February 4, 2016

Psalms 3-9: Glory lost, glory found

by Wyatt Graham

david harp

The book of Psalms begins with the pillars of God’s authority and the reality of his glory. Psalm 1 tells us that blessing comes from wisdom and worship, while Psalm 2 describes God’s authority while it gives a warning for those who would revolt against him.

Then comes Psalms 3–9. Here the book shifts focus, and begins to tell a story of glory lost and glory realized through the life experiences of David.

Psalm 3 introduces the first title in the book of Psalms: “A Psalm of David when he fled from Abshalom his son” (3:1; cf. 2 Sam 15–19). The psalm highlights many people who surround David (3:2, 3, 7, and 8). At the same time, David calls to Yahweh to awake, save him, strike the chin of his enemies and smash their teeth (3:8). As subsequent psalms detail, David particularly feels the burden shame, lamenting the loss of his glory while many enemies surround him.

In Psalm 3:4, David confesses: “You, Yahweh, are a shield wrapped around me, my glory, and the one who raises up my head.” Yet David’s confession of Yahweh as his glory remains unrealized, while his enemies spit shame at him: “Children of humanity, how long will my glory turn into shame? How long will you love vanity seek lies?” (Ps 4:3).

But then in Psalm 7:6 the psalmist challenges God. If God finds any wrongdoing in him, then:

“Let the enemy pursue my soul, overtake it, and let him trample my life to the ground. Let him lay my glory in the dust. Selah.”

The assumption on the part of David is that God will find him innocent, and God therefore must not let an enemy grind David’s glory into the dust.

Yet Psalm 7 leaves unanswered what Psalm 8 answers. In Psalm 8, David responds to his own plea for glory. Psalm 8:5–6 reads:

“What is man that you remember him or the son of man that you care for him? You made him lower than the gods, and you have crowned him with glory and honor.”

The sequence of Psalms so far suggests that Psalms 3–8 tell a story, a story of glory lost and glory realized. While many enemies surround him, David laments his loss of glory in Pss. 3–8. Yet he realizes in Psalm 8 that God has crowned humanity with glory and honor, expressed concretely in humanity’s rule over earth (8:6–8).

But does Psalm 8 really satisfy the demands of David’s situation? What does it matter if David participates in ruling the world (a form of glory) when enemies thrust his glory to the dust? Thus, Psalm 8 must be read alongside Psalm 9 in which David recounts God’s deliverance of him and God’s defeat of David’s enemies:

“The enemy has come to everlasting ruin, and you have rooted cities; their very memory is destroyed. But Yahweh is enthroned forever. He establishes his throne for justice” (9:6–7).

David nevertheless has not escaped trouble for he still experiences affliction (9:13), yet the note of Psalm 9 constantly hits hope and victory. David’s situation has changed from Psalms 3–7 for the better. At the very least, Psalms 8–9 show a different perspective on David’s conflict. David now trusts fully in God for victory without doubt (Ps 9) and takes hold of the glory that is his by right of creation in God’s image (Ps 8). By seeing God as glorious giver (Ps 8) and dominating destroyer (Ps 9), David’s fortunes have changed.

At the end of this section of Psalms, one thing is clear: David’s glory was never lost; it was his at creation, and David’s victory was never hopeless; The God of hope sits enthroned at Zion forever (cf. Ps 9:11). Psalms 3-9 show that the warnings of Psalm 1-2 are real, and put the first two Psalms into almost a narrative format. God’s glory cannot be stole, and and God will bless those who seek him.

Wyatt Graham

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Wyatt is the Executive Director of The Gospel Coalition Canada. He also blogs at www.wyattgraham.com. Follow him at @wagraham.
  • Jane Hildebrand

    While spoken by David, I always believed the words of Psalm 8 to be prophetic of Christ. The one who was made a little lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:7), the second Adam who was given dominion (1 Cor. 15:45), and the one who ordained praise from the lips of children (Psalm 8:2). Also Psalm 9, which speaks of the final judgement, interestingly is to the tune of “The death of the son.”

    • Jason

      Christ, being man, qualifies for the descriptions of Psalm 8. However, it seems to me that David is marveling at the fact that God saw fit to elevate man to a position of such glory (verses 3-4).

      The Lord, on the other hand, humbled himself to that position from one of greater glory. The Lord having dominion over the animals he created (Colossians 1:16) doesn’t seem like it would puzzle David much.

      The 9th Psalm certainly is the type of the final judgement, but I think David was seeing God working out justice in his day as well, which is why he is claiming to recount God’s deeds.

      Certainly, all of history points to Christ, so it’s not wrong to see the Kingdom throughout history, but I think David was discussing the shadows of things to come (Colossians 2:17) which we can now look back on and realize were a shadow more than he was speaking of a strictly future event prophetically.