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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Psalms 4

 

 

Verses 1-8

Psalm 4

[Note.—This is the Evening Psalm , and probably it was composed at the same period as the preceding psalm. It is supposed that some of the expressions point to the period of the persecution of David by Saul; on the other hand, it is asserted that they are quite compatible with that of David"s flight from Absalom. There are no imprecations upon his foes, a circumstance which is considered to point to Absalom rather than to Saul. This was one of the psalms repeated by Augustine at his conversion. The psalm is addressed "To the chief Musician;" in the margin the word is "overseer." Probably the inscription is to one who has obtained the mastery, or one who holds a superior post. We read of this officer in 2 Chronicles 2:18, 2 Chronicles 34:12. In 1 Chronicles 15:19 it is stated that the musical directors—Asaph, Heman, and Ethan—had cymbals and took part in the performance, and hence the word "the chief Musician" would answer to "a leader of the band." It is considered that the word precentor is perhaps on the whole the best equivalent The word Neginoth is a musical term, occurring in the titles of six psalms; it is derived from a root which means to touch the strings, and may point to the explanation "upon stringed instruments or with harp accompaniment."]

1. Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.

2. O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? Selah.

3. But know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the Lord will hear when I call unto him.

4. Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.

5. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord.

6. There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.

7. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.

8. I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.

The Quest for Happiness

This is a fair-weather psalm. David has been in distress, and now the clouds have been blown away and the blue sky has returned; so he does what many seldom think of doing: he thanks God for deliverance and enlargement, and takes no credit to himself. In his high spiritual delight he rebukes those who love vanity, and those who go after lies or leasing. This is the inevitable operation of piety: it must rebuke evil; it cannot be silent in the presence of wrong. People who had seen his distress had questioned his religion, and in so doing had sought to turn his glory into shame, and had exclaimed that vanity was better than prayer, and that lying was better than sacrifice. They pointed to facts in proof of their irreligious doctrine; they said, "Look at David; he prays, and faints; he calls out for God, and God lets him die amongst the stones of the wilderness; let us then pursue vanity, and let us take refuge in lies."

Now David"s time has come, and the facts are all on his side. He falls back upon experience; he becomes his own argument; and his answer is so full, so wise, so firm, that it may be used as a defence by all who have proved the goodness and helpfulness of God in their distress.

Let us put David"s answer into modern words:—

(1) You have mockingly said, Look at David in his distress; now that very captivity has been turned by the Most High, David replies: Look at me in my enlargement and thankfulness. My turn has come. You must not look at a man"s distress alone, and build an argument upon his sorrow; you must take into view the whole compass of his life. Will you say that the earth is a failure because of one bad harvest? It is important rigidly to apply this inquiry because of the tendency of the human mind to think more of trials than of mercies, and to magnify the night above the day. David would thus seem to take a philosophic view of human life, in that he will not have it judged by any series of details but will insist upon penetrating to the core and meaning of the whole. Refraining from such penetration, what can we expect from any survey of life but misapprehension? There is a middle line in life which alone affords a true basis of comprehensive judgment regarding the meaning of God in the mystery of our existence. No doubt there are days even in the Christian life which by their very darkness exclude God and cast a doubt not only upon his providence but upon his existence. There are other days so full of bright sunshine and high joy that the soul might be tempted to imagine that the period of discipline had closed and the time of self-restraint was at an end. Neither of these times must be taken by itself. We must blend them in our view, and consider what average they yield. In this instance David was justified in calling attention to his enlargement because his imprisonment had been a theme of rejoicing on the part of the adversary. As a retort the answer is seasonable and complete. But we have something more to do than to fashion quick and just retorts to the enemy; we have to put things together and to see how they shape themselves into an argument for the divine government, and an indication of the meaning of our own life and service upon the earth.

(2) David continues: You have been judging by unusual circumstances and special visitations of trial, but instead of this you should rest on great principles, and especially on the principle "that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself." Wholly so; he is as much the Lord"s when in sorrow as in joy, in the wilderness as in Salem: we must not regard sorrow as a brand or a stain; it is religious; it is part of the great school-scheme by which God trains, purifies, and strengthens men. When God sets apart a man for himself, the man must recognise the fact that he is not at liberty to change his place or to curtail the time of discipline. It is enough for him to know that "the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his." The godly man is strong in the conviction that God hath from the beginning chosen him to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. Again and again we must recognise the fact that appearances often seem to suggest that the godly man is forgotten. It is impossible to deny this if we limit our survey of the situation within limits too narrow to enclose even the outline of a plan. It would also seem at certain periods of the year as if God had forgotten the earth itself: for what blessing can there be in the thick ice or in the drowning rain? Yet even wintry circumstances are preparing for summer blessings. The year is neither all summer nor all winter: so it is with our human life; it also has its four seasons, and only by the four taken in their entirety can the life-year be wisely and rightly judged.

