Lecture 3: Psalm 4 (part 1)
Course: Book of Psalms
Lecture: Psalm 4 - Part 1
This is the 3rd lecture in the online series of lectures on Psalms by Dr Bruce Waltke. Recommended Reading includes: The Psalms as Christian Lament, James Houston, Bruce Waltke; The Psalms as Christian Worship: An Historical Commentary, James Houston, Bruce Waltke
The objective of this course is not to teach the theology of the Psalms or even the spiritual life of the Psalms; these two points are the fruit of the course. Rather, the objective is to understand the Psalms and how to approach them. So we will try to understand ‘how’ it means through various approaches in order to be authentic in our interpretation and its application. As far as approaches; we have looked at the historical approach and in this lecture we will look at the form critical approach. After this we will examine the Psalms through other approaches, like liturgical, rhetorical and editorializing approaches. These different ways of looking at the text will help us to understand what it is teaching us about God and about ourselves, written to us as servants of God. In looking at the historical approach, we had to make a case that David is the author of the seventy three Psalms attributed to him.
We acknowledged that within academia there is a basic skepticism that Davidic authorship is denied, against the Bible’s own claims. This also includes a basic skepticism toward God’s Word. But I think the data supports Davidic authorship and I tried to make a case defending that Davidic authorship. If David is the author then the ‘I’ of the Psalms is the king. Once we understand that it is the king who is speaking; he represents the people just as the church is in Christ, Israel was in the king. The king was the tree as Christ is the tree. Once we saw that it was about the king, the Psalms opened up as a royal hymnbook. We find references to the king throughout the Psalms, not only by David but by the Sons of Korah. And that approach enables us to see the Psalms in their true light, of which the average Christians doesn’t see. And the reason they don’t see it is because they by-step the fundamental historical approach of Psalms. This alters our thinking and suddenly we lay a firm foundation for a Christological interpretation of the Psalms; for Jesus says that they speak of him. And when we realize they speak of him and he is the king of kings, suddenly we begin to understand that they speak of his passions, his sufferings, his struggles. David has taken on every emotion we have experienced and that is in anticipatory of Christ who has taken on all of our suffering, all of our emotions. Even he felt abandoned by God the way we do when we are in our own crises. It is a common human experience and Christ experienced that. He was tempted in every way as we are and when we don’t experience an immediate answer in prayer, we fall back to unbelief and struggle with our faith. Christ also felt that as he took our sufferings upon himself. He was tempted in every way we are tempted but he triumphed. And so he is showing us how we can triumph spiritually. So in understanding this historical approach, we understand the psalter and thus a much better understanding of our Savior because it is about him. The evidence to this is Psalm 4.
II. Psalms 4: A Psalm of David - Translation
This psalm has been mediated on throughout the history of the church. We are part of that universal church. We want to examine the crisis that is within the psalm, but the difficulty of this deals with translation issues. What is the trouble in which he finds himself?
1 Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer.
2 How long, highborn men, will you turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods? Selah
3 Know that I AM has set apart the godly for himself; I AM will hear when I call to him.
4 Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts
and be silent. Selah
5 Offer the sacrifices of the righteous and trust in the I AM.
6 Many are asking, “O that one would show us good? Let the light of your face shine upon us, I AM .”
7 Fill my heart with great joy when their grain and new wine abound.
8 I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, I AM, make me dwell in safety.
For the director of music. For flutes.
In verse 2, most English versions just use men here but I have used highborn men. These are not ordinary men but leaders and wealthy people. These men are turning their glory into shame against God. The Hebrew word for high born is bene ‘ish. Of course the Hebrew word ‘ben’ means son with bene being the plural. Note that bene ‘ish is different than just ‘ish meaning person. It is in contrast to another expression, bene ‘adam. Where ‘ish is the individual, adam would be mankind. When these two words occur in other translations they read, ‘Hear this, all peoples! Give ear, all inhabitants of the world, low and high, rich and poor together!’ The ‘low’ here is the bene ‘adam; the high is the bene ‘ish. This comes from Psalms 49:2. From Psalms 62:9, ‘Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion.’ So the low estate here is bene ‘adam with the high estate being bene ‘ish. So the problem is, David’s high born men are turning his glory into shame and even turning away from God. David’s leadership is losing faith in him and they are even facing apostasy. It is the same with us being in a crisis and deciding to trust in other things, we turn Jesus’ glory into shame and we start loving a delusion instead of loving God. So this is the king, both with David as Jesus, the Son of God. We see that the king and Jesus are inseparable. If you don’t trust in God, then you will trust in a god whether it is self, money, or life, whatever. As Jesus said, you cannot serve God and mammon. These are two different things. And so in their-own situation the local false god is Baal, god of rain and storm. We see this from the historical point and from translation. Because if it is high born, it gives us a totally different impression; this is his leadership, his cabinet, his advisors. So you see the crisis that is going on; it is the same crisis that Jesus faced on the cross; when he said, ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
He is going to try and restore their confidence by stating seven imperatives. The first, ‘know that I AM has set apart the godly for himself; I AM will hear when I call to him. Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Offer the sacrifices of the righteous and trust in the ‘I AM’. Verse 6 could be translated, ‘Would that one would show us good?’ But a better option is, ‘O that one would show us good? Let the light of your face shine upon us, I AM.’ Now the king speaks, ‘fill my heart with great joy when their grain and new wine abound.’ Here we have a critical interpretation that affects the psalm’s entire meaning. Is the interpretation ‘more’ or just ‘new’? He is looking for something other than new grain and wine; something that will fill him with more joy than the grain and the wine; or it is the grain and new wine will fill him with joy. I translate the ‘fill, my heart and joy and when’. Literally from the time of, not more than when so that collocation would mean from the time of when. The Hebrew word for ‘from’ is ‘min’, so here it is from when. So I translate it, ‘fill my heart,’ a Hebrew imperative. ‘I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, I AM, make me dwell in safety.’ This means to dwell in a part where I am secure and safe.
