This is the first psalm with a title: A Psalm of David when he fled from Absalom his son. James Montgomery Boice points out that since these titles are in the canonical text of the Hebrew Bible, “They are to be taken with absolute seriousness throughout.” The events are recorded in 2 Samuel 15-18, but the heart of David at that difficult time is recorded in this psalm.
A. David’s trouble and God’s help.
1. (1-2) What those who troubled David did.
LORD, how they have increased who trouble me!
Many are they who rise up against me.
Many are they who say of me,
“There is no help for him in God.” Selah
a. How they have increased who trouble me: At the writing of this psalm David was in a great deal of trouble. His own son led what seemed to be a successful rebellion against him. Many of his previous friends and associates forsook him and joined the ranks of those who troubled him (2 Samuel 15:13).
b. There is no help for him in God: David’s situation was so bad that many felt he was beyond God’s help. Those who said this probably didn’t feel that God was unable to help David; they probably felt that God was unwilling to help him. They looked at David’s past sin and figured, “This is all what he deserves from God. There is no help for him in God.”
i. Shimei was an example of someone who said that God was against David, and he was just getting what he deserved (2 Samuel 16:7-8). This thought was most painful of all for David – the thought that God might be against him and that there is no help for him in God.
ii. “If all the trials which come from heaven, all the temptations which ascend from hell, and all the crosses which arise from the earth, could be mixed and pressed together, they would not make a trial so terrible as that which is contained in this verse. It is the most bitter of all afflictions to be led to fear that there is no help for us in God.” (Spurgeon)
c. Selah: The idea in the Hebrew for this word (occurring 74 times in the Old Testament) is for a pause. Most people think it speaks of a reflective pause, a pause to meditate on the words just spoken. It may also be a musical instruction, for a musical interlude of some kind.
2. (3-4) What God did for David in the midst of trouble.
But You, O LORD, are a shield for me,
My glory and the One who lifts up my head.
I cried to the LORD with my voice,
And He heard me from His holy hill. Selah
a. You, O LORD, are a shield for me: Though many said there was no help for him in God, David knew that God was his shield. Others – even many others – couldn’t shake David’s confidence in a God of love and help.
i. Under attack from a cunning and ruthless enemy, David needed a shield. He knew that God was his shield. This wasn’t a prayer asking God to fulfill this; this is a strong declaration of fact: You, O LORD, are a shield for me.
b. My glory and the One who lifts my head: God was more than David’s protection. He also was the One who put David on higher ground, lifting his head and showing him glory. There was nothing glorious or head-lifting in David’s circumstances, but there was in his God.
i. Men find glory in all sorts of things – fame, power, prestige, or possessions. David found his glory in the LORD. “Oh, my soul, hast thou made God thy glory? Others boast in their wealth, beauty, position, achievements: dost thou find in God what they find in these?” (Meyer)
c. I cried to the LORD with my voice: “Surely, silent prayers are heard. Yes, but good men often find that, even in secret, they pray better aloud than they do when they utter no vocal sound.” (Spurgeon)
d. He heard me from His holy hill: Others said that God wanted nothing to do with David, but he could gloriously say, “He heard me.” Though Absalom took over Jerusalem and forced David out of the capitol, David knew that it wasn’t Absalom enthroned on God’s holy hill. The LORD Himself still held that ground and would hear and help David from His holy hill.
B. Blessing from and to God.
1. (5-6) God blesses David.
I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me all around.
a. I lay down and slept; I awoke: David used both of these as evidence of God’s blessing. Sleep was a blessing, because David was under such intense pressure from the circumstances of Absalom’s rebellion that sleep might be impossible, but he slept. Waking was another blessing, because many wondered if David would live to see a new day.
i. “Truly it must have been a soft pillow indeed that could make him forget his danger, who then had such a disloyal army at his back hunting of him.” (Gurnall, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. God sustains us in our sleep, but we take it for granted. Think of it: you are asleep, unconscious, dead to the world – yet you breathe, your heart pumps, your organs operate. The same God who sustains us in our sleep will sustain us in our difficulties.
b. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people: With God sustaining him, David could stand against any foe. Before it was written, David knew the truth of Romans 8:31: If God is for us, who can be against us?
2. (7-8) David blesses God.
Arise, O LORD;
Save me, O my God!
For You have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone;
You have broken the teeth of the ungodly.
Salvation belongs to the LORD.
Your blessing is upon Your people. Selah
a. Arise, O LORD…. For You have struck all my enemies: David’s mind was on both what he trusted God to do (Save me, O my God) and on what God had done (struck all my enemies…broken the teeth of the ungodly). Knowing what God had done gives David confidence in what the LORD would do.
b. Arise, O LORD: This recalled the words of Numbers 10:35, where Moses used this phrase as the children of Israel broke camp in the wilderness. It was a military phrase, calling on God to go forth to both defend Israel and lead them to victory.
c. Broken the teeth of the ungodly: This vivid metaphor is also used in Psalm 58:6. It speaks of the total domination and defeat of the enemy. David looked for protection in this psalm, but more than protection – he looked for victory. It wasn’t enough for David to survive the threat to the kingdom. He had to be victorious over the threat, and he would be with the blessing of God.
d. Salvation belongs to the LORD: David understood that salvation – both in the ultimate and immediate sense – was God’s property. It isn’t the property of any one nation or sect, but of the LORD God. To be saved, one must deal with the LORD Himself.
e. Your blessing is upon Your people: This showed David’s heart in a time of personal calamity. He wasn’t only concerned for God’s hand upon himself, but upon all God’s people. He didn’t pray for preservation and victory in the trial with Absalom just for his own sake, but because it was best for the nation.
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org