- Discourse with God (plea) and sons of man (question / accusation) 2-3 BHS, 1-2 ESV
- Call in distress. The Psalm opens with another call in distress, urging God to answer David when he calls. The title he ascribes to God is the God of my righteousness. Looking at Jeremiah 23:5-6 we observe a similar term is employed to address the righteous branch of Judah by whom they will be saved. He is called the Lord our righteousness in reference to Jesus Christ. There is no way Judah can be righteous on their own considering their treacherous conducts, their repeated violation of the covenant by which they are bound with the Lord. The one possible way for them to be counted righteous is God has figured out a way to do that and He did. He covers Judah by his own righteousness and perfection. This theme of imputed righteousness is amplified in the New Testament. In justifying sinners, God imputes the sinner’s existential sins to Christ (2 Cor 5:21) so that he is forensically guilty of their sins and therefore liable to God’s just punishment which he did bear on the cross although Jesus himself never sins (1 John 3:3, Heb 4:15). Furthermore, in justifying sinners, God also imputes Christ’s record of perfect obedience, flawless and unblemished life, his existential righteousness to those who believe in him (1 Cor 1:30) so that Christ’s righteousness becomes forensically the possession of believers by faith. So when God looks at believers in Christ Jesus, he no longer sees sinners deserving his just wrath, but the perfection of Christ in his book by virtue of this doctrine of double imputation alluded in the OT but magnified and made unmistakably clear in the NT particularly in the Pauline epistles. This reliance on God’s righteousness, I believe, is what David has in mind when he addresses God as the God of my righteousness. David understand there is no possible way he can be righteous in and by himself and has to rely on God to provide the means to declare David righteous by God’s own righteousness. Just like the OT when the high-priest enters the Holy of holies, he must go through rigorous purification ritual, so David acknowledges this reality and expresses his reliance on God to bring about the necessary purification for him to enter his presence and hear his prayers. For believers, this access to God is open at all times by virtue of the works of Christ (Heb 12:19). Believers in Christ can enter God’s presence in prayer and worship by virtue of the blood of Christ by which they are purified and can enter the Holy of holies just like the OT high priest does. Indeed Heb 4:16 calls believers to enter God’s presence with confidence knowing that Christ has procured for them everything necessary for them to enjoy fellowship with God at any time. David not merely urges God to answer him but that his answer be favorable, showing mercy, kindness in his response to David’s urgent plea. But sandwiched between these two urgent pleas, David acknowledges God’s past faithfulness to him in the past: You have given me relief. This is the basis of David’s holy boldness in calling God again to save him. The God of Israel, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is an unchanging God. The unchanging faithfulness implied in the word chesed, the immutability of God in his commitment to be gracious to his people is echoed in Heb 13:8, Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever. God is unchanging. Human beings are changing either because of their circumstances or character. Although they may be able to provide help in the past there is no guarantee that they will be available today and in the future. Their circumstances or their treacherous character may not allow them (cf. Demas forsaking Paul in 2 Tim 4:10). But painful experiences with abandonment by our fellow men and women should not be projected or extrapolated to God that he would do the same. No, David is confident, he never hesitates of God’s never changing faithfulness. Psalm 27:10, though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. There is still a likelihood for the two individuals who are the least likely to forsake David, namely his own parents to forsake David, but there is no such possibility with God. God will receive him when his last resort to human help is gone.
- Rebuke to the sons of man. It sounds strange that David attributes glory to himself when he says, “sons of man, how long will you bring my glory to shame?” Does he commit idolatry here? If he acts as an individual, yes. But again, he acts as God’s vicegerent. Israel was a theocracy. Scripture never speaks of David committing idolatry. So we may be confident that in this case, David’s glory is no other than God’s glory itself (see Ps 3:3b). Another support for this view is the way David addresses his enemies, the sons of man. One may think that David himself is a son of man. Does he think more highly of himself, that somehow he is above his fellow-men and women? Again, this can be true if his glory as the king that God has anointed is God’s glory. The third support that ‘my glory’, David’s glory is God’s glory is the way David tells us what the sons of man do, namely, not only do they bring his glory to shame but they also love “riq”. In Psalm 2:1b, the word is used to describe what the people do, namely they plot “in vain” They do their best, they work so hard to oppose God’s anointed but in the end, regardless how crafty their scheme is, it will fail, hence their scheme is ‘riq’, useless. There is a link here to what the sons of man do. It is a repetition of Psalm 2:1b. The people plot in vain. The sons of man love vanity, i.e., they love figuring out and acting in opposition, in disobedience to the Lord. This is the nature of unregenerate man. He loves sinning and seek falsehood. The word for falsehood is kazav. Unregenerate men love sin and equivalently they seek to do what is false, what is contrary to God’s commands, his revealed will. The next question we have to ask is what’s the connection between the rebuke to the sons of man and David’s plea for God to hear his prayer and be gracious to him in the previous verse? The link is similar to the background of Psalm 3, namely David is being pursued by his enemies. They rise up against him and David calls on God to rise up on his behalf.
