When I took my first creative writing class in college, I remember the professor stating that writers write what they know. I interpreted this to mean that my past and present, life experiences serve as the reservoir for ideas. Another suitable image is that of a well dug deep in the earth. Good writing evokes truthful portrayals of life’s most basic emotions and experiences: growing up, sorrow, love, betrayal, getting old, and death. There are more that I could have stated, but those are enough to convey the point. I cannot remember who said “if you want to write about mankind, write about a man.” The point behind this statement has to do with being specific.
All of this brings me to the wonderful, Old Testament (OT) book called the Psalms. These hymns, songs, and poems represent hearts poured out onto the page. Someone took the time to write out his emotions without realizing that they would be collected together and canonized as divine scripture. Most of the Psalms read like a personal diary that one keeps in his or her nightstand by the bed. I am not sure that I would want any of my journal entries canonized as Holy Writ for all to read, sing, and study. It feels like being completely nude in front of a stadium crowd.
Many of the Psalms spawned from the anguished life of King David. Some were written by men before, during, or after the king’s life; however, those represent a tiny fraction. King David contributed the lion’s share of the Psalms. This suggests that this OT book functions like a memoir or diary of the king’s life. Some Psalms convey King David at the peak of his rule and reign over the kingdom of Israel. There are others that portray him at his lowest points. A few of the Psalms illustrate King David expressing both of those extremes. For example, the third Psalm seems to fit that bill.
The historical backdrop of Psalm three is a real pressure cooker. King David flees the kingdom of Israel because his own son, Absalom, seeks his life and those of his mighty men. Absalom has declared himself ruler and king right under his father’s nose. He accomplished this through enlisting the support of disgruntled citizens who entered Jerusalem by its main gate (2 Samuel 15:1-12, ESV). If things were not bad enough, one of King David’s most trusted counselors, Ahithophel, joined Absalom’s conspiracy (2 Sam. 15:12, 31, ESV). Betrayal is a strong theme in the account recorded for us in second Samuel. Ironically, that is not King David’s focus in Psalm three.
When reading through the third Psalm, it is important to notice that verses 1-2 and 7-8 function as bookends. This pair relates by way of contrasting the wicked speaking lies that the Lord does not save and King David’s heartfelt plea for the Lord’s salvation. Between the bookends lies two verse pairs: 3-4 and 5-6. King David expresses profound faith, hope, and trust in the Lord for deliverance, preservation, and protection. My main focus will be on the following verse pair:
“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill” (Psalm 3:3-4, ESV).
Because this section starts out with the conjunction but right away, this reveals to the reader that these two verses contrast the preceding ones. King David cries out to the Lord in verses 1-2 that his enemies are too numerous, and that they taunt him regarding his trust in the Lord. Something reminds the king that the Lord is his protector or shield. King David goes on to declare that the Lord is the lifter of his head. This carries with it a notion of restoration or rejuvenation. It suggests that prior to this lifting of the head King David had been in a state of emotional despondency, or like one who is cast down, defeated. The very next verse reveals that the king cried out to the Lord for deliverance and he answered him.
Unlike King David, I am not experiencing a life-threatening situation brought about by a close family member. It is clear to me that there are spiritual principles contained within the third Psalm that apply today. This must be the case or else it is pointless for it to be Holy Writ. One takeaway from verses 3-4 is the importance of speaking out the truth of the Lord in prayer. It sounds simple at first, but it really grounds our prayers. If I do not trust the Lord for who he is, then there is no reason to seek him for wisdom, protection, and deliverance. Another point of application has to do with pouring out my heart to the Lord. King David states that he cried aloud to the Lord. I doubt that he maintained his composure and talked in a monotone voice. It seems to me that the king lets it all hang out in the Lord’s presence.
If I bring Psalm three into the 21st Century, I could say that King David may have beat a pillow, screamed into it, or done both. The main point here is the expression of raw emotions in the Lord’s presence. King David exhibited the willingness to engage with his Lord in this way. The king of Israel does not care how he looks and sounds. He is desperate for the Lord’s salvation. Am I bearing all of my heart to the Lord in prayer? Do I exhibit something like desperation to the Lord over the dire circumstances in my life? What will it take for me to cry aloud to the Lord like King David? Should I even need to have circumstances develop to such an extent that raw and heartfelt prayers come out for the first time?