“You, O Lord, are a shield for me, My glory and the One who lifts up my head”—Psalm 3:3, NKJV

What Does Psalm 3 Mean

What a profound encouragement this verse is to me! I can only imagine how much distress David was experiencing when he wrote Psalm 3. He had fled from his wicked son Absalom, who had conspired against both David’s kingdom and his life. The backdrop of this confession in verse 3 is found in verses 1-2, where David laments the increase in numbers of those who have joined Absalom and risen up against him. Not only does it seem as if the whole world is standing against David at this point, but he also feels the taunts of his enemies saying, “There is no help for him in God.”

David responds to this lament in verse 3 with a strong confession of his safety, peace, and hope in the Lord. “You, O Lord, are a shield for me, My glory and the One who lifts up my head.”

One day a few years ago, after our college choir sang a setting of this text, I began meditating on it and have done so quite a bit over the past few years. It has become one of my favorite passages, and I want to share some of my meditation with you today.

We’re in a War

The first thing we need to understand about this verse, in its context, is that just like David, we’re in a war. Our lives as Christians are spiritual warfare.

You’re in a war. Right now. You’re in a battle for your life. The devil is your chief enemy, and there are going to be times in your life—maybe you’re in the middle of it now—when he will marshal everything he can against you. This is surely how David felt when so many people he thought were his friends and allies had gone over to the side of Absalom.

In the Midst of the Battle, God is There for Us

David mentions three important areas in this passage in which he’s relying on God. He says that God is his shield, his glory, and the lifter of his head.

What do these three things mean?

“Shield” is a symbol of God’s protection, of security found in the Lord.

“Glory”—this is about honor, dignity, reputation, what we take pride in. Even though David’s outward honor and glory as king was gone, even though he had had to flee in his own kingdom, he knew God was his true glory.

“Lifter of my head”—This is about the emotional effects of God’s presence in our lives in the midst of our battle. Even when our head is hanging low in despair, God is there to lift it up and give us joy.

For Us

One other thing—In the midst of the battle, God is there for us. The text says, “Thou O Lord art a shield for me.”

I’ll never forget when my old professor at Yale Robert Johnson told us about Luther’s teaching that Christ is “pro me” and “pro nobis”—“for me” and “for us.” Yes!

Yahweh is a shield for me. He’s a shield for you. He’s glory for you. He’s the lifter up of your head. He cares deeply about you, and he will protect you and comfort you and give you joy and be your glory if you will trust in him.

Only God

My third, and main, thought is this: Only God can be your shield, your glory, and the lifter of your head. This is the hard part. This is what makes it so tough to rely on God in the middle of life’s battles—because we can’t bring ourselves to rely solely on him to be our security, glory, joy and peace.

We tend to rely on the “not-God,” as Carl Henry used to say, to provide our security, our glory, and our joy and peace. Think with me—what might some of these be in your life? I think most of the time the things that we tend to rely on for security, glory, and joy and peace revolve around these things:

  • Circumstances
  • People
  • Ourselves

For our security, we too often rely on circumstances (happiness—things going our way—a good example is the economy), people’s approval [1] (even people who have power over us or who might threaten us in some way, like Absalom and his co-conspirators did David), or our own strength and self-sufficiency.

For our glory (what we take pride in), we’re tempted to rely on possessions or wealth (circumstances), popularity, status, or the esteem of others (people), or success (ourselves)—fulfillment of our hopes and dreams—even ministry success!

For the lifting of our heads, too often we tend to let our joy and peace come from those false gods that we rely on for security and glory.

  • Things going our way, having what we want, financial security (circumstances)
  • People approving of us and liking us, not feeling threatened by them (people)
  • feeling strong and self-sufficient and successful, fulfilling our personal goals, hopes, and dreams (ourself).

We need to repent of this, because when we allow circumstances, people, and our personal success and happiness to be what gives us security, glory, or joy and peace, we’re making idols out of those things and taking glory away from the only One who can ultimately provide us with security, glory, and joy and peace.

My prayer for you and me today is that we will put away our idols, those things we’ve come to rely on for security, glory, and joy and peace, and make the Lord the center of our world, realizing that he and he alone is a shield for us, our glory, and the lifter of our heads.


[1] The best book on fear of others is Ed Welch’s When People are Big and God is Small (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1997).

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