Morning Pages: Psalm 4
This is a psalm of lament. David is in a place of need and calling on Yahweh for help. This psalm doesn’t feel as linear or easy to follow as some. In some verses, David is talking to the Lord; in some verses, he appears to be addressing others; in some, I’m unclear who he’s talking to. It makes it somewhat challenging to get the overall context of the psalm. But the theme is similar. David is suffering in some way, and he turns to Yahweh.
Vs. 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’s boldness with the Lord and the way he calls on God to answer him amazes me. Scripture says perfect love casts out fear, but I still have a fear of the Lord that makes this kind of boldness feel dangerous and arrogant. I’m clear that Yahweh is holy, righteous, just, and mighty. All of that makes him worthy of my worship but not necessarily approachable, at least not in the way David is comfortable doing.
I've been learning about attachment styles—the bonds we form with our caregivers as young children. A child who experiences comfort in relationship with their caregiver, where the caregiver is reliable and provides a sense of stability, security, and care, will develop a secure attachment to their caregiver. And the way David addresses Yahweh in this (and many other psalms) has to come from secure attachment. He has experienced security and care in his relationship with the Lord.
David’s knowledge of God wasn’t flat or lopsided. His psalms show that he was clear on the Lord's holiness and power. But he was also secure and confident in God’s love, mercy, and compassion. David trusted Yahweh as the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God of his ancestors. But he’d also logged hours in a relationship with the Lord and had come to know his love personally. Because David knew Yahweh was both approachable and powerful, he could confidently and boldly appeal to him for help.
In the second part of this verse, David says that the Lord gave him relief when he was in distress. There’s an interesting wordplay here in this verse. The word translated as “distress” means narrow or tight. And the word translated as “relief” means grow wide or large. I love the juxtaposition of the two words. I’m not claustrophobic, but I have claustrophobic tendencies, and David’s word picture here reminds me of going to a Clemson football game. Hundreds of people push their way through the narrow tunnel from concessions into the stadium at game time. I’m short; most people tower over me, and I can’t see. I can’t move more than a couple of inches at a time. I’m hemmed in. If I allow my mind to ponder on it for too long, I start to panic. When I finally emerge from the tunnel into the vast open space of the stadium, I feel immediate relief—like I can breathe again. I've been in those tight spiritual places, too, feeling like the walls are closing in on me, and I can’t catch my breath. I struggled with clinical depression for two years before finally going on medicine. I felt crushed under the weight of it all. When I finally emerged from the depression, it was as if I'd emerged into a vast open space where I could feel the breeze on my face and new breath filling my lungs. David was in a tight place, and Yahweh placed him somewhere expansive and roomy.
Vs. 2-3 “O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.”
I don’t exactly know what’s going on in these verses. David appears to lament the brokenness of humanity around him and its impact on him. His honor has somehow been turned into shame. Shame can be objective (an external fact) and subjective (an internal experience or feeling). Ed Welch of CCEF says we feel an inner sense of shame over something we’ve done or failed to do, something that’s been done to us, or from being associated with something shameful. I can feel like I’m too much or not enough without someone saying so. This is subjective shame. It’s not always based on reality or fact.
But in this instance, the shame David is experiencing seems to be more objective. David says that those around him love worthlessness and seek what is false, so perhaps others were speaking lies about him and disgracing his name or reputation. Maybe they were casting doubt on his integrity or his ability to lead. Whatever the case, something is happening to David, bringing him dishonor and reproach.
But he doesn’t appear to feel this shame internally. Instead, he is firmly rooted in the truth. In verse one, he declares that God is his righteousness—his identity, reputation, deliverance, and vindication. And in verse three, he says the Lord sets the godly apart for himself and that Yahweh hears and responds to his calls. So whatever shame is brought on David, he rejects it and holds firm to the truth. He belongs to Yahweh, and Yahweh will take care of him.
He moves on to say,
Vs. 4 “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.”
I don’t know if David is preaching to himself here or if he is still addressing others. Regardless, there’s solid truth in these verses.
Due to childhood experiences and my own inaccurate thinking, I’ve struggled all my life to believe anger is an acceptable emotion. But Scripture doesn’t say, “do not be angry.” It says, “Be angry…but in your anger, don’t sin….” Instead, ponder and “be silent," implying that anger can lead us to sin with our speech.
I recently heard a speaker reference Donald Miller’s book Hero on a Mission. In the book, Miller says there are four main characters in every story: the victim, the villain, the hero, and the guide. At some point in our lives, we’ve all been one of these characters. A danger for all of us is that we can turn into the villain when we do not address and heal from the wounds we’ve experienced. This is the crux of what David seems to be saying here. Anger is an appropriate response to evil, injustice, sin, selfishness, abuse, and atrocities committed against humans created in God’s image. But it’s a razor's edge between righteous anger and self-righteousness, victim and villain. I move from victim to villain when I take my hurt and hurt in return. A venting session can easily kindle a tiny spark and turn it into a raging inferno. And honestly, sometimes, it just feels good. I’m not always consciously aware of what I'm doing at the moment; I’m just “venting.” But when I walk away, I recognize the payoff. It feeds something unhealthy in me. My mouth gets ahead of me and reveals unhealed wounds. Sometimes, they haven’t yet healed because they’re current and ongoing. Sometimes it’s because they’re early in the healing process, and it doesn’t take much to re-open them. But other times, I’ve not yielded them to God and entrusted myself to his care. This, I think, is what leads David to say in verse five,
Vs. 5 “Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.”
Some of the best life lessons I’ve ever learned came through 12-step recovery programs and those traveling the road to recovery alongside me. To put David’s words in their terms, “Do the next right thing and leave the results to God.” These are wise words to heed when faced with any injustice or trial. The ends do not justify the means. Do what’s right and trust God.
Vs. 6-7 “There are many who say, ‘Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!’ You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.”
I don’t know what’s going on here. David is using some rhetorical form of speech to communicate his point, but the total weight of it is lost on me. Perhaps the “many” mentioned here have sought out Yahweh for what he can give them, while David finds joy and delight in Yahweh for who he is.
Vs. 8 “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”
This is the linchpin for this psalm and many of David’s psalms. Despite real suffering and hardship, he is utterly dependent on and confident in Yahweh. It would be easy to assume David is some super saint, but he’s another human being created in God’s image and subject to the flesh just like we are. I can’t believe that faith came easy to him; it was hard won. He nurtured and tended it like a garden, which is evident in many of his psalms. We constantly see David wrestling with himself, his faith, his circumstances, and God. He never applies a pithy spiritual cliche to his situations. His honesty is raw and unsanitized. But, at least in this situation, he has relinquished control over his circumstance and entrusted them to Yahweh. And the outworking of that is peace and sleep.
Until next week,