<A Psalm of David, when he fled from his son Absalom.>
O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me;
2 many are saying to me, “There is no help for you in God.” Selah
3 But you, O LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head.
4 I cry aloud to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy hill. Selah
5 I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the LORD sustains me.
6 I am not afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.
7 Rise up, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
8 Deliverance belongs to the LORD; may your blessing be on your people! Selah
Psalm 1 begins with happy/blessed are those and Psalm 2 ends with happy/blessed are all who take refuge in the the Lord, and then we begin a series of laments in Psalm three and four as well as six and seven. There is something more to this than some simple sort of life and a blessed life (my preferred translation of the word in Psalm one and two) is not an easy life. In my experience some of the people who have the strongest faith are those who have been through the most difficult and harrowing struggles. To be a person ‘after God’s own heart’ does not grant one an untroubled life and there is a need for an expression of desperation, a faithful cry for help in the midst of the struggle.
The superscription of the Psalm takes us back to one of the dark moments in the story of King David and in the narrative this is a part of a series of dark times for the king which so many have placed their trust in. After 2 Samuel narrates the story of David and Bathsheba, where David has sex with Bathsheba and conspires to have her husband Uriah the Hittite killed and the immediate after effects of this with God sending the prophet Nathan to David, the child dying and then a new hope with the birth of Solomon (2 Samuel 11 and 12) we reach a story of a deeply broken royal family. Absalom and his sister Tamar of children of one of David’s wives while Ammon is his son by another wife. Ammon conspires to bring Tamar into his room and then rapes her and King David does nothing to Ammon, his oldest son. Furious with his brother and the king’s inaction Absalom takes vengeance himself and during a banquet murders Ammon, his brother. Absalom flees, but is later welcomed home and forgiven. Once Absalom is home he begins to create his own power base and several years later leads a coup which forces David from Jerusalem and leads to Absalom’s eventual death. (2 Samuel 13-18). In the heart of the brokenness where families have failed, where forgiveness has been turned away, where power has been seized and life is at risk, the superscription places the words within that story.
In a world where we think God helps those who help themselves, the Psalm points to a different reality. God helps those who cannot help themselves. (Elizabeth Actemeir, et. al., 1994, p. IV: 692f). In the narrative world of the story of David evoked in the superscription and in the opening verses the surrounding people believe there is ‘no help for you in God.’ But for the Psalmist, the Lord is shield, refuge and strength. Even in the times where it seems like hope is lost the persistent faith of the Psalmist calls out to God and trusts that there will be an answer. The petitions of the Psalmist are great and their foes are many and yet the confidence that the petitioner holds to comes from the God who has sustained them. There is the trust that even in the crisis that the Psalmist can entrust deliverance into the Lord’s hands and the even as their name may be uttered as a curse, the deeper reality is that they are a part of the people the Lord has set apart as a blessing.