Alfred Place Baptist Church

Psalm 3: The Lord the Shield of His People

Psalm 3 A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.
O LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him.’ Selah But you are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head. To the LORD I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill. Selah I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side. Arise, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. From the LORD comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people. Selah

This is a psalm about the suffering Servant of the Lord. It tells us how God sustained him. Our Lord is the supreme example to us of how we should respond when we meet opposition, when troubles prevail in our own lives. We are men and women who have been called to walk in Christ’s steps. David had the Spirit of Christ in him when he was threatened and when he wrote this psalm.

1. THERE ARE TIMES WHEN TROUBLES OVERWHELM US.

There are periods when troubles seem to gather together and gang up against us. It happened at this time in the life of David. There were self-inflicted troubles through his marriages and that terrible affair. There were his children falling out with one another and rebelling; this became civil war and David was on the run for his life. Times like this occur, when troubles beckon to one another and come crashing into our lives, one hot on the heels of another, and another. The Scripture calls such a period as a ‘day of trial.’

There came such a time towards the end of our Lord’s earthly ministry. The words of this psalm exactly fitted his own experience; “O LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him.’ Selah” (vv. 1&2). He was in big trouble. You see the threefold repetition of the word ‘many.’ Let me remind you of the one who was speaking these words. He is the Word who was in the beginning with God and was God; he is the one who made all things. He was lovingly gripped in the eternal embrace of the Father and the Spirit as the darling Son of God. He was adored by an innumerable company of angels. He had never experienced antagonism until the rebellious angels rose up against him. Then he came into the world, and after thirty years of obscurity in Nazareth he began his public ministry and soon many were rising up against him. His own family, his mother and siblings, didn’t understand what he was doing. They wanted him back in Nazareth in the family home as a carpenter. The people of Nazareth turned against him and tried to throw him off the side of a precipice. That is amazing; that forsaken village had little to be proud of. Think how the inhabitants of a tiny Kenyan village rejoiced this last week when the grandson of one of their oldest residents became the president of the USA. He had put them on the map. You’d think that the people of Nazareth would be overwhelmed that this great prophet had been raised up in their own community, but, no, they wanted him dead.

You would think that the people of Israel who heard him preach the Sermon on the Mount and knew his healing power would always hear this mighty prophet gladly, but soon many left him, and at the end they chanted, “Crucify him! Away with him!” They chose a murderer and a thief to be freed rather than Jesus. At every level of society they opposed him. He was despised and rejected of men. i.e. the common people. The supreme court of the land also disparaged him and bribed witnesses to accuse him of blasphemy. The Pharisees hated him; the Sadducees opposed him. There was no welcoming niche for him amongst the conservatives or the liberals, the religious or the irreligious. The Romans were also his enemies. Soldiers whipped him. Pilate was not going to risk anything to save him. He sentenced him to death and a Roman execution squad nailed him to a cross and thrust a spear into his side. “O Lord, how many are my foes! Many rise up against me!”

Then when Jesus hung on the cross naked in terrible agony they still couldn’t leave him any dignity. They would not let him die in peace; they hated him so much. They chanted like the men on the Kop chant against the team playing their beloved Liverpool football club. “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God! In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he cannot save himself. He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him” (Matt. 27:39-44). And so these words were fulfilled recorded in Psalm 3, “Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him’” (v.2).

There were the passers-by, walking to work, and scarcely stopping they turned and shouted their four-letter words at Jesus and mocked him, and then went on their way with the other workmen talking of wages and beer and the family and the Romans. Then the very leaders of society set off that day on a trip to Golgotha. They kissed their wives good-bye and patted their children on their heads and off they went with their sandwiches to camp down at Calvary, and there they chanted their mockery at Jesus for hours, in the darkness. As you read the account in the gospels it seems to me that they’re not talking to Jesus directly. They’re talking to one another, and they’re saying, “God won’t deliver him because if he delighted in him he would. Let him come now and save him. Let him come down from the cross and we will believe in him.” 

I have said to you that our Lord Jesus had suffered many things. A disciple had betrayed him. His closest friends had deserted him. Roman soldiers had scourged him. He had been unjustly condemned by a Roman court and by a Jewish court. He had been led to the cross with the hurling of abuse. He had faced the mocking of the multitude. But I want to suggest to you that hearing from the leaders, the spiritual leaders of his own people, the people who were vested with the responsibility to teach the people of God, the way of God, and to teach them the law of God, to hear, I say, from their lips the charge that his Father didn’t delight in him, and for this reason would not deliver him, was the worst blow of all. We have no idea how that impacted the Lord Jesus Christ.  We were told by the Lord Jesus himself that his delight was to do the will of God. That was his meat and drink. Now he is on a cross dying in excruciating pain, and he hears the religious leaders of his people saying, “God doesn’t delight in him and so won’t deliver him.” You and I will never know how that tested our Lord. 

