Psalm Study: Psalm 4

Dear Reader,

Our psalm for this past week was Psalm 4. (For an introduction to how we study the psalms see this post. For an earlier post on Psalm 4 see here.)

The text for this psalm is:

In my crying, answer me, God of my righteousness.

In distress You made a wide place for me; be gracious to me and hear my prayer.

Sons of man, how long [will you turn] my glory to shame?

You love vanity; you seek a lie.

But know that the LORD has separated the godly for Himself;

The LORD will hear my crying unto Him.

Tremble but do not sin; speak in your heart upon your bed and be silent.

Sacrifice sacrifices of righteousness and trust the LORD.

Many say “Who will show us good?”; Lift over us the light of Your face, LORD.

You give joy in my heart, more than when corn and new wine increase.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep for You, LORD, alone make me dwell in safety.

A few notes before we begin:

– “God of my righteousness” in the first line could also be “my righteous God.”

-Words in brackets are not in the Hebrew but are necessary for it to make sense in English.

-“LORD” tranlsates the divine name revealed to Moses.

There are a lot of similarities between this psalm and the one we did last week, Psalm 3. In both the psalmist is in distress and is crying out to God. Also in both, there is a movement through the psalm from a place of distress to a more confident, secure mindset.

One thing the kids noticed right off is the many occurrences of “LORD.” As in Psalm 3, this is God’s personal name and shows that the psalmist is relying upon his personal relationship with God. There are many ways God can be addressed or named in the Old Testament. In a military context, for example, He may be called “LORD of hosts.” The use of just “LORD” here calls to mind the covenant relationship He has with His people.

The first two lines are parallel. “In my crying” parallels “in distress” and “answer me” corresponds to “be gracious to me” and “hear my prayer.” One of the children (I forget which) pointed out that “my crying” occurs again midway through the psalm.  At this point we have a more confident statement. It is not “hear me” but “the LORD will hear my crying unto Him.”

My older daughter made a connection between “in distress” at the beginning of the second line and “in peace” at the beginning of the last line. By the end of the psalm, there has been a complete reversal, not in the psalmist’s circumstances but in his perception of them. He no longer feels “in distress” but is now at peace and is able to sleep and feel safe. What has changed? There is no indication that the enemies have been defeated but there is now hope and confidence in the Lord.

We used this psalm to talk about how we should operate in tough circumstances. The first two lines are crying out to God. The third and fourth talk about what the enemies are up to. But then the psalmist moves on. He talks to himself and remembers how God has chosen a people for Himself and that He will hear them (the fifth and sixth lines). In the seventh and eighth lines, he gives himself advice– though you may be shaking all over with anger or frustration, don’t give in to sin. To speak in one’s heart is to think (biblical Hebrew has no word for think).   He quiets himself on his bed before God. Though at this point, he is not yet able to sleep as he will be at the end of the psalm. And then he returns to worshipping and trusting God.

Thus we see a movement  through the psalm, from crying and distress to a point where the psalmist is able to say God hears my crying and finally to  a more complete resolution where he is no longer in distress but finds peace though his outward circumstances may not have changed. It’s a great psalm for anyone who is lying awake at night tossing and turning over their troubles.

Nebby

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