Singing with Jesus – Psalm 4: Covenant Confidence in God’s Silence

 

A Psalm of David

1 Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. /Give me relief from distress; /be merciful to me and hear my prayer.

How long, highborn men, /while my glory is turned to shame, /will you love delusions and seek false gods?

3 Now know that I AM has set apart the godly for himself; /I AM will hear when I call to him.

4 Tremble and do not sin; /search your hearts while you are in bed, / and be silent.

Offer the sacrifices of the righteous /and trust in the I AM.

6 Many are saying, “O that one would show us good! / Lift up the light of your face upon us, I AM.”

7 Fill my heart with great joy / when their grain, and new wine and oil abound.

8 In peace I will lie down and fall asleep at once, / for you, I AM, make me dwell apart, in safety. / For the director of music. For flutes.[1]

In his book, The Eye of the Storm, Max Lucado tells the story of Chippie the Parakeet whose owner accidentally vacuumed up the bird while cleaning the bottom of the cage. The horrified owner turned off the vacuum, ripped open the bag and found a stunned and filthy Chippie. She rushed him to the bathroom faucet and doused him with water. Then, recognizing that the now-clean bird was cold and shivering, pulled out a blow-dryer and blasted him dry. When later asked how Chippie was doing after being sucked in, washed up, and blown over the owner replied that Chippie doesn’t sing much anymore. He just sits and stares.

All of us have some experience with feeling safe and comfortable one minute and the next feeling sucked in, washed up, and blown over. Marriages conceived in love and born through faith die in bitterness and despair. People who were once healthy are ravaged by chronic diseases that faithful prayers of the saints cannot reverse. The career that seemed to hold so much promise has become miserable drudgery. The young person just starting out in their own life has no clear picture of what to do with all the time ahead of them and no amount of prayer gives them any clear idea for their path in life. Spouses are separated by death. Parents lose children to death. And God seems silent in the misery and pain.

Psalm 4 shows when you represent the Lord God, you can become a lightning rod for people’s anger and frustration. Close friends turn on a dime. Suddenly, you are one more product to be tossed aside in favor of something or someone newer and better that will fix the pain. People you love reject you, maybe even despise you in the aftermath of pain and suffering. Some leave their church for another one. Some leave the whole Body of Christ because worship doesn’t “work” for them anymore.

That’s David’s situation in Psalm 4. David finds himself in the middle of a storm of grumbling and bitter accusations against him. All the highborn, important people in Israel are calling David a bad king, a looser God has clearly rejected.[2] David is blamed for a situation completely beyond his control. He’s supposed to be God’s anointed king, he is supposed to be able to get God to fix the people’s problems. And there’s no fix in sight. The highborn aren’t simply rejecting David, they are turning to other gods to fix their problems because I AM is silent.

Like Psalm 3, in Psalm 4 we see messiah (God’s anointed king) exercising his duty to rule his kingdom and subdue his enemies through prayer to YHWH (I AM). Psalm 3 was a morning prayer. Psalm 4 is an evening prayer.  Both are lament (or petition) psalms with the same structure: “Address (v. 1 [2]), Lament (v. 2 [3]), Confidence (vv. 3–5 [4–6]), Petition (vv. 6–7 [7–8]), and Praise, implied in his going to sleep (v. 8 [9]).”[3]

PROBLEM (4:1-2)

Verses 2, 6, and 7 show us Israel is in the middle of a serious drought. You may recall how the prophet Joel describes a drought and subsequent locust plague as an apocalyptic war against the people and animals of Israel. 2 Samuel 21 records a three-year drought during David’s reign, but there’s no clear connection between that event and the drought of Psalm 4.

Without rain the crops do not grow. Animals and people begin to starve. The desperation drives people to find solutions outside of I AM and his anointed king. David sings, “How long, highborn men, /while my glory is turned to shame, /will you love delusions and seek false gods?[4]  In David’s time, false gods were believed to rule over fertility. Baal, the storm god, was said to bring rain. His statues depict him with a bolt of lightning in one hand and club (symbolizing thunder) in the other.[5] Therefore, most of Elijah and Elisha’s miracles center around rain, fire, grain, oil, and light. Their miracles are I AM’s argument against the demonic state religion of Baal-worship.

