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.