‘This psalm is set in 2 Samuel 15:13–17:24. The initial flight from Absalom covered two nights, the first of which could understandably have found David despondent (1, 2). But the antidote to despondency is, first, to assert divine truth (3), and secondly to seek divine aid (4). The consequence is the blessing of a night’s sleep (5) and fresh confidence for the new day (6). Just as one day ended in prayer (4) so the new day begins in calling on God to deliver (7), for he has ever been the foe of David’s foes: thus, confident prayer draws on past experiences of grace and begets assurance For the future (8).’ (NBC)

‘The historical situation reflected in the psalm finds David at a low moment in his life. Because of his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11–12), his life was torn apart by family troubles (2 Sam 12:15–14:33), and his kingdom was wrenched from his grasp by Absalom’s rebellion (2 Sam 15:1–19:43). The hearts of Israel were with Absalom (2 Sam 15:13). The anointed of the Lord (cf. Ps 2:6) was forced to flee Jerusalem and wait out the crisis at an encampment across the Jordan (2 Sam 17:24). Thus the psalm reflects the national situation as well as the personal feelings of David.’ (EBC)

‘This is also an evening psalm for the ordinary believer, who can reflect that his troubles are nothing beside David’s, and David’s expectation nothing beside his.’ (Kidner, TOTC)

Mays, in support of the idea that this psalm was composed well after the events in David’s life to which it has become attached, notes both consistency and inconsistency with David’s predicament.  Consistency: ‘David was beset by multitudes (2 Sam. 15:13), spent a night of danger (II Sam. 17:22), and through all was concerned about the welfare of the people (2 Sam. 15:14). Perhaps the sage saw in Shimei’s curses upon David (II Sam. 16:5–14) a form of the hostile taunt, “No salvation for him in God.”’  Inconsistency: ‘The tenor of the prayer is not in accord with David’s attitude toward Absalom and his allies. Nothing in the story suggests that David believed that there was no help in God for him. Jerusalem was not known as the elect “holy mount” of the LORD in David’s time before the temple was built.’  These considerations, according to Mays, argue against regarding the link between the Psalm and David’s life as historical.  But the sage who first made that connection did not work with the modern notion of critical history, and therefore was free (as we can be free) to reflect in a similarly heuristic way on the sentiments of this psalm.

Psa 3:1 A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom. O LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me!

‘The title declares that no darkness is bleaker than betrayal within one’s family.’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)

“O Lord” – ‘In the language of prayer in the OT, this address has the same connotation as “Abba, Father” in the NT. For the people of God, the name of the Lord is the assurance that his promises to David will be fulfilled (cf. 2:7–9). He is the Father of Israel and particularly of David (and his sons) as the anointed king.’ (EBC)

‘Is any afflicted? Let him pray; nay, let him sing psalms, let him sing this psalm. Is any afflicted with undutiful disobedient children? David was; and yet that did not hinder his joy in God, nor put him out of tune for holy songs.’ (MHC)

Psa 3:2 Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” Selah

For Mays, this is the ‘central theological issue of the prayer…This devastating appraisal organizes the whole prayer. It discloses the true significance of the hostility. The assertions of trust deny its validity. The petitions are an appeal to God to disprove it. The confession, “Salvation belongs to the LORD,” contradicts it.’.

‘The experience of hostility runs across the gamut of spheres in which life is lived. Opposition arises in the family, in the neighborhood, in earning a living, in political and national and religious communities. That was true in Israel and in all societies. Whatever threatens or damages the support of life or the joy of life or living space or right to life is foe, enemy.’ (Mays)

‘Hostility takes many forms, but the hostility with which this prayer is concerned transcends hostility understood as conflict between human beings. At root it concerns an assault on God. The assumption or intimation or claim that there is no help for another in God is not only an attack on a fellow human being; it is a limiting, arrogant presumption against God.’ (Mays)

‘“No salvation for him in God” may simply be an estimate that the psalmist’s situation is hopeless; there is no escape from his distress. It could be the scornful judgment of a cynical scoffer that the God of this pious person is of no use in the situation. Or it could be an accusation that the psalmist has no right to appeal to God and expect God’s help; God could help, but somehow the psalmist is disqualified and God won’t help.’ (Mays)

Psa 3:3 But you are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.

The one God is more than able to shield David against his ‘many’ (v1) foes.  ‘And although the kingship has been forcibly removed from the Lord’s anointed, he is still protected by God’s kingship’ (EBC).

You bestow glory on me – ‘an expression to ponder,’ according to Kidner: ‘it indicates the honour of serving such a master; perhaps, too, the radiance he imparts (cf. Psa 34:5; 2 Cor. 3:13, 18); certainly the comparative unimportance of earthly esteem, always transient and fickle.’

God ‘has power to raise up the humble and abase the mighty (1 Sam 2:7–8; Ps 103:7–9). He exalts whom he wills and when he wills.’ (EBC)

Psa 3:4 To the LORD I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill. Selah

His holy hill – This is taken by some to indicate that the psalm dates from a time after Solomon had built the temple.

Although God is represented as dwelling in Mount Zion, his power and grace extend far and wide.  Distance is no object.

Psa 3:5 I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.

Psa 3:6 I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side.

Psa 3:7 Arise, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.

Arise, O Lord – This recalls Moses’ cry in Num 10:35.

Psa 3:8 From the LORD comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people. Selah

Looking back over the psalm as a whole, ‘the theological significance is that the Lord will redeem his anointed one, establish his kingdom, and bless his people! Since Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One, the believer joins with Israel in the assurance of God’s promise, the reception of the benefits of the people of God through the Messiah, the hope of the Messiah’s complete victory, and the desire for the establishment of the age of blessing.’ (EBC)