As you turn to Psalm 4, I would like for you to consider a little background concerning this psalm. Many have termed psalms 3 and 4 as morning and evening psalms. The reason for this designation is that in the third psalm we read “I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.” In the fourth psalm we read “in peace I will both lie down and sleep.” Therefore, some have suggested psalm 3 as useful for when one arises from sleep and psalm 4 when one goes to sleep. Further, some have made a connection between psalms 3 and 4 to the point of suggesting that the fourth psalm is a continuation of the third psalm. However, this connection seems to be arbitrary and merely the speculation of scholars. Further, the appeals that we read in psalm 4 do not fit with the scene of David running for his life from Absalom. We will notice this to be the case when we begin the study of the text. The heading we are given is that this psalm was to be given to the director of music to be played upon stringed instruments. This is merely the notation of how the psalm was to be when used in worship. The inscription does not describe a connection to the previous psalm. The only connection that we are given is that the author is the same, who is David.
Appeal to God (4:1)
Calling to God
David begins with a declaration to the Lord to answer his prayer. This is not a selfish demand that David is placing upon the Lord. It is the cry of confidence that the Lord will respond to the requests he is making. As we look at the psalm we are able to see that David is writing this psalm because of some trouble in his life. However, it does not appear to be the trouble like we read about in the third psalm. In the third psalm we read David pleads for physical deliverance. However, in this psalm, the trouble David is experiencing is more on a personal level. We have a conflict between persons, and David is in need of resolution of these personal problems. Therefore David begins to fix the personal conflicts through prayer. David immediately turns to the Lord and asks Him to answer him.
This first verse is the foundation of the movement of the psalm. The foundation upon which David makes his appeal is that he has full confidence that God will answer him. This is fundamental to our faith and is an anchor for us in our lives. If we are unsure whether God will answer our prayer, then we have no hope nor reason for faith. To have doubt in prayer destroys the very groundwork for growing and building up in Jesus Christ. According to James 1:6-8, the person that asks the Lord doubting cannot suppose to receive anything from the Lord. We have reason for confidence that the Lord will answer our prayers. James concludes his letter by saying that the prayer of the righteous is powerful and avails much (James 5:16 ). Jesus repeatedly taught His disciples to continue in prayer, for the Father wants to give to His children (Luke 18:1-8; Matthew 6; Mark 11:24 ). Thus, we must begin with a confidence that the Lord desires to answer our prayers.
Three Appeals to God
–Appeal for relief. David begins his appeals to the Lord by first asking for relief. You may remember the old Rolaids commercial that asked the question, “How do you spell relief.” The answer was the spelling of Rolaids, R-O-L-A-I-D-S. These antacids are advertised as the real solution to bad heartburn. We can see also how David spelled relief from the problems of personal conflicts: P-R-A-Y-E-R-S. David found relief through his prayers to the Lord. Prayer is the real solution to personal troubles. We so often begin at the wrong place when resolving personal problems. We think that we are following the plan of the scriptures by going to the person and trying to talk it out or we bring in other people to help to mediate the conflict. But these are not the first things to do. The first thing that must always take place is prayer. In Matthew 7:3-5 Jesus gave the warning about looking at the speck in another’s eye and not removing the log that is in our own eye. Remember the admonition in Matthew 7:5: “Hypocrites, first take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” How can we get our own log out first? Only through talking to the Lord. In the midst of personal conflicts we can believe that we are so right, and yet we are the one who is wrong and fail to see the big log of problems in ourselves that may be causing these conflicts. It is sad how often we think problems are everyone else’s fault and that we are not the cause. To make sure we are not the cause, we need to humbly open our hearts before God for an examination. The appeal for relief begins in prayer.
–Appeal for mercy. David requests that the Lord show favor and pity upon him while he is enduring the conflicts. We must pray for mercy for ourselves because of how we may have caused the problems to grow worse. We must pray for mercy for the one who it seems to us is causing the problems in our lives. We must pray for mercy so that God will intervene and help us in our situation. We all need mercy and before we start asking for judgments, let us also remember that we have not been perfect ourselves.
