“Sleeping Against the Odds”
A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.
3 O LORD, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
2 many are saying of my soul,
“There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah
This sermon will first be academic, then extremely practical, then in conclusion a combination of the two. I’d like to begin with our eight minutes of theology that will help us understand this psalm and really all of them. Let’s say a couple of things about David the King who wrote this psalm and most of the others:
You are not David.
Now, that’s obvious and hardly needs to be said. But here’s what happens: we’re wanting the bible to be relevant to our situation, and so we, for instance, turn to Psalm 3. And we read “many are rising against me.” And then I the reader think about people at work who don’t like me, and yes, maybe they’ve ganged up on me, working together against me to make life difficult.
Then I say, great, here’s a psalm that relates to me. But then the problem comes when I get to v. 6: many thousands of people/ who have set themselves against me all around. What’s the problem with that? It’s simply not true about me. And if we forget that I am not David, the result is that this psalm becomes a little unreal… or I try to squeeze reality to fit this psalm: maybe the entire company is against me etc.
But you didn’t write this poem, David did. This is about David’s situation, not yours. That doesn’t mean it’s not relevant, as we’ll see in a second.
- David is not just David.
- David is more than just an ordinary everyman. He is a Son of God, the first of the kings of Israel to be given this title. The King of Israel as Son of God has been given a unique calling to reflect the Father in heaven: trusting in Him, leaning on Him, and ruling on his behalf. (As we’ve said the previous two weeks, this calling to be a Son of God was after Adam failed to be just that, a son of God bearing the image of his father.)
The rest of Israel, called sons of God, carry out their calling as sons as they relate to the preeminent Son of God, the King of Israel.
Ultimately, the Son of God as ruler over the sons of God was the spearhead of God’s project to restore all the nations to their calling as image-bearing sons and daughters of the Creator God.
In the Old Testament, a Messiah/Christ is someone who has been anointed by God’s Spirit to some particular mission.
The kings of Israel were anointed by God’s Spirit to lead and act on behalf of Israel in their covenanted mission that would eventually turn out into the salvation of the world.
And so David, as a Messiah, was the representative of Israel in their role as light and salvation to the nations.
All of this to say, if David is in trouble, it’s means more than simply there’s a man in trouble. One could say that if David is in trouble, the whole future of the world lies in the balance.
Because it will be through David as head of Israel that the worldwide peoples are restored to their true calling within the creation, and thus the creation is saved.
David points to an ultimate Israelite, an ultimate Son of God, an ultimate Christ.
If you know the bible just a little you realize that Israel, even after all that God did to set them up for success, fell short of their calling to be sons of God. David and the kings who came from his line each failed in his calling to be a preeminent Son of God.
The messiahs of Israel, instead of representing the people in trusting God and ruling wisely and obediently in His behalf, led the people further into darkness and eventually exile from the land.
With all of Israel’s advantages, the sin that the first man unleashed on the world invaded and thrived in Israel and her king as well as anywhere.
But 1000 years after David, out from this failure of Israel and David, in Bethlehem the city of David, was born a Jewish man, a Savior of Israel in their calling to save the world. Christ, the Lord. Jesus the Messiah, son of David. Jesus Christ. Jesus the eternal Son of the eternal Father who by his resurrection would be declared to be the Davidic Son of God.
Which brings us back to the psalms. To repeat what I said earlier, throughout psalms David speaks as Son of God and Messiah. But more. Throughout Psalms, when David speaks of his situation, his words will often go beyond just his situation and point to the King to come, the greater David, the ultimate Son of God and Christ. Jesus.
The David psalms find their highest application in Jesus Christ and his work.
And because Jesus is the Christ, the representative of all of God’s people, the David words that are most true of Him also speak for them and of them.
So, when we read the David psalms, and really all the psalms, we should remember that they find ultimate meaning when read in light of Jesus the Christ. And because the people of Jesus Christ share his life and destiny, they are often approximately true about them too.
So, we will interpret these as David’s words spoken out of David’s situation, but always recall that the life and experience of King Jesus is ever in view. And because the least of the people of King Jesus follow Him in suffering and into glory, we’ll expect to find plenty of commonalities in our situation too.
Now, back to our psalm itself.
David writes “many” three times. A lot of trouble. A lot of people seeing that his life isn’t going well. His own son turned against him, forcing him to flee from his throne, his city.
Didn’t Psalms 1 & 2 speak of God’s blessing on His people? Where’s the blessing? Where are the good times?
One thing that can come as a surprise – a shock – to new Christians is that life doesn’t get better after meeting the Lord. In some respects, it can get worse!
Our symbol is a cross! Our King was crucified! Don’t sentimentalize that. A Man gasping on a cross. His heels digging into the wood to lift himself up to straighten himself out so he can get a breath. Then tiring out and his chest sags against his stomach. But then can’t breathe. So the mighty effort to straighten up again. Then sag.
But eventually strength runs out, and there’s no ability to breathe, and then comes the pathetic death. That scene, brothers and sisters, is at the heart of our religion.
We turn back to Psalm 2: “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
Here’s the record of David leaving the city compelled by Absalom’s ascent:
2 Samuel 15:30: But David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered. And all the people who were with him covered their heads and they went up, weeing as they went. And it was told David, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom…”
Under advisement of his counselors, the first thing that Absalom does when he enters Jerusalem is to take David’s concubines and forcibly go into them. Domination. Take that, Dad. Who’s King now?
No wonder people are saying, “There is no salvation for him in God.” This guy is weak, losing big time. God’s not backing him.
Brothers and sisters, these types of tragedies don’t usually happen, but they can and do sometimes happen to genuine sons of God, genuine followers of King Jesus.
In the face of great trouble, even tragedy, how does the Son of God respond?
3 But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
The Son of God trusts in His Father. Trust doesn’t mean he pretends like these grievous things aren’t happening. But trust as described here is noticing what isn’t obvious, spotting the facts not on the surface. On the surface there is only anguish. But underneath the anguish this is true:
Jehovah is defending Him. Jehovah Himself is his shield.
His job is lost, his family is in tatters, his home is no longer his home.
But David himself is still intact. Jehovah has kept him in one piece.
David says, Jehovah is “my glory.” Glory is our translation of the Hebrew word, chabod – “heaviness.” Glory means heaviness. This paper, which happens to be my bank statement, is light. This weight is heavy. The weight has more glory than the paper.
You, Jehovah, are… my glory. David is saying, my circumstances, my lot in life, is relatively small fry, next to my relationship with God, in God.
Brothers and sisters, health changes. Your memory leaks. People around you can forget about you.
But what makes your life heavy… what gives you substance…is God. Even in the most dire of times.
Sometimes you don’t realize who you are, that is, the fixed-ness and gravitas and even grandeur, of who you are with God, until things are stripped away from you.
And David says that God is the lifter of my head. From the last phrase of Psalm 110 we can conclude that David is saying that God is the One who refreshes him.
For those who trust in their heavenly Father as sons of God, there is a secret spring to their life. From one aspect they might be encountering failure upon failure. Some of that failure might actually be due to failings of their character, poor habits, etc.
And yet they keep getting up. They keep looking you in the eye. They keep hoping into the future.
Yes indeed Psalm 1 stands: “Blessed is the man…he is like a tree planted by streams of water…its leaf does not wither.”
Yes indeed, Psalm 2: “Blessed are all who take refuge in the Son of God, King Jesus.”
Let’s keep reading.
4 I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
5 I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.
There is something active and passive about relating properly to the Creator, being sons of God trusting in your heavenly Father in hard times.
The active part is at least prayer. You’re not just in the swirl of turmoil, watching mutely as things go wrong. You’re not silent as you watch the odds against you pile up. You pray.
God is ready to hear your prayer, but don’t let your words be formal, “religious” in the bad sense of that word, flaccid. I cried aloud to the LORD.
Some of what gives your prayers energy is the contradiction you’ve come upon in your trial: you realize that God is a Savior. But it sure doesn’t look like He’s saving. This is not how things are supposed to be! So, I cried aloud to the LORD.
Many of you have a car. Go into your car, roll up the windows, turn off the music or podcasts, and cry aloud to the LORD. Don’t be silent before Him. Don’t open up the Pringles or start browsing the web or head for a nap. Somehow, get alone with your heavenly Father and, in trust, as the preeminent Son did, cry out to God with loud cries and tears. And He was heard because of His reverence.
After you have taken the trouble to pour out your heart to God, it’s time to experience the passive aspect to relating to your Father: I lay down and slept.
Sleep is the thing that we do that epitomizes how little control we have. If you sleep on your back, maybe especially if your arms rest above your head, that is a fitting symbol of how truly defenseless we are. And we are. Right now as you’re listening there could be burglars rifling through your drawers. The final bit of plaque to stop your major artery might be setting in this week.
And what does the trusting son do in the face of dangers, even when there are many thousands of people/who have set themselves against me all around? ZZZZ.
This going to sleep is not a result of naivete. Jesus the Son of God knew more than anyone just how many foes he had had. 1/3 of the demonic host. The ruling class. Fickle followers.
Yet every night, how did he show his trust in the Father? ZZZZ.
The Scripture have a lot to say about sleep; we won’t take the time now to overview that. I’d like to suggest, though, that when sleep doesn’t come to you, don’t reach for the phone. Get out your bible and start reading and mulling it over. And then when you get sleepy as you’re reading, don’t fight it off in order to keep reading. Let God’s voice soothe you to sleep.
God gives his beloved sleep. Child of God, the most talented of you have very little capability. You can’t keep track of everything, or even most things. Actually, hardly anything. You can’t really stave off disaster in your body, in your family.
You need to let go, forcibly turn away from the chatter in your mind, and actively trust in God. Listen to Him. Let Him explain what is real, what is true, what is substantial. And let him put you to sleep.
I love that some hymns were put to folk tunes from the nursery:
Children of the heav’nly Father
safely in his bosom gather;
nestling bird nor star in heaven
such a refuge e’er was given.
And now the last stanza:
7 Arise, O LORD!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
8 Salvation belongs to the LORD;
your blessing be on your people! Selah
More prayer directly to God. I can’t emphasize enough: the life of faith is a life of prayer. I think that most of us know that. We might have been taught that lesson over and over in a lifetime of reading psalms. Yet we forget. We hear bad news and soak in vague worry. We stew and sulk. But don’t pray.
Listen to a Son of God, David, to learn faith. Arise, O LORD! Martin Luther said, “Faith is prayer.” The prayer is the trusting, even if the words don’t all sound like trusting.
Arise – you’re on the couch, God. You’re not doing anything and look how fast things are falling apart.
Save me – This isn’t about making my life plush, or improving things a little. I’m in danger, God.
Sons and daughters of God – tell God what you’re seeing.
Then in the last four lines of this psalm, David is still addressing God, but his prayer has found firm footing in verities. In spite of the disaster he sees developing in front of him, he asserts certain things:
He calls God by His covenant name. The covenant he’s in with God is real and sure. So God is for him. Which means that eventually the enemies of David will be thwarted, broken.
Here’s where we need to recall that David is not me and that David points to the ultimate Son of God. Maybe those who are making my life difficult right now aren’t also the enemies of God. Indeed, maybe even people who have been hurt and frustrated by us are praying to God Psalm 3 prayers for help and grace!
But the enemies of the Son of God, those who resist the coming Kingdom, they will be thwarted and broken.
And as every son and daughter of God pray in the pain of their own trial, ultimately we are praying for the consummation when the minions of evil, up to and including Death, who are the enemies of the Son of God, will be destroyed. And they will be.
Our God is a God of salvation. Salvation belongs to the LORD. Ultimately the project that went through David, that reached its climax in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, that continues through the children of God in the church, is the project of salvation. The deliverance from Death and the making all things well.
Even as he weeps leaving Jerusalem, in this psalm David comes to realize that his suffering is the rocky terrain on the way to salvation.
The last phrase of the psalm highlights a major component of that salvation: your blessing be on your people. The crimes and barbarisms and betrayals that fell on David and then Jesus were on the way to the people of the Son of God being blessed. The Christ acts on behalf of His people. “By his stripes we are healed.” Yes, by the stripes that were Judas, abandonment of friends, fickleness of crowds, jeering, suffocation, his heart giving out – has come life and life everlasting for God’s people.
Brothers and sisters, trust in your heavenly Father as you experience pain. There’s a lot that can happen to us that would compel us to go silent before God, or to set our mind to escapism, to take away our internal quiet and repose. To steal sleep.
But today the children of God, led by the great Son of God, our Jesus Christ, are again being taught the lesson of an active, prayer-ful trust in the hardest of circumstances. As it’s ever been, our wise Father is bending the hard things of life – tedium, lack, pangs, foreboding – into that which will turn out to bring us into a full salvation.
And in the trials themselves we will learn what the sons and daughters of God have been taught for a long time: Our shield, our glory, the lifter of our head, is God himself; and not the comfort and recognition and things we thought made us who we are and kept us going.
Keep talking to your Father instead of going silent. Keep sleeping. Keep trusting. Because salvation belongs to God.
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