Psalm 3

In our series of songs that we would never hear from the weekly RCL selections (‘Skips‘), Psalm 3 is an early gap, the first omission in the Psalter in fact.

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Detail of Ps.3, Psalter by Thomas Revenscroft, 1621.

Perhaps we can see why they skipped this one:

Surely you will strike all my enemies across the face, you will break the teeth of the wicked. (v.7)

Great Sunday morning singing! As usual, you need the context to understand the song. In this case, it is David running for cover under the attack of Absalom (his son, no less) fomenting unrest and revolution (2 Sam.15).

More generally, teeth represent the barbs of the multiplying attackers’ most vicious weapons (v.1), including false witness and slander. The Sons of Korah, a Bendigo band, comment in relation to one of their songs (CD ‘Rain’, 2008):

The issue is not just about the threatened child of God but the vindication of God’s glory…  Powerful and emotive imagery … issues of spiritual warfare (Eph 6:10ff)

But then it was King David who, when Absalom was killed in battle despite royal instructions to go easy on the young man, “went up to his chamber over the gate, and wept.” (2 Sam.18:33)  This verse has been set to many beautiful and moving songs — by Tomkins (listen>), Weelkes and Whitacre to name but a few.

Apart from that, David in this psalm brings us some glorious images of praise and trust:

You O God are a shield about me; you are my glory, the one who lifts my head. I call aloud upon God, who answers from the holy hill. (vv.3, 4)


It is these upbeat declarations, no doubt, that lead some composers to take the Psalm as a joyful expression of trust rather than a teeth-breaker.

Thomas Ravenscroft and the Sons of Korah, already mentioned, provide examples of the variety of valid musical approaches. And here’s a different one by Steve Bell (who incidentally omits the teeth):

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