John Chrysostom 347-407 AD, perhaps the greatest theologian in the history of the church, and also Augustine 354-430 AD; these two are ancient commentators. Chrysostom says that we have both intimacy and confidence in God because of his righteousness. Let us study how to converse with God. No intermediary, no oratorical skills are needed; only a humble, meek, and trusting heart. For it is only the ways and things of the world that will keep us separated from his providential care. And here is Augustine, how loudly I cry out to you, my God, as I read the psalms of David, songs full of faith, outbursts of devotion with no room in them for the breath of pride! How loudly I began to cry out to you in these psalms; how I was inflamed by them with love for you and fired to recite them to the whole world, were I able, as a remedy against human pride! This is what I like about Augustine. He doesn’t talk about God, he talks to God. Then he quotes Psalm 4, it all found an outlet through my eyes and voice when your good Spirit turned to us, saying, ‘how long will you be heavy-hearted, human creatures? Why love emptiness and chase falsehood?’ I, certainly, had loved emptiness and chased falsehood, and you, Lord, had already glorified your Holy One, raising Him from the dead and setting Him at your right hand…
III. The Historical Context: three crises
A. The First Crisis
The historical context is that the leadership is losing faith in him being the king and also God. If you reject one, you reject that other. Why were they defecting from him? First of all, there is no rain, no harvest, and no new wine and there is no wheat. Notice what their petition is, ‘many are asking, oh that one would show us good? Let the light of your face shine upon us, I AM.’ So what is this good that they ask for? It may refer to the rain and to the harvest. In Psalm 85:12, indeed the Lord will give us what is good and our land will yield it produce. So here we see that the good is the produce of the land. First of all, the ultimate cause is the Lord. The immediate cause is the land and the ultimate cause of good is God, but he does it through the land. So the parallel immediately shows that it is the produce of the land. From Jeremiah, they did not say to themselves, let us fear the Lord our God who gives autumn and spring rains in season, who assures us regular weeks of harvest. Your wrong doing and sins have depraved you of good. And here, again, he is talking about the rain and the harvest and especially the lack of it. It is so bad that the nation is in deep trouble at this point. This is the first crisis. Notice that there is no mention of an enemy in this psalm. Altogether there are fifty psalms of lament of which forty seven of those mention an enemy. Three of them do not mention an enemy but something else. Psalm 4 is one of those three.
B. The Second Crises
In verse 7, he says, ‘fill my heart with great joy when their grain and new wine abound.’ This would fit Solomon’s prayer when he built the temple in naming seven different crises. People would come to the temple in a crisis like that of war or a famine. People would come together and pray for rain and crops. So his prayer at the dedication of the temple from 2nd Chronicles 7:13 and also from 1st Kings 8:35-36, ‘when the heavens are shut up and there is no rain, in this case they have sinned again you. If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.’ So this shows that they went to the temple in a crisis such as having no rain. But there is a second crisis with the king being responsible for rain.
From a reference of Ashurbanipal, King of Assyria (668-27): ‘since the time that I sat on the throne of my father, my progenitor, Adad [the storm god], has loosed his downpours, Ea [the fountain god] has opened his fountains, the forest have grown abundantly.’ So he attributes the abundance of rain because the gods favored him. From a Pharaoh speaking as a god, ‘it is I, who produced the grain because I was beloved by the grain god, Amon. No one was hungry in my years.’ Of course Adad, Ea, Pharaoh and Amon are all from the pagan religions. The false gods referred to in this Psalm is Baal, the storm god who drove the clouds across the sky and let his voice be heard in the crash of thunder. Baal is pictured here by holding a lightning bolt in one hand and a club representing thunder in another hand. So they are turning from the true God to Baal. This was the alternative to them. So in ancient times, the king was like a shaman figure especially like those in Indian religions. He was responsible for bringing the rains. So here is the true king who is responsible for rain but yet, there is no rain so they are calling his kingship into question.
