Meditations in David’s Psalms : 2 : Difficult Times – Psa 4
Psa 4:1 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.
The heading over this psalm simply attributes it to David, but gives it no historical context. The clues to the causes or reasons why David wrote particular psalms, often comes at the beginning. The plea at the beginning, “Answer me when I call to you,” (v.1a) supposes that prayer isn’t just one-way. David expects God to respond. It may not be in words, but in God’s activity. Note how he speaks of the Lord: “O my righteous God.” This is God who always does rightly. David is sure that this is what God is like and many modern day Christians would do well to take this on board: God only does what is right or, to put it slightly differently, whenever God acts, He will be acting in a right way in the face of the way He has designed this world. David prays with expectations of God, that God who acts rightly in every situation will do what is right for him.
Then he gives us the reason for this psalm: “Give me relief from my distress.” Something or someone is causing David distress or upset and he wants it to end. For this reason, he asks the Lord a second time, “be merciful to me and hear my prayer.” He wants God to hear his prayer and, by implication, respond to it. But he realises he has no personal grounds on which to twist God’s arm. All he can do is plead for mercy. Mercy is a favourable response that is not warranted or earned, but just given, for no other reason than the person wants to grant it.
David turns from his prayer – a one verse prayer! – and looks outward to those who cause him stress: “How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame?” (v.2a) His glory? His role in life as assigned by God – to be king over Israel. Somehow they were thwarting his purposes in God! He says something that sheds further light on that: “How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?” Ah! Perhaps his glory is the glory of Israel as a nation under God. These people who are causing him distress have departed from the truth and are following idols and as such they shame Israel and they shame David.
David then seeks to reassure himself: “Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself,” (v.3a) and the implication is that he knows he is godly and therefore God has time for him and so, “the LORD will hear when I call to him.” (v.3b) Note the logic: God listens to the godly, I am godly, therefore God will listen to me.
But then it is as if he speaks to a wider audience, not merely the unbelievers. He talks to those who may read this psalm, ordinary believers and who may question the thought of being godly: David says the Lord has time for the godly. Am I godly? He thinks of things that may cause doubt in the average person and may make them follow a godless course: “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.” (v.4,5) In other words life being what it is, it is a fruitful place for anger to spring up and that can lead on to, or even be a source of, godlessness. When we get angry we get self-centred and leave God out of the equation. The apostle Paul was to write, possibly with this psalm in mind, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” (Eph 4:26 ) i.e. if you do get angry, don’t hang on to it! The psalmist was saying, if you think you have sinned with your anger, do what you know the law requires and offer a sacrifice for sin and then trust the Lord for His forgiveness. That is the godly approach. We all get it wrong from time to time, but the important thing is how we handle it!
In the face of this negative influence within his country, from those who were unbelievers and turning to idols, David foresees some people’s responses: “Many are asking, “Who can show us any good?” (v.6a). There were clearly divided loyalties in the land, some being faithful to the Lord and some not, and the feeling was obviously, “Why are we in this mess? Where is God? What about the idols, can they help?” Thus he turns back to the Lord with a further cry: “Let the light of your face shine upon us, O LORD.” (v.6b) i.e. Lord, please come and make yourself be known, be the answer to all the doubters (implied).
Then in the concluding part of the psalm we find a sense of assurance that so often comes to the believer once they have cried out to the Lord. It is almost as if this is part of God’s answer, this reassurance that comes in and through prayer: “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.” (v.7) How incredible! One minute he is crying out to the Lord in his sense of need to be relieved of his distress, and the next minute he is talking about being filled with joy, yet this is exactly what happens when the believer cries to the Lord and then receives this assurance. It is a complete confidence that is expressed as joy.
The result of this now, is that David can say, “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” (v.8) With this joy bubbling in him, the anxieties of ungodly people being in his land are washed away and he is left with this sense of complete security. The Lord is in command and He will deal with them (implied) and so David can go to sleep and leave them for the Lord to sort out and thus the Lord will bring him into a place of complete security.