Psalm 4
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
It is not difficult to be cheerful when we have everything we desire. But when life seems to be a series of catastrophes, disappointments, and vexations, buoyancy of spirit is not so easily attained. If our lives were in peril every moment through rebellion at home and plots and snares around, few of us would be found capable, under such circumstances, of writing morning and evening hymns. Yet such were the circumstances under which David wrote this psalm and the one which precedes it. Both of them belong, in all probability, to the time of Ahithophel's conspiracy, of Absalom's rebellion, when the king was a fugitive, camping out with a few of his followers. Such reverses, moreover, were none the easier to bear, when he had the reflection that because of his own sin the sword was in his house, and was piercing his own soul Yet even thus, as he had "a heart at leisure from itself to write his song of morning praise, so does he also pen his evening prayer. We picture him thus: Any moment a fatal stroke may fall on him. His adversaries prowl around. They have rich stores of provisions and of gold, while he himself has to depend for the means of subsistence on supplies brought to his camp from without. Unscrupulous rebels were in power, while David and his host were like a band of men who are dependent on begging or on plunder. But it was precisely this combination of ills that brought out some of the finest traits in his character. Even then he can take up his pen and write, "Thou hast put gladness," etc.; "I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety." Here, then, we have one of God's people, who has seen calmer days, writing in his tent and telling of a secret of peace and joy which nothing can disturb. It is a secret worth knowing. Let us ascertain what it is.

I. HERE IS AN INQUIRY PUT. "Who will show us good?" By which is meant, not so much What is good in itself? as - What will make us happy, and bring us a sense of satisfaction? Over and above our intellectual, we have emotional faculties. The emotions are to the spiritual part of us what the sensations are to the bodily part. Among the various fallacies of some wise men of this world, one of the wildest is that emotion has no place in the search after, and. in the ascertainment of, truth. It would be quite safe to reverse that, and to say that unless the emotions have their rightful play, few truths can be rightly sought or found. An equilibrium of absolute indifference concerning truth or error would be a guilty carelessness. Our craving after happiness is God's lesson to us through the emotions, that we are dependent for satisfaction on something outside us; and when such satisfaction is actually reached, it is so far the sign that the higher life is being healthfully sustained. Our nature is too complex to be satisfied with supply in any one department. Our intellectual nature craves the true. Our moral nature craves the right. Our sympathetic nature calls for love. Our conscious weakness and dependence call for strength from another. Our powers of action demand a sphere of service which shall neither corrupt nor exhaust. Our spiritual nature cries out for God, life, and immortality. Who can show us "good" that will meet all these wants? Such is the inquiry.

II. THERE ARE THOSE WHO KNOW HOW TO ANSWER THE INQUIRY. (Ver. 7, "Thou hast put gladness in my heart," etc.) The psalmist shows us:

1. The source of his joy. God - God himself. How often do the psalmists luxuriate in telling what God was to them - Rock, Shield, Sun, High Tower, Fortress, Refuge, Strength, Salvation, their Exceeding Joy! Much more is this the case now we know God in Christ. In him we have revealed to us through the Spirit nobler heights, deeper depths, larger embraces, and mightier triumphs of divinely revealed love than Old Testament saints could possibly conceive.

2. One excellent feature of this joy is the sense of security it brings with it in the most perilous surroundings (see last verse). (Let the Hebrew student closely examine this verse. He will gain thereby precious glimpses of a meaning deeper than any bare translation can give.) The psalmist discloses and suggests further:

3. The quality and degree of the joy. " More than... when their corn and their wine increaseth."

(1) The gladness is of a far higher quality. A filial son's joy in the best of fathers is vastly superior to the delight a child has in his toys. So joy in God himself for what he is, is infinitely higher than delight in what he gives.

(2) It is a gladness of greater zest. No joy in worldly things that a carnal man ever reached can approximate to the believer's joy in God. It is a joy "unspeakable, and full of glory."

