Salvation Belongs to the Lord
A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son. 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. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah 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. 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! Selah
In the Name of Jesus! Amen.
During the late 18th Century there was a salty British sea captain named John Newton. His business: Transporting slaves. Having served in the British Navy, and once having been a slave himself, he was pretty good at what he did. But that all changed one night. While at sea, Newton was caught in a terrible storm and his ship almost sank. The Lord used that moment to change his heart, and Newton became a believer in Jesus Christ. He renounced his ways and was ordained as an Anglican Priest. His experience led him to write a hymn that expressed his unexpected conversion to Christianity. His hymn was one that you know well. He called it “Faith’s Review and Expectation.” But you know it as “Amazing Grace!” It’s probably the most well known hymns in Christianity today. It’s tune, “New Britain”, is often piped by bagpipers at funerals. And it’s probably the number one hymn that many of our parishioners’ families request for their loved-one’s funerals. Newton also wrote the beautiful hymn, “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken.”
Hymns are often born out of the struggles of the people. Think of the great spirituals that were sung by slaves in America: like “Go down, Moses!” and “What Wondrous Love!” Many of Luther’s hymns were born in the same manner in his struggle against the abuses within the Church.
Just as hymns are often born out of conflict, so are many of the Psalms. Psalm 3 is one of those.
The Psalms are the hymnal of the Bible. As such, there are often inscriptions— written by David — that either explain the psalm, or give musical direction to those who would sing it. You may be familiar with words like Selah that often appear in the psalms. That word is never to be read; it is not part of the text of the psalm. Rather, it is most likely an instruction to the instrumentalists to play a musical interlude before the next verse continues. It functions in the same way that instructions in musical scores do today. FFF means “fortisimo” or very, very loud. P means piano, or very, very soft. The instrument called a “piano” gets its name from the fact that it could be played softly, unlike other instruments where the dynamic range could not be changed.
In Psalm 3 there is an inscription. In this case, it describes why the psalm was written. David states, “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.” This psalm was written because of a tremendous conflict in David’s heart.
David had three sons. One of them was named Absalom. Absalom was well-loved by his father and by the nation of Israel. But as time went on, Absalom became a traitor to David and the Kingdom. His power went to his head, so much so, that David and Israel feared for their lives with Absalom having so much power. Absalom murdered his half-brother, Amnon, and later illicitly declared himself to be King over his father. In a major sign of disrespect to David, Absalom led a major revolt at Hebron and slept with all of Davids concubines, showing his force. David and Israel feared for their lives from his son.
Absalom initiated a battle on the west side of the Jordan river known as “the Wood of Ephraim.” During the battle Absalom got caught up in the boughs of an oak tree with his mule. Before he could escape a man named Joab— whose field Absalom had set on fire— took his opportunity stabbing Absalom three times in his heart and killing him.
While you would think that David would be relieved, that is not the case. A Cushite came to David and said, “good news for my lord the king! For the Lord has delivered you this day from the hand of all who rose up against you. The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” And the Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord and the king and all who rise up against you for evil be like that young man.” And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, m son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son.!”
Despite Absalom’s evil, David still deeply loved his son who had gone wrong. Kind of like some of the stories people have shared with me where their children or grandchildren have chosen the wrong path. Not taking any counsel from parents or those who love them, they then suffer the terrible consequences of their lifestyle or decisions. And sometimes they die. Their bad choices does not take our pain away. Sometimes, like in the parable of the prodigal son, restoration occurs and the joy that comes with it is indescribable.
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.
David had many foes. And in this case, they were blood relatives. Not only were they seeking his life, but they were saying that David had lost favor with God. So if he died he would go to hell. Salvation in the Old Testament refers to both physical and spiritual deliverance from danger. Absalom was quite sure that his father was in danger of not being delivered from either.
