Psalms For The Night Seasons
Many things plague us and keep us up at night. In this series of articles, we will examine several reasons why the Psalmists struggled to sleep at night.
Do you feel you had enough sleep last night? When was the last time you woke up, decided you didn’t need a cup of coffee or tea, and just proceeded through the day refreshed and reinvigorated as though you’d slept for a week? If you answered, “I can’t remember,” you are not alone.
Despite the importance of sleep, restless nights have always tormented humankind. A verse in the Psalms confirms that David wrestled on his bed at night:
David expresses desperate feelings, emotions, and inner turmoil on his bed. He cries out to God during the day and even during the night when he wishes he could sleep.
Can you put yourself in David’s sandals? Many things plague us and keep us up at night. In this series of articles, we will examine several reasons why the Psalmists struggled to sleep at night. Perhaps they are our reasons too? We will also explore solutions the Psalmists and other Bible characters employed to help calm the night storms and eventually find sleep and peace with God.2
The Night Seasons
The “night seasons” is an interesting expression. Job also uses it: “My bones are pierced in me in the night season: and my sinews take no rest.” (Job 30:17 KJV). What does it mean? Strong’s reveals this can literally mean the night, but it is also used figuratively for a period of dark adversity or a season of trial. David’s use of this expression in Psalms 22 suggests he is dealing with both: a night of turmoil fueled by a long season of trouble.
David uses the term again in Psalms 16 where he says, “I will bless the LORD, who hath given me counsel; my heart also instructs me in the night seasons.” (v. 7). In this verse, he is meditating and mulling over counsel he has received from God by night, perhaps through prayer, reading or meditation. As he tosses and turns, he tries to find answers and rationalize his plight with God’s principles or just radically accept the confusion of his life.
Asaph, the chief musician at the Temple, describes similar experiences during the night:
In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; My hand was stretched out in the night without ceasing; My soul refused to be comforted … You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I have considered the days of old … I call to remembrance my song in the night; I meditate within my heart, and my spirit makes diligent search. (Psa 77:2-6).
Asaph paints the picture of a man on his bed with hands outstretched in petition and pleas. He was overwhelmed with his distress. He tried music, musing, and meditation, and still, his eyelids would not close.
Can you relate to these scenarios? As we stare at the ceiling or repeatedly glance at the night clock, we may find ourselves in prayer or tears, crying out to God as we share our anguish. Or we may just ruminate on our troubles, ponder our dreams, rehearse verses, or attempt to view our lives from God’s perspective. This is not a fun experience. It is distressing to wait hour upon hour for the morning light to filter through the blinds.
What caused David to writhe on his bed at night? Perhaps it was Saul’s endless pursuit of David’s life? Or wars and threats from other nations? At times, we can be sure it was the same things that worry us: our children (Absalom), our marriage (Bathsheba, Michal), our job, or lack thereof, or even the loss of loved ones (the death of David’s baby, or Ahithophel’s suicide). There are so many things that wreak havoc in our minds at night. And they were all shared by Godly men and women years ago.
The Problem—Psalm 3 and 4
What solutions did David find for sleep during these night seasons? In Psalms 3 and 4, a paired set of Psalms, David shares several. But their historical context helps reveal the depth of their meaning.
historical context helps reveal the depth of meaning
The superscription for Psalm 3 reads, “A Psalm of David when he fled from Absalom his son.” This tragedy is described in 2 Samuel 15-17, where we learn how Absalom seduces the nation of Israel (15:1-6), plans a coup against his father David (v. 10), convinces innocent individuals to join (v. 11), and even recruits Ahithophel, David’s friend and chief counselor to join this large conspiracy (v. 12).
Horrified, David realizes that he and his family will have to hotfoot it from the palace in Jerusalem (vv. 13-14). They all passed through the Brook Kidron, escape over the Mt of Olives barefoot and weeping (vv. 23, 30), and eventually flee over the Jordan River by night (17:15-16, 22).