David’s leaders (highborn men, Ps. 49:2; 62:9) no longer trust their king. In ancient Near-East, the king was considered a mediator between the forces of heaven and earth. He was responsible for maintaining good relations with the gods who provided rain and crops. The king was supposed to be powerful in prayer. David represents I AM, who has not sent rain despite David’s prayers. They have abandoned David and I AM in favor of a new and improved product: the rain god.

The ordinary looks large on the outside, it’s a life-threatening crisis. The Divine Extraordinary seems so small it’s nowhere to be seen. God is silent. The drought continues. But Baal offers a name-it-and-claim-it solution to end this long-standing problem (How long…, v. 2). All the important people of Israel have lost confidence (yet again) in the king. But the greater crisis is they have lost faith in I AM because he is not giving them what they believe they need.

This is a normal Christian experience. You have a deep need, but God has not answered. You knock on his door until your knuckles bleed but it seems all the lights are out and nobody is home. This is a common theme in the Psalter. God isn’t just withholding what I very clearly need. He has clearly abandoned me. Psalm 13 is just one such example of this theme:

1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? /How long will you hide your face from me? /2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts /and every day have sorrow in my heart? [6]

This is not the name-it-claim-it theology of paganism or false Christianity. God is not the god of my imagination. If he were, he would be the great Cosmic Vending Machine selling me what I want in exchange for some minimal price, like giving up meat on Fridays. Let’s be honest with each other. That’s the god we really want – the god who blesses my agenda; the god who doesn’t let me struggle to understand my crises; the god who makes everything go MY way. One great argument for the I AM of scripture is that he can outrage me and make me struggle – even when I’m sure I’m being “really good” and trying hard. He’s not the god I want him to be; he’s the God I NEED.

Jesus identifies with our struggles. On the cross, he cried out Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?[7] Jesus knew why the Father had to turn his back on the One who became sin for the sake of his people. But he wanted YOU to know he felt David’s pain, and your pain, and my pain in a very real and very personal way because God, in human flesh, experienced human existence.

This isn’t just a normal Christian experience; it’s absolutely essential! If I AM was a name-it-claim-it god, we would be completely imprisoned in our selfishness. We would worship God just like Satan claimed of Job – simply for whatever nifty presents we could get out of him. In the gap between our cries and God’s answer our trust grows. Paul writes in Rom. 5:2-5,

 Through [our Lord Jesus Christ] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. [8]

Messiah had to suffer and die, be delivered from the bonds of death, and ascend into eternal glory. Because, as it fares with the messianic king, so it fares with each member of the messianic kingdom. If you are trusting into Christ, all his benefits are yours – even the benefit of enduring seemingly-endless, seemingly hopeless crisis because in your suffering, your waiting, your frustration, you are experiencing the difference between the imaginary Baal and I AM.

SOLUTION (4:3-8)

David sings us truth by which to live when we are sucked in, washed up, and blown over and God seems to be silent. He charts us a course through the storm with five truths, five navigational instruments.

Righteous God (1)

First, David addresses God as my righteous God (NIV) or God, my vindicator (JPS).  Righteousness means, in this context, “to do what is right within a covenant relationship.” David is invoking God’s covenant loyalty love (chesed). God has forged a covenant with David and God’s promises do not change. I AM promises righteousness to those who trust into him.[9] God has a covenant with the children of Abraham (those who are declared righteous by trust, Gal. 3:9) and his loyalty love to them does not vary.

If God chose to abandon David, then God would not be good. He would have been diabolical. If God had abandoned Messiah Jesus to the cross and not raised him up on the third day, he would have been diabolical – a maker and breaker of promises though he has all power to keep his word. David trusts into the goodness (the righteous character) of I AM regardless of the storm in which messiah David finds himself. If God truly ignored you during your storm, he would be a liar.