Yet this scornful hatred was proving who Jesus was. Their insults were showing that he was the promised Messiah. This psalm was being fulfilled, and also Psalm 22, verse 8, was being fulfilled because there also we read that the enemies of the Messiah would mock him and would question whether God delighted in him I am saying that by their v
ery taunting, they were proving that he was what they said he wasn’t. Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and the Saviour whom God sent into the world.

So those men, passing by Calvary on their way to the bakery and the carpenter’s shop and the stonemason’s yard, mocked him, and the leaders mocked him, but we are told that the two criminals crucified alongside him also derided him. We are being told of the kind of sinners Jesus saves, not those with petty sins of imagination, or who whisper about the clothes of other women, not those who disapprove of people wearing make-up, but ugly sinners, gross sinners, felons who merit being put to death for their crimes. Jesus saves them. You know, it’s astonishing when you think of it, to hear these condemned men hanging on their crosses by nails using their last bit of energy to taunt a man who’s dying on a cross next to them. You’d think that they couldn’t care less about Jesus, that the raging pain would blot out any hatred of him, that they wouldn’t raise their voices especially in support and solidarity with those who’d been the ones who had condemned them to this death, but it was not so. At the beginning of the day both criminals were deriding Christ. They were insulting him with the same words. Do you hear that, men and women? The felons were saying the same terrible things about Christ as the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. They were saying the same things as the passers-by were saying.  In other words, they were saying that God would not deliver him because God took no delight in our Saviour. So that is my first point that there are times of great trial when the choicest of God’s servants endure many people opposing them.

2. DURING THOSE TIMES GOD PROTECTS US.

“But you are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head. To the LORD I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill. Selah” (vv. 3&4). When Christ hung on the cross one of the last things he said was, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” “Father” he could say. He remained confident that God did delight in him. He knew he was going to be delivered. There was assurance and comfort at the final hour. His last word was “Finished!” It was all completed, the work his Father had sent him into the world to do was a finished work.

 Do you remember one of the means God used to protect his Son’s trust in him when surrounded by the mockers? I am talking of the great change that took place in one of those thieves as the day progressed so that that man was transformed. They both began the day by hurling insults at him. Then somewhere in the day something laid hold of that man’s heart. We don’t know what God used to touch him, whether it was seeing Jesus reviled and not reviling back in return. We don’t know whether it was the calm and majestic manner in which our Lord suffered the pain of the cross. We don’t know whether it was perhaps the prayer that Jesus prayed: “Father, forgive them. They know not what they’re doing,” or whether it was maybe a whisper from our Lord Jesus. Haven’t you heard his whispers during a sermon? Maybe it was a culmination of all those things, but we know this, that one of the men who had shouted that the Lord wouldn’t deliver Jesus was himself delivered from sin and eternal condemnation by Jehovah Jesus. That man was drawn into a saving fellowship with Christ at a time when our Lord was all alone in his anguish, tempted to believe that his Father wouldn’t deliver him. Finally at the end of the day the criminal turned to his fellow mocker, and he said, “How can you say this to that man?”  He turned to Christ and he said, “Remember me . . . remember me when you enter into your kingdom.” What a means of encouraging our Lord! Christ turned to him and said, “I tell you today you will be with me in Paradise.” What assurance Jesus has restored to him. Even as he was dying under a barrage of mockery and hatred he was drawing men into eternal fellowship with God. 

Then what do we make of that? Surely it is this, cannot this risen and mighty King save you today. If he delivered the criminal when Jesus was at his weakest and at the last hour of his life can’t he deliver you at this hour of worship? Everybody needs a Saviour.  Religious leaders need a Saviour. Passers-by need a Saviour. Jews and Gentiles both need a Saviour. Criminals, of course need a Saviour. We all need a Saviour. We all need grace.  But the fearful fact is this, that people who don’t have God’s grace don’t think they need God’s grace. So on Golgotha they reviled the only one who could give them grace. It’s only when God in his mercy shows you that you need grace, that you suddenly realize that more than all you need is to be found in Christ. Cry to God to show you your need of grace, because the minute you see your need, he will show you his blessed Son who provides it.

