Psalm 3: Despite Appearances Part 3—Training and Triumph

One scholar has commented about Psalm 3 that while Scripture most often speaks to us, the Psalter speaks for us.1 It gives us the words we need as we cry out to God. It shows us what godly prayers look like so that we know how to pray. How do we take Psalm 3, written by David in his own context and for his own reasons, and learn how it teaches us to pray?

As this series has highlighted, the Psalter aims at our instruction. It intends to teach us about the godly response to the full spectrum of experiences and emotion that we encounter in the Christian life. It is about shaping us in the experiential dynamics of walking with the Lord in prayer, no matter our circumstances, even as we keep in mind that he is reigning from heaven.

Psalm 3 instructs us in how we should bring distress before the Lord. We have seen that it forms a stark contrast with Psalm 2. The heavenly perspective of Psalm 2 asserts the glorious victory of God’s king over the raging nations. The earthly perspective of Psalm 3 shows what it looks like for God’s king to experience that raging of the nations.

David’s prayer in distress introduces two applications. It teaches us how we ought to respond to distress and bring it to the Lord. It also teaches us about how Christ is the true and ultimate David who will bring about the Psalm 2 realities despite the Psalm 3 experiences.

Our Training

Psalm 3 teaches us truths about God that we must keep firmly locked in our minds and hearts in order to know the effectiveness of prayer in response to distress. Specifically, it instructs us in two aspects of our prayer life.

First, God is always ready to hear our prayers. Nothing can undermine God’s alacrity to hear from his people. We see that clearly as we relate this psalm back to its historical context.

David’s response in Psalm 3 is stunning given the background. He was in this trouble precisely on account of his sin, and he knew it. God had spoken through Nathan the prophet to tell him that his sin with Bathsheba would have the consequence of this exact calamity coming from within his own household.

The personal application is astounding. Wisdom suggests that we should not speculate in times of distress about whether God is bringing that calamity upon us to chastise us for specific sins. Unless the connection between the sin and the consequence is obvious—like catching certain kinds of diseases while committing adultery, which is plain as day—we ought to leave the connection between our hardship and our sin in the hands of God’s mysterious providence. David, however, had heard directly from God that his calamity was because of his sin. Though he knew that very well, David still trusted in the Lord’s forgiveness and had courage to bring his plea for deliverance to God.2

God’s people ought to learn from Psalm 3 that God is always ready to hear our prayers. Even when we most think that God has no reason to hear our cries, even while he is chastising us for our sin (whether we know it or not), we should be confident in God’s commitment to us. David’s case seems like an obvious instance where God might have had reason to turn a deaf ear. But David’s prayer proves that sort of thinking entirely false.

Psalm 3 also reveals that knowing we need to repent does not change the fact that we should seek God’s help amid crises. John Calvin points out that after we have confessed our sin and truly repented of it, we should also look to the nearer, earthly cause of our trouble, and seek God’s help to remove it or deal with it.3 Psalm 3 instructs us never to question God’s commitment to his people.

Second, God is always able to answer our prayers. Psalm 3 is about the Lord’s servant being confident despite seemingly insurmountable enemies.4 In other words, he knew that God could provide the solution. Despite appearances at the earthly level, God can deliver his people.

This confidence leads to action, not passivity. In 2 Samuel 15:24–35, we saw that David made plans with friends in Jerusalem who could help. He also prayed for God’s deliverance.5 Psalm 3 demonstrates that God’s sovereign providence is not at odds with our earthly steps towards resolution and victory. In fact, God’s providence stands behind the success of our earthly efforts. We must know that our worldly resources cannot ensure victory. We cannot rely on them. Nor can we assume defeat if our earthly resources seem inadequate. But we also press forward in what we can do, seeking the Lord’s strength to aid in our weakness. Thus, Psalm 3 is about training us in the godly response to distress.

Christ’s Triumph

This psalm of David was certainly about his own circumstances. And under the inspiration of the Spirit, God composed it so that it provides lessons for our prayer life too. Furthermore, God wanted us to see Christ in it. As with the whole Psalter, Christ is the true substance of Psalm 3.

The king of this psalm is ultimately Jesus Christ who was rejected by his own people.6 Just as David’s own nation was turning against him, Jesus Christ was opposed by his own people, who rejected him as their messiah. The surprise of the raging nations in Psalm 2 is, as Psalm 3 reveals, that the nation which raged the most was the Messiah’s own kingdom, for Israel rejected her king and put him on the cross.

Several ancient theologians, such as Augustine and Origen, recognized that David’s going to sleep and rising by the Lord’s help pointed to Christ’s death and resurrection.7 Thomas Aquinas, in his medieval era commentary, noted that as God put Adam to sleep to produce his bride, Eve, so also God sent the second Adam, Jesus Christ, to the sleep of death in order to produce his bride, the church.8

While that might at first seem like a fanciful connection, think harder about what is happening there. David went to sleep at night, knowing that is when he would be most vulnerable and despite his swirling turmoil, because he trusted God would support him through the night so that he would wake up. It was certainly in that way that Jesus went to the cross, being obedient unto death, because he knew that the Father would raise him from the grave. He knew that exaltation waited on the other side of his slumber in the grave.

That comes home in verses 7–8, which foretell that God would deliver Christ from death. But what does the king say in verse 8? “Salvation belongs to the Lord, your blessing be on your people.”9 The very people who rebelled against the king would be blessed by the salvation of the Lord. That is indeed what has happened in the true David, the ultimate king over God’s people. As his own people struck him, salvation came upon all who belonged to him.

Salvation belongs to the Lord as he reigns over our seasons of distress, guaranteeing our ultimate blessing. Salvation belongs to the Lord, as he used Christ’s distress to be the reason that blessing comes upon us all. As we look around and fear that the obstacles against us may be insurmountable, we remember that Christ rested in the Lord to ensure his victory. Because Christ was triumphant over sin, we know that we too will join him in glory.


  1. John Goldingay, Psalms, vol. 1, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 1:108.
  2. John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 22 vol. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 4.2:28.
  3. Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 4.2:31.
  4. Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, 3 vol. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic Press, 2011–16), 1:217.
  5. Bruce K. Waltke and James M. Houston with Erika Moore, The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 196.
  6. Bruce K. Waltke and James M. Houston with Erika Moore, The Psalms, 196.
  7. Saint Augustine, Expositions of the Psalms Volume 1, trans. Maria Boulding OSB (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2000), 76; Waltke, Houston, and Moore, 183.
  8. Waltke, Houston, and Moore, 190.
  9. Emphasis added.

© Harrison Perkins. All Rights Reserved.

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