Hard Pressed (Psalm 3)

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I’ve mentioned when talking about my experience of depression that whilst not everyone experiences suicidal thoughts, the same type of feeling can be experienced either as a desire to hit the self-destruct button or to run away and hide. That desire to flee can come of a sense of being overwhelmed, anxious and not knowing which way to turn.  It links with a couple of the other warning signs of depression including a loss of confidence and also avoiding social contact. Sometimes life simply gets too much.

However, the desire to flee may also arise because oppression, bullying and abuse may well be the specific cause of depression. In effect, when we say we have the diagnosis, we really are saying that we have got a label for the symptoms we are experiencing which is not the same as identifying the root cause.

If you experience physical pain in the stomach and then connect it with being punched often and hard in the gut then you are entitled to draw the conclusion that you have a physical injury as a result of the person attacking you. Your natural instinct if unable to prevent the assault is to put distance between you and the person. So, if you are constantly experiencing emotional abuse and bullying, then don’t be surprised if you experience emotional pain and the desire to escape.

In Psalm 3, David cries out to God, trusting him with his tears whilst on the run. The background is that David’s Son Absalom had risen up against his dad and launched a coup. David knows that this is part of his punishment for his sin against Bathsheba and Uriah but he also seeks knows that this mis about his discipline and not his destruction. So, he flees to safety.

Psalm 3

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. Selah[a]
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. Selah
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 round.
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! Selah

A Rock Solid defence

In the first 4 verses, David cries out to the Lord looking for safety and security. It is here that David expressed that sense of being overwhelmed:

  • Many are my foes
  • Many are rising …
  • Many are saying …

Notice as well, the nature of the attack, as well as the physical assault, but there is also the verbal assault “many are saying … there is no salvation for him in God.” Here we see an attempt to destroy his confidence in God and to rock his confidence.

That is the perhaps one of the horrendous parts f spiritual abuse and bullying. It grinds you down until you despair. You feel as though God could not possibly love you or forgive you. This is not necessarily an overt and outright attack. Sometimes, there are the subtle and gentle digs.

Furthermore, there are the wounds that come, not necessarily intentionally but used by the enemy to inflict pain.  I remember at my lowest point in depression that a couple of people began to talk about arranging Biblical Counselling. Now, I’m in favour of Biblical Counselling both in the sense that all Christian counselling should be rooted in Scripture but also in that I see the particular philosophy and methodology known as Biblical Counselling as having an important place, especially in the hands of loving pastors in the church. This particular approach emphasises the place of God’s Word in challenging and confronting sinful behaviour and calling for repentance.  So, when I heard people telling me that I needed “Biblical Counselling” whether this was the aim or not I heard them saying that in some way my depression must have been my fault.

Of course, there is the balance there isn’t there? We don’t want to become tone deaf to the Holy Spirit so that we think we are above correction and rebuke. However, in general terms, the person in the depths of depression is already very alert to their own worthlessness.  Furthermore, rather than sending people off for “Biblical Counselling” creating the impression that not only is a rebuke expected but that the person’s failing is so serious that it is too complex for the local church to handle, the whole point about the original Biblical Counselling movement under Jay Adams was that we are all competent to counsel. Better if you think that there is something that needs challenging to do so yourself than to mutter obliquely about how the person might benefit from outside help.

In contrast to the attacks and wounds of others, human and spiritual forces, intentionally and unintentionally, we are told by the Psalmist that “The Lord is my shield.” He offers the ultimate protection against enemy attack. He will hide us under his wing, he will comfort us. We are safe in him.

The Psalm is both applied to, through and in Christ. At the Cross, they said of him “he saved others but cannot save himself”   Yet he could sing the words here in his earthly ministry as he faces constant attack and yet continues to trust in his Father. the ultimate denial of salvation. Through Him, we have access to the Father, we are forgiven and reconciled so that we are offered the protection of God but it is also in Christ so that he himself is our rock and defender. Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.

Our theme is all about trusting God with our tears and so, we see here as we will again and again tht it is at the exact point when David cries out to the Lord in his distress that he is heard and finds that God answers his prayers. We also have this assurance that

“When we cry to him he hears our prayers.”[1]

The peaceful rest of the assured

I find verse 5 beautiful. David can lay down to rest and get up for the day ahead in the morning despite his enemies being close at hand.  He has peace and assurance. These words are wonderful for those of us who have been going through dark days and nights.  Have you had some sleepless nights when you have been restless, unable to settle, your heart pounder with anxiety about how the coming days will pan out and the worry that those hostile enemies will invade your dreams as well as your waking thoughts? Have you found the morning coming not with joy to replace the tears of the night but with a crushing dread that weighs you down and holds you down in your bed so that we cannot physically get up.

Here are words of promise and hope if you find yourself in that position. Christ is the one who will bring rest and peaceful sleep followed by hopeful mornings which make you ready to get up and face the day ahead. It is not that he magically waves away suffering so tht it is gone but it is that we learn again each day that trials faced now are momentary, that we have this rock solid hope and that therefore there is joy and purpose for the day ahead.

Then there is good news that we do not need to fear. God is greater than any enemy we may face and has defeated the evil one. This gives us a new perspective on trials. Others may intend them for our harm but God intends them for good. 

God on the attack

Finally David calls upon the Lord to bring rescue, vengeance and vindication in v7-8.  His enemies have claimed that he cannot depend on God to save but David knows deep down that he can. So he calls on God to save him because the Lord is our salvation. David knows that his assurance and security is not dependent upon the verdict of others but on the finished work of Christ on the Cross.

There are strong words here as he calls on God to in effect deliver the knock out blow by smashing the faces of his enemies off. Such expressions jar with modern audience. So it is helpful to thin about where ignoring them takes us. This is a call pleading to YHWH to fight our battles for us. This is the cry of desperate people. Of course the cry would go out during physical battle as this or that tribe became at risk of attack.  Yet, central to the plea was also the cry for those who saw YHWH at work to call on him for comfort and protection against spiritual assault.

What does this mean for us in the context I am describing here? As always we apply this to and through Christ. Remember that these words meant that Christ could call upon legions of angels to his cause and yet chose to suffer assault, mockery and death.  However, the Cross and the Resurrection are also portrayed as a victory over evil in the New Testament and of Christ’s vindication.

When thinking about the taunts of others today, it is helpful to remember that our battle is not with flesh and blood but with spiritual powers. This should protect us from seeking violent vengeance on our behalf. However, the Bible is clear that God will bring justice. I always find it helpful to remember that justice happens on 1 of 2 days, either on judgement day for those who do not believe or on that day when Christ died for those who trust him. 

Additionally, we cannot ignore the cries of those suffering cruel and unjust attack, bullying and abuse. One way that Christ acts to attack evil is by using his body.  Those who willingly engage in bullying and abuse, whether maliciously from the start or in ignorance but stubbornly refusing to be challenged or corrected should not be left to get away with it. That is what church discipline is for.

Primarily though, and particularly for those of us struggling with emotional health issues whether arising out of organic health issues, circumstances, our own failings or the cruel attacks of others, the battle is most often in our thought lives. With Christ’s help we need to take every thought captive.

For Reflection

Take time to read the Psalm again three times

  • Applied to Christ -what does it mean for him to sing it?
  • Applied to you – what does it mean for you to sing it?
  • Applied as thanksgiving – remembering that the prayer of the Psalm has already been answered

[1] Rejoice, Dustin Kensroe.