My Notes on Psalm 4

Psalm 4 is given the title “trust in God” by the New American Bible. This is a fitting title as verses 1, 3, 5 and 8 show. Within the Catholic and Orthodox traditions this psalm is often used as a night prayer (see vss 4 and 8). The Psalm opens with a statement by the psalmist that God has heard his prayer (vs 1). This is followed in verses 2-6 with admonitions and advice by the psalmist to his detractors. He is not so much attempting to put them right with himself, but, rather, with God. The psalm ends as it began, by addressing God (vss 7-8) [Please note, I am using an modern translation of psalm 4 from the WEB Bible. Other translations may employ a slightly different verse numbering system.]

4:1 Answer me when I call, God of my righteousness.
Give me relief from my distress.
Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer.

The first part of verse 1 sounds bold, almost imperative. It reflects the psalmist trust and confidence in his God. In his conflict with others (see vs 2) he is confident that he is in the right and that, therefore, the God of his righteousness will help him. Due to these enemies the psalmist is in distress. The Hebrew word used here is tsar (tsawr), a word meaning constrained. He is being pressed upon by his foes in some way. Perhaps they are seeking to limit his freedom, or worse, hinder his relations with God. Whatever the case may be, he prays for relief. Literally he prays to be enlarged, to be given space space from his enemies (rachab= raw- khab). The psalmist is confident that God will show him mercy by hearing his prayer.

4:2 You sons of men, how long shall my glory be turned into dishonor? Will you love vanity, and seek after falsehood?

The superscription of this Psalm attributes it to David. Is the glory of David which is being dishonored to be understood as his kingship, or is the word glory being used here as synonymous with honor? Another possibility is that my glory is a reference to God, whom the psalmist’s enemies are mocking Since kingship is not mentioned anywhere in this psalm it seems likely that one of the latter views is likely. Vanity and falsehood are often associated with idolatry in the OT

Vanity is the Hebrew word riyq (reek). This words designates emptiness. It is, as just noted, used at times for idols (1 Sam 12:21).

Falsehood is the Hebrew word kazab (kaw-zawb). It is used of idols in Psalm 40:5, Amos 2:4 and elsewhere.

4:3 But know that Yahweh has set apart for himself him who is godly: Yahweh will hear when I call to him. Godly would perhaps be better translated as faithful. Because of his faith the just man is heard (see James 5:16). The psalmist has confidence in this based it would seem on personal experience.

4:4 Stand in awe, and don’t sin. Search your own heart on your bed, and be still.

Many translations read “tremble,” others read “do not be angry,” rather than stand in awe. The word ragaz (raw-gaz) is in the Qal form and can be translated in any of these ways. Parallelism, which is a very popular Hebrew poetical device suggests this translation: “tremble and do not sin. Speak in your own heart on your bed and be still.” The parallel is contrasting. One in a right relationship to God trembles (In fear or awe of God) and does not sin. Rather he can lay upon his bed in stillness and ponder the things of God (e.g the law, see psalm 1). (Notice that in the translation I just gave I translated as “speak in your own heart…,” this is the literal rendering and its importance will become clear below).

4:5 Offer the sacrifices of righteousness. Put your trust in Yahweh.

If they trembled (had awe/fear) of God they would not have to have been told to “sin not.” Because they loved the vanity and falsehood (vs 2) which is idolatry they are being bidden here to worship Go rightly and to trust in him rather than idols. The word righteous used here reminds us of the opening of the psalm wherein God was termed God of my righteousness.

4:6 Many say, “Who will show us any good? Yahweh, let the light of your face shine on us.”
4:7 You have put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and their new wine are increased. 4:8 In peace I will both lay myself down and sleep, for you, Yahweh alone, make me live in safety.
(I have modified the translation here. The WEB Bible does not extend the quotation of the many in verse 6 beyond the word Good.)

Notice that in verse 6 who will show us any good is followed by a call upon God (Yahweh). This suggests to me that the many tend to think of Yahweh as just one God among others who can be called on for help. In contrast to this the psalmist has exhibited an unwavering trust in God. He is unworried about who will show him good for Yahweh has put gladness in his heart. This gladness is greater than that which the many have when they enjoy an abundance of wine and grain. In keeping with my speculation about idolatry I will note that the people often worshipped fertility gods like Baal in order to ensure a plentiful harvest, even while worshipping Yahweh for the same reason. The psalmist however trust in Yahweh who alone makes him secure (vs 8)

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One Response to My Notes on Psalm 4

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

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