Do you know how great the Messiah’s salvation is? Let me tell you; it’s clearly and simply before us in the third and fourth verses of this psalm. By this salvation God becomes a shield around us protecting us; then he bestows glory on us; then he lifts up our heads, and then he answers us when we pray to him. Don’t you want a salvation like that? Don’t you need such a Saviour? He does those four things for all those whom he saves:

i] God becomes our shield of protection. Do you remember how Jesus spoke of this shield? He compared it to his own hands around us and the hand of God surrounding us and keeping us absolutely safe even when many rise up against us; “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no-one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:28-30). Or you remember how the apostle Paul describes the effects of this shield? “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Roms. 8:35-39). We are shielded from anything that might destroy us, death, and life, and angels, and demons, and the present, and the future, and any powers, and height and depth, and anything in all creation.

ii] God bestows glory on us. This salvation is like a golden chain which has been forged and cast in the heat of Calvary by Christ and this unbreakable chain joins us to him. Here it is: notice its fine five links; “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Roms 8:29&30). This is what God has done to you who trust in Christ, he has joined you to Jesus Christ. He has made you one with him so that what the Lord Jesus has done has become your achievement,
and where he is that is now your position, and it shall be for evermore. You are now seated in the heavenlies in Jesus Christ. He has made your completed salvation absolutely sure, that you are now glorified in God’s Son. Soon you will experience it for yourselves. Wouldn’t you want a Saviour like this? Who wouldn’t? I can’t understand how every one of you doesn’t reach out to the Saviour.

iii] God lifts up our heads. How does Christ die? Like a dying dog, unable to lift its head? That is not the way he dies. He lies on the ground praying in Gethsemane overwhelmed with all he must endure on the next day, crying to his Father concerning this cup of damnation that has been placed in his hands, inquiring whether there is any possibility of another cup. But when he realises that there is not another cup he picks himself up from the ground. He lifts up his head. He sees the lights of his enemies’ torches approaching through the olive trees and he addresses Peter, James and John, “Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Mk. 14:42). From that time onwards there is no more praying for another cup. We meet a Christ of complete composure when he’s the soldiers’ plaything; before Pilate and Herod, on trial before the Sanhedrin and then on the cross we meet Christ in majesty, tidying up and giving himself to the final details of this great work that he had begun 33 years earlier and so accomplishing everything. When he has finished every last details he permits himself a great cry of success. “Finished!” God raised up Jesus’ head even while they mocked him. He was not beaten and broken; he was not hanging his head in shame. So it has been with the martyrs. When Robert Ferrar, the bishop of St David’s, was to be burnt at the stake for his biblical views of justification by faith alone in Christ alone in the town of Carmarthen on 30th March 1555 he desired to be what he called a “true bearer of the cross of Christ.” He told the audience that if they saw him once stir in the pains of the burning, they should then give “no credit to his doctrine.” He never once stirred, holding up his head and his burning hands until a soldier, Richard Graveli, struck him on the head with his staff and ended his agony. God lifted up Robert Ferrar’s head.

iv] God answers our prayers. “To the Lord I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill” (v.4). There is nothing more wonderful than this, that I can talk to the Creator of the universe and he replies. I can cry aloud to God and he answers me, and that his answers are holy answers. They are holy in their refusals, holy in their silences, and holy in giving to me what I desire, because God reigns from his holy mount and all that flows down to each one of us is holy and righteous and good. Here is the personal testimony of the servant of God and it is the testimony of every one of God’s servants. I have had dealings with God. I have spoken to him and it has not been in vain. I have cried to him and he has heard me. Wouldn’t you long to be able to go to God in the name of his dear Son Jesus Christ and through him know God hears and answers your prayers? Surely you need such a Saviour as this.

3. DURING THOSE TIMES GOD GIVES US PEACE OF MIND

“I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side” (vv. 5&6). You see this confidence? “I lie down and sleep,” he says, though tens of thousands are drawn up against him on every side. He is not tossing and turning, eaten up by what might happen on the morrow; “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me”. What is this? It is the sleep of a good conscience. He’s heard his enemies saying, “God won’t deliver him.” They said of Christ that he was a winebibber and a friend of sinners. They said that he did his tricks by Beelzebub and that he had a devil. They sought to tarnish his reputation and accuse him of blasphemy. They said that he was worthy of death, but Christ slept like a child that night, and so have the heroes of the faith prior to their great trials. I am thinking of Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms sleeping soundly though his life was in danger. I am thinking of Bishop Ridley at Oxford, deeply asleep the night before he and Cranmer were burnt at the stake because Ridley knew that he had done no wrong. I think of Archibald Campbell, the Marquis of Argyle, the friend of Cromwell, who slept sweetly before being beheaded in the year 1661.

