Bible Commentaries
Psalms 4

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary


Heading. ‘For the chief musician, on stringed instruments. A psalm of David.’

This psalm is one of a number dedicated to the Choirmaster, or chief musician. What this actually signified we do not know. Possibly the choirmaster originally had his own collection of psalms and hymns. This one was intended for public use. It was for playing on stringed instruments and was a psalm of David.

It is generally recognised that there is a close affinity between this and the previous psalm. Compare for example the ‘many there be that say’ (Psalms 4:5) with Psalms 3:2, a phrase unique to these two psalms. It was probably written a little later than Psalms 3:0 when things were more settled and the fight back was beginning.

It is divided up by ‘selah’, that is pauses in the music, although others have seen the divisions differently. However, it is all a matter of opinion for in the end the psalm is one whole.

We may divide it as follows:

· David’s cry to God to be heard (Psalms 4:1).

· The plea to his rebellious people to consider what they are doing (Psalms 4:2).

· The declaration of his own status before God (Psalms 4:3).

· The command for them to consider their ways (Psalms 4:4).

· His plea for them to repent and come into the right way (Psalms 4:5).

· His confidence that they will do so (Psalms 4:6).

· His great rejoicing at his restoration (Psalms 4:7).

· David’s final confidence (Psalms 4:8).

Verse 1

‘Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness,

You have set me at large when I was in distress.

Have mercy on me and hear my prayer.’

The psalm begins with prayer. The writer is grateful that when he was in distress God delivered him from it and set him ‘at large’. He had brought him out of his distress both physically and spiritually and given him freedom, both outwardly and within himself. This would well fit the fact that David was now delivered from the initial source of impending danger. Now he prays for continued mercy to be shown to him, in response to his praying.

‘O God of my righteousness.’ The righteous God is the source of his vindication, and its upholder. It is the righteous God Who has accepted him as righteous through forgiveness, and enables him to walk in righteousness. Thus his conscience can be clear because of God’s graciousness.

The Christian has an equally great joy. He can say that Christ has been made to him righteousness, that we have been ‘made the righteousness of God in Him’ (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

‘Have mercy on me.’ This is meant in the sense of ‘show your graciousness towards me’ (see Exodus 34:6). He is seeking that God will continue to act on his behalf in response to his prayer.

Verse 2

‘O you sons of men how long will my glory be turned into dishonour?

How long will you love vanity, and seek after falsehood?’ Selah.

This again fits well with David’s situation. It was the vanity of Absalom that had finally resulted in the rebellion, as a result of Absalom’s false claims (2 Samuel 14:25-26; 2 Samuel 15:1-6). Thus David’s glory as king in Jerusalem had been replaced by the dishonour of dwelling as a fugitive in tents. And even more his status as ‘Yahweh’s anointed’ had been marred by the accusations that had been made against him.

However the words can also apply to any man of God who has been dishonoured because of men’s vain thinking and deceptiveness. How easily can a man’s reputation be wrecked by lies. For the world hates those who are true to God (John 15:18-19; John 16:2). So Jesus paradoxically warned of the danger of being thought well of, for that too would only result in persecution because of the nature of man. Men hate those who are truly righteous (1 Peter 4:14; 1 Peter 4:16; Matthew 5:11-12; Luke 6:26), especially when others see them as righteous. It was something that Jesus Himself suffered from, as He was misrepresented by the leaders of the people. These words could easily be applied to Him.

‘O you sons of men.’ Not ben ’adam but ben ‘ish, high born men rather than low. See its use in Psalms 49:2; Psalms 62:9. His address is to the high born who are responsible for his distress. By evicting him from Jerusalem with the intention of removing him from the throne they had dishonoured him and the glory that was his as YHWH’s anointed. But they are still but sons of men, in contrast to God, and they should remember that, for God is not pleased when those He favours are ill-used. And whenever the true people of God are attacked falsely and dishonoured it is God’s glory in them that is being outwardly tarnished.

‘How long will you love vanity, and seek after falsehood?’ When men attack those who are God’s they are revealing that they love ‘vanity’, that, is the desire for empty and meaningless things. They are seeking what is temporal rather than what is eternal. And regularly they do it by deceit, as Absalom had deceived. They deceive themselves and they deceive others, twisting facts in order to win their case, erecting a refuge of lies which will one day be swept away (see Isaiah 28:25-27).

Verse 3

‘But know that YHWH has set apart him who is godly for himself?

YHWH will hear when I call to him.’

Compare Psalms 3:3. He warns his opponents that God has set him apart specially. He is the anointed one, supremely favoured by the covenant God. And he points out that he is still in God’s favour, he has been reinstated in godliness. Therefore to rebel against him is to rebel against God. And they must remember that as His anointed one God will hear him when he calls on Him.

