Trust in the Face of Terror
Psalm 3:1-8 A PSALM OF DAVID, WHEN HE FLED FROM ABSALOM HIS SON. O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; 2 many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. Selah 3 But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. 4 I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah 5 I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me. 6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. 7 Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. 8 Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people! Selah
Today we face a crisis of terrorism, a tool used by men to frighten people into giving them what they want. Sophisticated weapons have escalated the effectiveness of terrorism. Powerful bombs, missiles, chemicals and bacteria can be used to destroy thousands of people. With these tools the terrorists create fear. With fear they demand concessions: Give us food, money, land, and authority. Terrorists do not work. They do not build up and improve anything. Terrorists are not reformers trying to create a better society. They consume and destroy, and they will continue to do so as long as they can. Terrorism is a blight and a cancer upon God’s creation.
Terrorism exists because human beings have willfully rebelled against God. In Psalm 81 God said, "My people would not heed My voice, And Israel would have none of Me. So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, To walk in their own counsels. "Oh, that My people would listen to Me, That Israel would walk in My ways! I would soon subdue their enemies, And turn My hand against their adversaries" (81.11-14). In Lamentations God says that He does not "willingly afflict or grieve the children of men" (3.33). Evil penetrates all hearts. So in the face of terrorism we must begin by facing the sin in our own hearts. Terrorism is a wake up call that all people need repentance before God and faith in God.
The good news from God is that He doesn’t turn His back on us. St. Paul said, "If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself" (2 Timothy 2.13). There are two types of sinners in this world: Those who live by their sin and those who bring their sin to God for forgiveness. We who ask for God’s mercy and forgiveness also have His help and blessing in the face of our enemies. And that is what brings us to Psalm 3. In the face of terror we can trust God to… 1. Tell Him Our Troubles (1-2) 2. Calm Our Fears (3-6) 3. Call God to Action (7) and 4. Remember God’s Promises (8).
1. Tell Him Our Troubles (1-2)
A PSALM OF DAVID, WHEN HE FLED FROM ABSALOM HIS SON. O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; 2 many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. Selah
Notice that this Psalm is connected to another event in the Bible. This was the prayer that David spoke to God when he had experienced the sorrow of his own son’s rebellion.
Absalom was a favorite son of King David. He was handsome and well-liked. He was especially remembered for his long, thick hair. But Absalom was impetuous and lacked control of his desires. Sin ruled in his heart. This eventually led to his scheme to overthrow his father’s rule. When people came to see the king, Absalom undermined David by telling people that the king wouldn’t be able to help them. He then said, "Oh that I were made judge in the land…" (2 Samuel 25.4). In this way Absalom "stole the hearts of the people" (2 Samuel 25.6). Eventually Absalom raised an army and attacked his father. David had to flee for his life.
In the opening verses of this psalm David recalls the fear that he experienced. Fear can do a lot of things to people. It can paralyze us. It can mislead us to do desperate things. President Roosevelt was right when he said in his first inaugural address: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
David couldn’t understand why so many enemies were rising up against him. He was especially dismayed by what they said, "There is no salvation for him in God." God doesn’t answer David’s question. He doesn’t answer many of our questions: Why this cancer? Why this accident? We these enemies? No one but God really understands sin. In Revelation 17 St. John describes one of Satan’s agents in this world as a Great Harlot. On her forehead was written: "MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH" (Revelation 17.5). Notice the first word. Sin is a mystery, and we will never be able to understand those who are sold out to sin. The lesson here is that we shouldn’t waste time trying to figure out why people do such evil things, we should take this fear and confusion to God. And so David doesn’t just wring his hands and fulminate over this. He takes it to God in prayer. He tells God what he is feeling.
2. Calm Our Fears (3-6)
But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. 4 I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah 5 I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me. 6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.
David turns from what he doesn’t know to what he does know. He knows that the LORD is his Shield, His Glory, and the One who Lifts Up His head.
Absalom’s surprise uprising was so effective that David had to flee for his life. And yet God was his shield. It wasn’t a spectacular weapon or a great wall that helped him. This time God’s shield came in a very simple thing – it came in the form of bad advice. Absalom was convinced not to pursue David. That decision gave David enough time to retreat and reorganize.
The LORD provides many shields for us. I doubt that we can fully appreciate this. God said to Abram, "Do not be afraid. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward" (Genesis 15.1). I pray often for God to shield and guard me, to protect me from harm and danger. It is a good prayer and one that God desires to hear from us. He alone, who understands the mystery of evil, can protect and defend us from it. Paul says that the shield of faith quenches all the fiery darts of the wicked one (Ephesians 6.16).
A long time ago my grandmother gave her car to our family. It was a black 1950 Chevy. I remember how musty it smelled. The seats were not very comfortable, and it creaked and groaned whenever it started moving. But I also a remember a little brown sticker on the dashboard from the Lutheran Hour. It was a prayer that read: Grant me Your protection Lord, and keep me mindful of my responsibilities for the safety of others as well as my own. Amen." Now we have seat belts and air bags. For our country we may have missile defense systems. But the greatest shield and protection we have always had is that which God provides. "Grant me Your protection Lord…" This is good prayer because this is exactly what God promises to do. St. Peter said it in this way: "Cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you" (1 Peter 5.7).
