Bible Commentaries
Psalms 4

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary


Psalms 4

Encompassed by enemies, the Psalmist calls upon the Lord for help, Psalms 4:1. He turns then to his enemies, and admonishes them to cease from their attempts to rob him of his dignity, and from their vain purposes; exhorts them to reflect that the dignity which they sought to take from him was conferred on him by God, and that this fact gave the Psalmist sure ground for expecting the fulfilment of the prayer which he utters at the commencement; for what the Lord has given He must also preserve, Psalms 4:2-3. He warns them not to sin further by giving way to passionate emotions; urges them to meditate upon this admonition in their silent chamber, upon their bed; to cease from their noise and bluster; and instead of hypocritical offerings, with which they thought to make the Lord favourable to them, to present righteous sacrifices; to put their trust in the Lord, instead of boasting of their own power, and of the superiority of their means to those of the Psalmist; for only these two things, righteous sacrifices and confidence in God, can afford a wellgrounded hope of a prosperous issue, and those to whom these conditions fail, flatter themselves with vain hopes, Psalms 4:4-5. In Psalms 4:6-7 the Psalmist declares how much the confidence in the Lord, which his enemies wanted, was possessed by himself. He despairs not in his distress, as many do, but is firmly persuaded that the Lord can and will help him; and this persuasion, wrought in him by the Lord Himself, makes him more blessed than his enemies are in the very fulness of their prosperity. In conclusion, he again expresses the firmest trust in the Lord, in which he gives himself to sleep, Psalms 4:8.

The strophe-division has been correctly made by Koester thus: 1. 2. 2. 2. 1. He remarks, that the first verse obviously stands by itself; then follows the address to the enemies in two strophes, a third expresses David’s delight, and the last verse again stands alone, as a “good night.” Koester’s remark, however, that the selah is twice placed a verse too early, is not correct. On the contrary, it forms a most appropriate break in the sense, in the middle of the two strophes, which are directed toward the enemies. The first verse of both strophes contains the dissuasion, the second the exhortation; in both instances there is a pause in the middle, as if to give them space for reflection, to make them thoughtful. We need only conceive a dash to occupy the place of the selah.

The Psalm begins with a prayer, and concludes with an expression of confidence in its fulfilment. In the middle, the Psalmist seeks to make himself acquainted with the grounds which assured him of this. It is only when we take Psalms 4:2-7 so, viewing it as an address to the enemies merely in form, that the Psalm appears in its real internal connection. The pillars of the bridge, which in Psalms 4:2-7 is laid between the distress and the deliverance, between the prayer and the confidence, are, 1. The Psalmist’s election, and the circumstance, that his enemies were striving against this Divine decree, and seeking to rob him of what God had given him. 2. The Psalmist’s sincere and fervent piety (the חסיד , in Psalms 4:3), the enemies’ hypocritical and outward religiousness, implied in their needing to be called on to “offer sacrifices of righteousness,” in Psalms 4:5. 3. The Psalmist’s lively trust in God, Psalms 4:6-7, while his enemies were placing their confidence not upon the Lord, but only upon human means of help—comp. Psalms 4:5, “put your trust in the Lord.”

Expositors for the most part refer this Psalm also to Absalom’s conspiracy; and that they are right in doing so, appears from the following considerations:—1. The Psalmist charges his enemies, Psalms 4:2-3, with seeking to rob him of the dignity conferred on him by God. On this ground alone, we cannot refer the Psalm, with some, and in particular Calvin, to the persecutions of Saul. It presupposes a domestic revolt against the Psalmist, after he had actually ascended the throne. 2. The Psalm so remarkably agrees with the preceding one, which is connected with Absalom’s conspiracy, that it must of necessity be referred to the same period—comp. כבודי , “my glory,” in Psalms 4:2, with Psalms 3:3, and Psalms 4:8 with Psalms 3:5. The objection of De Wette, that the Psalmist does not address a faithless son, but only men generally, apart from what was remarked on Psalms 3, is obviated by the consideration that Absalom was the mere tool of an unrighteous party dissatisfied with David, which made his vanity subservient to its own purposes; hence David, who so willingly regarded his son as the seduced, rather than as the seducer, directs his speech mainly to these. The other objections proceed upon a false view of Psalms 4:5, Psalms 4:7. So also Hitzig’s opinion, that the Psalm must have been composed after the danger spoken of in the preceding one had passed away, is founded upon a false exposition. Claus endeavours to show, that all the apparently individual allusions in the Psalm might possibly also be viewed as general; but he has proved nothing that is not understood at a glance, namely, that the individual always has at the same time a general aspect, and is only sketchily indicated on the ground of the general. We have already seen how this structure of the Psalms arises from the nature of the case—out of the living faith of their authors, which did not allow them to narrate at length their own circumstances, and also from their keeping always in view the wants of the whole community. How much this peculiarity of the Psalms fits them for the general use of the Church, is easily perceived. Only glance for a moment at this Psalm. How much less edifying would it have been, had David, in place of glory, which can be taken in the most extended sense, so that the very least can possess and lose it, put his kingly honour and supremacy; or in place of vanity and lies, by which each one can understand, according to his situation, every kind of calumny and deception to which he may possibly be exposed, had substituted the foolish counsels of Absalom, and his companions in particular! Ewald, following many of the older expositors, properly concludes from Psalms 4:8, that the Psalm was composed as an evening hymn and prayer. Night is the season when painful feelings are most apt to stir up and inflame the hearts of those who are far from God. That this night was the first of David’s flight, is probable from Psalms 4:7, in addition to the reasons already adduced in our introduction to the preceding Psalm.

