The biblical story of Absalom and David is a dramatic tale of broken relationships and the complete inability of humans to heal the breach. Most people know that Absalom attempted to usurp his father David’s throne, but few people take the time to discover that Absalom’s scorn for his father was sparked by his father’s unwillingness to rescue the honor of Absalom’s sister Tamar after she was raped by the heir apparent. David’s unwillingness to sully the image of the crown prince by taking any action on behalf of his own daughter had terrible consequences, capped by Absalom’s attempt to steal the kingdom from his father, whom he doubtless regarded as feeble and useless.
Psalm 3 is tagged as a prayer David wrote during Absalom’s rebellion. The author’s lament that people think his situation is hopeless makes sense to anyone who has read how Absalom spent years building himself up in the eyes of David’s subjects, largely by implying that David was remote and impotent while Absalom was out among the people and ready to do what needed to be done. David had, indeed, avoided knowing what Absalom was doing and was totally unprepared to respond when Absalom moved to seize power. The Psalm is attributed to David, who would probably have tired of hearing people say, “It’s hopeless.”
No rescue for him through God. (Psalm 3:3)
Here is a prime example of the wisdom of ignoring gossip. David knew that people were muttering that God wasn’t going to pull David out of the fire this time. He knew that a lot of people thought it was good enough for him that Absalom had rebelled. Just as a voter might hear a political promise in an election campaign and hope that there would be some reward for his vote, many of David’s subjects likely hoped that Absalom’s fine words would mean good things for them in the future. God had dumped Saul and anointed David. Why think God wouldn’t dump David and enthrone handsome, virile, silver-tongued Absalom?
It comforts me to know that God did not abandon David just because David was not good at relationships. When I hear the teaching that God’s most important laws are, Love God above everything else, and Love your neighbor as yourself, I know that I am doomed. I am not good at relationships, either. If David had had any skill at building and healing relationships in his family, the tragedy of Absalom’s rebellion could have been avoided. If I were good at relationships, some tragedies in my life might have been avoided, too. I often give thanks that God didn’t dump me. I am reminded in David’s words that God didn’t dump him, either.
You, Lord, are a shield for me. (Psalm 3:4)
When I pray Psalm 3, I tend to paraphrase some lines. Verses 6 and 7 come out as, “Thank goodness, I can get some sleep, because I know God is with me. It feels as if everybody is against me, but I know I can let God take care of me.” I am inclined to skip over the lines about God breaking people’s teeth, because that isn’t the outcome I really hope for.
I am inspired and comforted and motivated by the final verse. In the NRSV, Psalm3:8a reads, “Deliverance belongs to the Lord.” Every time I read it, I remember that this was the cry of Jonah from the belly of the fish. Talk about dire straits! David’s rescue from Absalom’s rebellion was dramatic, but Jonah’s rescue after being thrown into the sea was 3-D drama. Of course, David’s cry in Psalm 3 is a statement of faith that we expect from David. When Jonah cried out those words, it was his moment of truth. In David’s story, Absalom was the rebel, but in Jonah’s story, the rebel was Jonah himself. When Jonah cried out those words, it was more of a confession that he had finally seen the light than a statement of his ongoing faith that God was with him. After all, Jonah arrived in the fish’s belly precisely because he had sought to escape God’s presence.
All of which is truly comforting. Whether my enemies gang up on me, or whether I gang up on myself by trying to run away from God, I can’t escape God’s presence. Even though God can’t count on me to love him or to love people, and even though God can’t count on me to be where I am supposed to be when I am supposed to be there, God never gives up on me. That is the deep truth that I pray when I pray Psalm 3 in the spiritual company of David and Jonah and all the saints. There is rescue for me, after all.