Bible Commentaries
Psalms 4

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 2981. B.C. 1023.

The title of this Psalm informs us that it was composed by David, but when, or upon what occasion, is not certainly known. The matter of it, however, makes it probable that it was in some time of distress, similar to that wherein he wrote the foregoing Psalm. He begins with a short prayer, Psalms 4:1 . Reproves the wicked for the dishonour they do to God, and the injury they do to their own souls, Psalms 4:2 . Sets before them the happiness of the godly to induce them to become religious, Psalms 4:3 . Exhorts them to consider and reform their conduct, to serve God, and put their trust in him, Psalms 4:4 , Psalms 4:5 . Declares his own experience of the grace of God, Psalms 4:6-8 .

To the chief musician Hebrew, למנצח , lamna-tzeach, To him that overcometh, or excelleth, namely, in his profession of music. The master or director of the musicians and music of the temple seems to be intended. On Neginoth On stringed instruments, as this word is translated Habakkuk 3:19, the Hebrew word נגן , nagan, whence this is derived, signifying, to play with the hand upon an instrument, 1 Samuel 16:23; 1 Samuel 19:9; Psalms 33:3. Although the authenticity of these titles is doubted by some commentators, it is probable, as the very learned bishop of Meaux has observed, that they were both given and preserved by divine interposition, in order that both the arguments and writers of the Psalms might be known; “nor can there be any reason,” says he, “for expunging them, since they are found in the text, and in all the versions, and have been thought worthy of explanation by Jewish as well as Christian commentators.”

Verse 1

Psalms 4:1. O God of my righteousness Or, my righteous God, the witness and defender of my righteous cause, and the person from whom I expect that righteous judgment and decision of it which I cannot obtain from mine enemies, who load me with manifold injuries and calumnies. Or the expression may mean, The foundation, source, and author of my righteousness. Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress Delivered me from my former straits and troubles, temporal and spiritual, which makes me hope thou wilt still take pity upon me, and grant the humble petition which I present unto thee. “The church, like David,” says Dr. Horne, and, we may add, every true member thereof, “calls aloud for God’s assistance; addresses him as the God of her righteousness, as the fountain of pardon and grace; reminds him of that spiritual liberty, and enlargement from bondage, which he hath purchased for her, and oftentimes wrought in her; and conscious of her demerit, makes her prayer for mercy.”

Verse 2

Psalms 4:2. Ye sons of men David is considered here by many commentators as addressing not mankind in general, but only princes, potentates, and persons of high degree. And perhaps, the phrase, sons of men, may often bear that sense in the Old Testament. But it must be observed, the Hebrew here, בני אישׁ , benee ish, signifies, sons of man, and not sons of men, and seems evidently to be of the same import as the phrase, sons of Adam, and if so, must include all mankind. Nor is there any proof from the context, or any part of the Psalm, that he is addressing merely those great men among the Jews or Israelites who revolted from him under Absalom, or even that he had Absalom’s rebellion particularly in his view when he composed this Psalm. He rather seems to be addressing the generality of his countrymen, or, rather, all into whose hands the Psalm might come, on subjects of infinite concern to all. How long will ye turn my glory into shame? Or, as the Hebrew is literally rendered, How long shall my glory be for a shame? that is, be made by you a matter of reproach and scorn. And by his glory he probably meant, not only that honour which God had conferred upon him in advancing him to the throne, which, when he was in great straits and dangers, his enemies might possibly reproach and make the subject of derision; but also, and especially, the glory of God and his Messiah. For, as Dr. Horne justly observes, “If the Israelitish monarch conceived he had just cause to expostulate with his enemies for despising the royal majesty with which Jehovah had invested his anointed, of how much severer reproof shall they be thought worthy who blaspheme the essential glory of (God and) King Messiah, which shines forth by his gospel in his church.” But are not these rather to be considered as the words of God himself, here reasoning with sinners, by the psalmist, and calling them to repentance? As if he had said, You that go on in the neglect of God and his worship, and in contempt of the kingdom of Christ and his government, consider what you do. You not only disgrace yourselves, debase the dignity of your nature, the excellence of those powers with which you are endued; but you dishonour me, your Maker, and turn my glory, and that of my Son, your Messiah, into shame. Or, if they be David’s words, they may still be interpreted to the same sense, for his God was his glory, as he calls him Psalms 3:3. Idolaters are charged with changing the glory of God into shame, Romans 1:23. And all wilful sinners do so by disobeying the commands of his law, despising the offers of his grace, and giving that affection and service to the creature which are due to God only. Those that profane God’s holy name, that ridicule his word and ordinances; and, while they profess to know him, by works deny him, do what in them lies to turn his glory into shame. How long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? That is, lying or a lie. You are yourselves vain, and desire and pursue vain things, and you love to be and do so. You set your hearts upon that which will prove, at last, vanity and a lie. They that love the world and seek the things that are beneath, that please themselves with the delights of sense, and choose for their portion the wealth of this world, love vanity, and seek lies, for these things will deceive and so ruin them. How long will you do this? Will you never be wise for yourselves, never consider your duty and interest? When shall it once be? Jeremiah 13:27.

Verse 3

Psalms 4:3. Know that the Lord Hebrew, Jehovah, the supreme, the everlasting God, whose favour is an infinite blessing, and whose wrath is a boundless evil; hath set apart Hath chosen; to himself And taken under his peculiar care and protection; him that is godly The man that truly fears, loves, and serves him. It is generally supposed that David spoke here primarily of himself, and of his own designation to the throne; that he is meant by the godly man, whom God had set apart for himself, or for the honour of the kingdom, and who did not usurp or assume to himself a dignity not appointed him of God; and that therefore the opposition they made to him and to his advancement, as it was very criminal, inasmuch as therein they fought against God, so it would prove vain in the end and ineffectual. God has, in like manner, set apart the Lord Jesus for himself, that merciful one, (as the word חסיד , chasid, here rendered, him that is godly, properly means,) and those that attempt to hinder his advancement will certainly be baffled, for the Father heareth him always. But, as has been intimated above, David certainly meant his words to be understood of every godly man. All the godly are God’s chosen, or elect people; his separate and sealed ones, whom he knows to be his, on whom he hath stamped his image, and who hear his superscription. Them the Lord distinguishes with uncommon favours. They have a special interest in heaven, are under God’s peculiar care; those that touch them touch the apple of his eye; and he will make their persecutors know it sooner or later; and they shall be mine, saith the Lord, in the day when I make up my jewels. Know this, saith the psalmist. Let godly people know it, and let them never alienate themselves from him to whom they are thus appropriated; let wicked people know it, and take heed how they hurt those whom God protects.

Verse 4

Psalms 4:4. Stand in awe Hebrew, רגזו , rigzu, Tremble, therefore, and be afraid, if not of me, yet, at least, of God, who hath engaged himself in my cause, and will be an adversary to my adversaries. So said David, and so says the Messiah. Or, Be angry, as the word is here rendered by all the ancient, and by some modern translators, and even by St. Paul, as it is thought, Ephesians 4:26. Or, Are you angry? for it may be understood interrogatively: as if he had said, Admit you be angry, or displeased, that God hath preferred me, an obscure person, and of mean family, before so many noble and mighty men; yet, or but, (as it follows,) sin not; that is, do not so far indulge your anger as to break forth into murmuring against God, or rebellion against me; but seasonably suppress and mortify your unadvised and sinful passion, lest it break forth to your ruin. But we must observe further, this Hebrew word signifies, in general, a vehement commotion of the mind or heart, whether through fear, or grief, or anger; many instances of all which significations of it occur in the Old Testament. The clause may, therefore, be here properly rendered, Be moved, (namely, in opposition to carelessness and carnal security,) and sin not. And so it is an important and instructive advice or exhortation to all. For one principal mean of preserving us from sin is to have our hearts properly affected with divine things, especially with the fear and love of God, with a holy reverence of his glory, and awe of his majesty, and dread of his justice and wrath. Let but our hearts he deeply and constantly influenced with these affections; and let our love be truly set on God, and we shall not easily provoke him by the commission of any known sin. Commune with your own heart upon your bed Calmly and deeply consider these things in your own breasts; in the silent night, when you are at leisure from the crowd of distracting cares and business, and free from the company of carnal and worldly men; and be still Compose your tumultuous minds, and suppress your disorderly affections and passions; and, having examined yourselves, and inquired into the state of your hearts and lives, silently expect the answer of your consciences. “The enemies of Christ,” says Dr. Horne, “as well as those of David, are here called to repentance; and the process of conversion is described. The above-mentioned consideration of the divine counsel, and the certainty of its being carried into execution, by the salvation of the righteous, and the confusion of their enemies, makes the wicked ‘tremble.’ It arrests the sinner in his course, and he goes on no further in the way of sin, but stops and reflects upon what he has been doing; he ‘communes with his own heart upon his bed, and is still;’ his conscience suffers him not to rest in the night, but takes the advantage of solitude and silence to set before him his transgressions, with all the terrors of death and judgment; stirring him up to confess the former and deprecate the latter, with unfeigned compunction and sorrow of heart; to turn unto the Lord, and do works meet for repentance.”

Verse 5

Psalms 4:5. Offer Unto God, that he may be reconciled to you; the sacrifice of righteousness Righteous sacrifices; which requires that the persons offering them be righteous and do righteous things, and offer them with an honest mind, with faith and true repentance. Without which he intimates that all their sacrifices were of no esteem with God, and would be wholly unprofitable to them. And put your trust in the Lord And then, that is, so doing, you may rely upon God, and confidently expect his assistance and blessing, for which otherwise it is in vain for you to hope. Dr. Horne, who thinks this Psalm looks forward to gospel days, interprets this verse in the following manner: “The Jews are no longer to offer the shadowy sacrifices of their law, since He who is the substance of them all is come into the world. The Gentiles are no more to offer their idolatrous sacrifices, since their idols have fallen before the cross. But returning sinners, whether Jews or Gentiles, are to offer the same sacrifices of evangelical righteousness; not putting their trust in them, but in the Lord Jesus, through whose Spirit they are enabled to offer, and through whose blood their offerings are acceptable unto God.”

Verse 6

Psalms 4:6. There be many that say, &c. There be many (the multitude, the generality of men in almost every station) that say, Who will show us any good? That is, “Who will heap honours upon us? Who will point out the way to wealth and luxury? Who will present new scenes of pleasure, that we may indulge our appetites, and give full scope to the rovings of a wanton fancy?” That this is the substance of what was intended by the sacred writer in this question, the words put in opposition to it, in which he expresses his own wiser sentiments, are an undeniable proof; Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us That what he here suggests is a fair representation of facts, experience loudly testifies; and that it is a false notion of human happiness, and a fatal error, reason plainly teaches; for what are honours, what are riches, what is sensual pleasure? They are light as vanity, fleeting as a bubble, thin and unsubstantial as air. The favour of God, and his approbation, are absolutely necessary to the happiness of mankind. The displeasure of our Maker includes in it the utmost distress and infamy; and his favour, every thing great, good, and honourable, so that the devout prayer of the psalmist will be likewise the fervent and humble supplication of every wise and virtuous mind. Lord, lift thou up, &c. See Foster’s Sermons, vol. 4. “For the understanding of this phrase,” says Dr. Dodd, “and several other passages in the Psalms, it must be remembered, that when Moses had prepared the ark, in which he deposited the tables of the covenant, the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle; and after this, wherever the ark resided, God always manifested his peculiar presence among his people, by a glorious visible appearance from the mercy-seat, and this continued as long as Solomon’s temple lasted. It is this which is always alluded to where mention is made in the Psalms of the light of God’s countenance, or, his making his face to shine. Now as this was a standing miraculous testimony of God’s peculiar providence over the Jews, hence those expressions, of his making his face to shine, his lifting up the light of his countenance, and the like, did in common use signify his being gracious unto them, and taking them under his immediate protection. They are used in this sense Numbers 6:24. In like manner the hiding of God’s face meant the withdrawing of his favour and protection from them.”

Verse 7

Psalms 4:7. Thou hast put gladness in my heart Whatsoever thou shalt do with me for the future, as to my outward distresses and concerns, I have, at present, unspeakable pleasure and full satisfaction in the manifestations and testimonies of thy love to and in my soul. Hereby thou hast, many a time, put gladness into my heart; not only supported and refreshed me, but filled me with joy unspeakable, and therefore this it is which I will still pursue, and which I will seek after, all the days of my life. Observe, reader, when God puts grace into the heart, he puts gladness into it; nor is any joy comparable to that which gracious souls have in the communications of the divine favour, no, not the joy of harvest, even of a plentiful harvest, when the corn and wine greatly increase. This is gladness in the heart, inward, solid, substantial joy; but the mirth of carnal and worldly people is only a flash, a shadow, for even in laughter their hearts are sorrowful, Proverbs 14:13.

Verse 8

Psalms 4:8 . I will lay me down in peace In tranquillity of mind, resting securely upon God’s promises, and the conduct of his wise and gracious providence. For thou, Lord, only makest me to dwell in safety I owe not my safety to my own valour or wisdom, nor to the courage of my followers, but to thee only. Or, Thou, Lord, makest me to dwell alone in safety Though I be, in a manner, alone, forsaken and destitute of friends or helpers, yet I am not alone, for God is with me: though I have no guards to attend me, the Lord alone is sufficient to protect me. He can do it himself when all other defences fail. “Happy the Christian who, having nightly, with this verse, committed himself to his bed as to his grave, shall, at last, with the same words, resign himself to the grave, as to his bed, from which he expects, in due time, to rise, and sing a morning hymn, with the children of the resurrection.” Horne.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 4". Benson's Commentary. 1857.