(3) It is a gladness remarkable for its persistency. The worldling's joy is for the bright days of life. Joy in God is for every day, and comes out most strikingly in the darkest ones - David, Daniel; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; Peter, John, Stephen, Paul and Silas, etc. We never know all that God is to us until he takes away all our earthly props, and makes us lean with all our weight on him.

(4) The believer's joy in God surpasses the worldling's gladness in the effects of it. It not only satisfies, but sanctifies the mind.

(5) This joy never palls upon the taste. "The world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever."

III. THE PSALMIST SHOWS US HOW THIS JOY IN GOD WAS ATTAINED. After his delights the worldling has many a weary chase. To ensure his, the psalmist sends up a prayer, "Lord, lift thou up," etc. This prayer had been taught him of old. It was a part of the priestly benediction (Numbers 6:22, ad fin.). Its meaning is, "Give us the sign and seal of thy favour, and it is enough." Truly in this all else is ensured. Forgiveness from God and peace with him prepare the way for the fulness of joy. Nothing is right with a sinful man till there is peace between him and God. If our view of the chronology of the Psalms be correct, Psalm 51. and 32, preceded this. If it be true that the believer attains the highest heights of joy, it is also true that he has first gone down into the deep vale of penitential sorrow. As in Christian toil, so in personal religion, "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy." Let the sinner "behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world," and then his hope, his joy, will begin. - C.

It is a mark of man's greatness that he can go out of himself. Some commune with nature, some with the great minds of the past, some with prophets and teachers of their own time. But the grandest thing is to commune with God. The evening is a fit time. Then we have rest; then we can retire from the stress and turmoil of the world, and in the secrecy of our hearts hold converse with God. Here we have some quieting thoughts for a time of trouble.

I. THAT GOD RULES OVER ALL. God is love. His Law is holy and just and good. Then it must be well with all those who do his will. There may be clouds and darkness, there may be grievous trouble; but God reigneth, and his truth and mercy are spread out as wings, under which we can always find refuge.

II. THAT IN FORMER STRAITS GOD HAS BROUGHT DELIVERANCE. (Ver. 1.) We can look back. It is sweet to remember God's loving-kindness. What he has done for us is not only a cause of thankfulness, but a ground of hope. His acts bind God as well as his promises. He does not change. Nothing can elude his eye; nothing can surprise his wisdom or baffle his power. He will bring enlargement in distress, room, breathing space, ampler freedom, and a diviner air.

III. THAT GOD IS AS ENTREATABLE AS EVER BY HIS PEOPLE. (Vers. 3, 4.) God does not tie his presence to place or ordinance. He regards character. There are times when he seems not to hear; but this is our infirmity. The throne of grace stands ever accessible. If we ask, we shall receive. We may be cast off and dishonoured by men; but God will never forsake those who trust in him.

IV. THAT TRUST IN GOD WILL SURELY BRING PEACE. (Vers. 5, 6.) Things may grow worse. Afflictions may come, not as single spies, but in battalions. For a time the machinations of the wicked may seem to prevail. But we know what the end must be. What can come from opposition to God but ruin? Reflection not only confirms our faith, but strengthens our attachment to God. The future of the wicked is dark; but the future of the righteous is bright as the heavens shining with countless stars. Whatever happens, therefore, let us hold fast to God. The priestly benediction (Numbers 6:20) finds an echo in the trusting heart. "Peace."

V. THAT IN THE END GOD'S PEOPLE SHALL SURELY HAVE JOY IN GOD. (Vers. 6-8.) He is the supreme good, true, satisfying, inalienable, the everlasting Portion of the soul.

"O thou bounteous Giver of all good,
Thou art of all thy gifts thyself the crown!
Give what thou canst, without thee we are poor,
And with thee rich, take what thou wilt away." This psalm, as many others, ends with praise. Like the last strain of a cradle-song, its accents fall gently, lulling the child of God to rest, Luther, it is said, often sang himself to sleep with this psalm. - W.F.

This psalm refers (according to some) to the same event as the previous psalm - that composed probably in the morning, and this in the evening, of the same day. We have in it -


1. His relation and fellowship with the righteous God. Thou art my God, and the God of my righteous cause, and therefore thou wilt not leave me to the wicked designs of my enemies.