- Series of instructions 4-6- with a pause (there is a selah in v.5).
- Verse 4 (3 ESV – Know that the Lord…). There seems to be a pattern of inclusio in the first and second stanzas separated by the selah in verse 3(2 ESV). The first stanza opens with David calling to God to hear his prayers and be gracious to him. The second stanza closes with an affirmation that God indeed will hear him when David calls on him. But do these two stanzas form a chiastic structure? One would expect an A-B-B-A pattern but I think it is not chiasm but inclusio (cf. Psalm 8 verse 1 and 8). The middle part of the inclusio structure consist of David’s discourse against the enemy. The first part is a rebuke, what they are doing to him and what they do and who they are in general, unregenerate sinners. The second part of his address to his enemies consists of a response to their persecution, namely that David will not be moved as implied by the statement that God has separated “the faithful” (chasid) for himself and David is one of them. Know that the Lord (v.4) – know is in 2nd person masculine plural, so this is addressed to the sons of man in v.3. We may observe that the second is a contrast with respect to the first. The first part, “How long sons of men…” is where David is saying “you are the kind of people who rebel against the Lord. You hate his anointed king. You delight in sinning. You love disobeying God. Your lifestyle is characterized by falsehood. That’s who you are and what you do.” The second part says despite the prevalence, the ubiquity of this kind of people God has separated some who are faithful to him. David implicitly says that since he is among this latter group, God would hear his prayers. Why would God hear the prayers of the wicked if they pray that he would bless their sinful lifestyle and desires unless they repent and turn to him in their prayer. The desires of the wicked are unholy desires while the desires of those who God has separated – chasid – the faithful ones are the holy ones conforming to the holy God they worship. And thus God would hear and respond favorably to their prayers which is David’s confidence in this statement of affirmation – God will hear when I call to him.
- In verse 5-6 (4-5 ESV) David is still addressing the sons of man as evident from the continued use of the 2nd person masculine imperatives (Be angry…Offer righteous sacrifice…). In my view this is a call to the sons of men, to sinners to reflect upon themselves and repent. The first command, literally: be angry and you shall not sin – reminds one of Eph 4:26 which is addressed to Christians.What about here in Psalm 4? Do "the sons of man" refer to believers or unbelievers? I still think it is primarily the latter. God’s moral commands apply to everyone. Perhaps David reminds the sons of man in this verse, when your sinful scheme doesn’t work out, be careful that you not rage and lash out against God or your fellow men and women, showing your evil hatred for all to see. The second part of verse 5 (4 in ESV) says “ponder in your own hearts on your beds and be silent.” The word that ESV translates as “ponder” is the same word that means “say.” It is hard when one is busy sinning, in the middle of his usual sinful acts to be brought to his senses that he may realize his dreadful condition before a righteous God. This is true as well when we are busy working according to our vocation or taking care of familial duties. It is hard to do soul searching in the midst of these activities. Hence David brings up the time of the day that is most conducive to reflection, namely the bed-time when all is quiet that allows one to reflect upon themselves. Thus there is a qualifier along with the command to “speak to your heart” or “say to your hearts” namely, “be silent.” The expression that David uses, “say in your hearts”, although ESV provides a correct rendering (ponder in your own hearts), calls sinners, fallen humanity, sons of man to think about their own hearts, who they are. Heart in Hebrew refers to one’s entire personality, not just emotions or feelings but what a person is, his characters and thoughts. So David says, reflect on who you are, what you have done. This call applies to believers as well. It is true that God has separated them. In Christ they have been forgiven. God gave them a new nature through the work of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Christ’s perfect righteousness has been imputed to them so they are forensically righteous before God. But they still sin nonetheless and this is why the command to reflect, as well as the command not to sin when one is angry are extrapolable to Christians as well as what Paul does in Eph 4:26. What benefit does one reap out of this self-reflection? For unbelievers, through this activity God may expose to them their sins and need of forgiveness. It may lead them to his Word, to hear the gospel that leads to faith and repentance. For believers, it is God’s means to bring about greater sanctification. It reveals areas in our lives in which we are disobedient to him and thus calls for repentance and reformation. The next imperative is offer sacrifices of righteousness (lit) and trust in the Lord. The goal of this exercise of thoughtful reflection is that one may offer sacrifices of righteousness. Does David specifically refer to the sacrificial system in the OT where there is a special set of objects to be offered depending on the occasion (e.g., the day of atonement, the festival of booth etc)? Yes, but for a sacrifice to be considered righteous, it ought to be offered by faith trusting God or giving thanks to God along with the sacrifices. In other words, even OT sacrifices need to be offered with the right attitude. The sons of Eli offered sacrifices, the correct ones (1 Sam 2), but were they pleasing to God? Were they sacrifices of righteousness? No, because of their sinful lifestyle. In particular the right attitude in offering on the day of atonement, the worshippers ought to understand that the animal sacrifices themselves are unable to atone for sins (Heb 9:8-10, 10:1-4) but a symbol of what God is going to do in the future, namely he will provide the right sacrifice that these animal offerings point to, namely Christ. In the NT, with the coming of Christ, the sacrificial system is abolished. Believers themselves are now to offer themselves as sacrifices (non-atoning of course), see Rom 12:1, Heb 13:15, 1 Cor6:19. These passages speak of believers’ bodies as God’s temples where the Holy Spirit reigns. Rom 12:1 speaks of our actions (bodies) as living sacrifices that imply our whole being (emotion, mind and will). These are sacrifices but they do not earn salvation. The second part of verse 6 (verse 5 ESV) calls for the fundamental attitude necessary in all these exercises, the examination of one’s heart in the silence and evening solitude and the offering of righteous sacrifices, namely trust in the Lord. One ought to trust in the Lord to illuminate his or her conditions whether as unbelievers that need to repent and turn to the Lord or as believers that need greater sanctification and the wondrous work of God that bring about radical change of their nature from being rebellious to obedient to God which ought to excite gratitude. Our good works, righteous conducts that we offer to God as our gratitude and evidence of the change he has wrought in our hearts is ultimately God’s work (Phil 2:12-13). To abound in good works as a testimony of the power of Christ in the gospel then, we ought to trust God to bring this increase as well. Thus “trust in the Lord” is the overarching attitude of the heart of those who seek the Lord; those who are brought to the realization of their condition as sinners, as well as believers committed to live a life pleasing to him.
- Longing and resolution 7-9
- Many are saying, “Who will show us good?” (v.7; v.6 ESV). This may be the longing of our hearts. The struggles we go through, living in a fallen world among sinful humanity, of which we are members make us question, “Will there ever be any good coming out of this world order destined for destruction?” Even worldly enjoyment itself cannot ultimately satisfy us. It is not necessarily wrong to enjoy food, family, sex, vacation but will they give us the true everlasting joy? Limited creatures are incapable of this. Only God can. Psalm 16:11, in your presence is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forever more. The response to the question of many in the second half of the verse, “Let the light of your face O Lord shine upon us” alludes to Psalm 16:11. It also alludes to the Aaronic blessing in Numb 6:23-27, - the Lord makes his face shine upon you. God’s face shining upon his people is a metaphor of the ultimate blessedness. God’s favor is the true blessing, the true joy. Enjoyment of material blessings without God’s blessing in it is a curse. Solomon under the divine inspiration of the Spirit reveals this to us, “a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires” (Eccl 6:1) but notice what comes next, “yet God does not give him power to enjoy them.” This is misery: possessing tremendous wealth and riches but unable to enjoy a single one of them. I even dare to say that what makes something truly enjoyable, most enjoyable I should say is when one enjoys food, sex or vacation or other lawful things with the realization that they are gracious gifts from God their Father procured by virtue of the work of Christ and their union with him. In other words, thankfulness heightens or completes our enjoyment of God’s blessings. What makes something truly enjoyable is the fact that it is a token of God’s fatherly love, the Lord’s faithfulness and providential care to us. Going back the longing whether that be expressed by unbelievers or believers, it ought to lead to the realization that it is the Lord who is the ultimate good. Some may not enjoy much goodness in their lives. Others enjoy all possible goodness because of their wealth and status. But the ultimate goodness is in God. It is not sinful to enjoy material blessings since it is God who provides us everything to enjoy (1 Tim 6:17b). In either case whether we enjoy much or little we realize that ultimate good cannot be found in this world, in this present fallen world order but in the world to come with God and Christ, in a blessed uninterruptible communion with him, living in his eternal presence, serving and worshiping him all our days. This reality is the fulfilment of the longing “Let the light of your face shine upon us O Lord.” May this be our longing as well. Amen - Come Lord Jesus (Rev 22:20).
- You have given me (greater) joy in my heart (v.8, v.7 ESV). David goes one level deeper beyond what he says in the previous verse. Yes, there is a longing. The longing for God to cause his face to shine upon his people resonates well with the desire of his heart. In this longing, perhaps David compares himself to those who are seemingly more blessed than him. He was persecuted. There were many who are after him, desirous of his demise. On the other hand, he saw that there are many among his countrymen who enjoy greater peace than himself. They are blessed by the produce of the land – grain and wine, while David is fighting for his life and his nation. But as a member of God’s people bound by his covenant, David understands that God is his ultimate joy. Hence, David’s affirmation, “You have given me a greater joy than those who enjoy abundance of grain and wine,” literally: you have given me joy in my heart from (more than) the time when their corn (Mechon Mamre’s translation, ESV translates dagan as grain) and wine abound. We may not feel that we are as blessed as those who have more money, a greater reputation and social status, a more harmonious family, a more caring spouse, more obedient and talented children, a brighter future. But are we content that we have God? Do we believe it when we preach to ourselves that those who have everything but Christ have nothing, and those who have nothing but Christ have everything which is another way to put verse 8? Can we say with Paul that we have learned to be content in all circumstances (Phil 4:11)? Perhaps this is one of the questions we need to reflect on our beds in the evening solitude, in the silence of the night.
- verse 9 (8 ESV) – The last verse says “in peace together I will lie down and sleep (note the former is cohortative and the latter is imperfect), for you Lord alone causes me to dwell in safety.” “In safety” is an infinitive construct with the base verb batach (trust), labethach, to trust. The use of sleep reminds one of a similar use in the previous Psalm in which David sleeps in a situation where most people would be wide awake, most alert and afraid, namely, when he is besieged by many thousands who are after his life. In this Psalm, David also sleeps but the nuance is not necessarily security but satisfaction, the latter is emphasized more than the former. How can one sleep in peace without tossing and turning when he is anxious, discontent, unsatisfied with God’s dealing with him, feeling angry and doubtful about his goodness? You can’t. This Psalm opens with a discourse with God, calling for help, then rebukes to the sons of man and call for self-reflection. It is followed by a question that suggests discontentment, who can show us good as someone who is going through misery. David appears to answer this question in the following verse that God has given him greater joy than the joy of those who appear to receive God’s external blessings. We may observe that the last verse is the conclusion of David’s soul searching, a conclusion of his struggles, his pleas to God, his accusation to the sons of man, his questioning of the goodness of God. In this verse all strivings cease or else David would not have said “in peace I will lie down and sleep.” In the previous Psalm, the reason given why David is able to sleep and wake again is because the Lord sustains him. Here, the reason given is because the Lord causes him to dwell – to trust. David uses the same infinitive labetach (to trust) in Psalm 16:9 (v.8 in ESV) where in the same verse he connects joy and confidence in the Lord. I think we can make the same connection here in Psalm 4. David affirms his joy in God and in the next verse he lays down and sleep in the confidence of this joy: God causes me to dwell in safety, with confidence in him. Again Psalm 23:6, surely, goodness and faithfulness, namely God’s goodness and faithfulness will follow me all the days of my life. How can the Lord bring such a conviction that David indeed has greater joy than those who are prosperous outwardly and calms his soul, while his condition shows otherwise? The answer is God’s promise in the revelation through his Word and his Holy Spirit bringing assurance to our hearts of God’s faithfulness and the certainty of the fulfilment of all his promises. God is glorified in the faith of his people. Despite trying circumstances they go through, by his grace they won’t give up on him. They continue to cling to him joyfully. One may say this is easier said than done to which I respond – it is true but it has been done. There are at least two biblical characters that demonstrate joy in the midst of pains and struggles. We just witness David but he reminds us of Paul in Philippians 1. Paul writes this epistle from the Roman jail. His fate is uncertain, there is a likelihood that he would lose his life. Yet in Phil 1:18Paul writes that he will rejoice. One reason is because of the help of the Holy Spirit in the following verse. I venture to say that it is the Holy Spirit who sustains Paul by reminding him of his security in Christ whether he lives or dies (1:21) and how does Paul know of this security? Because of the Gospel promise of the love of Christ for his people, …having loved them who are in this world, he loves them to the end (John 13:1), or “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” (2 Cor 5:8) and many other such promises. We may also add to the examples of David and Paul, Joseph, Daniel, Ezekiel and the great clouds of witnesses spoken of in Heb 12:1 including post-apostolic saints. Hence we see a progression of David’s flow of thoughts stemming out of the agony of his soul and when he brings God into the picture, the painful self-reflection turns into a pleasant sense of satisfaction in God as we see the progression from distress to relief (v.2), joy (v.7) and rest (v.9). And the basis of David’s relief, joy and rest is the unshakable Rock of ages, God’s holy promises in his Word, his past and unchanging faithfulness (cf. Joshua 21:45). Let me close this reflection on Psalm 4 with a few stanzas from John Newton’s “Amazing Grace” that I would think naturally flow out of our hearts as we reflect on God revealed in this Psalm,
The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.