June 2010 • Volume XIII, Issue 2
Psalm 3 on Uncommon Grace
Psalm 3 is the first psalm that comes with a title: "A Psalm of David,
when he fled from Absalom his son." This places this psalm firmly in the
days of Absalom’s wicked rebellion against David, his father, King of
Israel (II Samuel 15f.).
In the opening verses of Psalm 3, David exclaims in amazement that
"many" (1, 2) had turned against him and that they have "increased" (1).
The narrative in II Samuel also lays great emphasis on the huge scale of
the rebellion against Israel’s rightful king (II Sam. 15:6, 10-13;
16:15; 17:11; 18:6-7; 19:8-10). David’s own flesh and blood, Absalom,
led the coup and most of the nation had gone over to him. Ahithophel,
David’s friend and chief counsellor, defected (15:12, 31) and there was
Shimei, Saul’s relative, to curse David, whom he called a bloodthirsty
son of Belial, and throw stones at him and his men (16:5-14). These are
the "many" who have "increased" who "trouble" David and "rise up
against" him (Ps. 3:1). "Many there be [not just among the surrounding
pagan nations but in Israel, which professes to be the people of God,
the only true church!] which say of my soul, There is no help for him in
Notice what David does not do. He does not give way to despair and blame
God. Indeed, David understood that Absalom’s rebellion was divine
chastisement for his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah the
Hittite (II Sam. 12:9-12). Instead of responding in unbelief and rage,
David turns to Jehovah, the God of all comfort. He is the psalmist’s
"shield" to protect him and "the lifter up of [his] head" to encourage
him (Ps. 3:3). Indeed, David calls the Lord "my glory" (3) for "the
sweet psalmist of Israel" (II Sam. 23:1) glories in God, even in these
most trying of circumstances!
After confessing his love of Jehovah (Ps. 3:3), King David prays and is
sure of an answer: "I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me
out of his holy hill" (4). David has been forced to leave Jerusalem,
fleeing before Absalom’s advancing forces (II Sam. 15:13ff.), but he
still has access by faith in the coming Messiah to God’s "holy hill"
(Ps. 3:4) in heaven to which Israel’s lofty, earthly capital pointed.
With the rich consolation of Jehovah’s covenant friendship (3) and the
assurance of answered prayer (4), despite the threat of assassination or
attack, David was able to do three (ordinarily mundane) things in peace
and safety: lie down, sleep and awake (5). How was this, David? Israel’s
king tells us: "for the Lord sustained me" (5).
Rising next morning, many miles from his palace bed, David is physically
and spiritually strengthened. Out of the holy fear of Almighty God, he
is able to confess over against Absalom’s rebellious hordes: "I will not
be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against
me round about" (6).
As David stirs himself from sleep, he beseeches God, as it were, to do
the same: "Arise, O Lord" (7)! Show that Thou art awake and fully
engaged in the deliverance of Thy beloved servant! "Save me, O my God:
for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast
broken the teeth of the ungodly" (7)!
But what has all this to do with Jehovah’s almighty, uncommon grace? We
are coming to that now. Notice the psalmist’s concluding summary:
"Salvation belongeth unto the Lord: thy blessing is upon thy people"
(8). God’s blessing is upon His people, not the pagan Gentiles nor the
unbelieving in Israel!
Notice David’s reasoning. Salvation is God’s sovereign prerogative (8a)
and God’s salvation of David involves His destroying of David’s
"ungodly" "enemies" in Israel who had rebelled against him (7). Thus
David adds, "thy blessing is upon thy people" (8b).
Absalom was not one of God’s people. Aside from his cold-blooded murder
of his half-brother Amnon (II Sam. 13:19-29), he had rebelled against
his father, the king, and seized the throne. This was not only an
egregious breaking of the fifth commandment; it was a frontal assault on
the man after God’s own heart (I Sam. 13:14) who ruled over the Old
Testament form of the kingdom of God and typified the coming Messiah,
David’s son and Lord. As far as he was able, Absalom attacked the future
Christ and His kingdom!
Ahithophel did not truly belong to the people of God either. His base
treachery against his friend, David, is famous (cf. Ps. 41:9; 55:12-14),
as is his wicked suicide when this proud man hanged himself because he
could not bear it that for once "his counsel was not followed" (II Sam.
17:23). Ahithophel is the Old Testament equivalent of Judas, "the son of
perdition" (John 17:12), who betrayed Christ (his professed friend),
hanged himself and went "to his own place," hell (Acts 1:25).
As the apostle explains, "they are not all Israel, which are of Israel"
(Rom. 9:6). Some in ethnic Israel were carnal seed or "children of the
flesh;" while others were the spiritual seed or "the children of the
In His love and mercy, God sovereignly bestows His "salvation" and
"blessing" upon His true, spiritual people (Ps. 3:8), whereas the
"ungodly" in Israel are destroyed (7). Though Absalom and his rebels
possessed the (physical) throne of David, the (earthly) city of
Jerusalem and the ark of the covenant in its tent, and though
(outwardly) they were members in the visible church (Israel) as those
circumcised and instructed in God’s law, none of these good things were
blessings to them. God’s "blessing is upon [His] people" (8), His true
spiritual people who are "Israelite[s] indeed" (John 1:47) and "are of a
clean heart" (Ps. 73:1). This is God’s sovereign, omnipotent, saving,
uncommon grace in Jesus Christ which shields, and lifts up the heads of,
the elect (Ps. 3:3) and punches the cheek bone and smashes the teeth of
the "ungodly" reprobate (7).
