Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4: 16. State of the Nation
Psa 4:2 How long will you people turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?
God’s Leader: There are often difficulties coping with translations, and indeed Scripture generally, when verses can be read in different ways. The first half of this verse could be David speaking about the rebellion robbing him of his glory as the Lord’s anointed. That would be a legitimate understanding because, knowing David the man after God’s own heart, we know he often has great understanding and insight. He knows something about what it means to be the Lord’s anointed (see his references to Saul in 1 Sam 24:10, 26:9,11,16,23) and had himself been anointed by Samuel (1 Sam 16:13), he knows that he is king because God chose him to replace Saul. Yes, he also knows that what is happening to him now (if this is a continuation of Psa 3 speaking into the time when he was on the run from Absalom) is God’s discipline. Nevertheless those who are doing this to him have disregarded his calling and are acting in both an ungodly and unrighteous manner.
Another Possibility? Now I don’t actually believe that is the interpretation of this verse although it does raise the above possibility which raises the challenge to have right attitudes towards those the Lord has raised up to be His leaders. No, what we have here, I believe, is something you often come across in such psalms, which is a prophetic sense that feels more like it is inspired by heaven and is the Lord speaking through David to His people Israel. Now I have two questions: first if that is so what is He saying and second, what grounds are there historically to suggest this is so?
The Challenge: If this is the Lord speaking, then His question is how long will you carry on being godless? ‘How long’ puts the challenge, will you continue on in the wrong way you are going? But what is the wrong? First it is specifically in respect of the Lord, “turn my glory into shame”. The Living Bible paraphrase supports this: “The Lord God asks, “Sons of men, will you forever turn my glory into shame by worshiping these silly idols, when every claim that’s made for them is false?” It’s about failing to give God the glory that is due to Him alone and then, second, it is about how they are doing that – by worshipping idols.
A Common Need: This turning to idols seems to be a snare that Israel fell into time after time after time. What makes it worse is that Moses warned them against it before they entered the Promised Land. (check out Ex 34:17, Lev 19:4, 26:1 but then just before entry Deut 4:15-19, 7:5, Ch.13., 16:21,22, etc.) Perhaps they revealed the heart of their need in Samuel’s day when they asked for a king instead of judges (see 1 Sam 8:19,20); they wanted someone visible to be out front. It seems that unbelief manifests itself first of all in this feeling that “I struggle to believe a God I cannot see. Give me something tangible to follow.” It’s why we make idols of big church buildings, big leaders, big church projects, all things that we can see and follow and which help bolster our weak faith. However the moment we put our trust in these sorts of things, we detract from the glory of God who should be the entire focus of our worship, should be the One on whom we rely completely.
The Cause: So now on to the second question above, what grounds are there historically to suggest that this is God rebuking Israel? Were they in a bad state spiritually? Well if you follow all of David’s activity, setting up singers and musicians to worship the Lord, having victories against enemies you might not think so, but later, when David is reinstated there comes an incident that involves him that puts a major cloud over the life of Israel. We read, “Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah,” (2 Sam 24:1) In 1 Chron 21:1 we see the Lord used Satan to do this. How does it work out after David’s pride allows him to do this thing? “So Gad went to David and said to him, “Shall there come on you three years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land? Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me.” (2 Sam 24:13) So what was the outcome? “So the Lord sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died.” (v.15)
Severe Judgment: Now elsewhere, where I have written about the judgments of God and this sort of judgment that brings death, I have referred to these as terminal judgments (distinct from most judgments I call ‘disciplinary’ because God uses them to bring change in people) or alternatively ‘judgments of the last resort’. In other words, contrary to God’s express dislike of such judgments (see Ezek 18:23,32 & 33:11), the situation is so bad that in order to save and preserve Israel, a judgment that will have a severe impact has to come. We do not know the state of Israel during this period but the nature of this judgment suggests that the rebuke in verse 2 of Psalm 4 is apt. How long will you people turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?
Today? We often say we need to see how the words of Scripture apply in the modern context. I wonder, in much of the modern Church, would an appropriate version of this be, “How long will you people – my supposed children, redeemed by the death of my Son, filled with my own Holy Spirit – continue without my glory in your midst so that the world scorns you? How long will you live like the people of the world in their delusion that materialistic pleasure is all-important and so you fail to seek me and know the power of my presence in your midst? How long will you put personal pleasure and comfort and ease and self-centred living, before seeking out and doing my will so that my power is revealed to the world, they see your love and unity and are convicted and your lives full of salt-and-light-impact and transform your communities like I want them to? I simply ask the question. Does it apply?
Revelation in the midst of a Crisis: See something significant to finish here. David has been concerned for his situation, for the negatives that are impacting his life – which he knows are from the Lord – and looks for mercy from the Lord to ease the pain, but the very next thing that comes is rebuke and challenge. It is almost as if in the midst of crisis the Lord speaks and says, “Look at the bigger picture, look at what is going on in Israel spiritually. See the shortcomings and do something to change that.” It is true that in times of crisis when we are seeking the Lord and crying out to Him, that we get revelation about the big picture, about the issues that are on the Lord’s heart, the things that stop His people fully entering into their inheritance, the things we need to attend to. Do we need a crisis to hear that?