Psalm 3 – “Complaint Against Enemies”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
The psalmist begs God to save him from his enemies.

II. Photo
The psalmist trusts in God: “I lie down and sleep and wake again, for the Lord sustains me.” (v. 6)

III. Select Verses
1: A psalm of David when he fled from his son Absalom.
2-3: O LORD, my foes are so many! Many are those who attack me; many say of me, “There is no deliverance for him through God.” Selah.
7: I have no fear of the myriad forces arrayed against me on every side.
8:  Rise, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God! For You slap all my enemies in the face; You break the teeth of the wicked.

IV. Outline
1. Historical superscription
2a. Invocation
2b-3. Complaint: a multitude of enemies
4. Praise/thanks/trust
5. Anticipated praise
6-7. Trust
8. Petition
9. Blessing

V. Comment
Psalm 3 is the first psalm that fits into a clear genre, namely the “individual complaint.” One might ask, What is the book of Psalms? Gerstenberger writes: “The songs and prayers collected in this biblical book are but a sample of the texts used in Israel’s ceremonials throughout the centuries. As we have seen, numerous poems, for some reason or other, were not incorporated into the collection, such as the victory songs of Deborah (Judges 5) and Miriam (Exod 15:1-18), the thanksgivings of Jonah (Jonah 2), Hannah (1 Sam 2:1-10), and Hezekiah (Isa 38:10-20), or the mourning songs of the book of Lamentations, the complaints of Jeremiah and Job, and the hymns of Second Isaiah. Later compilations such as the Psalms of Solomon, of course, could no longer enter in the canonical Psalter because this book of hymns and prayer had already been closed by about 200 B.C. Other books of sacred poetry (cf. Num 21:14; Josh 10:12-13; 2 Sam 1:18; 1 Kgs 8:53 [LXX]) had been lost even before the formationof the Psalter began. What generative forces, then, brought about, sometime between 500 and 200 B.C., this specific, eclectic collection of religious poetry?
“Prayers and sacred songs are generally collected for liturgical reasons, not for private edification. Such collections normally serve as handbooks for cultic officials, not for the layperson who only participates in worship. This generalization was true particularly in ancient times, when most people were illiterate. Numerous examples can be listed to illustrate these observations. The Essenes of Qumran had their own hymnal, as did the Manichaeans and the Mandaeans… The ‘liturgical handbook,’ however, is by no means an invention of ancient Israel. As early as Sumerian times there existed ‘canonical’ collections of prayers. Later we know of many Babylonian and Assyrian rituals, including su-illa, ‘lifting up of the hands,’ namburbi ‘rite of acquittal or absolution,’ surpu ‘burning,’ maqlu ‘roasting,’ and bit rimki ‘washhouse.’ In a similar way, all the other nations of the ancient Near East committed their liturgical texts to writing. The evidence is overwhelming that written prayers, songs, and rituals were destined to be used primarily by the cultic officiant. The OT Psalter reveals the same original purpose.” (27)

While Gerstenberger makes many interesting points, it must be pointed out that he goes too far in his description of the psalms’ relation to ancient Near Eastern cultic literature. While it makes sense that the psalms were preserved by a priestly group, nothing quite like the Psalter has ever been found in the ancient world. In other words, the book of Psalms is unique, even for the variegated cultic texts of ancient Near East.

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Craigie, Peter C. “Psalms 1-50” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 19 (Waco, Texas: Wordbooks, 1983).
Gerstenberger, Erhard S. “Psalms Part 1 with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry” Forms of Old Testament Literature (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1988).
Photo taken from