To the chief musician.

The word למנצח (comp. Delitzsch Symb. p. 25), which stands at the head of fifty-three Psalms, is considered by many as an Aramaic form of the infinitive. They render it, either “for singing,” or as Claus more definitely, “for singing through,” with reference to that kind of music, of which the same melody is continued through different strophes, in contrast to a composition embracing the whole Psalm. Both renderings, however, are quite arbitrary, and not less arbitrary is the explanation given of the form. The Aramaic form of the infinitive is never found in Hebrew; and even if it were, it would not be as it is here. Against this explanation may lastly be urged, that with that word is always joined the article. The form can only be the partic. in Piel with the article prefixed. Now נִ?צּ?חַ? occurs frequently in the books of Chronicles and Ezra, in the sense of “preside,” and, as has been remarked by Ewald, is used only of the ordering and directing which were committed to the chiefs of the Levites—uncertain whether incidentally, or whether the word is a Levitical technical term—and in 1 Chronicles 15:2, it is specially used of the directing of the musical performance. What could be more natural then, in the superscriptions to the Psalms, than to remember the leader of the music? מנצח signifies merely a “president,” and we gather only from the context, that a director of music is specially meant. From the article, which may with perfect propriety be understood generically, we are not to conclude with Ewald, that the directorship of music was a standing office in the temple. The title, “to the chief musician,” is of importance in so far, as it affords a proof that the Psalms which contain this in the superscription were intended for public use in the temple. It is only with a reference to this that the word could hold the place it does in the superscriptions. This place must have been assigned it by the authors themselves of the Psalms, thereby begetting a very favourable prepossession in behalf of the originality of the other information contained in the superscriptions. Ewald, in order to neutralize this testimony for the superscriptions, would fain translate למנצח : of the chief musician. In his view, the word indicates that the Psalm had actually been set to music, and performed by the chief musician. But for the other rendering to the chief musician, meaning that it was to be delivered up to him to be prepared for performance (in which case the word must have been prefixed by the author himself, before the musical performance actually took place), a decisive proof is afforded by Habakkuk 3:19, the more important in its bearing on our exposition here, as the prophet manifestly imitates the superscription of the Psalms. The words למנצח בנגינותי , with which the song of the Church is there closed, can be no otherwise explained than as meaning, “to the chief musician upon my (Israel’s, for it is the Church that speaks through the whole chapter) stringed instrument;” which is as much as, assigned to the chief musician, that he might have it publicly sung in the temple with the accompaniment of sacred music: this might be considered to be the national music. Negionoth is the general name for all stringed instruments. The whole superscription, then, of the Psalm, is to be paraphrased thus: A Psalm of David to be delivered to the music director, that he may arrange for its performance with the accompaniment of stringed instruments.