Do these Psalms describe a happy time in David’s life? On the contrary—it was deeply distressing. Many of us can relate to losing a close friend, being disappointed by family, having to flee our house, being innocent victims in a wayward plan, or having our lives threatened. When Ahithophel offers to “choose twelve thousand men, and arise and pursue David,” (2 Sam 17:1), we can feel David’s anguish: “LORD, how they have increased who trouble me! Many are they who rise up against me.” (Psa 3:1). David and his company were terrified!
Curiously, amidst this chaos, David reveals in both Psalms that “I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustained me,” (Psalm 3:5) and “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep.” (Psalm 4:8). Do these sound like the night seasons of a man fleeing for his life? How did David get to a point where the night seasons were bearable? He reveals some solutions in these Psalms:
1) Trust and Confidence. Trust is a feeling of belief that we have in someone. It does not necessarily require prior evidence or history, whereas confidence depends on actions from prior history. In Psalm 4:3, David expresses trust that God would someday “set apart for Himself him who is godly.”
He believed God would not count him with “the sons of men” that “love what is worthless and search for what is deceptive” (v. 2 NET). This was a future hope based on his belief in God’s promises to him. If we “trust in the LORD” (4:5) and in these same promises, He will eventually separate us from the same godless people that keep us awake.
David also expresses great confidence in God when he describes Him in military terms: “You, O LORD, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head.” (Psa 3:3). David had built this confidence in God when He protected him from Saul, Goliath, and other threatening characters.
The word “shield” means to surround or hedge about. David knew God was positioned in front, behind, beside, under, and over him. When we struggle or others threaten us, do we picture God as fully around us? May God open our eyes, as he did for Gehazi, and reveal that God’s horses and chariots of fire are “all around” us. (2 Kgs 6:17).
2) Pray. Do we truly believe in the power of prayer? David unashamedly admits that he needs help, and so he “cried to the LORD with my voice.” (Psa 3:4). Like Hezekiah, when he faced the Assyrian army (2 Kgs 19:14), David spreads out his troubles before God and admits how scared and overwhelmed he feels. But there is no power if there is no prayer.
Sharing with God is therapeutic. And, when we cry out to God, we involve Him in our troubles, admit that we are powerless by ourselves, and acknowledge that God supplies so many more resources for our distress than we can alone. If we pray, David provides us with complete confidence that “the LORD will hear.” (Psa 3:4; 4:3).
Sharing with God is therapeutic.
3) Fear Not. If we were faced with 12,000 men and the charismatic threat of Absalom, would we be afraid? David states unequivocally, “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.” (Psa 3:6).
It took David time to progress to this perspective, as it would us. Still, he eventually embraces God’s reassurances: “Do not fear” and “I am with thee.” God repeats these and similar phrases over forty times in the Bible. Why? Because we naturally fear, and God knows it!
Did you notice how David contrasts those who are “against me all around,” with God, who fully surrounds us as a “shield” (v. 3)? God was with him—there was no reason to fear. Paul exclaims confidently, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31). Do we truly believe this, or do we allow our fears to vex us on our beds at night?
4) Leave Vengeance to God. As David flees Jerusalem, he encounters the scoundrel Shimei, who defames God’s anointed as a “man of blood,” “evil,” and a “worthless man.” (2 Sam 16:5-8 ESV). He is bold enough to throw rocks and dust at David and the royal entourage. He is typical of some people we face in our life during distress. They hand us stones rather than help. People are quick to accuse, bold enough to judge, gossip, and insult without all the details, and forget that God has orchestrated the event.
When someone adds insult to our injury, our natural reaction is to fight back and silence this pain. But David’s reaction is one of great restraint. Instead of allowing Abishai to lop off Shimei’s head, here he frames him as another trial God “hath bidden.” (v. 11 KJV). David does not take vengeance. Instead, he believed God would “requite” him or overturn this cursing. When we face similar characters during our trials, are we vindictive, or do our actions profess a firm belief that God has “struck all my enemies on the cheekbone; You have broken the teeth of the ungodly.” (Psa 3:7)?
