Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The occasion of this Psalm has already been discussed in the introduction to Psalms 3. Some days at least have elapsed. The immediate personal peril is past. Reflection has deepened David’s consciousness of his own integrity, and his sense of the rebels’ guilt. The Psalm breathes a spirit of righteous indignation, which rises completely above mere personal vindictiveness.
Its structure, if the indications afforded by the Selah at the end of Psalm 4:2 and Psalm 4:4 are to be followed, is similar to that of its companion Psalm.
i. Appeal to God, and remonstrance with the rebels, Psalm 4:1-2.
ii. The true character of the rebellion exposed, Psalm 4:3-4.
iii. The better way indicated, Psalm 4:5-6.
iv. The supreme joy of perfect trust, Psalm 4:7-8.
Most commentators however divide the Psalm thus: i. Appeal to God, Psalm 4:1; ii. Remonstrance with enemies, Psalm 4:2-5; iii. The superiority of God-given joy to all earthly grounds of rejoicing, Psalm 4:6-8. This division however neglects the Selah, which serves to emphasise the important thought of Psalm 4:3, and after Psalm 4:4 prepares the way for repentance following on reflection: it ignores the parallelism of structure with Psalms 3, and though at first sight attractive, fails to bring out the true connexion and sequence of the thoughts.
The title should be rendered as in R.V., For the Chief Musician; on stringed instruments. See Introd. pp. xxi f., xxiv.
To the chief Musician on Neginoth, A Psalm of David. Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.1. Hear me &c.] When I call, answer me. Cp. Psalm 4:3 and Psalm 3:4. The LXX and Vulg. represent a different vocalisation and render, “when I called, the God of my righteousness answered me.” This reading agrees well with the second clause of the verse, but on the whole the rhythm of the sentence is in favour of the Massoretic text.
O God of my righteousness] David is confident of the integrity of his heart and the justice of his cause. To God alone he looks to help him to his right, and vindicate his righteousness openly in the sight of men by making that cause triumphant. Cp. Psalm 7:8 ff.; 1 Kings 8:32.
thou hast enlarged me] R.V., Thou hast set me at large. But the words are perhaps best taken as a relative clause, thou who hast set me at large; giving a second reason for his appeal to God in the experience of past deliverances, possibly with particular reference to the events of the last few days. This natural figure for liberation from distress may be derived from the idea of an army which has been hemmed in by enemies in some narrow pass escaping into the open plain, Cp. 1 Samuel 23:16 for an illustration.
Have mercy upon me] Rather, as marg., be gracious unto me. The word suggests the free bestowal of favour rather than the exercise of forgiving clemency. It is connected with the word rendered ‘gracious’ in the fundamental passage Exodus 34:6. Cp. Psalm 86:15.
1, 2. An appeal to God, and an expostulation with men.
O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? Selah.2. O ye sons of men] From appealing to God he turns to remonstrate with the rebels, and singles out the leaders from the general mass. The phrase used is bnç îsh, which in Psalm 49:2 is rendered ‘high,’ and in Psalm 62:9, ‘men of high degree,’ in opposition to bnç âdâm, rendered ‘low’ and ‘men of low degree.’ At the same time by calling them ‘sons of men’ he contrasts them with God, the defender of his cause.
my glory] There is no need to inquire whether David’s personal honour or his royal dignity is meant. Both are included, for both were defamed and insulted. But it was an aggravation of the rebels’ offence that the king had a special ‘glory’ as the representative of Jehovah. Cp. Psalm 3:3, note.
vanity … leasing] The rebellion is a vain thing, destined to end in failure, like the threatened uprising of the nations (Psalm 2:1): it is a lie, for it is based on the false principle of personal ambition setting itself up against the divinely appointed king. Cp. Isaiah 28:15; Isaiah 28:17. Another possible interpretation would refer the words to the false imputations and underhand intrigues by which Absalom and his confederates sought to tarnish David’s reputation and undermine his authority. Cp. 2 Samuel 15:2 ff. But the verbs used (love … seek) point rather to the end desired than to the means employed.
leasing] R.V. falsehood. Leasing (Psalm 5:6) is an obsolete word for a lie: from A.S. leás, empty, and so false: used by Chaucer, Spenser, and Shakespeare. Cp. Faerie Queene, 11. 11. 10:
“Slaunderous reproches, and fowle infamies,
But know that the LORD hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the LORD will hear when I call unto him.3. hath set apart] Hath distinguished. The verb combines the idea of marvellous dealing with that of choice and separation. Cp. Psalm 17:7; Psalm 139:14; Isaiah 29:14.
him that is godly] The word châsîd which is thus rendered is one of the characteristic words of the Psalter. It is derived from chesed, ‘mercy’ or ‘lovingkindness,’ and denotes either (1) one who is characterised by dutiful love to God and to his fellow men; the ‘godly,’ or ‘merciful’ man, Psalm 18:25; or (2) ‘one who is the object of Jehovah’s lovingkindness,’ as R.V. margin ‘one that He favoureth’: cp. A.V. marg., Psalm 86:2. See Appendix, Note I, for a further discussion of its meaning.