Verse 1

Ver. 1. When I call, answer me, Thou my righteous God, who givest me help in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer. The “my God” is here rendered more definite, by an additional word. The Psalmist indicates that he expected help, not on account of any partial predilection entertained for him by God, but from his God being the Righteous One, who could not but afford aid to His righteous cause. In this he supplies a rule for every prayer in like extremities. To beg help, without being able thus to designate God, is equivalent to blasphemy. For, instead of wishing God to act according to His nature, one then wishes Him to deny His nature. The suffix refers, as it very frequently does, to the compound idea; Ewald, p. 580. It is used precisely in the same way, for example, in Psalms 24:5, “The God of his salvation,”=his salvation-God. The explanation adopted by several, which takes “Thou God of my righteousness,” as equal to “Thou who takest the part of my righteousness,” can find no parallel to justify it.—בצר הרחבת לי , properly, in straits Thou makest me large, wide. Narrowness is a figurative term for misfortune, as broadness for prosperity. The meaning is, “Full of confidence, I call on Thee for help, who hast already given me so many proofs of Thy goodness, hast so often already delivered me from trouble, whose proper business it is to do this.” The verb may be rendered either, “Thou hast enlarged,”—in which case David would ground his prayer for help merely upon past deliverances,—or, “Thou dost enlarge,” David being then understood to comfort himself with the thought, that God stood ordinarily to him in the relation of a helper in the time of need. This latter view, which is Luther’s also, “Thou who comfortest me in distress,” is to be preferred on this account, that the words, according to it, briefly comprehend what had been set forth in detail in Psalms 3:3 and Psalms 3:4 of the preceding Psalm, which stands so closely related to this. The Psalmist shortly resumes in these words what in Psalms 3 had been the foundation of his hope of deliverance, and raises himself up in the following verses, by means of a new ground of hope, even his Divine election. The words have suffered a false exposition in two ways. First, by De Wette, who explains the pret. imperatively. Grammatically, this is inadmissible, for in such cases the vau relat. never fails; Ewald p. 554; Small Gr. § 621. The parallel passages, Psalms 7:7, Psalms 71:3, adduced by De Wette are to be explained differently. And, granting that a single passage might be found, in which an exception occurs to the general rule, yet we should not be justified in adopting here an usage which is certainly very rare, and only to be admitted in a case of necessity; since the exposition we prefer gives an easy and natural sense, and is confirmed by the parallel passages in the preceding Psalm. Comp. Psalms 27:9, where “Thou who art my helper” corresponds to “Thou God of my salvation.”

Then by Hitzig, who finds here a deliverance from a certain particular distress, the same that was spoken of in Psalm third. But that this still continued, is evident from the extra-ordinary agreement between the whole substance of this Psalm and that of the preceding one. And still more decidedly is this supposition rebutted by a comparison of our Psalm with Psalms 3:2-4, and especially Psalms 3:7.

Verse 2

Ver. 2. O ye sons of men, how long shall my glory be for shame? or be a matter of reproach; i.e. when will ye at length cease wantonly to attack my dignity? According to De Wette, the expression, sons of men, must be viewed as standing simply for men. But in that case it would certainly have been, not בני איש , but the more common expression, בני אדם . The correct view was perceived by Calvin, who says: “It is an ironical concession, by means of which he mocks their insolence. They conceived themselves to be noble and wise whilst it was only a blind rage that impelled them to their shameful undertakings.” The word איש , when used emphatically, conveys the idea of strength, as man does in every language. That the expression is “of the man,” and not “of the men,” obviates the objection, that it is difficult to see why it should be “sons of the man,” and not simply “men.” The revolters considered themselves as sons of the man in and for himself, as normal-men. In reference to this foolish self-confidence, the Psalmist admonishes them, in Psalms 4:5, to put their trust in God. To the same haughtiness, indicated in the first address, the subject-matter of the remainder of this verse, and of the next one, points; for it was pride which made the glory of him whom God had chosen intolerable to them. Agreeably to the character of the whole Psalm, the description of pride is as mild and gentle as possible. The expression, by itself, properly marks no more than power and might. It is all the milder that the secret blame has for its basis an open recognition, a free acknowledgment of their power and strength. Besides, the expression, “sons of man,” is in many places used unquestionably in an emphatical sense. So, for example, in Psalms 49:2, where “the sons of man,” and “the sons of men,” stand in opposition to each other, as denoting rich and poor; Psalms 62:9; Proverbs 8:4. If this emphatical sense is rejected here, instead of a very significant address, which carries us into the inmost heart of the subject, opens up to our view the ultimate ground of the behaviour charged in what follows upon those here addressed, there remains only a meaningless form of speech. The question, “how long,” might appear, in opposition, to what we conceive to have been the situation of the Psalmist, to import that the improper conduct of the enemies had already continued a long period. But in so wicked a project as that of Absalom’s revolt, such a question is not out of place, at the very commencement. That the words, “my glory,” are not a mere circumlocution for his person, is obvious from the contrast in which it stands with “shame.”