5) Be Angry and Do Not Sin. While we lay on our beds and stew or fret, it is easy to work ourselves into a state of anger or even rage and proceed to act in a harmful way. David instructs us to “Be angry, and do not sin.” (Psa 4:4). Anger is a God-given emotion we all experience. What matters is what we do with that anger.
Anger can motivate us to act and make positive changes in our life, but if we do not harness or diffuse it quickly and healthily, it can boil over with dire consequences. Paul quotes this verse saying, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” (Eph 4:26).
In other words, deal with your anger in short order. Don’t let it fester through the night and have it explode before dawn. Perhaps it is better to get up and distract ourselves? It is wise to leave social media alone until a cooler head prevails. Exercising or talking with someone who can validate our feelings may help calm us down. Better yet, have we asked God to help douse the flames burning inside us?
6) Be Still. David’s ultimate goal in the night seasons was to: “Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.” (Psa 4:4). The word “still” means to be silent or at peace. This is a difficult task and does not diminish the benefits of processing our grief, sorrow, or upset. However, after hours or nights, our end goal is to proactively achieve a peaceful state and be still.
When we practice David’s solutions above, we are more likely to find peace and “be still” on our beds. “Stillness” will also be achieved if we “Offer the sacrifices of righteousness.” (Psa 4:5). This means that we respond to our night seasons and foes in a manner that is right in God’s eyes and that we are willing to suffer wrongfully if this is part of our trial (1 Pet 2:19-23).
Winston Churchill allegedly admitted, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles. But most of them never happened.” We can worry at night about many things that never come to pass. Instead, Jesus instructs us, “Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” (Matt 6:34 ESV).
7) Friends. Many who fled with David to the wilderness gave up hope that anyone cared about them or would help them. David recounts of his company, “There are many who say, ‘Who will show us any good?’ LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us.” (Psa 4:6). He appeals to God to show them some favor as they languished during their escape. And God answered his prayer!
In the historical record, Ziba brings David an enormous supply of food and drink (2 Sam 16:1-2). Later, Shobi, Machir, and Barzillai deliver additional supplies, including grain, drink, and even beds! (17:27-29). David memorializes the kindness of these surprise friends when he exclaims,
God is also aware of our pleas for help and sleep and will often answer them in the form of unlikely friends.
David’s solutions for the night seasons may seem simple or trite, but they are powerful and profound. If the King of Israel used them to improve his sleep, they would enhance ours. If we cry out to Him in the night, He will bring us to a place where we can “both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” (Psa 4:8).
They Went Out By Night
We began our inquiry into David’s night seasons in Psalm 22:2. But did you notice this Psalm has a double application? Psalm 22 describes David’s experiences, but it is also Messianic. It describes the night seasons of Christ, as evidenced in the first verse: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mat 27:46).
David’s night seasons foreshadowed those of Jesus. Can you imagine being with Christ after the Last Supper as he left Jerusalem with his friends at night? Then traveled across the Brook Kidron and up into the Mount of Olives. Judas, his close friend, betrayed his life. Jesus was threatened and defamed but accepted it as part of God’s trial. His disciples feared and tried to find sleep. But God sent an angel and friend “to Him from heaven, strengthening Him.” (Luke 22:43). Just as He had for David and his gathering.
A night season is just that—a season and not an eternity. It is a challenging period that finally gives way to another promising season. God’s love for us is not a love that exempts us from these trials but rather a love that sees us through these trials. If we call out to Him, He will sustain and raise us up from our beds, and even from the grave, as he did for David and Christ: “I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord sustained me.” (Psa 3:5).
Cambridge Ecclesia, ON
- All Scriptural citations are taken from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.
- The reader may recall a set of talks from the 1990s by my father, Bro. Colin Badger, with the same title: “Psalms for the Night Seasons.” They have helped me and many others through our personal Night Seasons. These classes inspired the theme of these articles.