I’m beginning to scrape the barrel looking for hymns which are both well known and have a story to them, so I thought I’d turn to the Psalms instead. After all, for some three thousand years they have been the hymnbook of the people of God. Many of the Psalms are anonymous, but quite a number come from the pen of David. Some of these even note when they were written, and so we can get an extraordinary glimpse into the soul of a man writing around 1,000BC.
Psalm 3 has the heading: “A Psalm of David, When He Fled From Absalom His Son”, and here we turn to a rather murky family breakdown. Absalom’s sister, Tamar, had been raped by their half-brother, Amnon. After waiting for two years, Absalom took his revenge and had Amnon murdered. With the deed done, Absalom fled to the kingdom of Geshur and there found sanctuary (the king of Geshur was Absalom’s grandfather). There he stayed for three years.
King David missed Absalom, and Joab - the commander of David’s Army - engineered Absalom’s return to Jerusalem, but David didn’t want to see him. Absalom lived elsewhere in the city, stewing, until at Joab’s request, Absalom eventually rejoined the royal court.
Now Absalom was a handsome man, noted for his thick flowing hair., and he curried favour with the people of Israel. In fact the text tells us that he “stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (2 Samuel 15:6), and after four years he rebelled. Travelling to Hebron he declared himself king, and gained the support of some of David’s court. He even went as far as to sleep with his father’s concubines to prove his dominance.
Absalom was popular, and had the men of Israel with him, so David fled Jerusalem. And that’s when he wrote this Psalm, declaring his reliance upon God in the midst of his trouble.
O LORD, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
“There is no salvation for him in God.”
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.
I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.
Arise, O LORD!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the LORD;
your blessing be on your people!