How long will ye love vanity, and seek after lies! By the vanity and lies, Kimchi understands the sovereignty of Absalom, which is so called because it was to have no continuance, and would disappoint the hopes of the rebels. To the same effect, also, Calvin. He remarks, that the revolt was very truly named a lie, on this account, that the persons concerned in it deluded themselves and others regarding the real nature of their attempt, which they decked out in the most splendid colours. But a comparison with such passages as Psalms 34:14, “seek peace,” Zephaniah 2:3, “seek righteousness,” “seek meekness,” shows that the seeking, in parallelism with loving, is best taken to mean pains with, to go about a thing,—and a comparison with such passages as Psalms 62. “They only consult to cast him down from his excellency; they delight in lies; they bless with their mouths, but they curse inwardly;” Isaiah 28:15: “We have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves.” Psalms 5:6, renders it probable, that by lies is to be understood the mass of falsehoods through which the rebels sought to help forward their bad cause; and if this be the case, then by vanity, as in Psalms 2:1, is primarily to be understood, vanity in a moral sense, worthlessness. How important a part lies played in the revolt of Absalom, may be seen from 2 Samuel 15:7-8, by a signal example. Without the lie of Absalom, which is there recorded, the whole rebellion would have been strangled at the first.

Verse 3

Ver. 3. But know that the Lord hath set apart him, His pious one for Himself. The meaning is, “Think not that I have been appointed king by men: God Himself has chosen me, whom He knew to be a pious worshipper, to that honour, from among the people; and ye who presume to fight against me really fight against Him, who also will take the management of my cause.” The close connection between this verse and the preceding one is marked by the ו at the commencement. This is to be explained by considering the “how long,” etc., as virtually saying, “Cease now at length to defame my glory.” If this be the reference to the preceding verse, we cannot think of explaining הפלה by “ to distinguish,” and of discovering an allusion in it to the manifold proofs he had received of Divine favour. It can only denote his separation to that which the revolters strove to take from him, viz. to glory, to royal dignity. פלה , besides, constantly has in Hiph. the sense of singling out or separating; comp. Exodus 8:18, and especially Exodus 33:16, where Moses says to the Lord, “And we are separated, I and Thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth.” As the Lord there separated Israel from all nations, so here His godly one out of Israel; and that this is the meaning also here, and not the one received by many commentators of distinguishing, is specially manifest from the following לו

God has set apart for Himself. It is an arbitrary assumption, that חסיד לו stands for חסידו . Luther translates: But know that the Lord wonderfully guides His holy ones. He has combined לו with חסיד , and taken הפלה mean the same as הפלא =הפליא , the Hiphil of פלא , “to be wonderful,” which is also found in a number of MSS. Hitzig, too, gives a similar exposition: that God does wonders for His holy one. The reading הפלא , however, is not sufficiently confirmed; and פלא and פלה are never interchanged; nor does the latter lose its ordinary signification of separating in Psalms 17:7: Separate Thy grace from the number of common acts of grace, show me singular grace. Parallel to this mode of expression, according to the only correct explication, is the passage Psalms 78:70-71: “He chose David also His servant, and took him from the sheepfolds; from following the ewes great with young, He brought him to feed Jacob His people, and Israel His inheritance.” When the Psalmist designates himself חסיד , the “pious one,” he declares the ground on account of which God had selected him, or had called him out of the mass of the people to be His highest servant in His kingdom. Venema: “Ut quem cognosceret, cum erga se, tum erga homines optime affectum.” Comp. 1 Samuel 15:28, where Samuel says to Saul, “The Lord hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbotir of thine, who is better than thou;” also 1 Samuel 16:7. חסד signifies love, and is used not merely of the love of God, but also of human love, of man’s love to God in Hosea 6:4: “Your goodness (love) is as the morning cloud,” and Jeremiah 2:2; of love toward men in Hosea 6:6, “I have desired mercy (love) and not sacrifice;” and in Isaiah 40:6, where the love of the flesh is the love which men show to their fellow-men. חסיד is one who has love toward God, and toward his brethren. The form with Chirek has not only, arising out of the passive form כתבו , a purely passive signification, but it also frequently forms, arising out of the form with Zere, adjectives of intransitive signification (Ew. p. 234), so that there is scarcely need for saying with Winer that a passive form is here taken actively. That one of the standing titles of the righteous should specify love as one of his characteristic marks, is important from the bearing it has on the religious moral standpoint of the Old Testament, as, showing how little a service of dead words accorded with its spirit. The Psalms, in this respect, may be said to rest upon the law; for there already appeared the two commands of love to God and to our neighbour, as those in which all particular ones are included, and the fulfilment of which carries along with it obedience to all others, while without that, this is not possible. The command, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” is delivered in Leviticus 19:18; love to God is expressly announced in the Decalogue as the fulfilment of the law, Exodus 20:6; and the precept of love to God constantly returns in Deut., agreeably to its design of forming a bridge between the law and the heart, and is expressly described as the ἑ?́?ν καὶ? πᾶ?ν , the one thing needful, the fulfilling of the whole law, Deuteronomy 6:8, Deuteronomy 10:12, Deuteronomy 11:13. Hupfeld (in De Wette) has revived an older view, according to which חסיד signifies, not one who has love to God and his brother, but one who participates in the love of God. But for the refutation of the assertion on which this view is grounded, that חסד is never used of love to God, the passages already cited are sufficient; and that such a view has of late years been rightly abandoned, is clear from the fact that חסיד is used of God Himself, Jeremiah 3:12; Psalms 145:17; and from חסידה , “the loving one,” avis pia, as a name of the stork.

