Psalm 3 uses extremely raw language, and at first the idea of crying out for God to strike our enemies across the face, and break the teeth of the wicked, seems unnecessarily violent, and contrary to Jesus teaching. To put this in its rightful context, here is a reflection on Psalm 3 from Brian Russell's book, The Psalms - Part 1 (Kindle location 586-643) Seedbed.
A reflection on Psalm 3
The Psalms are God’s prayer book for God’s missional people. Psalms 1– 2 serve to ground us for the journey of life. Psalms 146– 150 articulate the future that awaits. In between is the missional journey. As God’s people, God calls us to live and serve as his missional community that exists to reflect his character in/ to/ for the nations. Yet, as both Psalms 1 and 2 hint, life comes with challenges. The world in which we live and breathe is broken and cries out for redemption. God’s mission involves healing creation and reconciling humanity with itself and with creation. God’s mission also involves inviting hurt and broken people back into relationship with their Creator who loves them.
When we follow Jesus into our broken world, we will experience joy but there will be hardships and challenges. God knows this and provides us prayers for all occasions, including those times when we are desperately in need of God’s help. We call the psalms of help the lament psalms. There are more laments in the book of Psalms than any other type of prayer. This is good news. It means that God desires and invites us to bring even our greatest sorrows and most desperate pleas to him. Our God welcomes us in those times when we find ourselves neck-deep in trouble and recognize that we are helpless to save ourselves.
When we cry out to God for help, we do this in the recognition of two realities. First, we recognize that God is loving, merciful, kind, and mighty to save. Second, we acknowledge that our current predicament stands in contrast to our understanding about God. Therefore, in our cry for help, we are asking God to be God and to save us so that we can live and testify to the world of his salvation.
Psalm 3 Key Observation. The Lord invites us to pray in the midst of overwhelming circumstances.
With Psalm 3, we move from the security of Psalms 1– 2 to the world of lament. The state of happiness promised in Psalm 1:1 and 2:12 is now long gone. Psalm 3 begins “LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me!” The psalmist felt overwhelmed and surrounded by enemies. So what did the psalmist do? He prayed to the only Being who could help him— the Lord. This is the heart of lament. The God of Scripture invites us to come to him in our time of need. Our journey through the world will have times of triumph in which we can celebrate the victory of God, but sometimes we will find ourselves in need of a victory.
In Psalm 3, the psalmist faced the crushing challenge of foes on all sides. Moreover, the psalmist’s enemies were taunting him about his own faith. In their view, there was no hope for the psalmist because God would not deliver. Reflect for a moment on a hopeless situation that you’ve experienced. Have you ever wondered if God would help you? There are always doubts during times of suffering. In Psalm 3, these doubts are compounded by the faith-quenching cynical words of enemies.
What is the best answer for a desperate situation and the taunts of opponents? The psalmist refused to take his future into his own hands. He cried out to God, but notice that he cried out not in unbelief but in deep faith. In verse 3, the psalmist affirmed his belief that God was a shield around him against his enemies. There is a future because God would lift up the psalmist. Verse 4 declares the psalmist’s confidence that the God to whom he prays not only listens to his prayers, but will answer them. Enemies may surround the psalmist, but he has a key ally who reigns from “his holy mountain.”
How then does this declaration of faith serve the psalmist? Verses 5– 6 announce the psalmist’s state. He was surrounded, and from human eyes, his situation may have appeared hopeless, but in the midst of chaos, he would sleep. What a statement this is! How often during a difficult time do we lose sleep and toss and turn in the endless torment of worry and doubt in the dark of night? Even more, the psalmist confessed a lack of fear regardless of the odds. He knew that there was a future because he knew the Lord.
Verses 7– 8 record the specific content of the psalmist’s prayer. He asked God to rise up and smash his foes in the mouth. This violent language may sound harsh but this is the beauty of the psalms. They are raw. The psalms are raw because life is raw. The psalmist relinquished violence by his own hands and trusted that God would do what was needed to save him. Why the prayer to break teeth? It is a request to reverse the circumstances of verse 2. Remember that the psalmist’s enemies were taunting him with words. He is asking God to silence them. The prayer ends with a move from the individual cry to a vision for all of God’s people. It is a confession of God’s ability to save and the request for blessing not merely for himself but for all of God’s people. This is a model prayer because even in the midst of suffering the psalmist never becomes self-centered.
When we make a mistake, or do wrong, our first instinct is usually to cover it up and hide. This was the first response to sin in the garden of Eden, and we can observe the same response in young children. We experience shame, bow our head, and withdraw. We can even experience this when the wrongdoing wasn’t our own. As a victim we often hide our woundedness from others, and carry within us a sense of shame.
As we continue reflecting on John 20 and the resurrection of Jesus, I’m struck by the fact that the resurrected Jesus, in his new creation body, still carries the scars of his crucifixion. It’s the scars on Jesus that testify to the evil of the powers of darkness, human sin, and all the suffering it brings. Thomas needs to see them on the risen Jesus to be assured that this evil has actually been defeated. Perhaps his doubt is regarding the question, “could God really bring new life from the Good Friday events and humanity’s crucifixion of the Messiah?”
In this light, I find Jesus’ actions when he enters the room fascinating. Unlike us, he isn’t hiding his scars. He doesn’t cover his woundedness, or bear any shame. He comes to those in fear and doubt and says “peace be with you”. He looks to Thomas, reveals his scars on his hands and side and with full vulnerability invites him to touch them. It is this revelation that leads to the most emphatic response of faith in the gospel so far - “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t make light of the reality of sin and darkness. What the scars testify to Thomas, and to us, is that the light has entered the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. The world has rejected God and crucified the messiah, but God’s word has endured, has power over the grave and can bring forth new life and new creation. Evil does not get the final word. Jesus’ word is again, “peace be with you.”
How might this be relevant today?
What can we learn from Jesus’ vulnerability in the bearing of his wounds, and how his scars become a testimony to the power of God.
As we seek to share our faith, what might we take from the fact that it was the wounds of suffering on the resurrected Jesus that brought forth faith in another person.
This isn’t to say we should glorify or celebrate wounds, but that we celebrate the fact they don’t have to have the last word. When our wounds are not defining, but are instead found in the context of the story of God, and the death and resurrection of Jesus, they point us to a savior and hope. It is the wounds of Jesus that reveal his glory. Might our wounds do the same? As Joseph testifies to his brothers at the end of Genesis, “what you had intended for evil, God has used for good.” Or as Paul says, our treasure is in jars of clay, God’s glory is in our weakness.
I’ve heard many stories from parishioners during this lockdown that have produced wonderful fruit. One dear friend shared with a group of us online their struggles with depression and isolation. Through this vulnerability and honesty came an outpouring of support and connection, and this person has since testified and given thanks to God for His provision of family in this season. Vulnerability like this is really countercultural. A “good” testimony in the eyes of culture is a story of how we have pulled ourselves up by the bootstraps, been independent, successful, and succeeded against the odds. Christian testimony is about our own struggles, weakness, and woundedness, and about God who intervened to redeem and to heal.
What experiences of struggle in this period of lockdown might lead to God’s glory and bring forth faith in another person? How has Jesus met you in your struggles? Are there ways you can be appropriately vulnerable in sharing these stories with others to point to the resurrection power of God? Might this vulnerability and testimony be what is needed for a friend or neighbour to turn to encounter Jesus and declare, “my Lord and my God?”
In all of these stories that make up John 20, the person who encounters the risen Jesus is expected to go and to tell. Who will you share your story with this week?