What Good are the Questions?

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Psalm 4 For the choir director; on stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.

(Verse 1—David is talking to the Lord.) Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have relieved me in my distress; be gracious to me and hear my prayer.

(Verses 2-3—David is talking to his enemies.) O sons of men, how long will my honor become a reproach? How long will you love what is worthless and aim at deception? Selah. But know that the LORD has set apart the godly man for Himself; The LORD hears when I call to Him.

(Verses 4-5—Who is David talking to who???) Tremble, and do not sin; meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, And trust in the LORD.

(Verses 6-8—David talking to the Lord.) Many are saying, “Who will show us any good?” Lift up the light of Your countenance upon us, O LORD! You have put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and new wine abound. In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety.

The admonition in verses 4 and 5 of Psalm 4 present an interesting dilemma. They could be spoken from the Lord to David (i.e. the godly man), or from David to those who are with him, or even from David to his enemies (as many commentaries suggest)—so how are we to know who is being spoken to?

Sometimes things are not completely clear when we study. So what should we do?

Well, continuing to study the text at hand is always a win/win situation. You will definitely learn more about the passage you are studying and just might possibly find the answer to your problematic question, as well.

After careful, methodical observation of the passage in question, cross-references would be a logical next step. You may, or may not, find the answer, but again, it’s a win/win endeavor. In this case, Ephesians 4:26 comes to mind. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger…

In this passage however, Paul is talking to Christians about their responsibility to speak broad, complete, true doctrine to other believers whenever they speak falsely concerning doctrine, which is part of putting on the “new man” in Christ, and actually gives them a command to be angry (orge), to have an abiding hatred of unrighteousness with appropriate actions. Inappropriate actions would constitute sin, which is why he warns them not to sin.

He continues and says to not let the sun go down on their anger, which is a different word (parorgismos) and is an excited provocation to anger, indignation, and wrath—it manifests itself in bitterness and irritation. Way too many people naively meld these imperatives together and believe Paul is simply talking about making up with people before you go to sleep at night.

In fact, Paul is telling the church to not have “parorgismos anger” while commanding them to have “orge anger”. He tells them that if they have the wrong type of anger when they speak truth to other believers it will give the devil an opportunity topos (a place from which to operate). But take note of this: Paul warns that if they do not have orge anger it will also give the devil an opportunity! They are commanded to have orge anger!

Well, Paul’s exhortation is not exactly the same as David’s situation and this particular cross-reference does not really help us find the answer to our specific dilemma. (Although, as usual, searching the Scriptures for an answer has yielded an opportunity for our faith to increase by believing what God has said!)

Here are some other cross-references that do apply to the admonition in Psalm 4:4-5. It is always a good idea to ask God to open your eyes to behold wonderful things from His Word when you are reading or studying it. I am not going to point out the answer in each passage. Instead, I urge you to underline the parts of each passage below that relate to our question in Psalm 4:4-5 in order to help you to see for yourself how Scripture is interpreting Scripture.

Joshua 1:8 This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.

Psalm 2:11 Worship the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling.

Psalm 3:2-4 Many are saying of my soul, “There is no deliverance for him in God.” Selah. But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the One who lifts my head. I was crying to the Lord with my voice, and He answered me from His holy mountain. Selah.

Psalm 63:6 When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches…

Psalm 51:15-19 O Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Your praise. For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. By Your favor do good to Zion; build the walls of Jerusalem. Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices, in burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then young bulls will be offered on Your altar.

Psalm 84:11-12 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord gives grace and glory; no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, how blessed is the man who trusts in You!

Isaiah 26:3-4 The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for in God the Lord, we have an everlasting Rock.

Malachi 3:3 He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness.

1 Peter 4:19 Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.

Doing a word study might also help in some cases. Let’s try it here.

The Hebrew word for tremble is ragaz and means to tremble, be agitated, quiver, quake, be excited or perturbed.