It is a good conclusion which David here draws: The Lord hath chosen me, therefore will He hear my prayer against those who seek to rob me of the honour conferred by Him. This conclusion may be appropriated by all those who are assailed in the particular station and calling which God has bestowed on them; they may confidently expect the Divine help to stamp all the projects directed against them as vanity, and the reasons by which these may be justified as lies. But everything depends on the major premiss being right; and therefore were our fathers so extremely careful and conscientious in the inquiry, whether their call were truly a Divine one. In David’s case, it was a matter of great comfort that he could be perfectly certain of his election—that he had not arrogated to himself his calling, but had quietly waited till it was conveyed to him by God. All his cheerfulness during Absalom’s insurrection was founded on that. What could he well have said to the rebels, if he had himself, at an earlier period, rebelled against Saul, and driven him from the throne? Besides, the unquestionable relation which the words, “The Lord will hear when I call to Him,” bear to those in Psalms 4:1, “Hear me when I call,” renders it manifest that the address to the enemies is a mere form, by which the Psalmist endeavours to make clear to himself the grounds he had for thinking their project vain, and expecting deliverance;—it is as if he had said, “Lord, hear my prayer; yea, Thou wilt do it, for Thou Thyself gavest me the glory of which my enemies try to rob me.”

Verse 4

Ver. 4. Be angry and sin not; say it in your heart upon your bed and be silent. After the example of the LXX. ὀ?ργίζεσθε καὶ? μὴ? ἁ?μαρτάνετε , רגז is to be taken in the sense of being angry. The exhortation “to be angry” passes into its opposite, in consequence of the condition thereto annexed, as in such a case as theirs anger was inseparable from sin. It is substantially as if he had said, Sin not through anger. The choiceness of the expressions employed, accords with the mild character of the whole Psalm, and conveys this meaning: I would indeed permit your anger, if the only effect were the injury which might thereby alight upon me; but since you cannot be angry without sinning, I must warn you to abstain from it. The turn given to it by Augustine, Luther, and others, is inadmissible: “Be angry if you please, but see that ye do not proceed so far as to think, say, or do what is hurtful to your souls, and so sin against God, yourselves, and your neighbours.” In the supposed case, to be angry and to sin were one and the same thing. “Be angry and sin not,” is taken as an unconditional command in Ephesians 4:26, which is a quotation from this verse, as is manifest not only from the literal correspondence between the words of the Apostle and the LXX. here, but also from the allusion made in the succeeding words, “let not the sun go down upon your wrath,” to the clause, “commune with your own heart upon your bed.” The separation between being angry and sinning, is there also only an apparent one, meant to bring out more distinctly the internal connection. The exposition of Harless: Be angry in the right manner, so as not to be guilty of sin, has against it, not only the words, “let not the sun go down upon your wrath,” which he does not find it easy to dispose of, but also the whole context, which, both before and after, contains nothing but express and positive prohibitions, and then particularly the command in Ephesians 4:31, to put away all bitterness and anger. The exposition adopted by several, tremble, gives a very tame sense, as compared with the one received by us. The trembling is also too bald, and to the being angry, the proper contrast is being silent or still. The whole verse refers to the blustering passion of the enemies. Besides, the trembling does not accord with the tone of this Psalm, which is throughout full of soft expressions; neither would it suit the character of these revolters, to say, “We will tremble and not sin,” while it would, to say, “We will not commit sin by being angry;” nor, finally, does the trembling agree with the dissuasive character which is peculiar to this verse and Psalms 4:2, while it would destroy the boundary line between it and Psalms 4:5, which, along with Psalms 4:3, contains the exhortation.

