We often associate music with times of celebration. In church, we prefer uplifting music. The Psalms tell a vastly different story. The most common type of psalm is the lament. After two psalms discussing the proper foundation for solid living, the arranger of the Psalms selects a lament that takes place in a famous historical context.
A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.It was a time of civil war. The son had usurped the throne of his father. The history of family discord passes through the sins and conspiracies of rape and murder. The relationship between father and son so destroyed festered until Absalom built a political power base, co-opted the aristocracy, and proclaimed himself king. The son, followed by his new retinue returned to occupy the capital, Jerusalem. In face of such a force, David fled with his diminished entourage. It follows that we would hear him say…
LORD, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me. Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. Selah.Every lament begins with the statement of the problem. Here, David faces overwhelming forces. He know that he does not have the power to stand before his foes. Even more distressing is the assumption that his current predicament comes from being deserted by God. Does he have any hope?
But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. I cried unto the LORD with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah.In contradiction to the assumption of the masses, David claims his acceptance by God. The Lord not only protects him from the attackers, but also encourages him when depressed. In the midst of overwhelming opposition, David holds to his understanding that God listens to him. Even though David set up camp miles away from Jerusalem, distance did not prevent God from hearing him from the temple in occupied Jerusalem.
If God listens to a man, if God cares about a man, what has he to fear? This, David indicates with the next verses.
I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.We remember another, more famous psalm that paints the same picture. "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies." It is the picture of perfect confidence, the ability to sleep in the midst of your enemies. This confidence depends not on an assessment of David's own ability, but on the power of God. If God defends you, nothing will frighten you.
Even in this confidence, the problem has not vanished. David still sits surrounded by his foes. What will God do about them?
Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly.When God arises, the mountains shake. He arises to defend His people. David remembers that God has always defeated his enemies in the past. David is God's anointed king. David rests in the promises made to him. To attack God's people is to attack God Himself. David calls God to arise to defend His glory against the ungodly and wicked. The breaking of their teeth symbolizes the removal of the power to wound. David's enemies look like rabid animals who when their teeth fall out become powerless.
David ends this psalm with one final note of confidence.
Salvation belongeth unto the LORD: thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah.The world arrays itself against you. Its battle lines stretch across the mountains. You cannot number their battalions, so great is their force. You stand alone. They are coming.
We have all been there. We know how David felt. We have felt the hopelessness of betrayal and rejection. We remember the helplessness against superior forces. Do we give up? Do we allow despair to drown us? How does the Christian maintain stability when challenged by the multitude?
David points us to God, the almighty deliverer and the upholder of our soul. We rest easy even in the middle of the surrounding horde, for we know the one who watches our soul. We, His people, know the saving power of the Lord. We know His blessing. He will not abandon us to our destruction. The final reign of Christ will justify our confidence in Him. What then shall we fear?
None shall ever be confounded
Who on him their hope have built.