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To the chief Musician on Neginoth, A Psalm of David.
For introductory note on this psalm see that on Psalms 3:0. It is noticeable that in both David speaks like a father to his people; even of the revolters never uttering an imprecation or anathema. In all his complaint there is an undertone of “Father, forgive them!”
The divisions are four: Psalms 4:1, his earnest invocation; Psalms 4:2-3, his admonitory address to the “sons of men,” the insurgents, especially their leaders; Psalms 4:4-5, his advice and exhortation to all who abide in their loyalty to government, and to the proprieties of religious conduct in such an hour of peril and commotion; Psalms 4:6-8, his expression of calm trust in God. In no period of David’s life, and in no effusion of his pen, has he ever given a more sublime example of his faith, and the deep sincerity of his character, than on this occasion and in these two psalms.
To the chief musician Literally, to him that is over. Of the various translations and opinions of the original word, as occurring in the titles of the psalms, modern criticism accepts none but to the superintendent, or overseer; that is, of music. Our English Bible renders it, to the chief musician; in Habakkuk 3:19, to the chief singer. The form occurs fifty-five times in the titles of psalms. The prefixed preposition to does not, as when attached to proper names in the titles, denote authorship, nor even editorship, as Thrupp conjectures, but a designation of the psalm to the precentor for performance.
On Neginoth Or, on stringed instruments; and hence the music is to be softer and more subdued than if on wind instruments. It occurs in the title of seven psalms, (4, 6, 54, 55, 61, 67, 76,) and in Psalms 69:12, and Psalms 77:6, translated song; in Habakkuk 3:9, translated stringed instruments.
1. O God of my righteousness The author and judge of my righteousness. He appeals his righteous cause to God for judgment jointly with his prayer for help.
Thou hast enlarged me… in distress Thou hast brought me into a roomy place when straitened. An experienced warrior and conqueror, David had been familiar with dangers and deliverances, and his faith is now encouraged from the past. See on Psalms 3:0
2. Sons of men The Hebrew denotes men of rank, as distinguished from the other form, for the common people. Literally, the former is sons of אישׁ , ( ish,) and the latter the sons of אדם , ( adam.) The distinction is well brought out in Psalms 49:3, and Psalms 62:9, where ish is translated high and high degree, and adam, low and low degree. In this David warns the leaders of the rebellion.
Turn my glory into shame Treat my kingly rights and dignity with dishonour and contempt.
3. The Lord hath set apart, etc. David here advances, as the ground of security for his honour and throne, that God had by wonderful grace separated him chosen him for himself, for his own special purpose, to be the ruler of his people. The efforts of enemies, therefore, could avail nothing. He introduces this with the emphatic but know, warning them not to adventure against the decrees of God.
Him that is godly Rather, him that is merciful. The verb חסד , ( hhasad,) to show one’s self kind, with its substantive form חסד , ( hhesed,) kindness, love, and its adjective form חסיד , kind, merciful, is used to designate the mode of God’s dealing with men, and also how men should deal with one another. As a substantive it denotes mercy, ( ελεος ,) and is thus translated by the Septuagint one hundred and thirty-five times out of the two hundred and twelve times of its occurrence: also righteousness ( δικαιοσυνη ) in several places. Applied to the regulation of the conduct of man with man, it covers the great law of Matthew 22:39, and is illustrated in the parable of the good Samaritan. In the Old Testament it is generally rendered kindness, mercy, pity, favour, goodness, loving-kindness. The adjective, therefore, as in the text, should have the prevailing sense of kind, merciful; but is thus rendered only three times, and good once, in our English Bible, out of the thirty-three places where it occurs, being elsewhere rendered godly, saint, holy. The Septuagint uniformly translates holy, ( οδιος ,) which shows that in the Jewish mind holiness entered into the quality of mercy. But, as Girdlestone says, ( Old Testament Synonymes, p. 187,) it is to be feared that the practical nature of godliness has been to some extent obscured, or thrown into the background, in our English version, by rendering the word in question so often by godly, or saint, instead of merciful, after the example of the Septuagint and Vulgate. See notes on Psalms 12:1, and Psalms 86:2
4. David now turns from the leading spirits of the rebellion to those who are yet loyal in heart, but bewildered and doubtful as to what should be done.
Stand in awe, and sin not The words “stand in awe” are simply a translation of the imperative form of the verb רגז , ( rahgaz,) which signifies to be troubled, disquieted, agitated, from any cause, whether of anger, fear, grief, or even joy: (for the last see Jeremiah 33:9: “They shall fear and tremble [be agitated ] for all the goodness,” etc.) The kingdom was now in commotion, and most minds were filled with doubt, perplexity, and fear. In this state the king calmly admonishes, “Sin not:” be not moved to rash or sinful acts, while you partake of the common disquietude and alarm. The Septuagint reads, “Be ye angry, and sin not,” which the apostle copies verbatim, (Ephesians 4:26;) a clear instance, it would seem, where anger is not used to express a malignant or vengeful passion, but, by metonomy, signifies the cause or occasion of such passion, namely, high provocation, or agitation of mind under a deep sense of injury. It is the danger of abiding in this disquieted state of mind, not the sinfulness of it per se, which is the object of the admonition both of the psalmist and the apostle. And so, “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath,” is a reiterated warning not to delay escape from so imminent spiritual danger.
Commune with your own heart Literally, speak in your heart; a beautiful idea of meditation. The selah, pause, comes in here and at Psalms 4:2 with emphasis.
5. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness Be diligent in all religious duty and worship. A sacrifice of righteousness is such a one as the law prescribes, offered in form and spirit according to the will of God.
Put your trust in the Lord Here is the ground of all David’s self control, the secret of all his success. His enemies had trusted in men and the wave of popular favour. See 2 Samuel 15:12; 2 Samuel 17:11
6. Who will show us any good The thoughtless multitude ask this. Unbelief, or weak faith, asks it. Faith steadfastly looks above. Lord, lift thou, etc. A portion of the form of Levitical blessing, quoted from Numbers 6:25-26. David felt that the covenant, the altar, the priesthood, and the oracle, were still on his side.
7. Thou hast put gladness Evidently this relates to some recent answer to prayer since he left Jerusalem, which lighted up his soul in joyful confidence. See on Psalms 3:6.
More than in the time… their corn and… wine increased The supplies brought to the king in his flight and on his arrival at Mahanaim (2 Samuel 16:1-4; 2 Samuel 17:27-29) were cheering, especially as the latter evidenced a loyal spirit in the Gileadites, who, at the first, for seven years, had supported the house of Saul against David; but the allusion appears to be rather to the joy of the national harvest and the vintage, when the revenues of the king flowed in, and the land resounded with festive songs. Above this joy was that now experienced by some recent token of divine favour in answer to prayer.
8. I will… lay me down in peace The highest sensible evidence of a composed faith. It is fit that this sweet evening psalm should close with a sweet good night. See Psalms 127:2.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent