Read Psalm 3.
David was a man after God’s heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22), but he wasn’t a perfect man—not by a long shot. There was his sin with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, to be sure, but there was something else that brought David low.
While he was generally a wise king, a brilliant military strategist, and a devoted follower of Yahweh, David was out of his element when it came to raising his own children. The Bible provides scant details about David as a father, but what it does tell us is heartbreaking.
It’s one of the most difficult chapters in the Bible to read, and it was also one of the most difficult chapters in the life of Israel’s royal family. Fueled by lust and his own brokenness, David’s son Amnon raped David’s daughter Tamar.
David was furious (2 Samuel 13:21).
But that’s it. He was just furious; he apparently did nothing about it—nothing to hold Amnon accountable, nothing to provide justice for Tamar. Two years later, Amnon was still free and enjoying all the benefits that come with being a son of the king.
They say that when a leader refuses to wield his or her authority when necessary, someone else will take charge. And that’s exactly what happened in David’s family. Since David failed to do something about the Amnon situation, Absalom, another of David’s sons, decided to take matters into his own hands. He lured Amnon away from the city under false pretenses and had him killed (2 Samuel 13:23–29).
The rift between Absalom and David never quite healed after that. Eventually, Absalom led an all-out insurrection, gathering people who would support him as king in Jerusalem over his father, David. So many rallied behind Absalom that David and most of his closest allies fled the capital.
That is the background for Psalm 3, an emotional prayer in which David expresses his trust in God, despite being on the run. It’s hard to read through the psalm without pausing at verse 7, with its vivid and somewhat shocking imagery: “Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.” So much for the man after God’s own heart, right? Jesus, who perfectly represented the Father (Hebrews 1:3), told us to love our enemies, not knock out their molars (Matthew 5:44).
Before we’re too hard on David, let’s remember that in this psalm, he’s put everything—absolutely everything—in the hands of God. He’s not going to break anyone’s teeth. He is leaving vengeance and his own deliverance to the Lord. That’s why he can lift his head high (v. 3). That’s why he can sleep at night (v. 5). That’s why he doesn’t have to fear the tens of thousands who are hunting him (v. 6). He’s given it all to God, even the breaking of teeth.
I don’t believe God wants us to pray that our enemies’ teeth would crack inside their mouths. That’s not something I can imagine Jesus doing. But I have a lot of grace for David. He didn’t have the gospel in its fullest expression. He didn’t have the Sermon on the Mount. And he didn’t have the example of Jesus who laid down His life and prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Yet, even with all that David didn’t have, Psalm 3 ends on a note that highlights the humility he found in his later years. I imagine much of this humility came from seeing how his own failings had affected his children. Though the psalm is a prayer for personal deliverance, David closes by asking, “May your blessing be on your people” (Psalm 3:8). Still in hiding, David is less concerned with his own safety and well-being; He wants God to bless the people of Israel, many of whom were, at that moment, supporting Absalom’s insurrection.
Concerning Absalom, David ordered his men to be gentle with him, to do everything they could to protect him (2 Samuel 18:5, 12). He did not want the young man dead, even though the situation would have justified such a response. When Absalom was then killed at the hands of Joab, the commander of David’s army, David wept and mourned, so much so that it disheartened his own troops (2 Samuel 19:1–6). Joab even accused David, saying, “You love those who hate you and hate those who love you” (v. 6). Joab may not have the situation exactly right—there’s no indication that David hated his own supporters—but David did indeed love his enemy.