Psalm 3: A shield

‘A shield against injustice’

Some songs never appear in the Revised Common Lectionary selections. Psalm 3 is the first omission. Perhaps we can see why they ducked this one:

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

Psalm 3:7

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.1 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, referring to “powerful and emotive imagery” and “issues of spiritual warfare”2:

The issue is not just about the threatened child of God but the vindication of God’s glory.3

King David plays the harp

But then it was this same 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.”4 This verse has been set to many beautiful and moving songs — by Tomkins, Weelkes and Whitacre to name but a few. David also 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.

Psalm 3:3,4

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 provide examples of the variety of valid musical approaches. Steve Bell in his composition omits the teeth.

1 2 Samuel 15

2 Ephesians 6:10 ff

3 Sons of Korah, Commentary on CD ‘Rain’, 2008

4 2 Samuel 18:33