s like to drive past fields and fields of corn or beans. And if it’s been a particularly rainy summer and now it’s time for harvest, you might see a lot of produce that’s unusable because the fields have actually been too wet. Or if maybe we’ve had an unusually dry summer, the harvest in the fall isn’t going to be real satisfying. In fact, it’ll probably be pretty disappointing – especially to the farmers who depend on the crop to come in. And that’s what most of ancient Israel was – farmers. That wasn’t just their job, either. It was their life. If they didn’t have food they’d starve eventually. And this was one of the main attractions that ancient Canaanite fertility gods held out for disobedient and faithless Israelites. Sometimes it may have seemed like God didn’t care if the Israelites lived or died. Sometimes he’d withhold rain because of Israel’s sins. And instead of repenting of their sins, they tried to find a way to still indulge in their sins while also getting the rain they needed. Well, enter Baal – the Canaanite rain god. You pray to him and he answers you and you’re going to get your rain. Because that’s what he does, according to those nice pagan neighbors down the road – yeah, the ones Israel should have driven out of the land, but didn’t. They have a way for us Israelites to have success with our crops while also enjoying our sin.

Well now, where is there any mention of Baal or false gods in this psalm? Look at Palm 4:2. David is addressing these faithless Israelites in his mind and he asks them rhetorically how long they’d turn his glory into shame. Who was David’s glory in Psalm 3? It was God himself. So somehow these guys are shaming David’s God. How are they doing that? Next line. These folks are loving emptiness – in the Hebrew – and seeking a lie or a delusion. These men are turning from the Lord and are turning to empty delusions. One possibility is that these men are actually turning to these idols in order to make life work for them. They need rain. Yahweh ain’t giving it. Let’s see if Baal will do it for us.

So, what’s the underlying context of this lament psalm? A drought, probably around the time of harvest. And it’s providing a temptation for faithless Israelites to abandon the Lord and seek false gods whom they hope will help them overcome this drought and make sure they have food to put on the table.

This is the position held by Gerald Wilson’s book on the Psalms which is a part of the NIV Application Commentary series. Goldingay in the Baker commentary series also approaches Psalm 4 this way. And I happen to think it presents a more credible context for this psalm. I think it better explains the presence of the statements that we read in Psalm 4.

Psalm 4’s Structure

Now, with that understanding of the context of this psalm, let’s look at Psalm 4’s structure. Remember – lament psalms have five parts to their structure. Let’s find them.


Psalm 4:1 serves as the invocation.

“Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.”

Now, you might wonder if this verse also serves as the petition. But I don’t think it does. That part is yet to come. It’s true that the Psalmist is asking for something. But it’s simply that God would answer his prayer. Well, what is his prayer? We see that later in Psalm 4:6. So, I think this verse serves only as the invocation.


Then Psalm 4:2-5 serve as the lament. And it’s a strange kind of lament. David isn’t describing the faithless idolatrous Israelites to the Lord. Instead, David actually addresses them as if they were standing right there in front of him. He says,

“O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? Selah. 3 But know that the LORD hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the LORD will hear when I call unto him. 4 Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah. 5 Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD.”

So, that’s the lament.


Psalm 4:6 – as I said – is a petition.

There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? LORD, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.”


I think Psalm 4:7 then is David’s statement of confidence in the Lord.

“Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.”

These idolaters are willing to abandon the Lord for some food. But David says – they can have their food, but I want the Lord.


And lastly, I think we can take Psalm 4:8 as the statement of praise.

“I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety.”

Just like in Psalm 3, we see the Psalmist praising the Lord for something that only he can do. In this case, it’s that the Lord alone can make David dwell securely.

So, that’s the 5-part structure of this lament psalm. Its context is a drought that’s tempting Israelites to turn to idols.

Psalm 4’s Topic and Theme

So then, since we know all this now, finding the topic and theme of this psalm shouldn’t take too much more work beyond what we’ve already done. Remember – the topic is what the psalm is about. It’s brief – probably one or two words usually. The theme is then what the poet says about his topic.


So, what’s the topic? I think it’s about increase. Material provisions, something like that. Let me try to demonstrate that.

In Psalm 4:1 where David is invoking the Lord he says that the Lord enlarged him when he was in distress. I appreciate that the KJV used this word “enlarge”. Some translations say “relieved” or something else that’s fairly abstract and doesn’t give you a very good picture of what’s going on. But this verb translated as “enlarged” here means to make wide or to extend or to provide wide room for something.

And the Lord did this for David in the most impossible circumstances. Because the word translated “distress” can also be translated as “narrow place”.

So, in a very narrow-feeling spot in David’s life, the Lord extended David. He increased David in some way that we don’t know about yet. But that’s how David starts off this psalm – with a reference to increase.

And when David addresses the idolatrous Israelites in Psalm 4:2-5, he’s really taking them to task for going about seeking increase in the wrong way. They’re shaming the Lord – Psalm 4:2. They’re not seeking the Lord to provide the increase that they need. They’re seeking after leasing or deception or falsehood – false gods to help them attain the increase they’re looking for – to help them get some rain so that their grain and new wine can abound, as we hear about later in the psalm. And so David gives these faithless ones some counsel. And that’s what occupies him through Psalm 4:5. So, again, the focus is on increase – in this section, about how not to go about looking for increase.

Next in Psalm 4:6 David goes about seeking increase the right way. You want a harvest, as a farmer? Don’t seek Baal to give your rain so that your crops can increase. Seek the Lord and pray to him, like David does here. Ask the Lord to bless your efforts – to lift up the light of his countenance upon you.

And Psalm 4:7 gives us David’s heart about the matter. Just because David was godly doesn’t necessarily mean that God exempted David from the effects of this drought. His fields would have been suffering, too. And yet, here’s where David nuances what increase truly is. Is physical, material increase the only kind that a person ought to be interested in? Not in David’s mind. David derived more joy from the Lord himself than when idolaters got their crops in. And let me tell you, idolaters are really happy when their crops come in. That’s what they’re living for. It’s what they work for. It’s their main goal and primary end in life. And when it happens, they’re happy. But the Lord makes David happier than that – even when he’s being deprived of these things that make these other folks so happy.

So, where’s true increase to be found? Not in temporal things in and of themselves. But from the Lord.

And then lastly in Psalm 4:8, David praises the Lord for the security he knows. He won’t fear if the crop doesn’t yield. He knows the Lord who will provide for all his needs. No need to lose sleep. The Lord will give his people all the increase of every kind that they truly need.


So, again, the topic under discussion is “increase”. And we’ve basically seen the theme – what David says about increase. True Increase Comes from the Lord. Right? It doesn’t come from idols. The Lord might withhold the kind of increase we think we need. But don’t go turning to idols. They won’t help you. Keep serving and trusting in the Lord. And he’ll give you what you need when you need it. Not a moment too late. And not a moment too soon.

Commentary on Psalm 4

And speaking of things not happening too soon, we need to get to explaining the details of this psalm. We’ve dealt with overarching matters in Psalm 4. Now let’s go through the psalm one more time pointing out details that might help us understand the psalm better.

Psalm 4:1

Let’s read Psalm 4:1.

“Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.”

Let’s think a little more about the imagery in this verse. David pictures himself as one who was in a tight spot. Literally. He was in distress – which again can be translated as “narrowness”. He felt himself to be squeezed in some way. Isn’t that interesting? He’s experiencing a drought along with the rest of Israel. He’s suffering need and lack of material provisions. When money is hard to come by for us, don’t we say something like we feel pinched? Or what about this phrase – “money is a little tight right now”. That’s exactly what David is saying here. He’s in a tight spot with material provisions. And yet the Lord is going to enlarge him. The Lord is going to cause him to expand or increase or abound in the midst of his tight trial.

Psalm 4:2-5

And this consideration of God’s enlarging the righteous David leads David to a heartfelt admonition to his compatriots who apparently weren’t acting very righteously and were turning to idols for their increase.

“O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? Selah. 3 But know that the LORD hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the LORD will hear when I call unto him. 4 Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah. 5 Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD.”