(3) David seems to have found an argument upon his circumstances to the effect: if you believe this, you will "stand in awe, and sin not;" that Isaiah , you will pray even in the storm, and you will bow down in homage when the Lord passeth by in judgment; you will go into the blighted wheat-field and say, "This is the Lord"s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes;" a desolation shall teach you the power of the Most High. The word "awe" may be even taken here as suggestive in some degree of anger: that is to say, anger may rise against certain details in the providential plan: they are so aggravating, so disappointing, so hindering; but even whilst this anger rises it is to be undefiled by the presence of sin. David calls men to quiet meditation. What else could be the meaning of his word?—"commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still"—that Isaiah , examine yourselves; see how far the explanation of outward disasters is in your own moral condition; reflect, and do not talk; think, and be quiet; if you set up words against the Most High, you will vex your own soul and grieve the Spirit. Commune—talk to yourself—reflect, but do not speak loudly, or you will become vulgar and profane. It was no unusual practice for the Psalmist to betake himself into silent contemplation of the divine way in life. "I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search." Speech begets speech. Words are provocative of controversy. Better, therefore, to conduct our meditations in wordless silence; our communion being with ourselves and with our God. When all tumult ceases God"s softest tones may be heard, but whilst we live in the uproar of controversy, who can hear the going of the Most High?

(4) David continues: You ask a man what you are to do in loss, and pain, and sorrow. You take counsel one with another in days of storm and distress. Let me tell you what you ought to do:—"Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord" ( Psalm 4:5); continue in the way of duty; go to the sanctuary even when you have to grope for the sacred door in darkness; seek the altar, and say concerning God, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." Your temptation will be to omit the sacrifices and to divide your trust; resist the devil; hold fast unto the end, and you shall be lifted high above the tumult of the crowd. People will say to you, "Who will shew us any good?" Let your prayer be unto the Lord. The question is shallow and impertinent; it is limited to one set of circumstances; be not moved by it, but let your prayer still and for ever ascend unto God. Sometimes you will have no answer left but prayer. Facts will be against you—logic will give you no help-human counsellors will be dumb—but if amidst all opposition and difficulty you are still found praying, you will confound and abash the unbeliever and the mocker. In being driven to a religious refuge you will feel the need of being yourself more religious. It will be no mere ceremony in which you engage, but a complete sacrifice and surrender of the heart. As you approach the altar where you expect to find comfort you will hear the divine voice saying—"Bring no more vain oblations.... Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well." We do not flee to the altar in any mean and selfish spirit, but as having some claim upon its protection by reason of our living union with God. If that living union has been in any degree impaired reparation must be instantly made. "Pay thy vows unto the Most High." For the rest, even when persecution continues and the storm shows no sign of abating, the soul must take refuge in the doctrine—"Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator." David quotes a saying which is familiar to all ages: "Who will shew us any good?" This is the quest of the human heart for happiness. It is the cry of men who are conscious that something is missing, and hope strangely mingles with its despair. It is as the cry of a stranger in a strange land whom night has suddenly overtaken so that he can see no hope of rest, yet all the while in his heart there is the hope that at any moment a glimmer may break through the darkness and give him joy. Whilst men are asking the question, the Church ought to be giving the sublime answer which is found in the sixth verse:—"Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us." Religious deliverance is always wrought by light. We are not carried away in the darkness; we are the sons of the morning and children of the midday. We cannot forget the blessing we have already studied in the Book of Numbers:—"The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace." The Old Testament saints were continually dwelling with rapture upon this thought of divine illumination. "Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved." "Make thy face to shine upon thy servant." When the people were delivered and were put into possession of the land, the victory was not to be ascribed to their own sword, nor were they to lift up their arm as if it had gotten them their reward—"But thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou hadst a favour unto them." It is in vain for us to seek to cleanse the firmament of darkness; that great miracle lies only within the scope of omnipotence. We can invent temporary plans, we can enkindle dying lights, we can make partial suggestions which for a moment may relieve mental and moral pressure, but the all-filling light is the gift of God alone: hence the cry of the saints of all ages has been that God would once more say "Let there be light." The Apostle Paul recognised this great blessing of light in the words—"God... hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." The Christian may pray for light, that even the brightest day may be brighter and the light may be as the day.

