This psalm was often used as an evening prayer because of verse eight, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm four is appropriate as an evening prayer for it gives us a sense of purpose and security that will lead to healthier sleep.
It is also a psalm that deals with the Mideasterner’s sense of honour. A sense of honour is not as openly prominent in Western society as in most cultures around the world. But while we have managed to suppress the desire to be honoured to some extent, we have not made it go away. Some investigators suggest that a surprisingly high number of murders, even in Western countries are honour related. Even in church splits the flash-point issues often have more to do with who was or was not consulted than over the decision that was actually reached. This points to an offended sense of honour. We are often troubled by a gnawing sense of need — especially a need to feel significant. We are also troubled by doubts about our purpose, or by fears about the future.
We are all susceptible to temptation along the lines of significance. We often feel a sense of confusion about our purpose or role. We often have fears about the future. This prayer calls us to healthier attitudes on all these.
Relationship with God
Our need is not earthly honour but relationship with God. “Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! 2 O men, how long shall my honour be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? 3 But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.”
These first two verses might be paraphrased as, “If God is for me, what difference does it make what people may say against me” (cf Rom 8:31). They also call to mind a statement from a later psalm, “Be not afraid when a man becomes rich, when the glory of his house increases. For when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not go down after him” (Ps 49:16-17).
We all remember the story of the rich man and Lazarus. What was the rich man’s name? Jesus states the name of the poor man, who knew God, but not the of rich man, who knew him not.
We all recognize the truth of this, but do we live like we recognize the truth of it? Who do we admire? Who do our children think we admire? Of whom do they hear us speak? Politicians? Athletes? Entertainers?
What schools do we want our children to attend, and why? I recall a Christian mother bragging to all who would listen that her oldest daughter was doing well at Harvard, and her younger daughter had been accepted at Duke. The daughter at Harvard may not have been taught to plagiarize; the daughter at Duke may not have been taught to fake important research. But neither of her daughters were Christians. I doubt that either of them was led to Christ by what they experienced at those two schools. What really matters to us? Worldly prestige or the favour of the Lord?
Our task is not angry action but trust in the Lord. “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.5 Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord” (4-5). As James tells us, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).
But how do we avoid anger? When we see all the evil in this world, when we see evil being paraded and glorified even by our governing authorities, how do we avoid taking angry action and instead restrain ourselves to faithfulness in our proper role?
Decades ago, there was a series of “public service announcements” that told us, “If you do not do it, it won’t get done.” That made a good ad campaign. That was a catchy slogan. But I wonder if it might be part of what is fuelling the current trend of people taking justice into their own hands. The problem it pointed to is a real one. Often people are uninvolved in their community (as a recent tragedy in Regina has reminded us – where a man died of exposure on a roadside while people drove by ignoring him). But the slogan places us at the centre of the universe. It makes all solutions dependent on us.
We must do things right. We must limit ourselves to what is our business. Taking matters that are not our business into our hands – especially in anger – will not lead to good results. Submission is our business. Glorifying God is our business. Results are not our business. This is especially true where emotions may be running high. Frustration and fear often lead us to actions that will be regretted later. “Ponder in silence” the text says. In other words, worship God, and leave the results in his hands.
Our security is not in material blessings but in satisfaction with God’s will. “There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” 7You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. 8In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (6-8).
How many of our prayers are, or at least seem to be, materialistic? Would anyone observing our lives, or even hearing our prayers, conclude that we are satisfied to rest in God’s will? Have we taken to heart Paul’s words to Timothy?
“…for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 11But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (1 Tim 6:7-11).
Even apart from faith in the inspiration of scripture, my own experience leads me to believe this to be true. I have known rich people, and I have known poor people. Percentage wise, I have known greater happiness and contentment among the poor. The most miserable people I have known were rich.
The message of Psalm 4 is clear. It agrees with what is taught elsewhere in scripture and what the attentive servant of God sees frequently. Do not worry about what people think. Our significance in God’s eyes is what matters. Do not try to take on more than the role God has given. Fear God. This is your whole duty. Don’t worry about the future or try to secure the future by material means. Hand it all over to the Lord. Do that, and you will sleep better tonight.