Say it in your heart upon your bed. In the retired chamber, upon their couch, in the lone silence of night, are the revolters to meditate the affair, which hitherto they had discussed only in their uproarious meetings, at which the better voice of the heart was suppressed by the tumultuous outbreak of the passions. משכב never signifies the sofa or divan, on which Orientals sit at their conferences. By imagining this, Michaelis and Dereser have both given a false meaning to the passage. To a contrast of actual silence points also דמו , not “rest,” “desist from your sinful projects,” as De Wette and others would have it, but according to the usual and radical signification, “be silent” (which is here required by the obvious reference it carries to the אמר ), “leave off the debates and wild cry of rebellion.” It is to be remarked, however, that אמר (rendering in Eng. Ver. commune) differs always from דבר as our say from speak. אמר can never stand alone: it must always be followed by that which is spoken; see Gesen. Thes. In many cases, where the thing spoken is easily gathered from the context, it is left to be supplied by the reader. So, for example, in Exodus 19:25, “And Moses went down to the people, and said to them.” The sacred writer does not expressly say what, because it had just been mentioned in Exodus 19:24 as God’s commission to Moses. In like manner, Genesis 4:8, “And Cain said to Abel, his brother, and it came to pass when they were in the field.” What Cain said, “Let us go into the field,” is not expressed, as any one can easily gather it from the following words, “when they were in the field;” comp. also 2 Chronicles 2:9; 2 Chronicles 32:24. Now, here the deficiency is to be supplied from what immediately precedes: “Let us not sin through anger.” Upon such saying there necessarily follows silence. For when one is fairly driven into himself, external noises and tumults cease of themselves. Besides, a peculiar light is thrown on the admonition to the revolters by the circumstance that the Psalm, as was remarked in the introduction, is an evening hymn. David exhorted his enemies to do that which he had just been doing himself, and from which he was deriving a rich blessing. In the stillness of the night he employs himself, when lying on his bed, with his God; and hence is it that everything is so clear to him, so full of light. Had his enemies but an experience of the same blessing! What they would thus gain is shown by our Psalm, which is the result of David’s lonely night’s meditation. The tone is so calm, so mild, expressing no bitterness against the proud rebels, but a tender pity and compassion for them, that they should rush so heedlessly on destruction. The selah leaves them time, as it were, to take to themselves the admonition to be angry and sin not, and then the dehortation is followed by an exhortation.

Verse 5

Ver. 5. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord. Expositors generally are at a loss regarding the matter of this verse. Thus Ringeltaube remarks: “It is difficult to account for such a transition, and to understand why wicked blasphemers should so suddenly be called to confidence in God.” Venema thinks, that an admonition to repentance and conversion might rather have been expected. The key to a right understanding of it is the remark, that what here is spoken in the form of an exhortation, like Psalms 4:4, really contains, as to its matter, a dissuasive from evil. The stress is to be laid upon “righteousness,” and “the Lord:” Bring not your hypocritical, present a righteous offering; confide not upon your human resources, but confide in the Lord. It is as if he had said, The victory cannot belong to my enemies, since they want the necessary conditions of Divine aid, righteousness and confidence in God. Many understand by sacrifices of righteousness, such sacrifices as men were by the law bound to present. Others take the expression figuratively, as importing sacrifices consisting in righteousness, or in righteous actions. The unsuitableness of the former view is apparent from the parallel member, “trust in the Lord,” which leads us to expect here also not an external, but an internal requirement; it appears, further, from the entire religious character of the Psalms, in which, as well as in the Prophets, the inward disposition is constantly brought out in bold relief, in contrast to everything outward; and, finally, from the character of David’s enemies, who wanted not an hypocritical, but a true piety. The relation of this verse to the preceding one comes also in confirmation of the same. For if there the dissuasion relates to moral guilt, the exhortation here cannot relate to something merely external. However, we must reject the second exposition, not less than the first. Such passages as Psalms 51:18-19, do not justify us in considering the sacrifices here mentioned as spiritual ones. For the opposition expressed there between spiritual and fleshly sacrifices, does not exist here. To us, sacrifices of righteousness are neither legal offerings, nor offerings consisting of righteousness, but righteous offerings, such as were presented by a righteous man, or on a principle of righteousness—see Ewald, p. 572. So, unquestionably, is the expression used in Deuteronomy 33:19, “They shall call the people to the mountains, there shall they offer sacrifices of righteousness;” where to take a figurative spiritual, view of the sacrifices, is out of the question. The quality here demanded was not found in the sacrifices of the enemies of David, as may be clearly perceived by looking to the sacrifices of Absalom, 2 Samuel 15:7, etc., which were most truly offered in the service of unrighteousness. The passage is correctly expounded in the Berleburg Bible: “Offer the sacrifices of righteousness; therefore must ye desist from your sin and anger, and fulfil your obligations. For otherwise your faith will be vain, and your whole service unprofitable, even though ye sacrifice ever so much. It is not enough to bring sacrifices, but they must also have a righteous ground. Whosoever hates his brother, he can bring no acceptable gift to the altar; his very prayer is sin. The Lord hates the religious services which are connected with unrighteousness, enmity, injury to neighbours, and neglect of the obedience owing. A penitent and contrite heart is required to a right sacrifice, Psalms 51:17; and a humble and thankful faith, Psalms 50:14, Psalms 50:23, that one may present himself to God as a living sacrifice, and his members as instruments of righteousness, Romans 6:13, Romans 12:1.” The righteousness sought here as a basis for the sacrifices, must take the place of that sinful anger, which was directed against the Lord’s chosen one, and from which the Psalmist had dissuaded the rebels in the preceding verse. The exhortation “to trust in the Lord,” rests also on an implied contrast. The rebels, intent in their fleshly state of mind on what was visible, believed their cause to be sure, because while they possessed all human means of support, David, on the contrary, was bereft of all. David discloses to them the deceitfulness of their hope, and the danger which belonged to their condition, by calling on them to “put their trust in the Lord.” The same contrast, which is here silently implied, is expressly marked in Psalms 12:5, Psalms 49:7; that it is really made here, is manifest from a comparison of Psalms 4:3 and Psalms 4:8.

