Father E.S. Berry’s Commentary on Psalm 4

Because of their similarities many believe that Psalms 3 and 4 were written for the same occasion, the former a morning prayer, the other an evening prayer.

Synopsis~After a prayer (2) David admonishes his enemies to oppose him no longer (3-5). He urges his followers to trust in God (6a). Many are discouraged (6b), but David reassures them (7-10).

Psa 4:1  Unto the end, in verses. A psalm for David.

Verse 1 serves as a title. The words “unto the end” occur in the title of fifty-five psalms. The meaning is very obscure. The Hebrew lamenacceah is now generally rendered “to the director,” i.e., to the leader of the singing, to the choirmaster. The word is used in 1 Chron 15:22 in the sense of leading or directing the chant. “to the director” is probably a dative of possession, indicating that there was a director’s collection of psalms to be used in liturgical services. The Hebrew neginoth (Vulgate “veres”) is found in the title of five psalms. The root of the word probably means, “to play on stringed instruments” (see 1 Kings 16:16-18). As used in the titles it probably means that the Psalm was to be sung to the accompaniment of stringed instruments (cf. “Cath. Encyc.” art. “Psalms”).

4:2 When I called upon him, the God of my justice heard me: when I was in distress, thou hast enlarged me. Have mercy on me: and hear my prayer.

Before reproving his adversaries the Royal Psalmist addresses himself to prayer: Whensoever I called upon God, the protector of my just cause, He heard my cries and supplications. Yea, O Lord, Thou has ever delivered (set at large; enlarged) me from my troubles. Therefore do I come to Thee with confidence. Have mercy on me, and deign to hear me once again.

4:3 O ye sons of men, how long will you be dull of heart? why do you love vanity, and seek after lying?

David then addresses the men of prominence (“sons of man”) who are in rebellion against him: How long will you be perverse of heart (dull, heavy of heart? cf. ingravatum est cor Pharaonis [Ex 7:14]). How long will you persevere in your wicked attempts to overturn my throne? Why (Hebrew “How long”) will you persist in your vain attempts (vanity) and evil counsels (lying) against me? In Hebrew the first part of the verse reads: Sons of man, how long will you turn my glory into shame?

4:4 Know ye also that the Lord hath made his holy one wonderful: the Lord will hear me when I shall cry unto him.

All your attempts will be in vain, for know ye, the Lord hath shown wonderful favors and mercies to me, His devoted servant (His holy one). I have but to call upon Him and He will deliver me out of your hands.

4:5 Be ye angry, and sin not: the things you say in your hearts, be sorry for them upon your beds.

The Hebrew, “ragats,” here rendered “be angry,” literally means to tremble with emotion-fear, anger, sorrow, or even joy. St Paul quotes the passage as referring to anger (Eph 4:26). If you be angry, be careful lest you also sin: Do not give way to anger so far as to commit sin thereby. If we use it here in this sense, the meaning would be: Chafe at my rule if you will, but sin not by rebelling against me.

Taking the word in the sense of sorrow, or contrition, gives a much better parallelism: Be sorry for the sins you have already committed against me, and resolve to sin no more. In the lonely hours of the night, free from the distractions of the day, meditate upon the evils you have planned (said in your heart) against me, and be sorry for them. The Hebrew reads: “Be angry and sin not; Commune with you own heart upon your bed, and be quiet.” To be quiet, or cease, means to cease speaking, or to cease acting. In this case it means the latter.

4:6 Offer up the sacrifice of justice, and trust in the Lord: many say, Who sheweth us good things?

David now addresses his own followers. Offer up the sacrifice prescribed by the Law (sacrifice of justice.” Cf. Deut 33:19) and trust in God. Many of them are disheartened and despair of God’s help. They say: Who will deliver us from the dangers that threaten us? (Who will show us good things?). Some interpreters consider the first part of this verse a continuation of David’s admonition to his adversaries. He urges them to turn from their evil ways, to offer up sacrifices for past sins, and to trust in God.

4:7 The light of thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us: thou hast given gladness in my heart.
4:8 By the fruit of their corn, their wine, and oil, they rest:

David reassures his disheartened followers. It is God who will deliver us from all dangers. Thou, O Lord, hast already favored us: the light of Thy benign countenance hath already shone upon us (literally, been displayed over us like a banner). Thou hast given me gladness of heart; Thou hast made me rejoice more than husbandmen in the time of abundant harvests.

To show the face, means to favor or bless. Cf. the words of benediction, Num 6:2: “The Lord bless thee and keep thee, the Lord show His face to thee and have mercy on thee. The Lord turn His countenance to thee and give thee peace.” In the Hebrew text verse 7a is an invocation” Lift up over us, O Lord, the light of Thy countenance.”  The reading of the Vulgate agrees better with the next phrase: “Thou hast given gladness,” etc.  The Psalmist is reciting past favors to encourage his followers.

In the Vulgate verse 8 is unintelligible. In the Hebrew it is joined to the preceding phrase thus: Thou has put gladness into my heart, more than in the time when their corn and wine about. Cf. Isa 9:3.

The reading of the Septuagint and Vulgate is probably due to a copyist’s mistaking kairos (season) for karpos (fruit). the Old Ital and Syriac versions and, as Origen informs us, many MSS. of the Septuagint agree with the Hebrew.

4:9 In peace in the self same I will sleep, and I will rest:
4:10 For thou, O Lord, singularly hast settled me in hope.

Such is Davids confidence that he can peacefully compose himself for sleep in the midst of dangers, feeling secure in God’s protection. “In calm, peaceful trust he goes to sleep upon his bed with this evening prayer upon his lips” (Briggs).

“In the self same.” The Latin is In idipsum, a Hebraism for “together,” “at the same time”: I will lay me down and at the same time, I will take my rest, because God protects me. He has made me to dwell apart, secure from all dangers (i.e., in hope).

Some construe the adverb “singularly” to mean: it is Thou, alone, O Lord, who makest me to dwell in security.

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One Response to Father E.S. Berry’s Commentary on Psalm 4

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B | stjoeofoblog

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