Israel read this Psalm against the backdrop of David’s flight from Absalom whose coup d’etat had removed David as King. The fears and uncertainty aroused by that event provide an emotional context for reading this Psalm. While others may fear for the Psalmist, the Psalmist has no fear. Rather, the Psalmist trusts.
The three-fold use of “many” in verses 1-2 stress the enormous obstacles that this believer faces. Many foes have risen against the Psalmist and many are voicing their doubt about whether God’s faithfulness. The central taunt is that God will not rescue this believer. Many say that the believer should expect no victory, no salvation, no deliverance. All is lost as far as they are concerned. They believe that God has abandoned the Psalmist.
This fear is common for believers. We often find reason to doubt God’s good intentions for us. We often feel abandoned. Fear often thrives rather than faith, and we sometimes lose our assurance that God is good. This may be particularly true when we hear what “many” are saying. We listen to other voices rather than trust God’s good intentions.
The Psalmist, however, turns to Yahweh in prayer. Three times the Psalmist addresses Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel (3:1, 3, 7).
- Yahweh, you know how many are against me!
- Yahweh, I will trust your care for me.
- Yahweh, rise up and deliver me!
Just as the “many” see no hope for the Psalmist, Yahweh heard this believer’s cry and answered from Zion, God’s holy hill. This response and the assurance of God’s care enables the Psalmist to sleep as Yahweh provides sustenance. Believers can rest when they are confident that God loves them. This eradicates whatever fear the Psalmist feels about the “thousands” (the “many”) and what they are saying or doing.
Surrounded by hostile powers and living in a hostile environment, believers may very well doubt God’s presence and care. We are sometimes overwhelmed with “thousands” of problems and circumstances that hinder us from living in trust without anxiety. We know this situation well. We have a daily struggle with worry or fear.
The Psalmist trusts Yahweh who is both a shield and the glory of believers. Yahweh protects like a shield; Yahweh defends believers. Moreover, Yahweh is the glory of believers. Rather than shamed by opposition or defeated by fears, we know that God lifts our heads. God raises us in glory and removes all shame as our heads are lifted up. Rather than defeated and shamed by the enemy, God glorifies and honors us.
What does it mean for God to lift up our heads? Life bows our heads sometimes in fear, sometimes in shame. Sometimes we don’t want to face life because we are filled with fear. For God to lift our heads is to enable us to look life in the eye without shame or fear because God’s glory shines in our faces. God honors us. Yahweh lifts our heads so that we might experience God’s gracious presence and loving protection. Knowing God’s care for us–Yahweh is our shield, we trust that God will hear our cry and answer our prayer. Consequently, we rest peacefully at night and awake in the morning with renewed strength.
The Psalmist’s first prayer was that Yahweh would recognize how hostile and troubled the situation had become. The second prayer affirmed Yahweh’s presence and good intentions for the Psalmist. The third prayer, however, calls God to act against those hostile to God’s purposes.
The imprecation in 3:7 is quite vivid. The Psalmist prays that God would break the teeth of the wicked. This is covenantal language as “breaking teeth” is the punishment given to those who break covenants (agreements or contracts). It is a prayer for justice against covenant-breakers.
What the “many” supposed is reversed. Yahweh will save (deliver) the Psalmist through setting things right and God will act justly against the wicked who opposed the Psalmist.
“Salvation belongs to Yahweh”–the Psalmist appeals to the God of Israel and seeks God’s blessing on upon God’s people. The ending is not dissonant with the Psalm itself since the “salvation” which belongs to God’s people is the very thing that “many” said was denied to the Psalmist but for which the Psalmist prayed. God responds out of covenant faithfulness to deliver the covenant people. The Psalmist trusts Yahweh who is Israel’s covenant God, and God keeps covenant promises.
Salvation belongs to Yahweh!