3, 4. The reason why the attempt is doomed to failure. Warning to reflect before it is too late.
Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.4. Let wholesome fear, continues David, deter you from persisting in this course of action, which is nothing less than sinful. R.V. marg. gives the rendering of the LXX, “Be ye angry,” i.e. If you must needs be angry and discontented with my government, do not be carried away by passion into open rebellion. The rendering is possible, for the word is used of the perturbation of wrath as well as of fear. But it gives a less obvious and suitable sense. The words are adopted (but not as an express quotation) by St Paul in his warning against resentment, Ephesians 4:26.
commune &c.] Lit. speak in your heart. The voice of conscience, unheeded in the turmoil and excitement of the day, or silenced by fear of men and evil example, may make itself heard in the calm solitude of the night, and convince you of the truth. Comp., though the turn of thought is different, Psalm 63:6; Psalm 149:5.
be still] Desist from your mad endeavour.
Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD.5. sacrifices of righteousness] Sacrifices offered in a right spirit, cp. Deuteronomy 33:19; Psalm 51:19. The rebels are still addressed. The sacrifices with which they pretended to hallow their cause (2 Samuel 15:12) were a wretched hypocrisy, inasmuch as they were acting in opposition to the will of God. Let them approach Him in a right spirit, and instead of impatiently trying to remedy evils by revolution, rely entirely upon His guidance.
5, 6. After an interval for reflection indicated by the interlude (Selah) David points the malcontents among the people to the true source of prosperity.
There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? LORD, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.6. David knows well that there are plenty of discontented grumblers among his subjects, ready to follow anyone who makes them fair promises. His answer to them is a prayer for a blessing upon himself and his people (us), which recalls the great Aaronic benediction of Numbers 6:24-26, fusing into one the two petitions, “The Lord make His face to shine upon thee,” “the Lord lift up His countenance upon thee.” Cp. Psalm 31:16; Psalm 80:3; Psalm 80:7; Psalm 80:19.
The ‘many’, as in Psalm 3:2, are chiefly the wavering mass of the people, who had not yet taken a side; but some at least of Absalom’s partisans, and some of David’s half-hearted followers are included.
Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.7. more than &c.] Lit. more than (the joy of) the time of their corn and wine when they were increased: i.e. more than their rejoicings for harvest and vintage even when they were most abundant: well expressed in R.V., more than they have when their corn and their wine are increased. The persons referred to may be either the malcontents, or men in general. The boisterous mirth of harvest and vintage rejoicings (Isaiah 9:3; Jeremiah 48:33) is the highest form of joy which they know whose desires are limited to earthly things; but deeper far is that inward joy which is the gift of God, for it is one of the fruits of the Spirit, Galatians 5:11; cp. Romans 14:17.
The words gain fresh point when it is remembered that David was reduced to straits for the bare necessaries of life till he reached his hospitable friends at Mahanaim (2 Samuel 17:27-29).
7, 8. A joy and peace which are independent of outward circumstances.
I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety.8. In peace will I lay me down and sleep at once: no fears or anxieties delaying slumber. In Psalm 3:5 he recorded his experience: here he gives expression to the trust which sprang from it.
for thou Lord, only] For it is thou, Lord, alone, who &c. This exquisite expression of absolute confidence, the rhythm of which in the original is as reposeful as the thought, gives an excellent sense in connexion with the context. ‘Many’ had declared that he was abandoned by God as well as man (Psalm 3:2), but in unshaken faith he claims Jehovah as his sole protector, beside whom he needs no other.
But the word rendered ‘alone’ elsewhere means apart, when joined with verbs denoting dwelling. Thus it is used of Israel, isolated and separate from the nations, in Numbers 23:9; and in Deuteronomy 33:28; Jeremiah 49:31, it is combined with the word here rendered ‘in safety’. So probably the meaning is, ‘It is Thou, Lord, who makest me dwell apart in safety:’ isolated from my foes in Thy safe keeping. Hence R.V. marg. gives, in solitude.