Praying the Psalms: Psalm 4

The Psalms are not just songs, but prayers. By studying the Psalms we can learn how to better pray and engage in communion with God. Each Thursday I’ll be posting a commentary and prayer guide for the Psalms to help us learn and practice prayer. The Christian prays both with serious concern yet unshakeable confidence. We pray with serious concern, because there are often dire circumstances that we face. Yet, we pray in confidence because we know there is a God who is gracious and hears the prayers of his people. Prayer also does something to us. When we are uncertain and uneasy about life’s lot and when we get on our knees before the presence of God, we are moved by God from the posture of hesitant anxiety to joyful confidence. We will see all these things come to play as we look at another Psalm of David, Psalm 4.

Commentary

v. 1 - The psalmist begins his call to God for prayer. He prays in his own distress and desperation. He summons the Lord, “Answer me when I call”. David here is not doubting that God will hear him, nor is he demanding that God listen to him. Rather, he comes reminding himself of God’s ability to answer. God is his righteousness. He has answered before. David begins not in so much summoning God to answer his prayers, but rather reminding himself of God’s ability to answer prayer. David even recalls a past time when God had relieved him of distress.

Even the most mature Christian must remind himself of God’s faithfulness, lest we forget. When we come to prayer we must always remind ourselves that we are not speaking to an empty room or pouring out our soul to a wall. Rather, when we pray, it is to the sovereign living God of the universe. We are praying to a God who is there and who is very present with us. God is more than able to answer our requests. He is more than gracious to listen and hear the prayers of his people. David, reminding himself of these truths, begins his prayer in sound confidence of the prayer hearing God.

v. 2–3 - Here we get a glimpse of David’s troubles that are bringing him to prayer. He has enemies, men who slander him and attack him. They are turning his honor into shame. They are speaking lies and gossiping about him. People can be malicious and vicious. They can cut you to the throat with their words and they and then pierce you in the back as you walk away. David is distraught over the painful verbal boxing of his enemies and brings his concerns to the Lord.

David also reminds himself that the Lord sets apart the godly. Though these wicked men intend to harm David, he knows that the Lord loves him and hears him when he calls. David comes before God as one who has been set apart, knowing that God will hear his prayers. God is listening to an attentive ear to the prayers of the righteous. He is eager to hear what they have to say. God is sitting on the edge of his seat to listen to the prayers of David.

v 4–5 - When people attack us, deface our reputation, or insult us, often the first thing we want to do is seek revenge. We get angry and we want to get payback. David too felt that pressure of the need to defend himself and get payback to those harming him. We long to retaliate to those who harm us. We possess a sinful impulse to respond back to an insult with another insult or to respond with a blow with a stronger one. Yet, this impulse is sinful and David instructs us and his own heart not to sin in his anger over the situation.

Jesus himself would elaborate on this idea much greater in the sermon on the mount. Jesus would say “Do not resist the one who is evil, but if anyone slaps you on the right cheek turn to him the other also” (Mt 5:29). Jesus’ followers are to resist the urge to retaliate or escalate the offense. “Vengeance is mine” (Dt 32:35) declares the Lord. So David resists the urge to fight back in retaliation as he sits on his bed in silence, pondering the trustworthiness of the Lord to handle this situation.

There are some battles that we must simply let God deal with on his own. Rather than speaking back to his opponents, David sits on his bed in silence. Rather than opening his mouth in anger, David soothes his angry heart in the presence of God in prayer. In his anger, he is putting his trust in God.

v. 6–7 - “What about me?” Have you ever asked that question, often in self pity? I think every righteous person has asked that question to God from time to time. Will you show me good God? Will you deliver me through this? Will I receive your blessing? Everything seems so messed up. When will things turn good again? In the chaos of the painful tension with our enemies, David directs this question by calling upon the Lord to shine his face upon him.

What a glorious request this is! For the good we long for is not found in our present circumstances but it is found in the face of God. True satisfaction and longing for our restless hearts is not found in alleviating our present ailments, but by seeing the glorious splendor of God. In the midst of David’s crisis he asks for God’s face to shine on him. He longs to see the glory of the Lord of hosts.

True joy is found in God alone, so as God shows us his face, God puts joy in our heart. The depth of our joy is measured by our ability to see God. As God opens our eyes to take in more of his beauty, he puts more joy in our heart. This joy though is not some temporal or circumstantial joy, rather it is a permanent joy that transcends whatever we may be facing. Though we may be in the most desperate crises the joy God gives us does not dissipate. Rather it remains. It is a joy that is greater than when grain and wine abound.

Times of feasting and prosperity are wonderful moments of joy. A full stomach can provide wonderful happiness. Yet, the happiness is only temporary. In a few hours we will be hungry again, looking for something else to fill our stomachs. David says this sort of joy is greater than feasting, because this joy given by gazing into the face of God is a permanent joy.

How then do we gaze at the face of God? It is a question this Psalm doesn’t answer directly, but as we look at the entire Bible we see how we can receive access. Because of our sin we cannot gaze into the face of God. He is veiled and shielded. The source of our true joy is hidden because of our wickedness. Yet, the veil to God’s glory is split in two by David’s son, Jesus the son of God. As Jesus goes to the cross he pays the penalty for sin and opens a pathway for sinners to be forgiven. In his atoning work we by faith in Jesus can see the glory of the face of God. Access to true joy is found. We are granted to drink from the well of living water that lets us never thirst again. As Paul writes, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV).

The veil has been lifted. We are granted access by faith. So whatever we may face or whatever enemies may accuse, our joy is unshakeable because it is found in an unshakeable God.

v. 8 - Prayer changes us. At the start of David’s prayer he is concerned and even a bit anxious as he thinks about his slanderous enemies. By the end, he is at peace. He can lie down and sleep. In his praying, it is not so much that God changed his circumstances but that God changed David. In his concern, God has gifted David with trust. So David can lay his head down and sleep, knowing that God is in control, and that it is only in him that he dwells safely. When we find ourselves anxious and worried and when we find our satisfaction and joy in the presence of God alone, our trusting hearts can find rest in the hands of a God who more than able to keep us safe.

Prayer Guide

  • Thank God that he hears you, and that he answers prayer.
  • What concerns are you facing right now? Share them with the Lord.
  • With whom are you angry right now? Ask forgiveness for ways you have responded sinfully in your anger.
  • Ask God to show you his glory through Jesus
  • Ask God to help you find your identity and joy in Him, not in your circumstances.
  • Praise God for his power to keep us safe and ask him for help in trusting him.