15tht October 2006
Psalm 4: What God listens to.
For the director of music; with stringed instruments; A psalm of David.
Stanza 1: A cry from the heart.
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? [a] How long will you love delusions and seek false gods? [b]
Stanza 2: A promise in the heart.
Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD will hear when I call to him. In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.
Stanza 3: A gift from the heart.
Offer right sacrifices and trust in the LORD. Many are asking, "Who can show us any good?" Let the light of your face shine upon us, O LORD.
Stanza 4: A certain peace in the heart.
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.
a. Psalm 4:2 Or you dishonour my Glorious One
b. Psalm 4:2 Or seek lies
Remember last time we discovered that Psalm 3 was for the morning and that Psalm 4 is for the evening. To some the Psalms are related by the Selah (or “pause for a moment and then continue”) at the end of Psalm3. Psalm 4 they believe does not randomly follow on from Psalm 3 but that they belong together. They believe Psalm 4 to be David’s prayer for comfort before going to sleep whilst being pursued by his son Absalom. I can see no real evidence that suggests that to be true or denies the possibility. Stanza 2 clearly tells us that it was written with nighttime in mind therefore I am happy to accept that the purpose of this Psalm is to help us in our times of reflection especially when we lie down ready to go to sleep.
A cry from the heart.
The Psalms are the songs of the bible but they are often much more than songs. As with Psalm 4 they are a plea from the heart of the writer, this is a prayer of David. It is helpful for our own prayer life to understand how the saints of old prayed to God. So we discover firstly that David cried out to God from the heart. Last time we discovered that we must come boldly to God in prayer. He does not expect us to come as some type of Uriah Heap. You know what he was like; he prided himself in his humility. He told everyone of his own unworthiness so much that what he really displayed was an evil arrogant pride, which made him a most unlikeable fellow. Some Christians believe that this is what God expects of His people. Nothing could be further from the truth! David comes boldly to God who listens to his requests and answers His bold friend.
Secondly we see the respect that David has for God. We also must come respectfully to God recognising His righteousness. Even David King of Israel came in praise and wonder of God in heaven. Getting the right balance in life is always difficult. As we saw with Uriah Heap we can be arrogant in our humility; it is equally wrong to be arrogant in our boldness. David in this Psalm displays the right balance; we must come to God always in the right way. This is what Jesus was teaching when He said that God wants people to worship in spirit but also to be guarded by truth.
As David was praying and asking for God to hear and grant mercy to him his attention went out to his enemies. It seems as if he was addressing them, this displays the conversational aspect of his prayer life. He could not directly address his enemies but he could talk to the Lord about them and expose his hearts before the Lord. David was God’s appointed king; God’s glory was with David this was in question by his critics and his enemy. They were “rubbishing” his person and ultimately attacking his authority, which was God Himself! David had every right to question what they were doing, not because he himself was worthy of honour but because he was God’s appointed man. Saul was a bad king and he often harmed David but David would have no harm done to Saul because he knew that he was God’s man at that moment Saul was answerable to God for his own wrongdoing. Until God removed Saul, David was to obey him as king. Sadly that was not the attitude of David’s enemies; they were happy to attack God’s man. All David had left was his relationship with God, which superseded even the difficulties brought about by his human enemies.
Finally we see David’s concern for the spiritual state of the enemy. They loved delusions and sought after false gods. They knew all about the truth and decided against it, they also knew all about God and refused to follow Him. David loved his enemy and wanted only the best for them and so he prayed “how long before you come to the truth and your senses?”
We as Christians are in the family of God, we also can come boldly requesting that His name might be glorified even in those who would despitefully use us.
The Selah that follows is probably a musical term, which means pause for a while and ponder before continuing. In other words “stop and wonder at what God has done for His people!”
A promise in the heart.
David recognised his relationship with God in our second stanza; he had been set apart for service to God and His people! Being “set apart” is a reference to the articles used for worship in the tabernacle. All of the bowls etc that were to be used had to be made of pure metal and before use they were to be made ceremonially clean. David is using the same terminology here when referring to the Godly. We can move on from here to the New Testament we find that all who are saved by Jesus’ death are set apart or are made holy for God’s service!
Our relationship with God is not one-sided, we do not speak to a god who cannot hear or speak. David tells us that our God in heaven who is righteous hears the prayers of His friends even in our ramblings as we lie on our beds after a difficult day. David then reminds himself and warns us that our thoughts at bedtime can be very dangerous! You know what it is like when you go to bed; if the day has been stressful we will ponder all of the difficulties of the day plotting and planning as to what might happen tomorrow and how we might do harm to those who hurt us! Whilst we are waiting for sleep to happen we can indulge in the most awful sins. If this Psalm were written at the time when Absalom was seeking David’s life then it would have been very easy for David to wage a hate campaign against Absalom! David recognised this as wrong.
