Today’s message continues the series on the Book of Psalms. The video message is below (there may be some parts where the audio is out of sync – I had some problems getting the technology to work this week).
As usual, the notes underneath are those prepared for church members who are unable to get to church or access the online video.
We are living in uncertain and insecure times. How can we be safe? Who can we trust? What does the future hold? How can we have peace? How can we be satisfied when so much that used to give us satisfaction and happiness has now gone?
In these days of trouble, we need to know where we can find peace and security in our hearts and minds, and true satisfaction that fills our souls with joy, even when many good things seem to have gone.
There are similarities, but important differences, between Psalm 4 and Psalm 3 (last week). In Psalm 3, David was in considerable physical danger – and yet he was trusting the Lord. Here, in Psalm 4, the attacks are more verbal; they are attacks upon his reputation (v2). Words hurt.
In Psalm 3, David speaks to God and testifies about his own experience of peace in the midst of trouble. In Psalm 4, he also speaks to people around him, giving wise advice. This is what makes the psalm so precious to us; it speaks into this time of insecurity and dissatisfaction.
Finally, both psalms speak about rest and safety in the Lord. So, let’s look at what God has to teach us through this psalm.
I) Foundation (v1)
The psalm starts with a prayer which recognises who God is and what He does. Knowing who God is is the foundation of life and of prayer. True prayer flows from knowing God. We pray because we know that He is righteous, we know He answers, we know He is gracious and we know He hears.
We know who He is – “O God of my righteousness.” In the context here, David is under attack verbally, his reputation is threatened, he is being opposed by people (v2) who love emptiness and lies. So, David is saying “You are the God of justice and You vindicate Your people.”
But there is something else here. Verse 3 says: “the Lord has set apart the godly for Himself.” The “godly” is the believer, the one who is faithful to God’s covenant. The person who has come into God’s covenant, is the person who is saved, and who has received God’s righteousness as a gift. This is the foundation of all true prayer – Christians are still people who sin, but they have God as their righteousness.
So even when negative comments, and our thoughts about our own failures, are true, if you are a Christian, they do not change your standing with God because He is the Lord your righteousness.
We know He answers: “You have given me relief.” Like in Psalm 3, he is building his prayer on who God is and what He has done in the past. We’re not told what the problem was but the language gives us an idea of the intensity. The phrase “you have given me relief when I was in distress” means “you have given me space where there is no space.” This is not necessarily physical space; we can feel overwhelmed, crushed, trapped, surrounded by problems, but the Lord is able to lift the weight from us so that we can breathe.
We know He is gracious. “Be gracious to me.” This the basis of prayer. Not “give me what I deserve” but “be gracious.” Our access to His presence, the fact that our prayers come to Him at all, is all of grace and nothing of us. And we have received grace through Christ, we come because of Him, into the presence of God.
We are confident that He hears. “Hear my prayer.” “Hear” is not just hear the sound but hear the words. Praying is not silence; it is bringing ourselves and our words of praise and petition through Christ our righteousness, with the help of the Holy Spirit (who, when we haven’t got the words, intercedes for us, Romans 8:26), to the Father, the God of righteousness, who hears us.
The fact of who God is, and our response to Him in prayer, is the foundation of all our security, peace and satisfaction.
II) Security and warning (v2-3)
Now we come to David’s advice. He will come back to talking to God but, in these middle verses, he is talking to others. Verses 2-3 is the first piece of advice. Here, he seems to be talking to his opponents.
They are opposing his “honour” (same word as “glory” 3v3). “How long”, instead of showing respect, are you insulting me and bringing shame upon me? That was very important for a king, but actually we all like to be honoured and respected.
There is a suggestion here that the opponents have a problem with God. The old NIV has the footnote “Glorious One”, which is a possible translation and would reflect on 3v3 (where the Lord of glory is the one who gives honour). In attacking David with their words (and us today), their real focus is the Lord of glory.
The next line phrase, “How long will you love vain [things] and seek after lies [falsehood]?” reinforces this. They are trusting empty things and false gods, rather than the True God.
- “The Lord has set apart.” He makes a distinction. God causes the sun to rise and set and provides rain and food to the world, but specifically cares for His people. Even though the world around is having “fun”, if you are a Christian, you are in a safer place and you are in a more satisfying place than them.
