A Royal Fugitive's Resource

Psalm 3.

As the superscription of the Psalm declares, it was composed by David when he fled from his son Absalom. This was a solemn moment in the king's history. Nathan had warned him from the Lord, after his grievous sin in the matter of Uriah the Hittite, that the sword should never depart from his house. For while God could, and did, pardon His servant, on his confession of his guilt, He did not interpose (as He seldom does) to shelter him from the governmental consequences of his iniquity on earth. Grace can righteously restore a fallen saint, but God's government is immutable in its laws and principles. It must be remembered also that David's transgression had set God's law at defiance, and thus had relaxed, by his own example, the moral obligations of the people to their God. David was God's anointed, and God's representative in government; and yet he had trampled under foot one of God's fundamental laws. The anointed king had thus become the guiltiest sinner in his kingdom.

Still, as we have seen, God pardoned him: "the Lord also," said Nathan, "hath put away thy sin, thou shalt not die." But before these gracious words were uttered he had also said, "Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house," and he proceeded to tell him that his "neighbour" should do, before all Israel and before the sun, what he had done secretly. The next chapter (2 Sam. 13) begins the narrative of the fulfilment of this judgment. Ammon, David's firstborn son, sinned, and Absalom, having, in revenge, and with subtlety, killed Ammon, fled to Talmai the king of Geshur. And how did David regard the crime of his son? He mourned for his son every day … and he longed to go forth unto Absalom; for he was comforted concerning Ammon, seeing he was dead! Alas! the kings' moral susceptibilities had been weakened by his own iniquity, and he failed, through natural affection, or in the requisite courage, to vindicate Jehovah's righteous law.

We need not recall the familiar facts of the history. Through Joab's intrigue, Absalom was brought back, and finally was admitted to see the king's face. Untouched by his father's grace, he used his recall as an opportunity to foment rebellion; and so successfully, for he had stolen the hearts of the men of Israel, that David, with his servants and those that still clave to their king, sought safety in flight. It is, perhaps, the most pathetic passage in all the king's eventful life: "And David went up by the ascent of Mount Olivet, and wept as he went up, and had his head covered, and he went barefoot; and all the people that was with him covered every man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went up." What a spectacle! And yet, morally considered, David was now in the place of exaltation. He had humbled himself under the mighty hand of God, and hence, whatever painful experiences he might yet have to encounter, he was sure to be exalted in due time. Blessed is it for all of us when we are in the lowest abasement before God, if we are in the confidence of His grace.

If we now recur to the Psalm, we shall learn that it was so with David at this very moment. In the first three verses the circumstances and the position are stated; and the Psalmist, like Hezekiah of a later age, spreads out his case before the Lord. This fact sheds the clearest light upon his condition of soul. Brought into his present straits through his own sin and folly, he can yet turn in fullest confidence to Him whose hand was so heavy upon him in chastisement. He "hears" the rod, and who has appointed it. "Lord," he says, "how are they increased that trouble me! Many are they that rise up against me. Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God." This reproachful taunt was the bitterest ingredient in his bitter cup. He had known throughout his life what it was to face enemies, and to be hunted like a partridge upon the mountains, but if the wicked insinuation that he was now abandoned of God were true, he was never in such an evil case. And, to human sight, his enemies were in the right; for every sign of God's intervention and favour was absent. But faith triumphed, though David were in the deepest pit of adversity, and he appealed from men to God, crying, "But Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head."

As Elisha said to the young man, They that be with us are more than they that be with them, so was it with David, spite of appearances. Fleeing from Absalom, the Lord was yet with David, and not with Absalom, and this was the foundation of David's assurance, as the next three verses show. From verse 4 we learn that the king had been in the presence of God about the whole matter: he had cried to the Lord with his voice. As in another Psalm, he had been searched and tried, and thus, through exercise and self-judgment, obtaining the "true heart," he could, in the full assurance of faith, cast his burden on the Lord. And, as he tells us, the Lord heard him out of His holy hill. Not that deliverance was immediately vouchsafed; it was not, as we know; but David had the sense in his soul that the Lord had heard his cry, and he could therefore quietly wait and anticipate His succour in His own time and way. And as the apostle John writes, "And if we know that He hears us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him." It is indeed enough for the soul, whatever the outward circumstances, to be in the confidence that God has inclined His ear and heard its cry.

This is strikingly exemplified in David's case. He was so tranquilized by the assurance that God had heard him, that he laid himself down and slept. His circumstances were in no way changed, only now he had the Lord between him and his circumstances, and that changed everything. Peace therefore reigned in his soul, and he could lay himself down and sleep, for, in truth, the everlasting arms were underneath him. He thus adds, "I awaked; for the Lord sustained me." Blessed repose which is induced by the sense of the Lord's protection and favour! And there is no sleep so refreshing as that which is followed by the assurance, on awaking, that the Lord has sustained. But there is yet more: "I will not be afraid," he continues, "of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about." If God be for us, who can be against us? Courage, divine courage, now possessed the king's heart; for it was no longer a question of appearances or numbers. He had no more supporters than when he had escaped out of Jerusalem; and he had no human probability of overcoming the forces arrayed against him; but Jehovah had manifested Himself in blessing to his soul, and now he could quietly hope and wait for His salvation.

His own personal relationships with the Lord re-established, he could cast himself and his cause upon God. This is his resource, and he thus cries, "Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God: for Thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; Thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly." Faith makes sure, and gives substance to, the things hoped for; and hence David saw all his enemies smitten and vanquished. He was already in the enjoyment of victory, because he knew that God had undertaken his cause. It is an immense thing for the soul when, in times of greatest extremity, it can lean with unshaken trust on the Lord and leave everything in His hands. We are so apt to think that something depends upon our own energy and activity, and in this way we shut out the Lord. Bring Him in, and this is what faith does, and then we can calmly await His interposition on our behalf. Well might it then be said, as at the close of the previous Psalm, "Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him."

The end is now reached; and the lesson of the whole Psalm is proclaimed. It falls into two parts: "Salvation [belongeth] unto the Lord: Thy blessing is upon Thy people." Let it first be remarked that a more accurate rendering is, "Salvation is from, or of, the Lord." This is the very lesson Jonah learned when in the whale's belly; and the reader will remember, that the moment the words passed from his lips, the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land. To instruct them in this precious truth is the object of all God's dealings with His people. Through all their sin and failure, as with David, Jonah, and Peter, God always has this end in view. The lesson must be learned; but oh! what sorrowful experiences many of the saints of God have to pass through in order to acquire it. They have to be sifted, broken down, and chastised, that they may discover that there is no help for them but in God. Then hopeless and helpless as to themselves, if they do but turn upward, as in Romans 7, and cry, Who shall deliver? The answer will at mice be vouchsafed, Salvation is of the Lord. Rest not, dear reader, until you have learned this blessed truth; for it is the secret of a calm, victorious, and holy life. Welcome therefore all experiences, however bitter and painful, which will help you onward to this desired goal.

Together with this, for the two things are bound up together, you will find out that God's blessing is upon His people. Grace cannot be apprehended until you know experimentally that salvation is of the Lord. Before this, legality, in one form or another, will mix largely with your thoughts of grace; but now you will trace everything down from the heart of God, as unfolded and displayed in Christ, and you will perceive that He blesses His people according to His own thoughts, and according to His estimate of Christ. The consequence will be liberty - liberty of soul in the presence of God, and leisure therefore for occupation with the One through whom all this blessing has been secured and bestowed. The Lord grant that the reader of these lines may be led into the apprehension and power of this precious truth!