Sunday, July 02, 2017

Sermon: Psalm 3 You are my shield

Did you sleep well last night? Was it a nice, long, refreshing sleep and you woke this morning ready to take on the world? Or was it one of those disturbed, seeing every hour, tossing and turning type of nights? According to some survey or other, 25% of people in the UK have some form of sleep disorder - they can’t sleep at night, and then could sleep all day, feeling tired.

Maybe you couldn’t sleep because someone else was snoring (as all the ladies look at their husbands...) - or perhaps you woke yourself up from your snoring! Some people even have ruined sleep by sleepwalking or sleeptalking.

Or maybe you weren’t able to sleep because of a worry you have - you can’t seem to switch off, you’re always thinking about it, always worrying about it.

In our Psalm today (p. 544), David describes his night’s sleep. Look with me at verse 5. ‘I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.’ Well, that’s all right for him, you might think. David was the king, he was probably in his royal palace with a four poster bed and a comfortable mattress and a nice duvet. Of course he was sleeping well. If I was in Buckingham Palace I would have a great sleep as well!

But when we read the title of the Psalm, the words before the first verse, we see that David wasn’t in his nice comfy bed in the palace. David wasn’t even in the city. He was on the run. ‘A Psalm of David, when he fled from his son Absalom.’

David was the king in Jerusalem, but his son Absalom had risen in rebellion against him. Earlier in 2 Samuel 15, you can read about how Absalom made himself popular with everyone, made David out to be a bad king, and then announced himself as king. So Absalom comes towards the city, and David runs away. He flees. Everyone seems to have turned against him. Look at verses 1-2. Here’s how desperate the situation is:

‘O LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.”’

Now, it’s not that David is asking ‘how many are there?’ as if he’s trying to count them. Rather, he’s saying, look, Lord, look how many are against me! It’s as if David is looking behind him, and he sees the crowd following Absalom, many foes; many risen against me; many talking about me.

If it goes on numbers, then David is finished. All these people are against him, they’re out to get him. And they reckon that God doesn’t want him either. Dale Ralph Davis says that his opponents are ‘many, mean and mouthy.’

Do you see what they were saying about him? ‘God will not deliver him.’ It’s a bit like the saying you might have heard ‘you couldn’t like him if you reared him.’ They are sure that God won’t help him or deliver him.

Maybe someone has said the same about you. Or maybe you’ve thought it yourself? Have you ever said to yourself God will not deliver me?

Now, picture yourself in David’s position. You’ve had to flee from your house and your hometown. You’re with a small band of followers, and evening comes. You’re not lying in your palace, you’re lying on the ground. Do you think you would sleep much? Would you not lie awake, listening for the noise of Absalom’s army? Would you be able to sleep for fear of what might happen?

So how do we get from this desperate situation in verses 1-2 to verse 5, where David lay down, slept, and woke again? We have to go through verses 3 and 4. And as we do that, we also have to deal with the extra wee word at the end of verse 2 and 4. Selah. No one quite knows what it means, but it’s found in loads of Psalms. Some think it’s a musical term, but it seems like it’s a pause for thought indicator. It comes at the end of verse 2, as if David is reflecting on this situation.

Everyone else has it in for me. ‘But you are a shield about me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.’ Here’s the reason David could sleep so well, even with all these people out to get him. He knows that the LORD, the promise making, promise keeping God is three things:

A shield around me - God is like a shield, protecting us, no matter what comes our way.

You bestow glory on me - or as you’ll see in the footnote, ‘my Glorious One’; other versions simply say ‘my glory’ - the one David delights in; the one whose opinion really matters.

You lift up my head - with all these people against him, with all his worries and woes, David’s head must have been down. But God lifts his head, gives him strength and grace and purpose.

The Lord is protection, satisfaction, encouragement. What would you do differently this week if you knew this protection, satisfaction and encouragement of the Lord?

And how does David know this? How does this work out in his life? ‘I cried out to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill.’ David might have left the ark behind. David might not be in Jerusalem any more. But God still hears David, and answers David from his holy hill. (Selah - pause)

When you know that God is in control, when you know that God is in charge, when you know that God is for you, then you don’t need to fear anyone or anything. So even on the rough ground, David had a good night’s sleep. He did it, ‘because the LORD sustains me.’ And do you see how he keeps going in verse 6? ‘I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side.’

David isn’t trusting in his own strength. He doesn’t think that he can take them all on himself. David’s trust is in his shield, his glory, the lifter of his head. And so he calls God to action: ‘Arise, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.’ (7)

This isn’t David saying what he’s going to do. He’s calling on God to arise, and deliver him. It’s God who will deal with David’s enemies, striking them on the jaw, breaking their teeth. Then they won’t be able to bite. They won’t be able to speak out the accusing threats.

Verse 8 brings the Psalm to a close, and shows us the message of the Psalm in one little easy to remember sentence. Despite the big problem David had; despite all the people after him; David was able to lie down and sleep. He wasn’t depending on himself. His trust was in God, because he knows the truth of verse 8.

‘From the LORD comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people.’ (Selah)

David faced massive opposition. They were sure that ‘God will not deliver him.’ But it is from the LORD comes deliverance. As other versions put it, ‘Salvation belongs to the LORD.’ The Lord is the one who saves, the one who delivers. We just need to cry out to him as David did here.

David the king sang of the Lord’s salvation, but we also hear another king singing the same song. I don’t know if you saw any of the Glastonbury coverage last weekend. During one of the performances, someone sent out a funny tweet saying ‘Shame Barry Gibb hasn’t got more of his own material. First he covered Take That, then Boyzone, now Steps.’ Of course, Barry Gibb wrote and performed the original Bee Gees songs in the 1970s and the other singers then covered them in the 1990s & 2000s, but some people on Twitter didn’t get the joke. [Take That - How deep is your love (1996); Boyzone - Words (1996); Steps - Tragedy (1999)]

David the king sings of the Lord’s salvation, but another king ‘covers’ the same song. This king knew what it was to have massive opposition; for people to taunt him about his God; for people to question his faith. He sang the same song, and went the same way as David. Did you notice in the readings? In 2 Sam 15:23, king David and his followers crossed the Kidron Valley, up the Mount of Olives. And in John 18:1, Jesus and his disciples crossed the Kidron Valley, and went into the olive grove on the Mount of Olives.

Jesus faced even greater opposition, yet submitted to the mob. He trusted so that God the Father brought him through (not just sleep, but death), to the waking of the resurrection.

Jesus has endured the scorn and opposition to provide us with his salvation. Jesus is the one who shields us, is our glory, and lifts up our head. Because the Lord gives deliverance, so he provides blessings to his people. There’s another Selah at the end - a great reminder to pause, reflect, and take in this great truth before we rush on with the rest of today.

When it comes bedtime tonight, how will you sleep? When the litany of worries begins, could you join with David in recognising who your God is - your shield, your glory, the lifter of your head? And as you do so, cry out to him. He will answer; he will sustain; and he will deliver you.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church Richhill on Sunday morning 2nd July 2017.

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