The Hebrew word for sin is chata and means to miss or go wrong.

The Hebrew word for meditate is amar and means to say or utter.

The Hebrew word for be still is damam and means to be or grow dumb, silent, or still.

The Hebrew word Selah means to lift up or exalt, make light of, or toss aside.

The Hebrew word for sacrifice is zevach and means sacrifice, slaughter, offer.

The Hebrew word for righteousness is tzedec and means to be just, rightness.

The Hebrew word for trust is batach and means to trust or rely.

The Hebrew word for Lord is YHWH and is the proper name of the God of Israel.

Try taking the meaning of these words back to the text and insert them as you read it aloud.  Do any of these word meanings help to determine who is speaking or who is being spoken to?

One more step we can take is to look at various commentaries. Sometimes an author will present us with an idea that we had not previously considered ourselves. In this case, most commentaries (but not all) teach that David is speaking to his enemies in Psalm 4:4-5.

In almost every situation where I find the bulk of scholars in agreement with one another, I can see their point, and usually already agree with the majority. However, this time, I question the supposition. Why? Context. It doesn’t give me a reason that allows me to go that route over what seems much more obvious.

Context is always the most important interpreter of any passage. Cross-references and word studies can only colorize the drawing that is already sketched out for us in the passage—they can never change the main and plain meaning of the text itself.

In this case, the text leaves us without a clear direction, but several options. The cross-references and word studies do not give us any further clarity so we must rest on the context alone. What is the context? One thing, but two parts: David calls on God in his distress because of the reproach of deceptive men against him, and God answers him.

Because of the flow of the context of the Psalm, itself, I do not find the most logical answer to be that David is calling his enemies to repentance—it just doesn’t fit well. David is in distress and calling on God to be gracious to him. When he does talk to the sons of men who are against him, it is to speak persuaded truth about his God and his confidence in Him. There is no reason to believe that David is worried about them at this point. He has one directive—and that is to obtain relief from His God.

David calls for God to answer in the very first line of the Psalm—obviously the most important thing to him. And he declares to his adversaries that God answers him when he calls to Him—in the very line preceding the verses in doubt. They can be seen as God’s answer to David’s call—the very thing David is after. And what an answer it is! Such advice is undeniable as to its helpfulness in a situation such as David’s.

God tells David to tremble (be agitated, quiver, quake, be excited or perturbed) with anger or fear but to not sin (miss righteousness or do something wrong). David is told the meditate in his heart (to say the truth about God and His protection) and be still (grow dumb, silent, or still). David is to speak the truth and then stop listening to his fears (lies). In other words, he is to put his mind (heart) on God and His ways—and then put his mouth where his heart is.

David takes a “selah” or pause, and lifts himself up by exalting God and making light of his own problems and sort of tossing them aside (not to say his problems weren’t real—they were, but in the light of God they would necessarily pale in comparison).

God directs David to offer sacrifices of righteousness—“slaughter” the idea of not trusting in God because of his circumstance, and instead, offer just, rightness in the form of faith and trust—by relying on the Lord (the One, True, Living God—the God of Israel) instead of his own impotent power to change it.

I am not saying that I know for certain my interpretation above is the answer to this dilemma, but I hope you can see the need for reasoning through the Scriptures for yourself in order to learn truth for yourself. Don’t just take someone else’s word for it (and that includes mine) but instead, dig as deeply as you can into the Bible for yourself, and most importantly—ask God to open your eyes to behold wonderful things from His Word… Then listen to His answer—not in your mind—but in His Word.

If we never figure out who is being spoken to for sure, we can still know with certainty that this set of admonitions is valid, and profitable to each of the groups in question. And we can know without a doubt it is an admonition to which we would do well to adhere.

Even the very process of Bible study can result in our own sanctification… And our sanctification will always result in His Glory being seen… And that, my friends, is a very good thing!

© Sharon Jensen 1999-2017