Jean’s Gospel: Psalm 4: Give Us Hope – Part 1
In times of distress (i.e., trouble, affliction, adversity) of any kind, in whom do we trust? Psalm 4 teaches us to trust in God when things go wrong.1 Psalms of instruction, Luther writes:
“teach us what we should do and what we should avoid, in accordance with the Law of God. This class includes all the psalms that condemn human doctrines and praise the Word of God.”2
In the face of distress, faith in Christ both: trusts – “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent” (v. 4); and receives – “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (v. 7). Faith crucifies the flesh and obtains inner peace and joy in the promises of God, none of which the world acknowledges.
Therefore, the ungodly (i.e., those without faith) mock God’s Word and the godly in both words and deeds. To the world and our flesh, faith is weak, foolish and risky. Whereas, faith clings to the Word of God against all contrary appearances, counsels of men and our own human passions.
“To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.
1 Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!”
David prays to God “of my righteousness!” Men may mock and judge David, but as Paul also taught: “with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.” (1 Cor 4:3) The godly do not contend for righteousness from men, but commit their affliction to God who judges righteously, as Peter wrote concerning Christ: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Pet 2:23) David will take for justice that which God shall adjudge, knowing nothing of any righteousness of our own, but knowing God only and His holy will.
David does not pass over his own sin, lest he leave the log in his own eye while going after the speck in his brother’s eye (see Matt 7:3-4). Like all men, David too was conceived in sin (Ps 51:5). Therefore, David needs the grace and mercy of God to pray and be heard: “Be gracious to [KJV: “have mercy upon”] me and hear my prayer!”
“2 O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah
3 But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.”
David’s honor and reputation are tied to his faith in Lord. David rebukes his adversaries for mocking and dishonoring him and by extension his trust in God. David does not name names or events. Therefore, this psalm has a timeless application. However, Joab was a man in David’s life who fits the pattern of this psalm. It was Joab who dishonored David and took justice into his own hands in the murders of Abner (2 Sam 3:30) and Absalom (2 Sam18:14).
Without faith, David’s adversaries had sought in men that which they should have sought in God: “How long will you love vain [worthless, empty, false] words and seek after lies.” Paul also wrote of men like these: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” (Rom 1:22-23)
It is easy to feign faith in God when we are at peace with our neighbors, healthy and prosperous. But when tested or tempted, will we trust in the Lord, who says: “I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Is 46:4); and “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Rom 12:19)? Or will we draw back from God and give our hearts over to vain words and seek after lies?
True vanity is being ignorant of or rejecting the cross and grace and seeking salvation and help, not in God, but in something or someone else; for man can find neither salvation nor any other good in anything but in God. If a man be without faith in Christ, then he is without the Word of God; and if he is without the Word of God, then he is without the truth. Thus all things are vain and lies which are without faith; for faith is truth on account of the Word of truth in which it believes and to which it clings.
Christians also hope, trust, desire, fear, love, and hate, more or less, in a way and manner that we ought not. But faith strives against the flesh and teaches us to hate these vanities and not to love or take pleasure in them. To use the comfort and help of men or human institutions is not sin nor wrong; but to love them and rest in them alone, and from a love of them, not to trust in God, is a sin of ungodliness.
Each generation must wrestle with these issues: Is salvation from man or God? Will the church be a faithful bride, or will she give her heart to vanity and seek after lies? If Christians boast in their relationship with God, but dishonor Him by loving vain things and seeking after lies, is not the glory of God turned into shame and His praise into blasphemy?
David asks his adversaries “How long….?” He pities their perilous neglect of their salvation. God is long-suffering, and this psalm admonishes the ungodly to repent of their sin and turn to God.
“But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.”
Unlike the unbelievers who dishonor David for his trust in the Lord, groping after vanities and seeking after lies, faith in the Lord sees things the way they really are: “the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.
The “godly” are the people who through faith have obtained mercy and have been justified by grace: “Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity” (Ps 32:2). It is God who, through His Word, calls the ungodly out of darkness and shines the light of the Gospel of His Son upon us. Concerning Christ, David said: “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken” (Acts 2:25).
Unbelievers have minds conformed to the world. Whereas, the Lord sets apart (or transforms) the godly for himself by the renewal of their minds, “that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2) This setting apart is the Spirit’s work in us. Through the Word of God, the Spirit crucifies our human passions and opinions, drives us to prayer, renews our minds to conform to God’s will, and comforts us in our affliction.
The Lord will not forsake the work of his hands. Therefore, He will defend the godly and hear their prayers. As it is written: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” (1 John 5:14) Amen.
Thank you for reading. Next week, we will pick up Psalm 4 at verse 4. Amen.
1 Concordia Publishing House. Reading the Psalms with Luther. 2007. Print. p. 20.
2 Ibid., p. 14.