(5) In the next place David says something which cannot be understood by the mere letter; it can be understood only by those who have passed through the same experience. He says, "Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased" ( Psalm 4:7). The idea is that in loss and poverty and apparent desolation there may actually be more gladness, more real and lasting spiritual delight, than in times of prosperity. The idea goes further than this and in another direction. The good man—the man whose trust is in the living God—has more gladness in his poverty than the worldly, unbelieving, mocking man has in all his corn and wine. There is a sufficiency that brings no content, and there is a poverty that cannot dry the springs of the soul"s gladness. "A man"s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth." The rejoicing of the spiritual man is in spiritual riches. Jesus Christ said he had bread to eat that the world knew not of. When the heart is right towards God it does not feel the coldness of the wind or the pinch of poverty, being lifted high above all these lower influences and having conscious possession of all the blessedness and wealth of heaven. It must not be supposed that when corn and wine increase that gladness increases in proportion to the store. "Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness." The only enduring joy is in righteousness. The eternal heaven is in the eternal truth.

Thus David retires from the controversy to lie down and sleep though his enemies be many and his foes be men of might. He finds true safety only in the Lord; yea, when he appears to have no home and no rest, he feels that he is encircled by the everlasting arms. There is room in the tower of God for thee, my soul! Run away from all controversy, and make thyself quiet in God! "The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him; and the Lord shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between his shoulders."

Note

Offerings of righteousness.—Another direction he gave them was to "sacrifice the sacrifices of righteousness, and trust in Jehovah." Absalom at Hebron had been sacrificing too ( 2 Samuel 15:12); but his sacrifices were of quite another kind. He professed to be paying a vow which he had never vowed; to be serving God, while he was preparing to push God"s anointed from the throne. At the same time he was putting his trust in Ahithophel, whom he had sent for ( 2 Samuel 15:12), and not in the blessing of God, whose favour he was professedly seeking by these sacrifices. The direction resolves itself into three parts: (a) to come before God with sacrifices free from all taint of knavery and wickedness; (b) to rest all their hopes of success on his interposition; (c) to expect with confidence his aid.—Dalman Hapstone, M.A.


Verse 7

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased."Psalm 4:7

Let us regard this as setting side by side physical and spiritual possessions. On the one side we have what the worldly man values most, namely, corn and wine, representing all manner of physical and natural bounty: on the other hand we find heart-gladness, a peculiar music in the soul, a tender and subtle joy which cannot be represented by earthly symbols. Both the bounties are supposed to be associated with "gladness." The worldly man looks upon his corn and wine, and his whole nature laughs with selfish merriment; laying his hand upon his bounty he says, This will stand me in good stead when the day is rainy, and the winter has blocked up the thoroughfares. In the case of the spiritual man he lifts up his eyes to heaven and says, Although I have nothing in my hands, I have God in my heart, a source of strength, an inspiration to labour, an encouragement in all goodness; all the exceeding great and precious promises are singing to me like so many angel-birds sent from heaven to give, me foretaste of the music that makes the home of the saved perfect in happiness. We should grow away from the appreciation of mere natural and commercial bounty. Of course it has its place in civilisation; for the body it is essential; it is right and beautiful to cultivate the earth, and God"s blessing is upon all those who till the ground for his sake; but all the bounty of nature cannot touch the soul, educationally, sympathetically, progressively, except in some very distant and emblematic way. Our riches are in our consciousness of the divine presence, in our access to the divine throne, in our spiritual ideas, in our spiritual penetration, in all the attributes, elements, and forces that constitute the identity of the soul. How are our memories stored with divine promises? What hope have we for the scene beyond the earth? What are our soul"s companionships? What quality of intercourse is our supreme delight? When we can answer these questions satisfactorily we are rich; we have bread to eat that the world knoweth not of; we quench our thirst with the wine of divine love; and our soul knows no pang of hunger. Other property can be consumed. Other property can go down in value, Other property can be stolen. But the property of the soul—the inheritance of the mind—those great and glorious ideas which drive away all darkness from the horizon, these are in very deed "unsearchable riches," the very wealth of God. All these gifts come through well-defined processes. They are not imposed upon men like burdens; they grow up in the souls of men like divinely inspired and directed comforts. Whoso does his duty, whoso suffers bravely and uncomplainingly, whoso says, In all this sorrow there is a hidden joy, will have more than corn and wine, will have the very peace of God as an imperishable treasure and defence.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 4:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/psalms-4.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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