How did you sleep last night? Do you feel refreshed this morning? If not, you may be one of the 60% of Canadians who is not getting the sleep the body and mind need (according to a 2011 CBC poll). What could be the reason for this? Your smart phone or tablet may be the sleep-thief. I just heard about a study that found how some people are actually texting in their sleep. Apparently they can subconsciously hear a text come in and are so programmed to respond to it that they check and answer it even though they’re not actually awake! This interruption prevents the individual from falling into that deep sleep we all need.
Thankfully you can discipline yourself to unplug and mute all gadgets so they don’t keep you up. But is it possible to get the rest you need when you’re faced with real troubles like family, financial, and even health problems? King David found a way to enjoy real peace in spite of real troubles. He will share his secret with you this morning so that you too can always rest in peace no matter what troubles you face.
If you were listening to our Old Testament reading this morning, you know what kind of real troubles threatened when David wrote Psalm 3. David was up against an armed rebellion led by his own son Absalom. Dealing with a kid who breaks curfew or gets sent to the principal often can cause many sleepless nights for a parent, but at least that parent would get to spend those nights in his own bed. The rebellious Absalom, however, forced his aging father to flee the palace and spend his nights on the run – not moving from Holiday Inn to Super 8 but from hole in the ground to secret cave. That was sadly ironic when you consider that the name Absalom means “a father’s peace.” But it wasn’t just Absalom who was after David; many of David’s former advisors had also turned on him and were actively working to kill the king. And still others added to David’s misery. Emboldened by the coup, people like Shimei, a relative of the former king, cursed David and threw stones at him as David fled Jerusalem. It’s no wonder David wrote in our text: “O LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! 2 Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him’” (Ps. 3:1, 2).
It was especially that last thought which had the greatest potential of robbing David of peace. Had God too abandoned him? David knew that’s what he deserved. After all David had been guilty of turning his back on God when he had committed adultery with Bathsheba and then murdered her husband Uriah. That had been years ago but had God’s justice now finally caught up with him?
Our past sins too often have a way of nipping at our heels like a barnyard dog that just won’t leave us alone. A disregard for God’s direction regarding his gift of sex – that it’s only for those who are married to each other - can lead to a lifetime of heartache as we may have to deal with child custody issues with a manipulative individual. Past substance abuse may weaken the body so that we suffer ailments most people our age don’t have to put up with. Irresponsible spending habits can ruin a credit rating so that it seems we’ll never be able to enjoy a decent home to call our own. Even if your life has been “squeaky clean,” you won’t escape feelings of divine abandonment. A cancer diagnoses, for example, can especially feel like a betrayal. “This is how you repay me God?”
That isn’t how David responded to his trouble. Instead he confessed: “But you are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head. 4 To the LORD I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill” (Psalm 3:3, 4). In spite of his past sins and present imperfections David was still confident that God’s love for him had not wavered. How could it? God had promised to always be with him. So while David’s enemies thought he was vulnerable to attack, David pictured God as his shield. David’s enemies were certain that his life would end in shame, but David was confident that God would bestow glory on him and lift him up out of the mess. David’s enemies were sure that God would ignore David’s prayers, but David cried to the Lord and was certain of God’s answer and support. And where would that help come from? “From [God’s] holy hill” (Psalm 3:4). David was thinking of that hill in Jerusalem where the Ark of the Covenant was – that visible picture of God’s abiding presence. Absalom may have thought that he was king of that hill, for that is also where the palace was located which he now occupied, but he was mistaken. God was still firmly enthroned on Mt. Zion and everywhere else for that matter. And this God was David’s protector.
But there was another kind of answer from God’s holy hill that David must have treasured: a divine pardon which God communicated through smoke signals. You see, this hill on which the Ark of the Covenant rested was also home to the altar of burnt offering. On it, priests daily deposited animal sacrifices. God himself had demanded these sacrifices to show how serious sin was. Sin kills. But at the same time God was expressing his love for sinners by pouring out his anger on those animals instead of on his wayward people. Like a child who requests a piece of paper and a red crayon on Valentine’s Day to make Mom and Dad a card, God expressed his love with the crimson red blood that flowed from the sacrifices he had demanded from his people. So even though David was on the run, he could look back towards Jerusalem and upon seeing the smoke from the sacrifices be assured that God had indeed forgiven him of all of his sins. And therefore what was happening to him was not evidence of God’s displeasure; it was the actions of a loving Father who was training his beloved child to trust him even more.
Does God still answer you from his holy hill? Not with animal sacrifices but with something even better: the Lamb-of-God sacrifice which took place on Mount Calvary within sight of the temple. Sure, that sacrifice happened 2,000 years ago but when Jesus, the Lamb of God, cried out: “It is finished!” he was making clear that your bill of sin was paid for and sent through the shredder. No matter what you have done, God sees you as his child, clean and forgiven.
Now this doesn’t mean that you won’t face real trouble in this life. You will and that trouble may even come from those who are close to you, as King David found out first hand. But God is closer still. He is your shield. That’s why you can rest in peace no matter what troubles you face. David lived that truth. He wrote: “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. 6 I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side” (Psalm 3:5, 6).
Based on the words we just read, imagine how a meeting between David and his leading commanders must have gone. Commander: “Sir, we should sit down and go over our escape plans again. We don’t want to get caught flat-footed.” David: “We’ve been over them already, Commander. I’m going to take a nap. Our God never slumbers nor sleeps. He is looking out for us. There’s no sense in both of us staying up.”
David was never the type to stick his head in the sand and hope all his troubles would magically disappear. 2 Samuel makes clear that David actively gathered intelligence on Absalom and organized a counterattack. But when it came time for him to rest, he did so free of worry, mindful that the key to success was God’s power and promises, not his own smarts or might. That’s why David said he wouldn’t sweat it even if tens of thousands suddenly surrounded him.
Do you too calmly trust that God will bless your faithful efforts in the way that is best for you? Here’s what that would like for you students. It would mean diligently studying for a test from notes you faithfully took while attentively listening to your teacher. The night before the test there should be no reason to sweat the upcoming exam. Ask God to bless the preparations you have made then turn off your brain and go to sleep. That’s how God wants you to approach every important life decision: prepare as if success depends on you while trusting that the results are really up to God. And whatever God allows is just what you need.
When life’s worries start to rob you of peaceful rest, read Psalm 3 again and key in on the last two verses. There David said: “Arise, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. 8 From the LORD comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people” (Psalm 3:7, 8). It may seem unkind to ask God to smash the wicked in the mouth but in another psalm David compared the teeth of the wicked to the sharp teeth of a predator (Psalm 58:6). He describes a lion but I want you to think of a rattlesnake. If rattlers didn’t have fangs, would we be afraid of them? We still would jump at the sound of their rattling, but there would be no need to panic if one fastened onto your leg. What’s it going to do? Gum you to death? When David asked God to strike his enemy in the mouth, in this case his son Absalom, he was asking for disarmament rather than destruction. In fact 2 Samuel records how David begged his troops to be gentle with Absalom – a command Joab disregarded when he killed Absalom, much to David’s dismay.
Can you think of any of our enemies God has smashed in the mouth and disarmed? On Easter Sunday Jesus came back to life and in the process smashed to bits death’s teeth. Sure, death will one day swallow you and me but it has no teeth to permanently hurt us. If death has been so vanquished, and if Jesus has taken away our sins so that we don’t need to fear an eternity in hell, is there anything left for us to be afraid of? No! And that’s why the hymnal’s refrain for Psalm 3 is so apt: “From the Lord comes deliverance, therefore we will not fear.” Yes, we can rest in peace no matter what troubles we face. This is true even if medication or other health issues keep you up at night. Don’t let Satan use those things to suggest that God doesn’t really care about you. Sleep may elude you but peace cannot. God has spoken from his holy hill. You are his forgiven child. You are the object of his delight. God is your shield. Call to mind these truths and you, like David, will rest in peace no matter what troubles you face. Amen.
Psalm 3 was based on real events from King David’s life. What was the real trouble David found himself in?
David’s enemies were saying that God wouldn’t deliver him. Why might David have been tempted to think that was true? What causes you to doubt God’s love and care for you?
In spite of his troubles David confessed that God was his shield. He also said that God answered him “from his holy hill.” What hill did David have in mind? In what ways was that hill holy and precious to David?
Explain: When God demanded animal sacrifices from his people it was similar to a child requesting crayons and paper on Valentine’s Day.
God answered you from his holy hill when Jesus died on Mt. Calvary to pay for your sins. You are God’s forgiven child. This doesn’t mean that you won’t face real troubles in life. David did. Thankfully we can call on our God to “smash the teeth of our enemies” (Psalm 3:7). How has Jesus already done that?