Indeed all those who are godly (or those whom God favours) have been chosen by Him for Himself. To touch them is to touch the apple of God’s eye (Zechariah 2:8). Thus men should beware of how they treat them.

The word for ‘set apart’ also contains the idea of marvellous dealing (see Psalms 17:7; Psalm 39:14). He not only sets them apart but also ‘deals marvellously’ with them. It is a dangerous thing to touch YHWH’s anointed (Psalms 105:15).

‘Him who is godly.’ One who is characterised by covenant love to God, and is within God’s covenant love, and therefore ‘one who is favoured by His covenant love’. Therefore they are God’s own special possession. That is why He will hear when they call on Him.

Verses 4-5

‘Stand in awe and do not sin,

Commune with your own heart on your bed and be still, Selah

Offer the sacrifices of righteousness,

And put your trust in YHWH.’

In view of whom they are dealing with they should pause and stand in awe. They are touching YHWH’s anointed. Let them therefore fear before God and beware of incurring His anger, for such fear will prevent them from sin. Let them wait for the quietness of their beds, away from the incitement of others who are just as foolish, then let them talk to themselves sensibly and thus they will cease from what they are doing. They will cease to sin.

Then they can be true to YHWH and offer true sacrifices, sacrifices which are offered from a true heart (Deuteronomy 33:19; Psalms 51:19; Isaiah 1:11 with Isaiah 1:16-18). Thus can they put their trust in YHWH. For to offer sacrifices truly was to come to God in trust and love, depending on His promises of mercy. This once again strongly reminds us that sacrifices alone were insufficient to turn away God’s wrath. They had to be offered from a true heart and with the intention in the future of living a righteous life (1 Samuel 15:22). And must be accompanied by trust in YHWH Himself.

Verse 6

‘Many there are who say, “Who will show us any good?

Yahweh, lift up the light of your face on us,”

Glad in heart he is aware that many who have been against him, or have been neutral, are now having second thoughts, because they have ‘stood in awe’ and considered. They had turned to Absalom because of his promises of what he would do for them but now they are reconsidering. They are now remembering all that David had achieved for them, and possibly also aware that as he has survived the first onslaught he may well come out as the victor. They are also remembering that he had been a successful intercessor. Thus they are asking YHWH to guide them as to what choice they should make. And the result is that many are gathering to David to support his cause.

‘Who will show us any good.’ Who is the one who will make the best king so that we prosper under his rule? Who will be the best intercessor? And they recognised that it had to be the one anointed by YHWH.

‘YHWH, lift up the light of your face on us.’ Compare Psalms 31:16; Psalms 80:3; Psalms 80:17; Psalms 80:19. The idea behind the phrase is of YHWH acting on their behalf. So having made their choice for YHWH’s anointed, they seek His delivering power to deliver David and themselves and bring the country back to normal.

All of us can ask the same question. ‘Who will do us any good?’ And the answer for us is great David’s Greater Son. As we seek Him with all our hearts God will act for us and reveal the glory of His presence to us. His face will be turned towards us.

Verse 7

‘You have put gladness in my heart,

More than those have when their corn and their wine are increased.’

The greatest gladness in life in an agricultural society was for the corn and the wine to increase. And the harvest festivals, in a good year, were their time of greatest rejoicing (see Isaiah 9:3; contrast Jeremiah 48:32-33). It meant plentiful food, much enjoyment, increasing wealth and a year of fullness. But the gladness that YHWH puts in the heart, David says, is greater far than that. David rejoiced in the pouring out of His goodness for it far exceeded the blessing of the harvest. And he especially rejoiced in that in his present situation God was working for Him and would continue to do so.

But every child of God can echo his experience. Like David they may sometimes find themselves in tight corners, seemingly unable to escape. But when His time comes they will be delivered, and great will be their rejoicing, far exceeding anything that the physical world offers.

Verse 8

‘In peace will I both lay me down, and sleep,

For you YHWH alone make me dwell in safety.’

David finishes with his declaration of full confidence in YHWH. The final battle is not yet over, but as he prepares for it he can afford to lie down, and yes, he even sleeps (compare Psalms 3:5). For he knows that his safety and security are in YHWH’s hands. Because he is YHWH’s he is confident of his safety and security in YHWH’s hands. We too may sleep in peace if we are His.

The great emphasis on the sin of rebelling against YHWH’s anointed finds even greater significance in the light of the coming of Jesus. Here was YHWH’s Anointed par excellence. And so the psalm becomes a call to all men to lay down their arms and submit to Him.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 4". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.