Psalm 4 — From Distress to Gladness
Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.
2 O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? Selah.
3 But know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the Lord will hear when I call unto him.
4 Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.
5 Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord.
6 There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.
7 Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.
8 I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.
Allan Gardiner gave his life as a missionary to Picton Island at the tip of South America. Success eluded him for most of his ministry, but still he wrote, “While God gives me strength, failure will not daunt me.” In 1851, at age 57, he died of starvation. His journal was found next to his dead body. The accounts of loneliness, hunger, thirst, and wounds from a prolonged illness were concluded with his final words, scribed with a trembling hand, “I am overwhelmed with the sense of God’s goodness.”
The title of Psalm 4 denotes a congregational song. It also carries the identification, “A Psalm of David.” It is complemented by Psalm 3, the predecessor being a morning psalm and this being an evening worship song. It follows the previous psalm as a prayer for relief and restoration of the benefits of being elect of God. The Psalmist uses a structural device called, “double terms” to produce an “inclusio” as in Psalm 1–2 with the word “blessed.” There are seven double terms in Psalm 4 (ie. “call” vv. 1, 3; “righteousness” vv. 1, 5).
David needed relief from his distress, and so he called upon the Lord to hear his prayer (v. 1). Three imperative verbs in this verse implore God to hear his prayer, answer him, and be gracious in response. Prayer is the right exercise for the Christian in need. No day goes by when we are not in need; therefore, pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17).
There is no righteousness of one’s own, but Christ is our representative righteousness (Rom 3:22, 26; 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Pet 1:1). To be in Christ allows the Christian to claim right standing before God and a right relationship with God. His relationship and his request led David to contemplate YHWH’s past deliverances. God had given relief to His anointed in the past, and he knew to call upon the name of the Lord to be delivered again (Joel 2:32).
David asked two questions of his fickle opponents so prone to lies and slander (v. 2). The antagonists, causing the psalmist distress, are revealed in three parts: the unstable, the irascible, and the crestfallen. David’s mercurial opponent was King Saul. His double-mindedness, caused by an evil spirit, made him exceedingly difficult to deal with on the run. David was family, and the young man respected the Lord’s anointing of Saul. He would not touch it, so as to be cursed.
The inquiries point to David’s reputation being dishonored by slander and lies. “O sons of men” oozes with attribution of sin nature. The house of Saul, with the exception of Jonathan, would have loved to see David erased from the face of the earth. The campaign against David came with an assault on his character.
Jesus Christ was assailed in the same manner, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” Christians, as children of God and servants of the Lord, must endure like suffering. If they hated Jesus (Jn 7:7), we should not be surprised by flagrant expressions of disdain directed at us (Jn 15:18–19).
The psalmist notes his adversaries love their work in deceiving the people, in order to hinder the popular vote. Saul had killed his thousand and David his ten thousand. Saul attempted to sway the congregation of Israel against David, but the shepherd of Bethlehem served to protect the Israelites from evil forces who would destroy them. With the exception of the likes of Nabal, the people were grateful for David’s work in serving them.
The musical cue, “selah” suggests a pause. It is used twice in this psalm, and it appears 71 times in the Psalms along with three times in the song of Habakkuk. It is most frequently used in the Davidic psalms.
David made a claim to be the object of YHWH’s love and to note his access to the Almighty (v. 3). The lovingkindness God showed in repeated deliverance, clearly demonstrated God’s favor on His chosen vessel. The disjunctive conjunction, “But” reveals the hinge. God loves David, not because of the man’s righteousness, but because of the covenant God promised to fulfill (2 Sam 7:8–16).
David was set apart and made godly by God Himself. A man after God’s own heart was given that heart by God. This love relationship allowed David to call on YHWH, knowing his prayers were heard. Those who would cause David trouble were being warned in song that a very present Help was readily accessible to the son of Jesse.
David gave corrective advice to his hot-headed adversaries on how they should operate before God and men (v. 4). “Be angry and do not sin” should be translated with full force. It is picked up by Paul in Ephesians 4:26 as an instruction for practicing Christian life, written for the church at Ephesus.
Anger is part of the human repertoire of emotions, as noted often in Psalms and Proverbs. Jesus was angry with those who sinned against God in the temple, but He did not sin. One might say, “I am angry about abortion.” This is virtuous anger. The task is to avoid the vice of anger becoming sin, say for instance by murdering an abortion doctor.
Advice for the ireful is promoted as a request to “sleep on it.” Snappish responses lack prudence. Consult with one’s bed before confronting the righteous. Consider your ways with much thought and reflection. David recognized God’s anger against him (Ps. 6:1; 38:1), even as David was angry with God for striking down Uzzah (1 Chr 13:11). Eliab, David’s brother, was angry when David confronted the armies of Israel for their inactivity against the Philistines at the Kishon brook (1 Sam 17:28). No doubt David was angry with their apathy. The wicked and the righteous are wise to consider David’s advice to himself and to his foes.
David called his opponents to worship God in humble faith (v. 5). The wicked are not swayed to seek God’s counsel. The implication of, “offer the sacrifices of righteousness,” is sarcasm. For the scoffers to cease from their hortatory speech meant they needed to repent and, “trust in the Lord.”
The accuser of the brethren is Satan (Rev 12:10), and it is wise for Christians not to join the legion of attack on other believers. Here is the tragedy of Saul (representing Israel) against David (protecting Israel). The mystery of God giving Saul the evil spirit remains. We can conclude only with God’s ways being right, just, and good.
David took his doleful rivals’ godless inquiry and prayed for God to show goodness in reply (v. 6). Pathetic is the Christian practicing unbelief. Not everyone was against David, but he was accompanied at times by bandits of belief. Defeatists love to wallow in God-forsakenness. David counters the enemy within his camp with shouts of prayerful proclamation, “Lift up the light of Thy countenance upon us, O Lord!” Pollyannas must repent, as well. Reasoned dependence on Jesus, our Savior, is our logic in the day of trouble.
David compared the value of God’s favor in contrast with material prosperity (v. 7). The presence of the Holy Spirit and His favor produces the cheer we desire. David contrasts the felicity of, “I am with you,” against the prosperity gospel. Sinners count numeric might and power as favor with God.
Sometimes God gathers the unfaithful into locations of mega-judgment. They pine away in offering unrighteous sacrifices of false praise, while being fed garbage to produce worm-ridden fruit. Conversely, God gives gladness to those set apart, in love, for service of acceptable sacrifices in righteousness.
David predicted good benefits for he knew God alone could offer him refuge with joy and peace (v. 8). The slanderers were advised to lie down, and so it is with David who slept in peace that passes all understanding. God is the only safe refuge for the Christian. To trust in men proves inadvisable, but God reveals truth in the Word of God, “Let God be true and every man a liar (Rom 3:4).”
In sum, we have entered the distress of David. He teaches us to pray for relief from oppugnants. They labor to ruin God’s anointed. Jesus told his enemies the thoughts of their hearts, “You seek to kill me.” Their perspective had no room for the advance of the kingdom of God upon the earth. Coveting their miniscule positions of power, they lashed out in word and deed against the Messiah and His followers.
To call upon God in prayer was the antidote for unfaithfulness and illuminated the path of joy and peace. Safe in the everlasting arms of God, we preach a righteousness imputed to us by the One who loves us. It is His good pleasure to turn our distress into gladness…just ask!
Spokane Valley, Washington
May 22, 2021