2. His experience in former straits and troubles. "Thou didst set me at liberty when I was in trouble." What thou hast done once thou wilt do again, because thou art unchangeable.


1. They attempt to injure his personal and kingly honour (his glory). By false and evil reports, so as to promote his overthrow and downfall. Character and office are the two most precious things that a man has to lose.

2. They had set their hearts upon an enterprise destined to fail. In love with vanity, they were in love with a vain, hollow appearance, such as this rebellious world turns out to be. Such is the nature of all unjust and sinful undertakings.

3. It was an attempt to overthrow one of God's appointments. (Ver. 3.) An attempt to set aside one of the Divine decrees; therefore - like trying to upset a Divine law - utterly vain and futile.

III. AN ADMONITION TO REPENTANCE. Not a cry for vengeance. The way of repentance is here pointed out.

1. The thought of God was to fill them with an awe of their sin. If they blasphemed God's anointed, they were to stand in awe of God.

2. They were to examine the thoughts of their hearts in solitude. On their bed, in the darkness of the night, and in the privacy of their chamber. "Shut to thy door," etc.

3. They were to offer sincere and truthful "sacrifice," or service to God. Like Zacchaeus, "The half of my goods," etc. Good works are the best evidence of repentance.

4. They were to trust in the righteous God, and not in their unrighteous aims and objects. We become like the persons or things we trust in. - S.

I. THE QUESTION OF QUESTIONS. The feeling indicated is common. Amid disappointments and cares, evermore the cry is heard, "Who will show us any good?"

II. THE PRAYER OF PRAYERS. Somewhere there must be help. Gain, pleasure, worldly honours, and such-like, give no satisfaction. But when we turn to God we find all we need. He is gracious and merciful. Light and joy and peace beam from his countenance. Here we have the gospel preached beforehand.

III. THE JOY OF JOYS. The "joy of harvest" is proverbial. Here we have more, infinitely more. Not only rest from fear, and recompense for labour, and provision for the future; but this in the highest sense, spiritually and eternally - the Giver as well as the gift. - W.F.

David now turns from admonishing his enemies to the ease of his companions in trouble, who saw no ground of hope in the visible aspect of things.

I. THE DESPAIR OF UNBELIEF. "Who will show us any good?" No one can.

1. The grandest revelations are made to the mind, and not to the senses. The question, therefore, is beside the mark. God, Christ, immortality, justice, love, holiness, cannot be shown in visible material form. Christ showed them for a season.

2. The good that can be shown can work no cure of life's greatest evils. It is the inward deliverances, not the outward, that we most need. Talent, money, position, health, cannot work these.

II. THE HIGHEST GOOD COVETED BY THE BELIEVER IN GOD. "Lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us." As the sun lights the world.

1. Then we become intensely conscious of God. The thought of him fills every faculty and solves every problem. "In his light we see light."

2. Then we know that he is our Helper and Saviour. For what is the light of the Divine face? - the light of Fatherhood and love? The light of the warrior's face is that of courage; of the poet's and prophet's, inspiration; of the judge's, that of absolute justice; but the light of God's face is that of an infinite abundance of love for all his children.


1. It creates a Divine joy and gladness. The excitement of the senses wears out the body and corrupts the mind; but the joys of the heart and mind impart the highest strength and the noblest impulses. Therefore "be not drunk with wine, ... but be filled with the Spirit."

2. It gives a deep inward peace. (Ver. 8, "I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep?) An intense consciousness of God and his favour has power to tranquillize the mind that is most disturbed by inward or outward trouble. It can calm the greatest storm, because we know the centre of rest, and are reposing upon it.

3. It gives a sense of security. (Ver. 8, "For thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.") He needed no guards to ensure his safety during sleep, because God was nigh. "Who is he that can harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?" But "though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." If we perish by shipwreck, or in battle, or railway accident, we are still in God's hands, and ought to trust in him. This is faith in God - to trust him in the darkness as well as in the light. - S.

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