Philip the evangelist once asked the Ethiopian eunuch, "Understandest
thou what thou readest?" (Acts 8:30). Likewise, we ought to know the
meaning of the inspired Psalms which exhort us, "Sing ye praises with
understanding" (Ps. 47:7). The current News on Psalm 3 and last month’s
News on Psalms 1 and 2 enable us to do just that, as we extol our
covenant God for His matchless and efficacious uncommon grace through
the crucified and risen Christ. Rev. Stewart
Christ’s Weeping Over
And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying,
If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things
which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For
the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench
about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and
shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and
they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou
knewest not the time of thy visitation (Luke 19:41-44).
A reader asks, "How do some people try to use this text to say that God
weeps over the destruction of the reprobate?"
A similar passage is found in Matthew 23:37: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto
thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a
hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" The
biblical key to the right interpretation of this text is to note—as did
Augustine—the distinction it makes between "Jerusalem" (whose religious
leaders were the unbelieving Pharisees) and Jerusalem’s "children" (the
true, spiritual, elect Jews) whom Jesus desired to, and did, save. For
more on this, see "Christ’s Will to Gather Jerusalem’s Children" (CR
Both texts are wrongly cited as proof for the notion that the gospel is
a gracious expression of God’s love for all men and of His desire to
save all men, including the reprobate. It is so adamantly promoted by
its proponents that anyone who disagrees is the object of some nasty
name-calling: "Hyper-Calvinists! Unable to do evangelism!"
The argument that finds a gracious and well-meant gospel offer in these
texts is this: If Jesus was sorrowful at the impending judgment of
Jerusalem, which would leave Jerusalem lying in heaps of rubble, His
sorrow must have been born in His desire to save the inhabitants—and His
failure to do so. He was stymied in His desires and failed to accomplish
His purpose in spite of His best efforts. Thus some, claiming to be
Calvinists and claiming, therefore, that God always accomplishes His
purpose, have no other recourse available to them than to conclude that
a sovereign God failed to save those whom He loves and desires to save.
No appeal to "apparent contradiction" or "higher logic in God than in
us" can escape the conclusion that our Lord was bitterly disappointed
that His best efforts to save Jerusalem were stymied by Jerusalem’s
It has also been argued that Christ according to His divine nature
willed and desired the salvation of the elect only but that according to
His human nature He desired the salvation of all men. This
interpretation was offered in a rather well-known church case in
Australia. But the one who taught this view was rightly charged with
Nestorianism, that is, the error, condemned already by the church at the
Council of Ephesus in 431, that our Lord had two persons. When this
heresy of Nestorianism is applied to the gracious and well-meant gospel
offer, the result is confusion. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is personally
the Second Person of the Trinity, and who is (to use the words of the
Nicene Creed) "true God of true God," was fully sovereign in all that He
did, especially in His salvation of the elect for whom He died. But that
same Lord Jesus Christ was also a human person who earnestly desired the
salvation of all men and in love and mercy for all sought their
salvation. Our one Lord Jesus Christ living in a state of constant
contradiction! How can that be?
But Scripture does not teach such "paradoxes" and "apparent
contradictions," and those who claim that it does do so only because
they have an axe to grind: they want to spread abroad the notion that
God loves all men and would save them all if He could.
The reason for our Lord’s sorrow is relatively easy. Jerusalem was the
capital of Israel. Israel was the one people that God had chosen to be
His own possession and to whom He had given special gifts (cf. Rom.
9:4-5). Furthermore, Jerusalem was filled with pictures of Christ
Himself: the throne of David and Solomon, the temple, the many
sacrifices that were made daily in the temple, the feasts celebrated in
the holy city and Mount Zion itself, beautiful for situation and the joy
of the whole earth (Ps. 48:2). All these pictures had served a very good
purpose throughout the entire old dispensation.
That these beautiful pictures of Christ were marred badly by the wicked
scribes and Pharisees was the reason for Christ’s sorrow. Is not this
understandable? Would you not be grieved if some wicked person took your
best photograph and spoiled it so terribly that you looked like a
monster? Would you not be very sorrowful if someone painted a beard on a
photograph of your mother?
Christ was like us in all things, sin excepted. He was also a man of
sorrows and acquainted with grief, who could weep over the death of his
beloved Lazarus—even though He knew He was going to raise Lazarus from
The pictures were hopelessly ruined, with no chance of proper
restoration. Our Lord could see Jerusalem in all its splendour as it
pointed to Himself. He was saddened by what was about to happen to it.
But He was also angry. When He saw the temple, a picture of His own
blessed body, made a den of thieves, He was infuriated. In His anger, He
drove out the buyers and sellers and the animals that were sold within
its precincts (John 2:13-22).
It certainly is not strange that Christ, Himself true God of true God,
was grieved at the sin that made Jerusalem the ugly spectacle that it
had become. God certainly was grieved with Israel when they constantly
rebelled against Him in the wilderness (Heb. 3:10, 17; Ps. 95:10).
Surely, there is no one who would dare to say that God delights in the
sin of man, much less His own people. Surely, no one would hold to the
position that God is filled with joy when the church corrupts His truth
and makes a caricature of His sovereignty. The very idea is blasphemous.
But to conclude from God’s anger with sinners and His abhorrence of sin
that He desires to save all men is a monstrous corruption of simple
logic. The truth of Scripture is that God loves His elect with a love
revealed in the cross of Christ and God so greatly abhors the sinner
that He punishes the sinner with eternity in hell. Prof. Hanko
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