What should be the response to the questions posed in Psalm 4:2? Would we expect the idolaters to respond with something like “well, just a little longer” or “well, I intend to keep doing these things.” No, I think if the idolaters would have heard the questions posed this way they would have seen the obvious errors in their thinking. I mean, who thinks it’s a good idea to turn something glorious – like the Lord – into something shameful – like a piece of wood that one bows down to? Who thinks it’s a good idea to love worthless things? Who really thinks it’s a good use of one’s time to pursue “leasing” or deception? No one does. It’s like – come on guys! Can’t you see the utter foolishness of turning from God to idols in order to achieve what only the Lord can give you?

So, now that David has the idolaters seeing the folly of their way, he counsels them to change their course. By the way, do you ever find yourself confronting your enemies in your mind and heart? Do you ever feel a little embarrassed about doing that? Do you wonder if it’s ungodly? It can turn into ungodliness, for sure. But David here is doing it and it’s being modeled for us as a way to master a crisis that is pretty universal – not having enough material provision. So, anyway, feel free to address those who are troubling to you in your heart as you’re brushing your teeth or whatever else! It might help you master whatever crisis they’re causing in your life.

So, anyway, here’s what David reminds these idolaters of. The Lord has set apart the godly man for himself. The Lord has a special place in his heart for the man who is godly. That word translated “godly man” is related to CHESED – loyal covenant love. The godly – the righteous – have experienced God’s kind loyal love and they turn around and express it to others. God hears that kind of a person when he calls. David was such a person. And God heard him. And that’s the problem with these idolaters. They’re not being heard by the Lord. Why? Because they won’t embrace God’s loyal covenant love. Their lives are void of such love in their own hearts. And so they’re chasing after idols who can’t do a thing for them.

So, these guys are just hopeless, I guess. No, not really. David leads them to know how to remedy this situation. How should these idolaters react to this news that what they’re doing is completely useless? They should stand in awe and not sin. The phrase “stand in awe” is literally “tremble”. This trembling can indicate that the one who’s trembling is angry in some contexts. But in this case I think David is not counseling the idolaters to be angry. He’s telling them to tremble with fear. Why? Because they’re just now recognizing that they’ve offended the only true and living God. They’ve been completely wrong about how to approach attaining material provisions. Idols have no power. And so, they need to fear and stop their sinning – stop their idolatry.

Sometimes in the Old Testament, wicked people are pictured as plotting evil schemes in their beds. But David commands these men – if they find themselves in bed, they better not be hatching evil schemes. They better talk things over with themselves and reconsider their choices. Don’t sin. Be still, David tells them.

And ultimately, they ought not be sacrificing to false gods – to demons. They ought to be offering sacrifices to the Lord. And it’s not the mere form of offering a sacrifice that pleases the Lord. The Lord wants righteous sacrifices. Ones that are done right – with clean hands and a pure heart. Not with hands that shed innocent blood. And ultimately – even in the Old Testament – the Lord demanded that men trust in him. Sacrifice without trust was an affront to the Lord. He wanted both.

Psalm 4:6

And yet, at the present time in this Psalm, there were many that sought idols for help with this drought. David testifies — “There be many that say, Who will shew us any good?”

It’s as if the idolaters are trying to justify their faithless acts. They’re going around saying – well, we tried the Lord. But he ain’t workin’ for us anymore. He won’t send rain. We need rain. And so if we’re not allowed to seek Baal for help – who’s going to help us? The Lord won’t. We’ll starve! We’ll die! What’s the solution?

Here’s what David suggests. He prays to the Lord. This is his petition to the Lord. And at the same time it’s an example to the idolaters of what they need to be pursuing. He says, “LORD, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.” This phrasing should remind us of Numbers 6:22-27. David is using what we call an allusion – an indirect reference to something. In this case, David is calling to mind the priestly blessing in Numbers 6. Let me read that for you.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 23 Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, 24 The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: 25 The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: 26 The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee [there’s the familiar part], and give thee peace. 27 ¶ And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them.”

That’s it! That’s what these idolaters needed. That’s what David needed. These folks all needed God’s blessing. Not the supposed blessing of idols. They needed the Lord to bless – and the Lord to keep – and the Lord to shine – and the Lord to be gracious – and the Lord to lift up – and the Lord to give peace – and the Lord to bless. Idols won’t do it. Israel needed the Lord. And so David prays that the Lord would indeed do these things for his people.