–Appeal for righteousness. David then makes an appeal for righteousness. David makes this appeal at the beginning “answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness.” There is always the ability for us to pray to God for Him to act out of His righteousness. When there is wrongdoing and evil that is being done, we can pray for things to be made right. But notice carefully that the description of righteousness is not given to God in this verse, though He is righteous. David describes his own righteousness. David makes his appeal based upon his innocence. This is not a power struggle between two evils. David, after searching his heart, is praying for an answer and help because he has been innocent and justified in the things he has done. Thus we began our study that we must always consider ourselves before we consider the acts of others. David proclaims his innocence before the Lord.
Appeal to the Enemies (4:2-5)
The problem (4:2)
David now turns his appeal to those who are the cause of his problems and conflicts. In verse 2 we see the problem verbalized more clearly. There are two problems that David addresses that his enemies are involved in which have caused these conflicts. First, David says that they are turning his honor into shame. This is a personal attack upon David. David is dealing with his reputation and his dignity being turned into shame and disgrace. I do not believe that any of us are exempt from enduring such attacks. From time to time there are those who call into question our motives and our reputation. Those who are against David are seeking to destroy his reputation in an effort to destroy the person. How were they doing this? They were destroying his reputation by loving vain words and seeking after lies. This is the second cause of the conflicts that David is involved in. These enemies of David are more interested in spreading lies and rumors about him than in honoring him for who he is as king and the righteousness he is performing. How bad it is when our reputations are ruined by our own foolish acts! How much worse it is when our reputations are destroyed based upon lies and empty words! Now we are exposed to the heart of the problem. David is not being attacked as we saw in the last psalm when Absalom went to war against him. David is being attacked with words concerning his reputation. Perhaps this is the worst attack of all that we can endure.
We need to see the pure evil of heart that is required for one to try to destroy one’s reputation through lies and empty words. Further, we need to see the devastating effects that such an assault has upon a person. How dare anyone participate in such evil acts! Christians are some of the most susceptible to this problem because we have a trust with one another through which we have opened ourselves up. When we use the information that we know about one another to hurt and destroy another intentionally or unintentionally, we have committed the gravest of sins. We better never dare say a slanderous word against another person. If Michael the archangel would not slander the devil, then we better not dare consider such words against another of God’s creation (Jude 9).
Know this: you will be targeted because of godliness
Instead of flying into a fit of rage or taking a victim mentality and having a pity party, David now is going to do what he can to take care of this situation. David says that there is something that he and his enemies must know and remember. We must know that the Lord has set apart the godly for Himself. Why is this useful knowledge? Those who are set apart will be targets because of their godliness. Peter made mention of this in 1 Peter 4:4, “In regard to this, they are surprised that you don’t plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation–and they slander you.” Before we get overly worked up about the personal problems that we are involved in, we must remember that we are going to endure these things because of our righteousness. In fact, following in the footsteps of Jesus will lead others to slander us. Consider the amount of slander Jesus and Paul endured because of their righteous acts! We must know that because we are set apart and God hears us that we will be slandered.
Act: be angry and do not sin
David now states that for all “be angry and do not sin.” This is an important principle that Paul would reiterate in Ephesians 4:26. I believe we see David making a two-fold admonition. First, we must understand this principle as David applied it to his enemies. David tells his enemies that they may be angry at him and his relationship as king and his relationship with God. But that is not a reason to plunge themselves into sins. David teaches them to offer sacrifices of righteousness and to put their trust in the Lord. Instead of having people jealous and angry about what we have going for us, we can help point people in the right direction. Tell them what they can do to have the same successes. How is it that I am growing in knowledge in the scriptures? Only through hours and hours of study, not by any intellect or magical pills. You too can have the same knowledge through the study of God’s word. David is telling his enemies that they can be blessed as well if they will put their trust in the Lord. This reminds me of God’s words to Cain, who had been angry toward Abel because his brother’s sacrifice was accepted while his was not. What was the thrust of God’s words? You can do the same thing as your brother. Offer right sacrifices and put your trust in the Lord and you will be accepted also. We can help people overcome so they can also enjoy the blessings of God.