It is important to note that David does not say do not be angry or that anger is sin. It was right for him to be angry and as Christians at times we ought to be angry. We should be angry about injustice and all wrongdoing, how much more so for the wrong that is aimed at God or His people, which may include ourselves. God Himself is angry at sin but His is a righteous anger with no hint of wrong or sin involved. We should be angry in the same way. God hates sin but loves sinners and desires that they be restored into fellowship with Him. David in writing this Psalm displays his God-like qualities. He gives some sound advise to both himself and to his readers also. When the temptation to sin comes, “search your own heart and be silent.” It is better to be quiet than to say something, which will cause bitterness and sin.
At this point David instructs the reader to ponder and consider what has been said but then to continue: Selah
As Christians; we are in a personal relationship with God through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a living relationship, as His family we can approach Him not only knowing that He listens to us but that He also answers our prayers. As His friends we are to be like Him in all of our ways. Just as at times in His earthly ministry Jesus displayed anger but did not sin. We also must deal with our anger rightly and not sin. Remember that when the Lord interpreted the commands He said that hatred was as bad as murder. David throughout his life displayed a love for his enemy and so must we.
A gift from the heart.
David moves from the heart that sins to the heart that worships. His advice is simply; “keep away from sinful thinking by offering something to God instead.” When sin crouches at the door of your heart look upwards and offer your sacrifice to God! The question that needs to be asked is, “what are the sacrifices that David is talking about.” The answer to that is found in another of the Psalms written by David. In Psalm 51:17 he says that God accepts the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart. These words came from a man who was at the time guilty of gross sinfulness such as adultery and arranging the death of an innocent man in order to cover up his own indisgressions! David is saying “at the time of great temptation” offer the praise of your heart to God. Come before Him broken and asking for forgiveness in order that you might remain in fellowship with Him and ultimately with others. When we come to our difficulties in such a way we can more easily understand other people when they fail. This is exactly what David goes on to say! It is important that God’s people reflect the heart of God because when things go wrong; throughout history people have asked the question that David addresses next. “Who can show us any good?” Are there any good people left in the world? What is the answer? It is simple really, David tells us in his next statement. It might at first seem to be completely unrelated to what has gone before, but consider what he says for a moment. He makes a request of God in response to the people’s need. They need to see good in people, where should they see it? It should be clearly seen in the people of God. Therefore the answer as David recognises, is for God’s people to reflect His glory. David here was probably referring to Moses who after meeting with God one day had to veil his face from the people because he was so affected by the glory of God that his face was radiant. In fact it visibly shone so brightly that it would have frightened normal sinful people to death. David was saying in his prayer that the greatest need for Israel at that moment was for God’s glory to shine upon him in order that they might see God’s goodness to them through him.
We have a people all around us who are confused as to what is right and what is wrong. They are currently asking the question; “is there such a thing as right and wrong and if so what is right and what is wrong?” How will they ever know truth, if truth does not radiate through those who are friends of God. What the church needs the most today is Christians that radiate the glory of God. Not merely by our words but by every facet and nuance of our very being. How do we gain such a persona? By praying as David did in front of his enemies that they too might see goodness through him!
A place in the heart.
It is interesting to note that at the end of the previous stanza there is no Selah. By this David is saying; “with this in mind carry on to consider what is in your heart.” When God shines His light upon His people it always has the same effect:
This is what happens to David, he is no longer concerned about the enemy or his personal tendency to sin. He has seen the glory of God; and that is greater than a stomach full of good food or a heart merry with wine or even greater than being a successful farmer or merchant. To have God’s face to shine on you is absolute and total satisfaction, in the light of this everything else pails into insignificance. This is true peace, when we are at peace we can sleep well because God is our security. Thomas Cranmer’s brother asked him on the night before he was martyred if he wanted him to stay overnight. Cranmer refused the offer saying that he intended to have a better nights sleep than he had ever done because God would be with him. Cranmer could only say such a thing because he had experienced a peace beyond all understanding. Jesus said that He had come to bring such a peace into the world. David experienced it, Cranmer experienced it, are you experiencing it? You cannot gain it by what you do but by what has been done on your behalf.
Answer me when I call, O God my help!
When I in trouble was, you aided me.
Be gracious to me; Lord, hear now my prayer.
Be gracious to me; Lord, hear now my prayer.
How long, you people; will you insult me?
How long will you love lies and vanity?
Know that God chose the ones who godly are;
He hears me when I call unto His name.
Tremble with fear lest you fall into sin;
Lie quietly in bed, and think on this:
Offer right sacrifice and trust in God.
Offer right sacrifice and trust in God.
Many pray, “We wish we could see some good.
Lift up your countenance upon us, Lord!”
But I’ve more joy than those with harvests great.
I sleep in peace, for You, Lord, keep me safe.
To the tune: Abide with me.