Verse 6

Ver. 6. Many say, Who will show us good? Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us. According to the common interpretation, there is no connection between this verse and the preceding one. So, for example, De Wette remarks: “Without further connection the Psalmist passes on to the thought, etc.” But merely to state this, is to produce an evidence against the soundness of the interpretation. The Psalmist had said in the preceding context, that his enemies lacked the indispensable prerequisite of salvation, confidence in the Lord; and here he declares, that he had this prerequisite himself. While in times of distress many said, Who will show us what is good? he replies, in firm confidence on God, Lord, lift on us the light of Thy countenance. The words, “Who will show us good?” (i.e. “give us to possess it,”) several expositors regard as a kind of wish, as equivalent to “Would that some one would cause us to see good.” But the words are rather the expression of hapless, wretched despair, which gives up all hope, because it can find no ground for this in the visible aspect of things. Whence can we expect help? Neither in heaven, nor on earth, is there any one who is willing and able to impart it to us. In opposition to this despair of unbelief, David in the second clause places the hope of faith: I despair not, as many do, when earthly things afford no ground of hope; I know that a single gracious look from Thee, O Lord, can turn away our distress. To the “many say,” he silently opposes: “but but I say.” He does not ask, who? He knows the man, who can help. Perhaps David, while he speaks of many, has especially in his eye his companions in misfortune, who had remained true to him, and who, because they stood not upon the same high ground of faith, might partly have given way to despair. This supposition, however, is not absolutely necessary. The words, upon us, are intelligible if we merely suppose that David contrasts himself with the many who do generally respond in adversity. Only grant, O Lord, that on me, and on all who may, like myself, find themselves in troubles above the reach of human counsel, the light of Thy grace may shine, that so help may be afforded us. נְ?סָ?ה is to be taken, with most Hebrew expositors, for a different form of writing נְ?שׂ?ָ?א , imperat. from נשא , “to lift up.” The expression נשא פנים is used in the same sense in the principal passage, Numbers 6:26, of the Levitical blessing, to which David here unmistakeably alludes. This evident reference to the original passage renders it impossible for us to adopt any other explanation of the form נסה . David knows, that it was not in vain the Lord had commanded to bless His people with these words, and grasps, with firm faith, the promise which is contained in them. Similar allusions to the blessings of the priests are not rare in the Psalms; for example, Psalms 31:16, Psalms 44:3, Psalms 80:7. “The light of Thy countenance,” several explain: “Thy bright serene countenance;” though better, “Thy countenance-light,” that is, “Thy countenance which is a light,” which, lifted upon us, or directed towards us, dispels like a clear light the thickest darkness of adversity, before which the night of sorrow flies away, as the literal night before the sun. “To lift the countenance on any one,” when used of God, who sits enthroned high above us in the heavens, is equivalent to looking upon him. But on whomsoever the Lord looks, him He favours; whosoever is an object of displeasure to Him, before him He hides His countenance, from him He turns it indignantly away, and abandons him to wretchedness and despair.

Verse 7

Ver. 7. Thou givest joy in my heart more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased. The Psalmist declares, how blessed he feels in this confidence upon the Lord. The hope, which the Lord Himself had awakened in him, in regard to the return of His grace, makes him more joyful in the midst of his distress, than his enemies were while they reposed in the lap of fortune and abundance. The verse, like the preceding one, with which it forms a pair, is occupied with the setting forth of the Psalmist’s confidence in God. How deeply-grounded must that have been, when it could give such peace! The contrast is not between God (apart from His gifts), the only and highest good (which David possessed, and his enemies lacked), and the perishable goods which were in the hands of his enemies; but rather a contrast between the hope of a coming salvation, which rested upon God, and the possession of such an one as is not only without God in the world, but has God for an enemy. Comp. Habakkuk 3:18, where, after a description of heavy calamities, it is said, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will joy in the God of my salvation.”

More than in the time, elliptically for, more than their joy in the time. The suffix in the two last nouns is to be referred to the enemies. The abundance of corn and wine, is an individualizing description of plenty and success. At first sight such a description scarcely seems to accord with the circumstances of the period of Absalom’s revolt, and De Wette has actually argued from this against the reference of the Psalm to that period. But if we only compare 2 Samuel 16:1-2, we shall be satisfied that this trait is entirely suitable to the period in question. David was entertained in his flight by the beneficence of one of his subjects

Zibah brought forth bread and wine, that he and his servants might eat and drink in the wilderness.

Verse 8

Ver. 8. The faith of the Psalmist draws from all that precedes, the general result. It is this, that he will rest secure amid all surrounding dangers, under the protection of the Lord. In peace, secure, and without needing to fear anything, I will both lay me down to sleep, and shall go to sleep. ישן is not to be taken in the sense of sleeping, but in the original—as the comparison with the Arabic shows—and the predominating one of going to sleep; Genesis 2:21, Genesis 41:5; 1 Kings 19:5, etc. Only then is the expression both, at the same time, in its proper place; he alone, who feels himself in perfect security, can at once go to sleep when he lies down. The second clause is rendered by many expositors, For Thou, Jehovah, alone wilt make me dwell in safety; Thou wilt afford me what the assistance of the whole world cannot do; Thou wilt protect me from mine enemies, and grant me rest and security. David here places his present position in contrast with his earlier one. Calvin: “He reflects with satisfaction on the guardianship of God as so sufficient for him, that he can sleep not less securely under it, than if he had many guards stationed all around him, or was defended on every side by many companions.” Others, again, refer the word alone not to God, but to the Psalmist: “Thou, O Lord, makest me to dwell alone, (and) secure;” conceiving that the words carry an allusion to Numbers 9, Deuteronomy 33:28, “Israel then shall dwell in safety alone; the fountain of Jacob shall be in a land of corn and wine.” De Wette takes Sachs to be the author of this latter exposition. But it is to be met with in many of the older commentators; for example, in Venema. Luther, too, brings out very prominently the reference to Deuteronomy 33:28, although he translates, “For Thou, Lord, alone makest me dwell in safety.”—“A saying,” says he, “not uncommon among the prophets; as if he would say, Indeed, Lord, in that I dwell safely, Thou art fulfilling what Thou didst promise through Moses, Israel shall dwell in safety alone.” Now, that the alone is really to be referred to the separation of the Psalmist from his enemies, and his security against their attacks, the passage in Deuteronomy shows the more decisively, as the corn and wine mentioned in the last verse were an allusion to the same passage, and as the prayer, “Lift upon us the light of Thy countenance,” also carries us back to a similar one in the Pentateuch. But if we take this exposition by itself, and to the exclusion of the other, there is something hard in it, since the “alone,” and the “in safety,” are placed so loosely and unconnectedly together. This difficulty vanishes if, uniting both expositions together, we suppose that the Psalmist had in view a sort of double sense “Thou, O Lord, makest me alone dwell in safety;” for, “Thou only, O Lord (comp. Deuteronomy 33:12), makest me dwell alone and in safety.” The expression, “Thou makest me dwell,” by its peculiarity, begets the suspicion of there being some original passage previously existing, from which it is taken, and in Leviticus 25:18-19, we find the words, “Ye shall do My statutes and keep My judgments, and ye shall dwell in the land in safety; and the land shall yield her fruit, and ye shall eat your fill, and dwell therein in safety.” With right does the Psalmist appropriate to himself the promises which originally referred to Israel. What is true of the whole is true also of the individual, in whom the idea of the whole is livingly realized; so that we may again ascend from the individual to the whole.

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 4". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms.