George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 1

Psalm 4

1. Historical Background

See Psalm 3, about the rebellion of Absalom. Nothing more need by said here with regard to the background of this psalm, which is plainly its companion.

2. Notes

Hear me. Compare 3:4. In Hebrew, this is the name Shimei!

O God of my righteousness. Better, “O God of righteousness, who is my God”. Or, simply, “the God who will vindicate me” (Isa. 54:17; Jer. 23:6; 33:16).

Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress. You have delivered me from straitened, or narrow, circumstances. “Enlarged” is related to an inheritance (Exod. 34:24; Deut. 19:8; Isa. 54:2). David is thankful that his kingdom has been preserved in the past, and now he prays that God will keep it secure yet again, through his greatest trial.
Sons of men. Beni ish, important (self-important?) men: “princes”, like Absalom, or the sons of Zeruiah. Compare “men of high degree” (Psa. 62:9). Such an admonition as this verse was needed equally by David’s open enemies and certain of his avowed friends.

My glory. The glory of David’s selection as king led inevitably to the downfall of Saul and his house — for which David was unjustly blamed (2 Sam. 16:7,8). Also, in becoming king, David was put in the way of receiving closer scrutiny and consequently greater chastisement for his own sins. His imprudent acts involving Bathsheba and Uriah brought shame upon himself and his office, and led directly to the revolt of Absalom and the current threats to his throne.

The children of Israel are condemned in Psa. 106:20 for changing the “glory” of God into the shame of idolatry (Rom. 1:23).

Vanity. The empty vengeance desired by Abishai (2 Sam. 16:10; 19:22); the foolish pretensions of Absalom (2 Sam. 14:25,26). Compare the vain imaginings of Psa. 2:1.

Leasing: Old English for lying (NEB) or falsehood (RV), more familiar to Shakespeare’s than to modern ears. The meaning is evidenced in the parallelism of 5:6: “them that speak leasing....deceitful men”.
Set apart is s.w. used in Exod. 8:22; 9:4; 11:7 to describe Israel separated from the Egyptians. During that awful yet wondrous night of the Passover, there was death in all the houses of their enemies, but the Israelites, set apart by divine protection, laid down to sleep in peace and safety (cp. v. 8). This surely is how David must have felt as, fleeing from his son Absalom’s men, he sought a brief respite.

The Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself. When God chooses a man, He chooses him for Himself — for Himself to talk with, as a friend, a companion, and a delight. Since it is holiness that fits any man to see God (Heb. 12:14), therefore holiness must be our main object.

The Lord will hear when I call unto him. David’s own response to his prayer in v. 1: “Hear me when I call, O God.”
Stand in awe, and sin not. Ragaz signifies to quiver, either in fear (Exod. 15:14; Deut. 2:25) or anger (Gen. 45:24; 2 Kings 19:27,28; Prov. 29:9; Isa. 28:21; Ezek. 16:43). Cited by Paul in Eph. 4:26: “Be ye angry, and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” (Similar exhortations in Psa. 37:8; Prov. 16:32; James 1:19.) Related probably to Shimei and his cursing of David, in David’s own words: “because the Lord hath said to him, ‘Curse David’ ”. In the midst of such trials, David shows great humility, a sense of subjection in the midst of sufferings, and a recognition of God’s hand in all his experiences. These words echo David’s advice to his followers Joab and Abishai (2 Sam. 16:9,10; cp. 19:22). (Compare also the unheeded request of the “Sons of Thunder” in Luke 9:54-56.)

Commune with your own heart upon your bed becomes, in Ephesians, “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” Let the day of your wrath be also the day of your forgiveness and calm. In Eph. 4:27 Paul adds: “Neither give place to the devil” (diabolos). Psa. 4 has no exact counterpart to this, but the historical context does: At the cursing of Shimei, Abishai encouraged David to an act of vengeance, but was rebuked with the words, “What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah?” (2 Sam. 16:10). When, upon their return from flight, Abishai renewed his request, David responded a second time: “What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah, that ye should this day be adversaries (satan) unto me?” (19:22). So, quite literally, in this matter and at this time David did not “give place to the devil”.

Be still, or silent. Submit to whatever trials the Father has placed upon you — for “the Lord is in his holy temple” (Hab. 2:20); He has absolute control over all circumstances of your life, and most assuredly will cause that all things — even the sorest sufferings — will fall out for good (Rom. 8:28-39).
Sacrifices of righteousness refer to burnt offerings (Deut. 33:19; Lev. 1:1-17), voluntary offerings associated with righteousness rather than sin (Psa. 50:14; 51:19), signifying complete consecration and dedication. A contrast with the hypocritical, blasphemous “sacrifices” of Absalom (2 Sam. 15:7-9,12) — in which God takes no pleasure (Eccl. 5:1).

Put your trust in the Lord. A sincere vow, in contrast to the hypo-critical “vow” professed by Absalom to gain David’s favor: 2 Sam. 15:7-9.
There be many... as in 3:2: chronic complainers and agitators, ready prey for Absalom’s blandishments: 2 Sam. 15:4.

Who will shew us any good? There was now no priest with David (see 2 Sam. 15:32-37) to pronounce the blessing of Num. 6:24-26 (i.e. Lift up the light of thy countenance upon us; cp. Psa. 80:1), or to bring reconciliation, assurance, and communion. So David must appeal directly to God.
Thou hast put gladness in my heart. Compare Deut. 28:47; 33:28,29; and Rom. 15:13; and Paul’s speech to the people of Lystra in Acts 14:17. RSV: “Thou hast put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” The assurance of the Lord’s protection brings greater joy to the righteous man than all manner of material bounty brings to the secular man! “It is better to feel God’s favor one hour in our repenting souls, than to sit whole ages under the warmest sunshine that this world affordeth.” Grain and wine are but fruit of the world, but the light of God’s countenance is the fruit of heaven.

Corn and wine = prosperity (Deut. 33:28; Isa. 55:1). David gives thanks for the sustenance of his men and himself while in the wilderness, knowing that those who seemed to be in great prosperity would surely be cut off.
I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep. Compare 3:5. “Both” means simultaneously. So secure is David, even in the midst of great “danger”, that he falls asleep immediately upon laying down.

For thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety. Or, “makest me dwell alone in safety” (“unafraid”: NEB). That is, ‘I need none but Thee, O Lord, to keep me safe.’ The “only” here may be a contrast with the “many” of v. 6. The “only” or “alone” also echoes Deut. 33:28 again (cp. v. 7 above).

3. Subscription

Nehiloth means either “inheritance” (nahaloth: cp. LXX and Thirtle) or “a wind instrument, or flute” (from chalal, to drill through). The Lord is the true “inheritance” of the righteous (vv. 3,6,7; cp. Eph. 1:18), and thus the One to whom all their music should be directed.

4. Postscript

O God of Righteousness! give ear
When I entreat in reverent fear.
When in distress Thou mad’st me great
Shew mercy when I supplicate.

Ye sons of men! how long will ye
My glory turn thus shamefully?
How long shall vain things be admired?
How long shall leasing be desired?

But know ye that the Lord apart
Hath set the godly in His heart!
Our gracious God will hear my voice
And make my saddened soul rejoice.

Walk ye in fear; naught sinful do!
Upon your bed your thoughts review!
Pay sacrifice of righteousness
And from the Lord seek your redress!

Many there are that proudly say,
Why? who will show us good this day?
O Lord, lift up Thy shining light
Of countenance upon our sight!

Thou didst implant within my heart
Deep gladness, and didst joy impart,
Greater than when their corn and wine
Grew and increased in measure fine.

I will both lay me down in peace,
And sleep secure in tranquil ease,
I dwell in safety, gracious Lord,
By Thy sweet power and holy word.
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