Psalm 4 is not a simple song to read and follow the train of thought.
Two commentaries I read interpreted the psalm in completely different ways. The first focused on v7 and concluded that a severe drought, possibly connected to idol worship from v2, was the context of the psalm. As a result he primarily applied the psalm to our lives by warning against using contemporary idols to distract us from trusting God.
I followed the second interpretation views the psalm as an evening benediction that I’ll describe below. I don’t really have the expertise to decide between the interpretations of these two scholars, but I found this second reading plausible and more applicable to my life, and hopefully yours.
The psalmist breaks the song into 4 sections, each bookended by a similar thought/topic.
|1. The Lord answers prayer||v1 Answer me…||v3 …the Lord hears.|
|2. Trust in the Lord||v4 Tremble…||v5 …trust in the Lord|
|3. Prayer of confidence||v6 Prosperity…?||v7 …abound!|
|4. Sleep well|
The psalmist begins (v1-3) by laying his situation out before God. We don’t get a lot of details but we understand that there’s conflict. I think many of us will resonate with the psalmist’s situation. He gets to the end of a day. It’s been a rough day. There’s been some conflict and he feels disrespected and even like his reputation has been muddied. Lies have been told. He comes home frazzled.
A key phrase occurs at the end of v2. The Hebrew words can be translated as either “seek false gods” or “seek lies”. In one sense false gods are lies, so they can both be correct. However, if we read this verse as the psalmist defending himself, it seems to fit better that he’s offended by lies being told against him.
Each section concludes with a statement of confidence, and verse three closes with the psalmist reminding himself, and his oppressors, “The Lord hears when I call to him.” we all need that reminder at times, don’t we? This is why many people use prayer journals in their devotional lives. They allow the opportunity to go back and look at past prayers and remind themselves that God still hears when we call to him.
Verse 4 begins the second section with a in dramatic fashion with a single word directed at his tormentors, “Tremble”. The psalmist doesn’t provide a reason to tremble. He may have fear in mind, but I suspect that his motive is anger. This meaning was adopted by the Septuagint (an important translation of the Old Testament into Greek) and quoted in Ephesians 4:2, “In your anger do not sin.”
The psalmist advises his opponents to contain their anger and malice. They should examine their hearts and be silent. But stopping their bad behaviour isn’t enough. They need to get right with God, so the author advises them to offer sacrifices, to worship, and to trust God. Again this last line has relevance not only for the troublemakers, but also for the psalmist. To gain a healthy perspective on this situation and life as a whole, worship and trust God.
The third section opens in v6 with a question, a doubt, maybe even an accusation against Yahweh. “Where will good things in life come from?” Having expressed that doubt the psalmist immediately answers his own question by quoting from Aaron’s blessing in Numbers 6:24-27. This blessing that he’d no doubt heard many times before points him to God as the provider of all good things. “May the light of your face shine on us.” The greatest joy for which he prays is not that of a harvest, of food or drink, but an awareness of the light of God’s face shining upon him.
Having completed this process of moving his thoughts from dwelling on the turmoil of the day to dwelling on the blessings of God, the psalm concludes,
“In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety.”
Regardless of what life throws at us, may we each sleep in peace, confident of God’s protection and that the light of His face shines upon us.