David’s cry is our cry. We have our foes! And they are many! The world grows more hostile towards Christians every day. In some regions of the world to wear a cross or carry a Bible would mark you for death. Even in America one is expected to “keep faith to himself” when in the Public Square. Laws continue to be passed that promote this kind of thinking. Jesus calls us to be alert to these things. The invisible enemy of the Corona Virus lurks. These are signs that Jesus foretold, signs that assure us that He has not forgotten His promise, signs that assure us that He is with us, and signs that assure us that He is coming again.
Yet, like David, even with the assurance of the Lord that we are His, that nothing can snatch us from His hand, that even angels or demons can remove us from His love, we worry. We fret. Like David. We seek relief. It doesn’t seem to come when we need it the most. This can lead to despair. It can lead us to weep over Absalom.
But David will not believe what his heart is telling him, or what the “many” are saying about him. He writes his second verse:
But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter up of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from His holy hill.’
The Lord delivers David. But in a very painful way.
When I graduated from seminary, about a half of the class did not have pastoral calls. There were not enough churches requesting seminarians. It was the first time in the history of our Synod where this happened, and it affected both seminaries in Ft. Wayne and St. Louis. It was hard on all of us. Yet there were still over 500 vacancies at the time in Synod. It was hard to understand why this was going on. My pastor-confessor, Doctor John Oberdeck, at the time from Zion Lutheran Church in Litchfield, Illinois, was so supportive. One of the things that he told me was “the Lord gives you what you pray for, or He gives you something better.” He was so right. Because I had to stay in St. Louis for several more months than we had planned, I was able to keep my job at the Seminary working for Media Services. During those extra months the seminary hosted a hymn writing conference. But I was working, so I didn’t register for it, and probably couldn’t have afforded the registration fee. My boss, Pastor Bill Engfehr, called me into his office and said, “John, I’m going to assign you to record the hymn conference. It will mean that you’ll have to put in extra hours, I just want to make sure that’s ok with you before I put you on the schedule.” “OK?” “Are you kidding”? I went to every session. I got to meet the greats like Robin Leaver and Jaraslov Vajda, even having lunch with them. I got invited to sing in their special choir for the concert that would end the conference the following week. And I’ve been writing hymns ever since. The Lord not only blessed me, but blessed me beyond measure in the middle of this life-crisis. A week after the conference I received my first call to Emanuel Lutheran Church in Patchogue. And then, by way of doing that, coming here. The Lord lifted up my head. The Lord answered me from His holy hill in a way I would never dream possible.
The Lord lifts up your head. The Lord answers your cries for mercy and help. He does it through Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith who, for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
The Lord shields us with His angels about me. His rod and staff comfort us in the valley of the shadow of death. His ultimate answer from His holy Hill is to take us there— where there is a feast of rich food and fine wines in the bliss of the marriage feast in heaven.
David’s Confident Plea
David’s Confident Plea
Arise, O Lord! Save me O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.
One of the pleas of God’s people has always been : Deliver me from wickedness. The wickedness from without, and the wickedness from within.
Certainly wickedness surrounds us from without. There is unchecked prejudice and hatred in the world. There is oppression. There is crime. There are victims. There is an overarching sense of anger in our world today. Such was also the case in the time of the prophets.
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
But the evil can only exist without because it truly is within. Our hearts are corrupted by sin. Our lives are marked with hatred and death. Our eternal destiny is destruction by this evil. And there is nothing we can do about it. Unchecked evil continues to show itself. We cannot deliver ourselves from it. So we cry out to the Lord: Arise O Lord, Save me, O my God! And He does. He strikes the cheek of the enemy. He breaks the teeth of the wicked
But in a most unusual way. Jesus, God’s son is slain. His own cheek is struck by the servant of the high priest. He is delivered over to mob rule. And He is crucified. On that day there is no weeping over Absalom by the Father, no, “O my son, my son!” There is silence. The Father forsakes His Son for the wickedness of our hearts.
On the third Day He is raised from the dead.
Instead of weeping, there is singing. There is rejoicing around the throne of God. The evil one and all his pomps and all his ways is eternally cast into hell. But God’s saints gather around His throne and the Lamb singing His Worthiness, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!”
All because Salvation belongs to the Lord, your blessing is on your people.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.