These three psalms of David form a little group, being psalms for the morning and the evening. In Psalm 3 the Psalmist writes of his awakening in the morning (v.5); in Psalm 4 he is about to lie down and sleep (v.8); in Psalm 5 he writes of his morning prayers (v.3). Morning and evening were significant times of the day. Sacrifices were offered in the morning and the evening. Goliath challenged the armies of Israel morning and evening (1 Sam 17.16). These times stand at the beginning and at the end of each day; times to express thankfulness to the Lord and to commend the day, or the night, ahead to Him. Worship was to be offered. The purpose of Goliath was to disrupt the minds of the Israelites at a time when their thoughts and devotions should have been occupied with the Lord.
One feature common to all three is the reality of the difficulties faced by the writer. "Lord, how are they increased that trouble me!", is the cry with which the first begins. "Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress", is found in the opening words of the second. "Lead me, O Lord, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies", is to be found in the middle of the third. The life of the righteous man of Psalm 1, the man who has "kissed the Son" in Psalm 2, will not be one of ease and self-centred comfort. It will be one of conflict and battle. Let the servant of God be aware that such conflict is still the experience of those who serve God. The believer today finds it necessary to wield the "sword of the Spirit" (Eph 6.17). There will be times when opposition from enemies of the gospel will cause concern and perhaps despair. These three beautiful jewels of psalmody will encourage at such times.
The inscription at the head of this Psalm indicates that it was written on the day when David fled from his son Absalom on the occasion of Absaloms rebellion (2 Sam 15.30). This was a dark moment in which it appeared that David might lose his throne. It has been supposed that this and the following psalm were written on the morning and the evening of this sorrowful day.
The practice of prayer morning and evening is one of the difficult disciplines of Christian life. In the morning the Adversary whispers that there is much to be done, and some of it the Lords work, so there is no time to pray. Better to leave it to the evening when the duties of the day will be done and there will be time to turn aside to the Lord. But when the evening comes the whispers are heard again. This time the suggestion is that tiredness has taken over, the day has been busy and the mind needs to rest. Leave prayer until the morning when sleep will have prepared mind and body for it. When the morning comes the same cycle starts again.
It is worthy of note that in the midst of the surrounding calamity, facing a day the outcome of which was not known to him, David found time to turn aside to the Lord and to pen these words. What a lesson to be learned as those who seek the presence of God hear the evil suggestion of the Enemy that there will be a better time later to give attention to supplication and giving of thanks. Take note that the stress and anguish of events did not force David from the presence of God, but rather drove him into His presence.
The theme of this psalm is one of confidence. In the night that had passed David slept. Turmoil of mind and oppressive emotions did not stir him. The Lord was a shield to him, protecting him from those who sought his ill. But more than that, the Lord was the lifter up of his head. He had confidence that the Lord would restore him. Not only would his enemies be unable to harm him, they would also fail completely in their endeavour to overthrow him.
As has previously been indicated, it is thought that this psalm was written in the evening of the same day as Psalm 3. The confidence of David that marked the morning was not in vain. The Lord had "enlarged" him in his distress. The call of the morning, "Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God" (3.7), had not been unheeded.
The "sons of men", those who are Davids enemies, are addressed. They love vanity and seek after lies (v.2), which is still the characteristic of the godless. The question is asked of them, "How long will ye trample my honour as a king into dust" (Perowne). A threefold instruction is given to them. First, they must realise that "the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself" (v.3). They must understand that their evil intent is directed towards one who is close to the Lord and protected by Him. This is an encouragement to all those who experience persecution, no matter what form it takes. Consequently, the Lord hears the cry of His own.
Second, these enemies would do well to "stand in awe (tremble - JND margin) and sin not" (v.4). Their actions showed that there was no reverence for the Lord in their hearts. The fear of God was absent. Today, this lack of reverence abounds. Men and women take His name in vain, treat His Word with contempt, and deny His existence. There is no fear of God in their hearts! All would do well to listen to this wise counsel. Stand in awe before Him and determine to live according to the Word of God. Sinners should carefully consider these matters. During the night when all around is still they would do well to meditate in their hearts on such issues.
Third, they must show by their actions that they are repentant by offering the "sacrifices of righteousness" (v.5). It is not possible to repent and fail to prove the reality of their repentance by the manner of their lives.
The message to them could be summed up in this way. They must show
Reverence "Stand in awe"
Repentance "sin not"
Reflection "commune upon your bed"
Righteousness "Offer the sacrifices of righteousness"
Repose "put your trust in the Lord".
Davids confidence in the Lord brings joy and gladness, much more than that experienced by his enemies when they consider the prosperity of increased corn and wine. Let all remember that material prosperity is no substitute for spiritual blessing.
This morning prayer is seen by David to be an act of offering. "In the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee and will look up" (v.3). The word translated "direct" is used in Leviticus 1.7,8,12 of laying the sacrifice in order upon the altar. It may be helpful to regard our prayers in that way, encouraging consistency. Thus, our morning and evening prayers can be likened to the morning and evening sacrifices (see the opening paragraph). "As the priests, with the early morning, lay the wood and pieces of the sacrifices upon the altar, so he brings his prayer before God as a spiritual sacrifice" (Keil & Delitzsch).
His prayers have a six-fold character. They are audible ("my words"); thoughtful ("my meditation"); earnest ("my cry"); reverent ("unto thee"); early ("in the morning"); and expectant ("and will look up"). Keeping these features before our hearts would enrich our prayer life.
Sinners have a six-fold character. They are wicked (v.4); evil (v.4); foolish (v.5); workers of iniquity (v.5); given to lying (v.6); bloody and deceitful (v.6).
The response of the godly in such circumstances is also given a six-fold character. This is in sharp contrast to the character of the sinner. David will "come into thy house"; he will enjoy the "multitude of thy mercy"; he will show his reverence for the Lord by coming "in thy fear"; he will worship; he will long to be led by the Lord; his desire is that the Lord will make His way straight before him.
The psalm ends with those who love the Lord rejoicing. He in whom they have placed their trust will protect them as by a large shield that covers the whole body.
These three psalms encourage daily devotion no matter what the surrounding circumstances may be. In our godless society with all its pressures, targeted by the Adversary and tossed about in the turmoil of our age, it is profitable to consider the manner in which David faced adversity. May we all seek to heed Davids call: "Let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee" (5.11).