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April 22, 2012
Psalm 4

Psalm 4 has a superscription which reads: ‘A Psalm of David’. It could also read ‘A Psalm to David’, or ‘A Psalm about David’. In any case, it is included in a collection of psalms associated with David in one or more ways. It does not necessarily mean that David wrote it. The superscription also reads ‘To the leader’ (NRSV) or ‘To the choirmaster’ (RSV) ‘with stringed instruments’. The story of David has large associations with ‘lament’, regarding David’s offences, and the rebellion and later death of his son Absalom (2 Samuel 15; cf. Psalm 3). Those associations with David have probably added to the reasons for calling this ‘A Psalm of David’. It may be helpful to read it as a psalm of David even though it is unlikely he wrote it.

At first reading, Psalm 4 may look like a psalm of lament. Verse 1 is a plea that God remember previous occasions when help has been asked for, and granted. Yet the psalm is expressed in the language of easy and almost arrogant confidence. God in this case is referred to as ‘God of my right’! (NRSV). The speaker is claiming confidently that in his righteousness, he can call upon God.

On the other hand, there are those whose foundations are very shaky. In the historical context, Psalm 4 is often regarded as a sequel to Psalm 3, which comments on the rebellion of Absalom against his father. If that is the case, the opponents of David (vv. 2-5) are very likely the supporters of Absalom. The opposition to David seems to be coming from people who are both close to David and yet falsely accuse him of unrighteousness. The people who ‘love vain words’ are possibly following other gods, or telling lies. The language itself does not offer specific clues, but it does highlight the spirit of assurance and serene faith which the psalmist expresses. He has a safe, assured relationship with God which enables him to bear the accusations against him.   He is also falsely accused (v. 2b), which gives him the confidence of the innocent.

This confidence is clearly apparent when the psalmist actually offers advice to his accusers. His tone is not vindictive, but almost solicitous: ‘When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.’ These words are spoken from the point of view of someone who has the wisdom of life behind him, and his own strong faith in God. Even in the face of strong opposition, the psalmist is serene.

In vv. 6-8 the psalmist turns to the example of others who feel as he does, and who are probably supporters of his. He then offers a prayer for them and for himself (v. 6). His close relationship with God gives him more joy than people feel when grain and grape harvests are overflowing (v. 7). He has the peace of mind that enables him to lie down and sleep in the knowledge that God hears him and is concerned for his safety (v. 8; cf. Ps 3:5-6).

There is no small link here with the words of the risen Jesus to his disciples in today’s Gospel reading (Luke 24:36b-48). When all around is turmoil and confusion, the risen Lord appears to his disciples and they are both startled and terrified (v. 37). His words give them assurance of the strange news they had heard about his appearing to certain individuals. In particular, his gift to them is ‘peace’ (v. 36b). Their disbelief and dismay are countered by their joy at meeting their risen Lord, even as the psalmist’s faith led him to great joy. Finally, Jesus interprets the scriptures to them showing why the Messiah should suffer and die and then rise. He then sends them out as witnesses to these things (vv. 48-49). There is the implication that what lies before them is a difficult task, even as the psalmist in his own confident faith struggled against his opponents.

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship:

Several verses from the psalm could be used as prayer verses in worship:

As a beginning to the prayers of the people:

Answer us when we call, O God of our right!
You gave us room when we were in distress.
Be gracious to us, and hear our prayer.
Or for inclusion in the intercessory prayers, especially for prayers in time of trouble:
There are many who say,
‘O that we might see some good!
Let the light of your face shine on us, O LORD!’
Or finally in prayers at the close of day:
You have put gladness in my heart
more than when their grain and wine abound.
I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.
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