Don’t you find this phenomenon in the Bible? Think of Peter, arrested, facing death and lying in a dungeon and yet fast asleep between two guards. He slept so soundly that he had to be poked by the angel who came to rescue him from prison. There are Christians who have experienced calumny, vicious rumours and have been treated with scorn and contempt. They have become the object of mockery and the theme of the drunkard’s song. This sleep is precious indeed. You see it referred to again as the climax of the very next psalm: “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety” (Psa. 4:8). How precious it is, this testimony to the loving pastoral care of our Father. Many sinners have abandoned the possibility of such sleep. For them sin pricks like a thorn in the pillow. They face the fear of exposure. Do you trust in the ransom of Christ for your sins? Have you been called by God into fellowship with his dear Son? Has the Spirit given you a birth from above and does he sustain his life in you and your life in him day by day? If this has not happened you cannot know this slumber. You may insist that your conscience is quiet, that you’ve wronged no man, that you have no great sin . . . and yet, you know deep down that all this is just posturing. Sin simply must be dealt with; we don’t have the means to deal with it, that God has blotted out our transgressions through Christ, and we can sleep because of the promises of God. God’s righteousness and justice in dealing with Christ as our substitute means we are able to sleep well.

There was that fun pop song of Chumbawamba ten years ago, “You’re never gonna keep me down” The group sang, “I get knocked down, I get knocked down, I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never going to keep me down” Those are the words I liked and remember: “but I get up again.” I’m told that the singers are an amoral anarchist group. They sing about getting drunk. They know the cycle of sobriety and despair, and then drunken oblivion. Surely life has more than that? Surely you don’t get up again through drinking and drug-taking. This man in the Bible says, “I lie down and sleep; I wake again.” That’s the sweet pattern of his daily life, and his weekly life; six days shalt thou labour, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord, the blessed day of rest each week. And you are mocking us Christians, you who can’t sleep and only find relief in alcohol and chemicals? What a blessing to lie down and sleep and wake again. We work and we rest from our labours. They are not our god! You’re never gonna keep an elect child of God down.

4. FROM THOSE TIMES GOD WILL DELIVER US.

“Arise, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. From the LORD comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people. Selah” (vv.7&8). Let’s have a wee refreshing break while I say a word about this strange word ‘Selah.&r
squo; The first time for it to be found in the Bible is in verse two and it occurs three times in this psalm. ‘Selah’ is then to be found 71 times in the book of psalms and the only place outside the psalms it is found is three times in Habakkuk chapter three. No one can be certain what ‘Selah’ is there for. Is it an interlude, or a music accompaniment? It may come from a root meaning to lift up, that is either lifting the music or the voice, or it might come from a word meaning to bend, or bow down. It has even been suggested that the consonants are an acrostic meaning ‘change of voices’ or ‘repeat from the beginning.’ Most of us say – with a smile – that ‘Selah’ actually means, “Think of it!” Break time over!

What one meets in the closing verses is certainly not grim stoical acceptance of having a terrible time from your enemies. There is no fatalism in this psalm, and no quietism. The Lord’s servant is suffering greatly and unjustly. His enemies surround him, but what is he doing? He is certainly not sitting back chanting a one syllable mantra “Ummmmmm.” He is crying to God, isn’t he, and asking three things from the Lord;

i] May God act! “Arise, O Lord!” (v.7). Here is a man of God and he is surrounded by many enemies. He has no confidence that there can be any deliverance in his own wit or his physical strength or in what his friends together can do. Deliverance can come only from God alone. But where is God? The great danger is to protest through the doctrine of the omnipresence of God, and say, “We don’t need to cry to God to arise. Jesus promises that he will never leave us, that he will be with us always, even to the end of the world.” So we presume that that means God is always with us like air and gravity are always with us. But air doesn’t always move as a rushing mighty wind. Sometimes there is a great calm and nothing is happening; there is no movement; no progress; no help to the church. Where is the rushing mighty wind of Pentecost?