C. The Third Crisis
The third crisis comes from the idea that the king was to be potent in prayer. From Pharaoh, ‘everything proceeding from the lips of his majesty, his father [the god, Amon], causes to be realized there and then.’ So it could be said that in the Egyptian mind set, you named it and claimed it, an immediate response; you get the answer as soon as you pray. This is not good theology as there is always a gap between virtue and reward. If God rewarded virtue immediately, it would destroy us spiritually because we would use God which would be selfish. It would be no more than a genie in a lamp. So God delays the answer so we are not destroyed by confounding morality and true faith with pleasure. We would use God for our pleasure. Thus, we glory in our sufferings because we know that our suffering is going to produce virtue, patience, and hope that will not be put to shame. We also know that we will develop spiritually and thus not be destroyed. So we don’t get the answers immediately. Jesus went through that with us; he learned obedience through the things he suffered. And we learn obedience through the crisis we go through. Though this psalm will end without answer to the prayer, yet it is there to teach us a life of faith and doctrines about God. Then with Israel, it asks, ‘how long?’ shows that this critical situation of unanswered royal prayer cannot continue. Note that C. S. Lewis describes the critical situation within the ancient kingdom of Gnome when the rains fail and starvation threatens the kingdom. The king’s rule is in jeopardy, so it is the time for a supreme sacrifice; his favorite youngest daughter, Psyche, is called upon by the high priest to be offered as a sacrifice to appease the anger of the gods. This pagan response is the antithesis of that of the psalmist, who is being tested to put his trust intimately in the Creator, the ‘I Am’, in spite of the disastrous drought. So he is not going to offer his first born son; instead, he is going to trust God and his Word in the midst of it. This is what Lewis is teaching. This is the experience of Jesus. Those around him said, ‘how can he save Israel, he can’t even save himself; let him now come down from the cross and we will believe in him.’ This is how they tested him. Yet, he went through this crisis into death and then he emerged from this, conquering death. That is the Gospel and true therapy and true healing.
This is of course is poetry, which includes parallelism, terse and concrete imagery. In addition it is a lament or petition. These kinds of psalms have distinct motifs. There is an address which is my righteous God and the Lament of turning my glory to shame; they are turning to other gods. In restoring confidence, there are seven admonitions; then comes the petition and at the end of the psalm he gives praise to God by going to sleep, no longer worrying; he is at peace because of his faith.
There is a superscript of the composition that includes its genre and its author. It’s addressed first of all to God and to the highborn. He goes back and addresses God again, but this time by his covenant’s name, ‘I AM’. This begins by addressing Elohim, God. His petition is that God would answer his prayer and bring relief to his stress. He rebukes the highborn and gives them the first admonition. The rebuke is that they were faithless to their king and God. The first of seven admonitions is to know your king. Know that God has set you apart. Don’t lose faith in the king in the crisis. Then the remaining six admonitions fall together into pairs: tremble and do not sin, be silent and search your hearts and finally, offer the sacrifices of righteous and trust ‘I AM’. The third part is the petition to I AM by the people for favor of I AM and for joy and year-round harvest. So then in confidence and praise the king goes to sleep. So the postscript to Psalm 4 is shown to have been given over to the church, to the people of God so it can become their prayer. You see that it has been given to the director of music for everyone to sing. For today, we are living and praying in the spiritual reign which gives us hope in the drought that is around us. We are not to despair.
Part Two – The Exposition
The superscript is by King David, yet almost all scholarship rejects this. In having a distinctive glory, know that the Lord has set him apart and this could apply to everybody. He has a special grace in prayer and he is in corporate solidarity with his people asking God to fill his heart. So there is no reason to question his authorship.
I. There is an address to God and Introductory Petitions
‘Answer me when I call [to you], my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer.’
There are actually three requests here, one is ‘answer’, the second is ‘relief’ and the third is ‘be gracious’. There are two names for God: Elohim speaks of God in his transcendence. It is what distinguishes God from humanity, his eternal power, and his attributes: he is everlasting and from himself; he is not derivative and not dependent on anything. No one gave birth to God; God is; he is the transcendence and all powerful from everything else derives. He is the creator; this is God. The other word for God is Yahweh which means ‘I AM’ and this is his covenantal name, his personal name. It is how he relates to his people; he is the God of Israel and his name is ‘I AM’. When Moses asks who the God we worship is; God answers I am who I am. Yahweh doesn’t mean a thing to the average person but the words ‘I AM’ can. He is the great ‘I AM’ and we understand that. What happens in Israel is that they ceased using his name ‘I AM’. They used to call on the name of Yahweh and worshipped in the name of Yahweh. You can see the radical change that came about from calling on the name of Yahweh to calling on the name of Jesus Christ. During the intertestamental period, instead of saying Yahweh, they always would say, Lord, they would use a title and thus prayed in the name of the Lord. That made it an easy transition because he is the Lord Jesus Christ; so in Joel where it says, ‘whoever calls on the name of the Yahweh.’ This is one of the strongest arguments for the deity of Christ. So now the Lord, Yahweh, is Christ. Now we know that God is a trinity. They didn’t know that in the Old Testament, but we do. We now know that the Father wants to be known through the Son. That is why the apostles preached in the name of Jesus Christ and they prayed in name of Jesus Christ. So we don’t honor God unless we honor Jesus Christ and thus he wants to be known through his Son.
Using the word righteous is an active attribute that prompts God to set right those things that have gone wrong. God is personal; he is our God and when he says to be gracious, the verb means to look at me with favor and meet my need; this is grace. The word ‘hear’ means to assess and consider the situation. Now we have the word, prayer. This means to evaluate a case, make a decision and intervene. We are asking God to evaluate my situation and make a decision about it and intervene. These are basic ideas. One of my surprises in publishing has been the Theological Word Book by Moody Press. The book came out in 1980 and the book does quite well. That book goes through every word like this. We originally had it done on Young’s Concordance. Note that Strong’s in the King James has a number by every word which provides a brief definition. To continue: the word ‘distress’ refers to being hemmed in by a narrow place.
II. Highborn Apostates (Verses 2 and 3)
Here we have the first accusation and seven admonitions as mentioned eariler. So in verses 2-5, he is addressing the apostates. There is an accusation of apostasy, so they are committing apostasy and turning against the king turning his glory to shame. The situation has reached a critical state and cannot continue. Two words associated with this are glory and shame. Shame is the degradation of a person; however, the king never loses self-worth for he knew God had bestowed glory upon him. The first admonition is to know your King. The next three are in pairs in verses 4 and 5 which are to encourage confidence and at the end we have the petitions in verses 6-7. So they have turned to false gods for relief. In defining love, it is a strong desire from one’s perception for someone or something that causes them to run after, seek, and remain faithful to that which is love. Today, there are basically three gods: money, sex appeal and pride. For me, the danger is that I can seek fame and so pride is very dangerous for me. Seeking the praise of people is a delusion. The only one worthy of praise is God.
To restore their confidence, they are to know the king’s potency in prayer. In verse 3, we have words like know that, set apart, for himself and I AM. In the words ‘know that’, this is to know an objective fact; it is not the same as personal ‘know’. Set apart relates to remarkably distinguished and then there is the word ‘hasid’ which is a covenant partner. God loves this king with the words, ‘for himself’ and the King loves God. Note that the only way we know God is through imagery and his Spirit. God is known as Father; you cannot recast God as a woman; this is a fundamental change in imagery. God is God and you cannot add to his imagery outside of what has already been shown in the Bible. So know your king; I AM is Israel’s covenant keeping God. There is power in prayer for he will hear those who pray.
An interesting question: how did David know that he was king? What gave him that assurance? He was certain that he was the king. It was because the prophet told him so; the prophet told him that he was the king and everybody knew that Samuel was that prophet. It was the prophet Samuel that anointed David and so he had the authentication of the prophet. It was then that the Spirit of God came upon him and so there was the authentication of the Spirit of God. It was then that he went out and fought Goliath doing the work of God. For Jesus, it is similar; he gave four points of evidence for himself in John 5; first was John the Baptist, the Voice of God from heaven, the third one is his works, and the forth one is the testimony of Scripture. When John the Baptist appeared on the scene, people knew that the voice of God was in the land again; especially after such a long period during the intertestamental period of being absent. All Judah went out to hear John the Baptist. That is why Jesus asked why did you not listen to John the Baptist for everyone knew that he was a prophet. And John confirmed that Jesus was the Lamb of God of whom he wasn’t even worthy to unlatch his sandals. They even had the voice of Samuel; the Spirit of God was upon David. So for Jesus, you have the voice of John the Baptist and at his baptism the heavens are open and the Spirit of God descends upon him as seen as a dove, very gentle and mild setting Jesus apart. He said to John’s servant, go back and tell John what he see; the works of God are being done before people’s eyes. And for those who claim to be children of God; as many as receive him gives them the right to be the children of God. And we believe this; we ourselves have the Spirit of God within us to become new creations in Christ Jesus. We walk differently, we talk differently, we live differently, we think differently; we don’t walk the same walk as the rest of the world and thus we validate who we are by this.