1O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me;
2many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. Selah
3But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.
4I cried aloud to the Lord, and He answered me from His holy hill. Selah
5I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
6I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.
7Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; You break the teeth of the wicked.
8Salvation belongs to the Lord; Your blessing be on Your people! Selah
During the reign of King David, there came a time when his son, Absalom, rose up to overthrow his father. It was a time of great turmoil in the Kingdom of Israel. While David had made a major mistake during his adulterous affair with Bathsheba he was still a good king and still a man who loved God and served Him. But as is so often the case, the younger man thought he knew better how to rule the kingdom and so gathered around himself those who would support an overthrow of David. David flees Jerusalem with his wives and a few loyal followers. It is a terrible time for the entire nation of Israel with David carrying the weight of leadership in his heart and spirit. It was during his flight from Jerusalem and Absalom that he writes our Psalm for today. If you would like to investigate this story yourself read 2 Samuel 15-18. http://www.esvbible.org/2 Samuel 15-17
When you take into account the events that are taking place in David’s life during writing of this prayer (and the next three Psalms as well for they all correspond to this event in David’s life) it is easy to understand the angst with which he begins. Everywhere he looks there is someone he cannot trust or who wants to end his reign and possible even his life. He feels surrounded and overwhelmed. But the prayer does not spend much time in that thought. David moves right away into the truth that God is His protection and shield. He does not feel alone and knows that God has heard is cries and is answering him. David even provides proof of God’s comfort – he is able to sleep at night and awake refreshed.
How many nights of sleep have you lost while troubling thoughts tumble around in your mind? It is a miserable place to be. For most of us it is an exercise in futility for rarely is something solved by running it over and over in your mind. That only serves to keep you awake and make you crazy. But even in this dire situation, David does not find himself in that position. He is able to sleep knowing that God is with him, protecting him and sustaining him. His example is a good one but can also be a challenging one. This practice of letting God have control of the situation and falling peacefully to sleep is easier said than done. But it is possible.
David doesn’t deny his emotions about all of this. Verse 7 points to some serious passion about those who would do David harm. “Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; You break the teeth of the wicked.” He’s not ready to just sit back and watch as his kingdom is ravaged. When he asks God to “break the teeth of the wicked” he is comparing them to a wild animal that has viscous teeth. If God “breaks off their teeth” they will be completely harmless. I find it interesting that at this point he isn’t asking for their death (as he will in later Psalms). I think that is because the “enemy” here is his own son and he remains a faithful father to Absalom until the end. Ultimately, David throws himself into God’s care and trust in Him to deal with this situation. If you read this story carefully you will find that David never takes an offensive position during this attempted coup. He waits for God to work it all out.
Just a side note that will follow us throughout the Psalm: the word Selah. Scholars are not able to accurately define this word. Most believe it is a musical notation that could mean pause, swell the music, or instruments only. Since it is there, I take it to mean pause and reflect on what you have read. Since there’s not a good definition I use the word to slow down my reading of the Psalm and to take a moment to meditate on what I’ve just read.