The third in the series of psalms (i.-viii.), under the heading, MAN and the SON of MAN. This is a psalm of affliction. It was shown how the first two psalms were linked together in a peculiar manner, both in character and, as it were, bracketed by the words "Blessed is the man" and "Blessed are all they." There are comparable distinctions that make Psalms 3 and 4, parenthetic relative to the others in the series. The most obvious distinction is that these two psalms form the first pair of those psalms that incorporate the word Selah. The majority of readers of the psalms tend to discount this word and many commentaries attribute to it some sort of musical direction. To do this is to lose much from the neglect. Another differentiation is that the first two psalms have no heading, but this is the first that has the words "A psalm of David" as a caption, and it is also the first that has an historical or explanatory preamble. "When he fled from Absolom his son." Between this psalm and Psalm 72, where verse twenty reads as an epilogue, "The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended," there are fifteen such psalms and only two subsequently, Psalms 102 and 142. This psalm is also the first with a postscript or sub-scription, "To the chief Musician on Neginoth." Of these there are thirty-seven up to Psalm lxxii. (For a full explanation of these various phenomena reference should be made to the Companion Bible notes and appendices 64-68). "A psalm of David, when he fled from his son Absolom." The story of Absolom's pride and rebellion is told in 2. Samuel 15—17, which should be read in order to absorb the atmosphere of the situation that brought about the writing of this psalm, and the actions of David as he fled to safety to the other side Jordan. In case the reader is not in possession of the Companion Bible, attention is drawn to two psalms that are outside the one hundred and fifty in the Book of Psalms; those of Isaiah 38:9-20 and Habakkuk 3 These both have the subscription, which gave the clue to the correct placing of the words in the Book of Psalms.
The psalm is naturally divided into three parts by the word SELAH. The first two verses one might term the 'lament.' Verses three and four one could call the 'remedy' and verses five to eight the 'outcome.' SELAH occurs at the end of each of these. The Companion Bible says of this word, "It may be from one of two roots; from SALAH, to pause; or from SALAL, to lift up . . . . SELAH neither ends nor begins a passage, but it connects the two passages between which it is placed. ..., It is a thought-link which bids us look back at what has been said, and mark its connection with what is to follow; or to some additional consequent teaching. Thus, if it be derived from SALAH, to pause, it is not the instruments of music which are to pause while the voices continue to sing; but it is our hearts which are to pause and note the connection of precious truths. If it be derived from SALAL, to lift up, then, it is not the instruments which are to lift up their sound in a louder degree "but our hearts which are to be lifted up to consider more solemnly the two truths which are about to be connected." When this word SELAH occurs, therefore, pause and reflect what has just been said and with that in mind read on and see the bearing or the one on the other. When SELAH happens at the end of a psalm it connects the following one closely with the preceding. It shews that they are intimately related.
In Psalm ii. we saw the Nations, the peoples, the kings or the earth and the rulers in conflict with the Lord and His Anointed; Here, in Psalm 3, it is David, the anointed of the Lord driven out from the Holy City by His rebellious son aided and abetted by the traitorous Ahitophel. We find David weeping, fleeing from Jerusalem, with his head covered and barefoot. He was sore at heart, but not forlorn, for he turns to the Lord his God in prayer, knowing that he would be heard. On reaching the top of the Mount of Olives, one can see him turning yearningly back towards the city that he had so hurriedly fled, wondering if his eyes would ever again rest upon it. He would bow down before the Lord in worship and commit himself unto His care. Can we not envisage a similar scene one evening some one thousand years later when the Lord Jesus, after pronouncing judgment upon the Temple of the Jews, "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate," left the precincts of the Temple, crossed over the brook Kedron and climbed up the slopes of the Mount of Olives. Sitting down he gathered his disciples around Him, in whose minds were His words uttered just before in the Temple, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, . . . . and ye would not" (Matt. 23:37).
But picture David, driven out, dejected but not despondent, with no bitterness in his heart against the insurrection of his son Absolom, praying to the Lord his God and saying, "O Lord, I pray Thee, turn the counsel of Ahitophel into foolishness" (2. Sam. 16:31). Then came to him the peace of God and the realisation of His protecting care. This calls from him the acknowledgement to that effect, of the One in Whom he could boast and the One Who would give him courage to face all his enemies. Like Daniel he does not hide his faith in his God, but is ready to proclaim it; "I shall cry unto the Lord with my voice, and He will answer me from the mount of His Sanctuary. SELAH." Let us pause again and contemplate.
We have brought in the name of Ahitophel from the prayer of David, offered on this occasion as may be seen in 2. Sam. 15. A possible meaning of his name is 'brother of folly,' which most aptly describes his desertion from his old allegiance. He is again referred to in Psalm 41:9, as can be seen by comparing that passage with John 13:18 and Acts 1:16, 17, where Judas is seen as the anti type. Note that David in this prayer says nothing against the man, but only prays that his actions may be brought to nought. He leaves the matter of retribution in the hands of God. As David trusted in the Lord his God, even so did the Lord Jesus trust His Father in the face of overwhelming odds and as David experienced calm and confidence, even so did our Lord go through the suffering and agony submissively and in silence, trusting Him, " Who was able to save Him from (out of) death" (Hebrews v. 7). "Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil. iv., 6, 7), or, as Isaiah puts it: "In quietness and confidence shall be your strength" (Is. 30:15).
Now let us proceed with the last part of the psalm. "I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me." Rothertham puts it: "I awoke, Surely Yahweh sustaineth me." It was as if David had fallen exhausted into a deep sleep with no special caution concerning pursuit or harm and on awakening he realised for a certainty that God was protecting him. He witnesses to this assurance in his heart and says:
SELAH. Pause once again and ponder over these things before setting the Book aside. Observe that the theme is not yet ended, for Selah connects this psalm and the next. Let us 'meditate' upon it, the better to understand Psalm 4.
As we go on may we always remember that quiet confidence which comes to those who put their trust in God, for those who know the experience of His tender care are never distraught. They can, like David, lie down and sleep, though their world may be tumbling about their ears. David could do so with no fear of 'being molested, though he was, humanly speaking, so very vulnerable. David thus expressed his confidence in the keeping power of God, a confidence that was not misplaced, for not only did it enable him to sleep, but when he awoke he found himself refreshed and reintegrated. Further, he now felt that even though his enemies pressed in on him from every side, he would not be afraid. He was still in the hands of God Who could deliver him. Compare the serenity of Daniel's companions, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, when they answered Nebuchadnezzar in Dan. 3:16-18, for although He did not deliver them in the way that might have seemed reasonable to man, He did so by a transcending exhibition of His power to the confusion and destruction of His enemies, the accusers of His servants. So, in this psalm, from the picture of salvation we pass to the scene of vindication. The kinsman redeemer takes over the role of avenger of blood. The discomfiture of David's enemies is told in a picturesque and figurative manner, which none can misunderstand, and for all this David gives glory to God and looks forward to blessing to come to his People through it. SELAH—Our Lord "steadfastly set his face to go up to Jerusalem," knowing what awaited Him there; but He was at peace, in perfect accord with His Father's will. In this He was sustained through all to the end; but that end accomplished victory over sin and the Devil and ensured retribution on His enemies. This will culminate in blessing coming on His own, "when they will look upon Me Whom they have pierced," but in the mean time "As many as received Him, to them gave He the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His Name" (John 1:12).
J.G.H.S. Last updated 15.4.2006