Psalm 4

Notes (NET Translation)

For the music director, to be accompanied by stringed instruments; a psalm of David.

1 When I call out, answer me, O God who vindicates me! Though I am hemmed in, you will lead me into a wide, open place. Have mercy on me and respond to my prayer!

The psalmist expects to be answered because he is praying to the faithful God who vindicates him.

2 You men, how long will you try to turn my honor into shame? How long will you love what is worthless and search for what is deceptive? (Selah)

The psalm turns to addressing human troublemakers. The psalmist is being treated in a shameful manner. The following verses suggest that by extension they are treaing God in a shameful manner too. We do not know the exact situation but it involves the opponents going after a worthless, empty cause. Some commentators see a reference to false gods in the phrase “what is deceptive”.

3 Realize that the Lord shows the godly special favor; the Lord responds when I cry out to him.

God made a covenant with David and so the psalmist can expect God’s special favor. The Hebrew pala (“set apart”) was used in connection to God’s treatment of the Israelites in Egypt (Ex. 8:22; 9:4; 11:7; 33:6). The opponents risk being treated like the Egyptians rather than the Israelites.

4 Tremble with fear and do not sin! Meditate as you lie in bed, and repent of your ways! (Selah)

The proper translation of this verse is not entirely clear. One interpretation sees it as telling the opponents how they should behave. The proper response to God is to tremble and to not sin. Meditation in bed indicates that the correct attitude is taken in one’s innermost being and in private. Proper conduct is not solely about outward appearances. The phrase “repent of your ways” could also be translated as “be silent” (VanGemeren 2008, p. 110). If this is correct then the last clause is telling the opponents to stop speaking wrongfully.

Another interpretation is: “You can tremble with anger and rage, but don’t sin by doing anything! You can speak your evil words within your hearts, but don’t speak them out loud! Lie still and silent upon your beds, where you can do no harm” (Craigie 2004, p. 81).

5 Offer the prescribed sacrifices and trust in the Lord!

Proper sacrifices were accompanied by genuine repentance.

6 Many say, “Who can show us anything good?” Smile upon us, Lord!

The meaning of this verse is also somewhat disputed. Who are the many?

If they are a group who have not been mentioned before, their sentiments make them look like people the suppliant might identify with, but the reversion to first-person singular in vv. 7-8 then looks odd. More likely these are the people who were rhetorically addressed in vv. 2-5. Their question is the one that lies behind the clash between them and the suppliant. They ask a question about whom one is to trust for “good” — for blessings such as the fruitfulness of the harvest, mentioned in v. 7. Their question can be read in several ways. It might imply that they lack these good things and do not know whom to turn to. Or it could be a rhetorical question, though there are then several senses it could have. It might express a wish. But more often such a rhetorical question expresses a statement, which would be equivalent to “No one shows us good” (cf. 12: 5 [6]; 76: 8 [9]). Or perhaps they do have those good things, and their words constitute another kind of rhetorical question. They know the one to whom they have been having recourse and who has given them these things — and it is not Yhwh. (Goldingay 2006 loc. 2458-2466)

The second half of the verse refers to the blessings of God. It is not clear whether this is the psalmist calling upon God to make the blessings evident or the opponents complaining that the blessings are not evident.

7 You make me happier than those who have abundant grain and wine.

The psalmist expresses an inner joy despite, perhaps, being in want of food.

8 I will lie down and sleep peacefully, for you, Lord, make me safe and secure.

The security in question is the feeling of being unafraid (Kidner 2008, p. 74).

Bibliography

Craigie, Peter C., and Marvin E. Tate. Psalms 1-50. Nashville: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2004.

Goldingay, John. Psalms: Volume 1: Psalms 1-41. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 2006.

Kidner, Derek. Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008.

VanGemeren, Willem. Psalms. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2008.

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