Robert Murray M’Cheyne had a famous message entitled, “Why is God a Stranger in the Land?” It was based on words found in the book of Jeremiah 14 and verses 7, 8 and 9: “O LORD, do something for the sake of your name. For our backsliding is great; we have sinned against you. O Hope of Israel, its Saviour in times of distress, why are you like a stranger in the land, like a traveler who stays only a night? Why are you like a man taken by surprise, like a warrior powerless to save? You are among us, O LORD, and we bear your name; do not forsake us!” There are congregations in our land where it is evident that God is not a stranger; there he is being honoured; the people love the truth and are growing in grace, but in most parts of the professing church the Lord is like a stranger, a traveler who stays only for a night, a warrior who has been surprised and overcome. That is why David says in this psalm, “How many are my foes. How many rise up against me.” The servant of God felt utterly outnumbered and that all the forces of God were utterly outnumbered, so that God himself was a stranger in the land he had made. He was a stranger in his own land; it has been taken over by strangers. If that is so, then let us cry that God will arise and scatter his enemies. May he make bare his arm and save the lost. Let us give God no rest until he revives his work in our day, blessing his word with conviction and power.

ii] May we be personally delivered. “Deliver me, O my God!” (v.7). We are living in a land where many of those with consciences and a desire to help others are obsessed with world hunger, and global warming, and refugees in Africa, and the AIDS epidemic – the big social, political problems. There are those religious folk whose prayers are read from books of prayers, and whose concerns are as broad as the world; “Bless them all; bless them all; the long and the short and the tall.” But I am asking you, what of your own personal relationship with God? How is it today between you and the God who has given you life and all good things? Is he a God you do not know? Aren’t you in need of him? You need his mercy. You need his life. You need the assurance that your sins have been forgiven. You need to know his Son Jesus Christ, in the glory of his person and in the perfection of his finished work as our prophet and priest and king, as he is offered to us in the gospel. Do you have him? Do you know that your sins are forgiven? Have you ever prayed this prayer, “Deliver me, O my God”? Can you say that God is your God. Are you doubting like Thomas once was, until Jesus made himself known to him and Thomas’ doubts ended as he bowed before Jesus and said, “My Lord and my God.” Have you asked him to deliver you from sinful habits and tendencies and attitudes and weaknesses? Are you escaping from your responsibility to live a personal life pleasing to him by getting wrapped up in good works and supporting needs far away. Charity begins at home; in begins in your own heart and life. “Deliver me, O my God!” Pray that prayer, and do not cease praying it until you know that God has answered you.

iii] May God’s enemies be greatly weakened. “Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked” (v.7). You understand the reason for this particular request? The enemies of Christ were taunting him and seeking to drive him to despair. They were speaking blasphemously saying that God would not deliver him. They were almost saying that Christ was an incarnation of Beelzebub, that it was by the power of the devil he was doing his mighty works. What terrible words were proceeding from their mouths, and so he cries to God to silence them, “Hit them in the mouth!” It is a figure of speech longing that this enmity, focused on God’s holy servant, should be terminated, and that these raucous voices mocking the Messiah might end.

We can pray that prayer today. I can pray it tonight I can ask God to strike his enemies and damage them and silence them. There is the devil and his devices, principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. There is the whole world system operating in terms of other gospels and other gods and full of contempt for Jesus and his people. Silence all your enemies and confuse them and take their strength away. There is the false prophet turning aside people from God’s way. Strike all your enemies on the jaw. The day will come when all his enemies will be cast into the bottomless pit. That hour has not yet come, but for today we do want great damage to be done to them, that they be handicapped and hindranced and weakened while the people of God are given strength to magnify the precious name of the Saviour, that he be lifted up very very high and men everywhere be drawn to him.

That is his longing. Those three requests, that God may arise in our day, that we be personally delivered from sin and Satan, and that his enemies be greatly weakened. He is totally focused on the Lord and not on anyone else. It is vain to think of help coming from man, and this is the reason in the final verse, “From the Lord comes deliverance.” Think of how he delivered his Son from the grave. On the third day he rose again. God vindicated Jesus Christ by raising him from the dead triumphant over all his foes. He delivered the church from being destroyed by the Sanhendrin’s rage by pouring out his Spirit on the day of Pentecost and thousands were personally delivered from sin and guilt and condemnation. Then he sent his people into all the nations of the world, and today we see as never before h
ow deliverance comes from the Lord.

The servant ends with his prayers for his people. The Lord who in the Upper Room cried in his High Priestly prayer for the grace of God to be with his apostles and all the people converted by them. He ever lives to make intercession for us, and this is what he prays . . . this is its sum so concisely and perfectly asked for; “May your blessing be on your people.” That’s it. God’s blessing on God’s people; may we know that in our day. How happy and encouraged we will be with God’s blessing on God’s people.

9th November 2008 GEOFF THOMAS