Series on the Psalms, Text: Psalm 4, Title: Handling Criticism


Psalm Four is thought by some to be connected to Psalm three because it is a Psalm of David which also speaks of his enemies attacking his reputation. Thus it might be a continuation of the thought  of Psalm 3:1 and 2. This is entirely appropriate because the Psalm teaches us how to react to the unforgiving judgment and criticism of enemies. On the other hand nothing compels us to limit the Psalm to this circumstance for this theme is often repeated in the Psalms by David and others. David is again surrounded by trouble and crying out to the Lord in his distress. The whole Psalm is about confidence in the Lord. David’s enemies say God will not hear or help. The Psalm is an argument that God will hear and help. It shows us the motives for confidence, the means of confidence, and the manifestations of confidence. It has been called a choice flower from the garden of affliction.

I Motives for Confidence

The Psalm 4:1-3 state the need and elaborate on the subject, Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer. How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods? Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD will hear when I call to him. At the conclusion of v. 3 we see where the Psalmist is heading. He is affirming in no uncertain terms that God will hear him. His enemies have capitalized on his sins and insist that God will not hear him. We have seen the spite and rage expressed in the words of Shimei II Samuel 16: 7 and 8, Shimei said, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you scoundrel! The LORD has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned. The LORD has handed the kingdom over to your son Absalom. You have come to ruin because you are a man of blood!” David calls their accusations falsehoods and accusations that turn his glory into shame. It is a glory that God has given him and he knows it fully and is resentful that they can so twist things as to obliterate that glory. It is both personal and official glory that they are shaming. They are wrong because they misunderstand the nature of God’s mercy.

A God’s Mercy  Distinguishes

David says God has set apart the Godly for himself. The notion that we are set apart refers to being chosen by God. Paul repeats this idea in II Timothy 2:19, Nevertheless God’s solid foundation stands firm, The Lord knows those who are his. It also recalls an incident in the Old Testament in Numbers 16. When Korah, Dathan, and Abiram rebelled against Moses authority. The lawgiver says to them, You have set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly. in the morning the Lord will show who belongs to him and who is holy, and he will have that person come near him. This is David’s meaning here. God has chosen his own and will not abandon them.

B God’s Mercy Declares Righteous

David says Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness. This is the correct Hebrew translation even though New International Version translates “my righteous God.” This is a unique expression in the Old Testament. The nearest thing is in Jeremiah 23 where the branch of the Lord, the Messiah is referred to as “The Lord our righteousness.” We might be tempted to think that David did not understand the meaning of these words as we do, but that is only partially true. David is affirming that God is the source of his righteousness even though he is a terrible sinner.  Paul points to this in Romans 4: 5-8. Clearly David had a concept of justification. He understood that God's covenant was a covenant of sacrifice, a covenant of blood in which the Lord had made provision for the covering of his people’s sins. This was personal to him. So he was not only set apart but had an understanding that he was forgiven.

C God’s Mercy Duplicates

As he so often does David also refers to his experience. He mentions that God has relieved him in distress before. God’s love for him being an electing love and a justifying love is therefore a continuing love. For all these reasons, David asserts God will hear me when I call.

II The Means of Confidence

David now tells us how to arrive at this confidence. The means of establishing this confidence are to reflect and meditate upon the Lord’s word and promises. We should understand verses 4 and 5 as a kind of a sermon to David’s enemies, In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.   Offer right sacrifices and trust in the LORD. They are the ones who are full of frustration and anger. They are the malcontents. Verse 4 in the original Hebrew says “tremble and sin not.” Paul quotes this verse in Ephesians 4:26 and says, be angry and sin not. Thus the New International translators have rendered this verse “In your anger, do not sin.” The King James translates this “stand in awe and sin not.” Thus the word tremble is given the meaning of fearing God. I think, however, going back to the original, the picture is not one of  fearing God, but rather of trembling in frustration, discontent, and disappointment. This is the lifestyle of David’s opponents. He advises them not to do this. Instead they are to meditate and search their hearts. Paul adds, Let not the sun go down on your wrath, neither give place to the devil. They are to consider the folly of blaming,  resisting and disputing God. If they do this they might cry out as Spurgeon says, “What must I do to be saved or at least what must I do?” David’s answer is trust in the Lord. The offering of right sacrifices implies repentance.

III The Manifestations of Confidence

If they take the advice they will be like David in verses 6-8, Many are asking, “Who can show us any good?” Let the light of your face shine upon us, O LORD. You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Notice David says many are asking who can show us any good. This is the spirit of discontent. David asks what they will not ask. He prays “Let the light of your face shine upon us.” This implies God’s favor. This is what David claims for himself in verse 3. He is not saying change the situation, but find the Lord in the situation. Again his enemies say God will not hear or help. David says he will and not just for me but also for you. Look at me he suggests. In spite of your hatred and opposition. In spite of the turmoil and trouble. God has filled my heart with great joy. I sleep in peace. When David concludes with the words “you alone ,O Lord, make me to dwell in safety,” we should not treat these merely as a testimony that God watches over and protects. Rather, David is saying God alone, only God, can guarantee your safety. All other efforts are doomed.

Summary of Psalm 4

The idolatrous enemies of the Christian mock his plight, but true believers are justified by his mercy and God hears and helps them.  If those enemies would seek the Lord through repentance and faith they would find true peace and contentment. Instead of murmuring and complaining they would find that only the true God can give them joy and comfort in every situation.