Psalm 3: God is the Lifter of Your Head

Psalm 3

Their moonlit silhouettes moved quickly across the Kidron Valley and up the Mount of Olives. With their heads covered, and feet bare, their grief was impossible to conceal. David and his dwindling band of supporters wept as they fled Jerusalem, uncertain if they’d ever return.  Absalom and his growing army would stop at nothing to overthrow David from his throne. As he left, David wondered if his enemies were right; maybe God had abandoned him. In his lament, he cried out:

“Oh 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.” 


Psalm 3:1-2

Psalm 3 is the first psalm with a title, “A PSALM OF DAVID, WHEN HE FLED FROM ABSALOM HIS SON.” The story behind this Psalm is found in 2 Samuel 15-17 where years of family dysfunction and drama had reached a boiling point. Absalom had positioned himself at the city gates and sowed seeds of doubt in his father’s leadership. What the people needed was someone who would represent their best interests. You know, someone like Absalom! 

Soon he had stolen the hearts of the men of Israel and assembled an army to oust David. When news reached David that Absalom was on his way, he fled the city to spare it from the inevitable conflict and bloodshed.

Interestingly, David’s lament is only two verses long. Not dwelling on his circumstances, in verse three there’s a noticeable shift in his outlook. But what happened between verses two and three? The answer lies in a little word that’s easy to miss. It’s right justified in the margin of your text, under verse two. It’s the word, ‘Selah.’ 

The meaning of ‘Selah’

‘Selah’ is a musical word that acts like a pause or a rest. As readers, we’re invited to pause and think about what we just read, and what follows. In this case, we might ask, “What made David’s song transform so quickly from lament to confidence? Did his circumstances suddenly change?”

2 Samuel 15:30 might describe when this moment happened. “But David went up the accent 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, weeping as they went.” With his head down and covered, he might’ve stopped for a moment and Selah-ed. 

Nothing about his circumstances had changed, but as he was climbing up the Mount he might’ve stopped to wipe away his tears and look up. He remembered God’s faithfulness and his promise. David knew one of his descendants would sit on his throne forever (2 Sam 7:12-13), and there was more at stake in this moment than preserving David’s life. God’s reputation was on the line too, so he confidently declared,  

“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” (Psalm 3:3) 

Even when David’s enemies surrounded him, he was still shielded, and though his kingly glory faded, his new perspective gave him hope. With his head lifted, finally his body rested.  

The Lord sustained David through the night

Maybe you know something of the physical and emotional toll that accompanies seasons of intense trials. Like David, you may have experienced grief that was so overwhelming it seemed as though the whole world was aligned against you. Sleep can be a sweet escape, but when it doesn’t come, the effects of it exacerbate our already-troubled minds.

“I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.” 

(Psalm 3:5-6)

David asks for more help

With a renewed confidence in the Lord’s sustaining power, David boldly asked God for more help. There was still this minor issue of enemies surrounding him and seeking his life. But David was so sure of God’s help, that he wrote his petitions in the past tense. In his mind, God had already rendered his enemies toothless and harmless. 

“Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be on your people! 

(Psalm 3:7-8).


God saved David in every way. Eternally he was secure and physically he escaped his son’s wrath. Absalom’s wicked scheme resulted in his death when his long hair got caught up in a tree, and Joab speared him in the heart (2 Sam 18). 

Psalm 3 points to the Greater David

The backstory of Psalm 3 is an extraordinary one. Not many of us can identify with David’s specific circumstances, but we do know what it feels like to be overwhelmed and depressed. Like David, In our darkest, sleepless hours, we might wonder if God’s physical and spiritual salvation has left us. 

But Psalm 3 should lift the heads of those who’ve been beaten down by life. It should bolster the Christian’s confidence in God’s shielding and sustaining power, but it goes even further than that.

Psalm 3 points us to the greater David, Jesus Christ, who experienced in full what David only did in part. 

Like David, Jesus and his followers crossed over the Kidron Valley and ascended the Mount of Olives while enemies sought to kill him (John 18:1). Jesus’ people, the Jewish nation, conspired against him, just as the men of Israel conspired against David. As David’s enemies taunted him that there was no salvation for him in God (Psalm 3:2), the people who passed by the crucifixion scene derided Jesus saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself” (Matt 27:42). 

While David worried that God had left him, God lifted his head and reminded him that he was his shield and glory (Psalm 3:3). David asked God to strike his enemies on the cheek, but when Jesus stood before the high priest, he was the one struck across the face by the soldiers (John 18:22). But unlike David, God did remove his shield from Jesus. On the cross Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46). And while God sustained David’s life while he slept, God sustained Jesus in his sleep of death, and unto resurrection life. 

“Save me, O my God!”

You see, the true King of kings was betrayed by his people, killed by his enemies, and abandoned by God, so that he could do what David cried out for him to do, “Save me, O my God!” (7). He provided the deliverance David prayed for, and you and I need, by offering himself in our place. He was abandoned, so we would never be, and he rendered our enemies toothless and powerless. 

Friend, no matter what you face today, let Psalm 3 be an encouragement to you. Let your lament be turned to confidence because he is your shield, your glory, and the lifter of your head. Know that when you cry out to him he hears you, and he gives his beloved sleep. Then tomorrow, when you wake up, be reminded that he has sustained you through the night, and will continue to do so until he brings you to your eternal home.



P.S. Here’s my favorite song version of Psalm 3 on Spotify. Enjoy!

P.P.P.S If you want to dig more into David’s heart in the Psalms, grab a free download of my ebook Paths of the Righteous

4 Responses

  1. Such an encouragement! You are so good at sparking my imagination of the circumstances and context leading up to the Psalm to make it come to life. Thank you! I love this Psalms series!

  2. I love the connection you reveal between David and Jesus on the Mount of Olives. Things like that make me appreciate the cohesive Word of God and how everything points to Jesus. I’m enjoying this series.

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