3. Call God to Action (7)
Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.
David has turned his fear over to the Lord. He has called upon Him for protection. Now he calls for action. The word "arise" in Hebrew has a very distinct tone. The Book of Joshua begins with this command from the LORD: "Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them" (Joshua 1.2). The command to "Arise" is equivalent to our own way of saying "Let’s roll." But notice that here David is calling on God to action.
David barely escaped from the clutches of Absalom. But God gave him time to regroup and reorganize. When the two armies did finally meet in the forest of Ephraim David’s veterans decimated Absalom’s newly recruited rebels. Twenty thousand of them were killed. Absalom himself tried to flee away on a mule. As he rode under a tree he was separated from his mule. His thick hair caught in the low hanging branches and he was left hanging "between heaven and earth" (2 Samuel 18.9). David’s general killed him with three spears. The whole uprising and the death of his own son was a terrible tragedy for David.
Sometimes it seems that God doesn’t care. After all He does allow people to do evil things. Absalom was able to start a rebellion. Adolph Hitler overran nearly all of Europe. On 9/11 3,030 people lost their lives, 2,337 were injured. This is part of the overall judgment that falls upon this sinful world. "The wages of sin is death…" (Romans 6.3). Yet, in all of this it is important to remember… Evil may start a rampage, but God will finish it. "Indeed You strike all my enemies on the jaw and the teeth of the wicked You break." David has more in mind here than a fist fight. He pictures God’s final judgment on those who would operate in sin. He will strike down their deadliest weapons and destroy them. Everyday there are those who start up trouble. Mercifully God puts down these outbreaks of evil in His own time and way. We may suffer in the midst of them, but ultimately there is a coming judgment when evil will find itself no longer able to spill the blood of God’s people.
4. Remember God’s Promises (8)
Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people! Selah
This last verse is one of the most comforting of all verses. I consider it to be a theme verse of the entire Hebrew Bible. Salvation is not our doing – it belongs to the LORD. We cannot save ourselves from sin or from those who sin against us. But the LORD can and does. Every story of the Bible points us in this direction. When David faced Goliath, he did not strut up to the hulk like a macho man. He said, "The LORD, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine" (1 Samuel 17.37). "Salvation belongs to the LORD and His blessing is upon His people."
The most important thing we need to be concerned about in this age of terrorism is that we are "His people." God will take care of the terrorists. I do not want to be in their shoes now or certainly not on the day of judgment. I don’t want to be God’s enemy. I want to be His child. When I have that security, I have all I need in the face of every threat of savage and ruthless murderers.
I am His child because I don’t ignore, make excuses for, or otherwise abide in sin. Sin makes everyone an enemy of God whether they realize it or not. A sinful person may not be that bad of a person. They may not hurt others. But their rejection of God and continual breaking of His commandments only strengthens the hand of the terrorists and plays right into Satan’s devices.
The ultimate blessing upon God’s people is that He forgives sin. In Psalm 32 David says, "Blessed is he who’s transgression is forgiven, who’s sin is covered"(32.1). From this blessing all other blessings flow.
Recently I have found great comfort in this by doing something a little unusual with the Lord’s Prayer. Since my mind has been occupied with concerns about nuclear missiles, Katyusha rockets, IEDs, and other weapons now in the hands of evil men… like David my constant cry is "Save me… Deliver me from evil." But it is also… "Lead me away from temptation… Forgive my trespasses… Give me daily bread… Let Your kingdom come… and Let me keep Your name holy…" You see, my prayer for deliverance from evil is a prayer to be delivered from sin… both my own sin and the sins of others.
All of this leads up to one thing: Jesus Christ. Some of you remember when I went to Israel a three years ago. We were supposed to go in March, but that is when the Iraq invasion began. We didn’t want to get caught in that crossfire. So we waited until June. Still some people urged me not to go to what they thought was a dangerous place. I wasn’t really too worried about terrorism at that time. But I did wonder what impact a trip like this might have on my faith. Would the visits to ancient locations strengthen or weaken my faith. After all, I know that some of this has been commercialized, but I also knew that many of these locations are quite reliable. I discovered that the biggest impact for me didn’t have to do with the remains of ancient cities, etc. Instead I was greatly impacted by the the experience of the tension of the land of Israel. This is one of the most embattled pieces of real estate in the entire world. It has a long history of war and bloodshed. I discovered that nothing has really changed.
One afternoon our group walked from our hotel to the Wailing Wall. We had to pass through a security gate at which stood a young man with a load Uzi machine gun. It was the first time I saw one up close. But the fellow was so young. I hoped that he would not have to use it, and that I wouldn’t have to be caught in any crossfire there. But as I was thinking about this and as I was taking in all the reality of fighting in that part of the world – I began to realize that Jesus is really the eye of this storm.
Nothing has really changed since His day. Back then the Romans were there with their swords and shields. Zealots were also killing and fighting back. Everybody is fighting for something: land, power, control, etc. Only Jesus came to fight for the forgiveness of our sin and for our salvation. He came into the jaws of death to destroy sin and death. He was the answer for all the world’s problems back then, and He is still the same answer for our problems today. Only through His love, grace and mercy can the power of Satan – the greatest of all terrorists – be undone. Amen.
Pastor Michael P. Walther
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 16, 2006
Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2006
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