But I also believe that this statement “be angry and do not sin” can also be applied to the one who has been wronged. Though we are in the middle of conflict with people falsely slandering us, we do not have the right to commit sin ourselves. We cannot have a reactionary attitude that because this person did something, I will do something to him. While we can be angry at the evil that is being perpetrated against us, we cannot allow that to lead us to sin. Consider the example of Jesus who, though falsely accused and slandered, did not retaliate. He accepted His condemnation though it was false. We must live according to this example though we suffer through personal conflicts.
Appeal to Self (4:6-8)
Let the light of the Lord’s face shine upon you
In verse 6 we see that there are many who say, “who will show us good?” The word “any” or “some” is not in the original manuscripts and can lead us to a false understanding of this passage if we are not careful. What I believe we are reading is the pity party that some people throw for themselves when this kind of personal adversity comes along. Some people will claim that there is no one who will show them good. They believe that everyone is against them and that everyone is out to harm them. But David issues a reminder to those who feel this way. “Let the light of your face shine upon us.” Instead of focusing on what our enemies are saying against us, we must focus our attention upon using our time for the Lord. We can spend the rest of our lives answering our critics, working to change public opinion, and trying to please those who slander us. But we will be unsuccessful. We will always have someone who has an unwarranted bad attitude toward us. Our own proverbs say that those who try to please everyone please no one. Instead, we need to focus on pleasing God and let God take care of the rest. Look at how God has shed His light upon us. Count the blessings that He has given us today. Look for the good things that God is doing in our lives to help overcome those who slander us.
Joy in our heart
One of the things we need to look at is the joy that God has given us. It is so easy to lose sight of the joy and pleasures of being a child of God. David makes a comparison between the joy the child of God has in the Lord and what the ungodly have in their grain and wine. The joy that God puts into our hearts from serving Him is greater than the joy from the pleasures of this life.
I wonder if we agree with that statement. Do we find more pleasure in the spiritual things of God than the physical pleasures of this world? If we answer no, then we have not changed ourselves to be in the likeness of God and are still clinging to the old man of sin. Why are the pleasures of the earth not as great as the pleasures of God? I believe there is one obvious answer: duration. Name any pleasure that you receive in physical things, whether they are sinful or not, and consider how long your pleasure lasts in such things. For a time we receive joy in eating, but it is lost. For a time we have joy in our purchases like our new cars, but they become mundane. Everything of this earth has passing joy and pleasure. Only the spiritual things of God continue to have a lasting joy and pleasure. We must make an effort to retrain and renew our minds to seek after the pleasures of God, and we will find that it is these pleasures that will give our lives meaning. To teach someone you know and see him become a Christian is one of the greatest joys I have experienced that is unmatched and unrivaled. The joy of discovering another precious truth from God’s word that I had not known before and had found on my own gives me great joy. These are the types of things that you and I can find true joy in if we will train ourselves in these things.
Peace from the Lord
David finally mentions the peace that we have in our Lord. When the world does not make sense and things seem to spiral out of our control, we can still have peace to lie down and sleep because of our confidence in the Lord. I believe this psalm has now come full circle. David began this psalm with the confidence in the Lord to answer his prayer. We have seen a multitude of emotions that will be experienced when enduring such personal conflicts. Yet, in the end, we can still lay down and rest because God gives us inner peace. While the outer may be full of conflicts, we can still have inner peace. Philippians 4:7 says, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Colossians 3:15 says, “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.” The godly have a security that others do not have. The tranquility we need is not going to be found in self-help books, Dr. Phil and other pop psychology television shows, or even in those who are close to us. The peace that passes understanding that will guard our hearts comes from God alone. Despite the turmoil, God is still with you and will help see you through the situation.
I hope we see that how David handled the adversity of the slander of his enemies is not how people today would tell us to take care of the problem. People today will tell us to take things into our own hands, to strike with retribution, or any of a myriad of things to do. But David shows us how to handle this adversity. Prayer and knowledge goes a long way in serving the Lord. Turn to God first in prayer. Turn inwardly and make sure that we are living righteously and innocently. Expect to be targeted by others because we are godly. See the light of God’s face through the joy and peace He brings to us which is greater than our conflicts.