Psalm 4:7

And at the same time, David is filled with peace that God will provide him all the increase he needs. He testifies, “Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.” The source of gladness for those who don’t know the Lord – it’s stuff. Corn/food, wine/drink, money, clothes, houses, land, vehicles, whatever else. And that’s the extent of it. When those things pass – or in this case – they never come – then the gladness leaves, too. But the Lord never leaves us and the joy he gives is unending. And it’s better than the joy that anyone can derive from stuff.

Psalm 4:8

And so what more can the psalmist do than to praise the Lord? He says, “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety.” In Psalm 3 David said he could lay down and sleep as well. But circumstances are different here. In Psalm 4, David isn’t fleeing for his life and afraid that someone will kill him. But his life is still in danger. If that rain doesn’t come and he doesn’t eat, he will die. But he’s just not worried about it. The Lord – not the idols – the Lord alone makes David to dwell securely. He won’t fear famine and drought. Because the Lord is with him. And so, he can praise the Lord for doing what only he can do – provide increase to sustain David’s life.


So, that’s Psalm 4. True Increase Comes from the Lord.

Is that your conviction? In the midst of lean times – tight times, are you going to seek the Lord and his blessing and his provision? Or are you going to go along with the crowd and seek expedients to provide the increase you think you need? The Lord sets apart the godly for himself – didn’t you know that? And if you are one of the godly – one who has experienced God’s loyal covenant love and as a result shows that kind of love back to God and to others – if that’s the case, then you know that the Lord will hear when you call to him and provide for you whatever you need when you need it. And he’ll give you gladness that surpasses anything this temporal life has to offer. So, don’t lose sleep in lean times. Let the Lord cause you to dwell securely.

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.

An Introduction to Psalms & Biblical Poetry

So, we find ourselves in a new teaching series. I originally planned to teach through Genesis at this point. I was taking an online course on the Pentateuch from Maranatha to gear up for that. But then my appendix ruptured and I ended up missing 2 of the 8 weeks of that class and had to drop it.

Now, I could have still taught Genesis without completing that course. But as I was recovering and praying about what to do next in Sunday School, I started thinking about the Psalms. In fact, in the hospital, a few of the Psalms gave me some real comfort at the moment it was needed. So – I thought – maybe we should study the Psalms.

But teaching biblical poetry — which Psalms is — isn’t like teaching biblical stories or narratives. You know – books like Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Joshua, Judges, and Ruth.

Biblical Narratives

With biblical stories you’re looking for the setting, the characters, and the plot. It’s kind of easy in some ways. And stories are fun to tell and hear. Those of us who have children or teach children probably find ourselves telling stories to them. They love stories. We all do. Stories are universally beloved. Even if you don’t know how to articulate and analyze the setting, characters, and plot of a story you can still love it and learn life-changing lessons from it.

Biblical Poetry

But then there’s poetry. When’s the last time any of us just sat down and spontaneously wrote a poem? When has your child come to you and said “Daddy, recite a poem to me!”

Do you look at the book of Job and just can’t understand how Job, his three friends, and even that Elihu fellow all spin poetry on the fly?

I’m certain that the extent of poetry that most of us has achieved starts off like this – “Roses are red, Violets are blue…”

So, my point is that poetry is less familiar to us than stories are. And so we might be inclined to avoid poetry.

Lots of Poetry in the Bible

And yet, the Bible is filled with poetry. The book of Job is mostly poetic. The Song of Solomon certainly is poetic. There is poetry in Proverbs. And of course, the book of Psalms is all poetry.

What is Biblical Poetry?

Now, when we talk about biblical poetry, we’re not really talking about rhyming and meter. That’s more characteristic of English poetry.


When you think of biblical poetry, think of imagery. “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Is God really your shepherd? Are you literally a sheep? Some of you are wearing wool today, but none of you look like a sheep, I’m sorry to say. So, when the Psalmist says that the Lord is his shepherd he’s using imagery. And it’s up to us to recognize that image and to interpret what it really means.


Another part of biblical poetry is parallelism. The Psalmist will state one thing in a line and then state something in the second line. Sometimes the second line repeats what was just said. Sometimes it contrasts what the first line said. And sometimes it completes the thought of the first line. This is parallelism. And it’s another characteristic part of biblical poetry.

So, we’ll be studying through the Psalms. Let’s start with Psalm 3…