- The “godly”/faithful/true believer. David is the covenant king, but we are the covenant people.
- “For Himself.” This is so precious. Not just set apart, but set apart for Himself, to know Him, to be with Him.
- “The Lord hears when I call”(v3b). David’s declaration to his enemies is an encouragement to himself. He has moved from “answer me” to “the Lord hears.”
In summary, if you are a child of God you already have the greatest thing of all and you don’t need to fear the opinions or opposition of the world.
III) Search hearts and seek God (v4-5)
It is not clear, in these two verses, if David is continuing to challenge his opponents, or counselling his supporters who are angry with the attacks on him. The important thing for us is to receive this counsel.
There are some differences of opinion as to how the beginning of verse 4 should be translated. The ESV has “angry”, which comes from the Greek translation of the OT (and is how the verse is quoted in Ephesians 4:26). But the word can also mean “tremble,” which is how it is translated in the NIV.
I don’t think these different translations should trouble us because the issue is how we respond to trouble. It says: “do not sin.” Anger, agitation of any kind, can lead us to rash and sinful things. But instead of reacting, the counsel is “ponder in your own hearts.” Reflect and search your own hearts; seek God so that you don’t react in anger, act in haste and then regret what you have done.
“Be silent” – As we reflect and search our own hearts, and reflect on who God is and His promises and person, we can find plenty of things in our own lives that we need to confess to the Lord, rather than reacting negatively to others. It’s like the speck in my brother’s eye and the plank in my own.
That kind of response leads naturally into the next verse. v5: Offer right sacrifices (or sacrifices in righteousness). You need to get right with God. We have the sacrifice of Christ. It is a righteous sacrifice that has made the believer right with God. So, if we search our own hearts, rather than reacting negatively, and see our sin, this brings us to the foot of the cross.
Trouble and feeling hemmed in and surrounded can lead to anger, agitation, frustration, which affects our reactions. But, if we were to stop and reflect and go to the Lord, and confess our own sin, and only then respond, we would avoid much heartache and damaged relationships.
IV) Satisfaction (v6-7)
The people in these verses are filled with despair. Everything is bad. This is so up to date – this is how many people feel today with lives turned upside down by coronavirus. They are dissatisfied – everything that is good has disappeared and it seems like there is no hope.
David’s answer is the Lord: “Lift up the light of your face upon us.” This is part of the Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6:24-26. This is what we need – the tangible presence of God Himself; we need to realise His goodness in Himself and this overflows into the true satisfaction in verse 7:
- “You have put…” This comes from the Lord Himself.
- “…more joy… than” a bountiful harvest. David’s joy is not based upon the outside things but on what the Lord’s nearness to him. This is secure ground on which to stand. Romans 15:13.
V) Sleep (v8)
Just like Psalm 3, the result of the security and satisfaction is peace that enables him to sleep. “In peace” – he has rest in his soul. He is confident in God and has peace with Him. And so David can rest. At the end of each day, he can lie down in safety. He is not dependent on outward security or other things (“you alone” make me dwell in safety).
Nicholas Ridley was one of the English reformers executed by Queen Mary. The night before his death, his brother offered to stay with him. Ridley quoted this verse. He was about to die and yet he could still have a good sleep because He trusted the Lord and he was ready for glory.
In fact, when we know the Lord as our righteousness, we can not only lie down to sleep in peace but, when that final time comes, when we lie down for the last time and close our eyes in this life, we can lie down in peace, and we will dwell in safety.
This was Luther’s prayer as he knew his death was coming. He asked for this psalm to be sung as he was dying. This is the confidence of every true believer. Is this your confidence?
If you know Him, you can lie down and sleep, to wake up tomorrow, or to wake up in glory.
If our security and satisfaction are in Him, then we can face, not only death, but every other thing.
- We can face pressure
- We can face the accusations of others
- We are not bound by what others think of us.
- We are able to wait and seek Him and not react in anger or fear.
- We are satisfied with Him and have our joy in Him.
Let’s get our foundations right: He is the God of our righteousness, He is the God who answers, He is the God of grace, He is the God who hears. He is the God who makes His face to shine upon us. He is the God who goes with you into this week wherever you are, whatever will happen. This is your God.