Bible Commentaries
Psalms 4

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary

Verse 1

Psalms 4:0.

David prayeth for audience. He reproveth and exhorteth his enemies. Man's happiness is in God's favour.

To the chief musician on Neginoth.
A Psalm of David.

Title. בנגינות למנצח lamnatseach bineginoth. I. Concerning the authenticity of these titles in general, there is great doubt among commentators. It is the opinion of the very learned Bishop of Meaux, that they were both given and preserved by divine interposition, that their arguments and the writers of them might be known: "Nor can there be any reason for expunging them, since they are found in the text and all the versions, and have been thought worthy of explanation by Jewish as well as Christian commentators. 'Tis true there are many who take these titles in different senses; but I cannot find one ancient interpreter who doubts of their authority; whence we conclude," says he, "that though the titles as well as the other texts may have different interpretations as well as various readings, yet those which are agreed to have been in the original books, were never called in question by any divine of antiquity." Mr. Fenwick has been at the pains to consider the Hebrew titles of the psalms at large; to him, therefore, we refer the reader curious on these subjects; Observing II. Concerning the musical instruments mentioned in several of these titles, that it is certain the Hebrews used in their sacred solemnities such as were either played upon by the breath, as the trumpet; or by striking, as the cymbal; or those which consisted of strings, which, from being touched or struck, were called Neginoth, and concerning some of which we shall have occasion to speak hereafter: though, for ourselves, we ingenuously own with Bishop Bossuet, that as these things are little necessary, so we are far from being certain or very solicitous about them. The most satisfactory account of them extant, that we know of, is Calmet's Dissertation upon the Hebrew Instruments, and the Univ. Hist. vol. 3: p. 194. We observe, III. On the title of the psalm before us, that the מנצח menatseach, chief musician, here mentioned, is generally supposed to have been the preceptor or chief singer in the temple worship; and that נגינות Neginoth consequently implies the stringed instruments to which the psalm was to be sung. Fenwick, however, who conceives that all the psalms immediately refer to Christ, has endeavoured to prove at large, that the words would be more properly rendered, To him who giveth the victory, or causeth us to triumph in tribulations. The versions vary extremely with respect to it. This psalm is thought to have been composed by David upon the same occasion with the former. From the 2nd to the 6th verse he expostulates with his rebellious subjects, and admonishes them for their good: in the remainder of it he prays for God's assistance, and pathetically expresses his sure dependance upon him. See more on Psalms 22, 60.

Psalms 4:1. Hear me, when I call, O God, &c.— Or, Answer me, &c. O God of my righteousness! i.e. "Who art to do me right; to whom I apply for justice."

Verse 2

Psalms 4:2. Ye sons of men The Hebrew אישׁ בני benei iish, signifies sons of man; which may differ very much from our translation: For, does not the phrase sons of man imply all the human race; all the sons of Adam? And does not sons of men denote only persons of dignity and eminence? See Edwards's Style of the Holy Scripture, and Mudge. Leasing signifies lies or falsehood.

Verse 3

Psalms 4:3. Him that is godly The word חסיד chasid in the original commonly signifies a pious, or charitable and beneficent person: but when it is spoken of man with reference to God, it denotes one that has received favour or mercy from him, and is the same with Κεχαριτομενος, one who has found favour with God.

Verse 4

Psalms 4:4. Stand in awe, &c.— The LXX, Vulgate, Syriac, Ethiopian, and Arabic, render it, Be ye angry, &c.

Verse 5

Psalms 4:5. Sacrifices of righteousness True sacrifices] Vitring. Isa 5:2 p. 56. 829.

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 shew us any good? i.e. "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 fact, 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 is 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 holy mind; Lord, lift thou up, &c. See Foster's Serm. vol. 4:

Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance For the understanding of this 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 rested, God always manifested his peculiar presence among his people, by a glorious visible appearance upon 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; so 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 11:25. In like manner, the hiding of God's face meant the withdrawing of his favour and protection from them.

Verse 7

Psalms 4:7. More than in the time that their corn, &c.— i.e. "My gladness, my joy is as great as the joy of men in a plentiful harvest." The meaning of this verse seems, in the plainest and most obvious sense of it, to be nearly parallel to Isaiah 9:3. Grotius connects it with the preceding verse in this manner: "If thou wilt lift the light of thy countenance upon us, O Lord, thou wilt put a greater gladness in my heart, than is generally expressed at a plentiful harvest of corn, or a great increase of wine."

REFLECTIONS.—1st. David opens this Psalm,

1. With earnest prayer to God. Hear me when I call. We have no demands on God for attention, nor can make him our debtor by waiting upon him: it is a mercy, an unspeakable mercy, if he condescend to hear our prayers. O God of my righteousness: My righteous God, who will do me right respecting my enemies; or, the vindicator of my righteousness, which men traduce and malign; or the God on whom I depend for righteousness, renouncing all trust in myself. Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; many a time have I experienced thy kind interposition, therefore I am still encouraged to hope for the repetition of the same mercy. And every true believer may adopt his words, acknowledging how often God has enlarged his heart, when straitened with temptations and beset with trials, and set his feet at liberty. Note; (1.) In every distress God is a sure refuge; let us fly to him. (2.) Past experience should engage present confidence.

2. He expostulates with his enemies, in order to their conviction and conversion: O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame; as the chiefs of Israel, who joined his rebellious son, sought to do; and as the high-priest and people of the Jews did, when they reviled, insulted, and mocked the Lamb of God, and ridiculed the glory that he assumed as king of Israel, degrading him to the condition of a malefactor, and making him die the death of a slave. In like manner do wicked men seek to reproach the faithful, brand them as hypocrites and deceivers, and ridicule their holy peculiarities.

3. He produces the reason why their attempts must be abortive. Know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself: which respects David himself, whose conduct God approved, and whose kingdom he would establish in spite of all his foes. Equally applicable is it to the Messiah, that elect in whom God's soul delighteth.

4. He warns them of their danger, and the way of escaping it. Stand in awe of the judgments of God, threatened against transgressors; and sin not, to provoke it against you. Many versions read, Be angry, and sin not, according to the apostle, Ephesians 4:26. There is an anger not sinful, when it is directed against the evils that we see in ourselves and others, and leads us to zeal for their good, and God's glory. Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Consider your ways, seriously examine them by the rule of God's laws; search out your manifold offences; bring forth the awful sentences which is the appointed wages of sin, and suffer no avocation to divert your thoughts from this important subject: retire to your closet often; and let conscience faithfully do her office; that, self-condemned, and humbled under the sense of sin, your hearts may be laid in the dust, to seek mercy with an offended God. Then offer unto God the sacrifices of righteousness: the sacrifice of God's appointment, which pointed to the atoning blood of the great Redeemer; and put your trust in the Lord, renouncing yourself as a vile sinner, and looking for the mercy of God in Jesus Christ, as your only soul-supporting hope: and this will produce sacrifices of praise to God for redeeming grace, with which he has declared himself to be well-pleased. Thus may all the evil that the sinner fears be averted, and the felicity of God's faithful people become his happy portion. O that men were wise, that they understood these things!

2nd, Having exhorted men to seek the favour of a gracious God, David proceeds to shew the excellency of his regard beyond every earthly acquisition.

1. There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? foolish worldlings, who place their chief happiness in the perishing enjoyments of present vanities; seeking their portion on earth, and grasping at this shadow, instead of God, the only author of true and abiding joy. Note; (1.) Sense governs the majority of mankind, and their pursuits after happiness scarcely rise to objects higher than those which the beasts enjoy in common with them. (2.) They who, with a rational and immortal soul, seek their rest in sublunary enjoyments, must ever, like the prodigal son, find them as husks, incapable of satisfying their hunger. (3.) They who take up with their portion in time, can have none in eternity.

2. The Psalmist, and all whose hearts, like his, divine grace has wrought upon, seek a nobler and more satisfying possession. Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us; give us a sense of thy favour, the comforts of thy Spirit, and the experience of thy love shed abroad in our hearts: this is the only satisfying portion that an immortal soul can enjoy; and all the wealth of the world, compared with this, is dung and loss. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased. A worldly man exults to see his barns full, and his vats overflow with wine: but how much greater the joy, to experience the riches of Divine grace, and to be filled with all the fulness of God! Note; They are wofully mistaken, who count God's servants unhappy, and the ways of godliness melancholy: out of them there is no true joy, and the end of all other mirth is heaviness.

3. With this gladness of heart, which a sense of the Divine favour ministered, he forgot his troubles, and rested in peace and comfort. I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: no fears shall disturb, or disappointment break my rest; if thou art with me, I have all that heart can wish: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety. Though other refuge I have none, the shadow of thy wings is sufficient security; my soul rests in thy love, my body under thy care, and both are perfectly safe. Note; Every true believer may with delight adopt these expressions of dependance upon God: he can sleep with peace on his bed, for God is there; he can lay with confidence his body in the dust, and sleep the sleep of death; for even in the grave he is safe: and, having committed his all into the hands of a faithful guardian, he is assured, that, whether for time or eternity, all is well.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 4". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.