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The Lifter of my Head (Psalm 3:3)


Absalom was David's third son. His second son, Chileab, is never mentioned after reference to his birth and the assumption is that he died early on. David's first-born son was Amnon. The story of how Amnon died is a sordid one.

Amnon raped his half-sister, Tamar, and Absalom, Tamar's brother, swore revenge. It took two years but finally Absalom arranged for Amnon to be killed. Fearing punishment, Absalom went into exile for three years. When he finally returned to Jerusalem, David refused to see him. Two more years passed before David and his son were reunited (although, even then, they weren't reconciled).

Absalom's plot to take the throne from his father probably emerged gradually. He began by currying favor with the people (2 Sam. 15:1-6). He portrayed himself as one who was interested in people by telling them he was far more capable of helping them with their troubles and securing justice for their complaints than was David. According to 2 Samuel 15:6, "Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel."

Once he felt secure in his position, he made his move. He went to Hebron, assembled his followers, and had himself anointed king (2 Sam. 15:7-12). With a considerable army behind him, he marched against his father in Jerusalem and forced David to flee (2 Sam. 15:13-17). Following a shameful period of absence from his throne, the armies of David eventually prevailed. Absalom was killed, contrary to his father's express wishes, serving only to intensify the latter's pain.

What an amazing scene: David, driven from his throne, subjected to indescribable humiliation, not by a pagan Gentile king but by his own son! Absalom's treachery and rebellion must have crushed David's heart. Here is the important point: it was while David was fleeing the armies of Absalom, broken by the spiteful betrayal of his own child, that he sat down and wrote the words of Psalm 3.

It wasn't while he sat on a golden throne with servants at his beck and call. It wasn't while lying on satin sheets and a soft pillow knowing that all was well with his family and among his people. Rather, it was in the midst of his most devastating and desperate hour that he penned these remarkable words:

"O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. Selah. But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head" (Psalm 3:1-3).

David's anguish was no doubt magnified by the fact that his adversaries were primarily from among his own people. Those once closest to him, those in whom he had once placed his confidence and trust, are now among those whose accusations are most bitter and hateful.

One of the primary tactics of such enemies is to undermine our faith in God to help us. David may well have been taunted with statements like: "If God is so good and so great, how come we've got the upper hand? How come you're on the run, David? Where is your God now, when you need him most?"

Perhaps they began to throw David's sin back in his face: his relationship with Bathsheba, the murder of Uriah, his failure as a father to Amnon and Absalom, etc. "God's not going to put up with that sort of thing, David. He's abandoned you for sure!"

"If all the trials which come from heaven, all the temptations which ascend from hell, and all the crosses which arise from earth, could be mixed and pressed together, they would not make a trial so terrible as that which is contained in this verse (v. 2). It is the most bitter of all afflictions to be led to fear that there is no help for us in God" (Spurgeon, I:23).

Yet, in the midst of such affliction, accusation, and abandonment, David's cry is for the "Lord," YHWH, the covenant-keeping God (v. 1). David obviously knew that the hypnotic and paralyzing power of the enemy is broken only by turning one's gaze back to God (Deut. 1:28-30). So he encourages himself by recalling three things about God.

First, God is a shield about him (see Pss. 18:2,30; 28:7; 33:20; 84:11; 91:4; 115:9-11). But the fact that God is a shield does not prevent one's enemies from continuing to shoot their arrows. Yet such an attack is fruitless in cutting us off from the security of God's love. Said Tozer:

"What we need very badly these days is a company of Christians who are prepared to trust God as completely now as they know they must do at the last day. For each of us the time is coming when we shall have nothing but God. Health and wealth and friends and hiding places will be swept away and we shall have only God. To the man of pseudo faith that is a terrifying thought, but to real faith it is one of the most comforting thoughts the heart can entertain."

Second, God is his glory. This could mean that David awaits God's vindication. He has been driven away in shame, humiliation and weakness, his pride broken and his reputation slandered. Still, though, he's confident that God will restore his dignity and honor as king. Or it could be his way of saying, "I have no glory of my own. I put no trust in my fame or fortune. You alone, O God, are the joy, boast, and glory of my life."

Third, God is the one who lifts his head. David left Jerusalem not only defeated but dejected, despondent, depressed. He hung his head in shame (see 2 Sam. 15:30). But he is confident that God will elevate his face and restore his hope.

When people are shy or unsure of themselves, perhaps due to some insecurity or recent failure, they rarely look up or make eye-contact with you. Their aim is to pass by without being noticed. They hug the wall lest a personal encounter expose their shame. Their deep feelings of inadequacy lead to withdrawal and silence. The last thing they want is to see or be seen. Fixing their eyes on the floor is safety for their soul. Embarrassment always expresses itself in a physical posture that is guarded and cautious.

David was probably having doubts about himself: about the validity of his calling, about his capacity to rule, about his worth as a man. Abasalom's treachery inflicted a depth of humiliation the human soul was never built to endure. It was emotionally crippling and threatened to destroy David's credibility and his confidence as a man after God's own heart.

Some of you know exactly how David felt. In your case it may have been a stinging defeat, an embarrassing failure, or perhaps a public humiliation that you fear has forever destroyed your usefulness or your value to God or a place in his purposes. It's a devastating feeling. The enemy will often exploit the opportunity by reminding you of virtually every sin you've committed, reinforcing the painful conviction that you are now beyond recovery, hopelessly helpless, a stain on the public face of the church.

It might even be the rebellion of a child, as in the case of David. For some it's the demise of a business venture into which you poured every ounce of energy and income. Or it might be something less catastrophic, but no less painful, such as a failed attempt at public ministry or an embarrassing misstep that left you feeling exposed and unprotected.

In David's case, despite this crushing blow at the hands of his son, his faith in God never wavered, or at least not so as to throw him into utter despair. There was always and only One who was able to restore his strength and straighten his body and give him reason to hold his head high.

This isn't arrogance or presumption or fleshly defiance, but humble whole-hearted assurance that God can do for us what we can't do for ourselves. People often say: "I just can't bear to look anyone in the face after this." But God will make you able! He is the Lord who "makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor" (1 Sam. 2:7-8).

Yes, indeed, said David, "he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord" (Psalm 27:5-6).

Finally, it's important to remember that, notwithstanding David's faith, Absalom died rebellious and estranged from his father. "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son" (2 Sam. 18:33). Sometimes our circumstances don't turn out for the better. But no matter what transpires, of this you may be sure: God is a shield about you. He is your glory. He is the one who will lift your head!

Looking to the One who lifts my head,