Confidence (3-5)

Next, David expresses his confidence in God’s covenant loyalty love by admonishing the highborn men who have turned away from God and his messiah king. He gives seven imperatives (commands): know (3); tremble and don’t sin (4a); search your hearts and be silent (4b); offer sacrifices and trust (5).

David commands the highborn to know their king. Know that I AM has anointed David and hears David when he calls. God sets apart the righteous. God ordains and sustains ALL THINGS. His sovereignty is the very last thing these angry highborn people want to contemplate. When we hate our situations, blame others, or generally grumble, it is precisely because we HATE the fact that God ordained that situation or that person’s actions. And nothing makes us angrier than being reminded that we are exactly where God wants us to be even though we don’t approve of what has happened to us. Some person, not God, must be blamed. In Psalm 4, David is the “fall guy” for God’s sovereign rule of all things.[10]

David had the witness of the prophets who anointed him. David’s exploits as a warrior were a well-known witness to his status as messiah. His accomplishments were extraordinary because God had anointed him and treated David as his own son. God, in his sovereignty, set apart David and declared him both righteous and messiah.

In the same way, Messiah Jesus had the witness of the prophet John the Baptizer and the witness of the Father and the Spirit descending upon him to set him apart. No one did works like Messiah Jesus did. With the same voice, Jesus both raised the dead and cried out, “My God, my God /Why have your forsaken me?” The same hands Jesus used to cleanse the lepers and give sight to the blind were nailed to the cross. The feet that walked toward the miserable and hungry were nailed to the cross. Who is like this but our anointed king? “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.[11]  In the storm, we are to know Messiah Jesus has cleansed us of sin and conquered our greatest enemy: death.

Next, David tells the cowardly highborn men to tremble, stop sinning by searching their hearts on their beds and pondering their faithlessness (4:4). “Instead of hardening their hearts in self-confidence and hubris, the highborn should allow their conscience to be God’s vicegerent to rule them. Whereas the conscience of the faithful to [worship I AM] fortifies and encourages them, the conscience of the unfaithful condemns them and brings them to the realization of their inevitable doom.”[12]

First, in the eye of the storm, we are to contemplate the King, Messiah Jesus and what he alone has won for us. Second, we examine our hearts to see all those things in which we trust that are NOT God but merely functional saviors. Finally, David says, “Offer the sacrifices of the righteous /and trust in the I AM.” Do what’s right by your neighbor, seek God’s forgiveness and trust in God’s one-way loyalty love alone. Christian’s no longer offer animal sacrifices to postpone God’s wrath against sin. We look to the sin-sacrifice of Messiah Jesus on the cross. But we still look in trust to HIS loyalty love for us.

We trust in the I AM precisely because he is sovereign and ordains the storm we are in; he even ordains his own silence in the midst of it. David exhibits his trust by making his petition in vv. 6-7.

Petition (6-7)

Isn’t it interesting how God answers Job after Job’s long season of suffering while waiting on God to answer? God answers out of a whirlwind. He answers out of the eye of a storm. Far from being aloof and disinterested, God is in the midst of the storm. That’s why David closes with his petition:

6 Many are saying, “O that one would show us good! / Lift up the light of your face upon us, I AM.” /7 Fill my heart with great joy / when their grain, and new wine and oil abound.

Messiah David joins his people in their petition for rain. He prays with them and for them.  It may seem that all Israel has abandoned I AM in favor of Baal. But King David knows many are still faithfully seeking God’s face. There are several OT scriptures in which the word good refers to rain (Deut. 28:12; Jer. 5:24–25; 17:6; Ps. 85:12 [13]).[13]

When messiah joins the prayers of the people, we know the storm of grumbling is due to a drought because the results will be grain, new wine, and oil. Messiah’s joy is intertwined with the prosperity of his people. His joy cannot be complete until they find joy in God’s provision. His prayer for both spring grain and fall grape and olive harvests is a merism (a phrase of completeness). Messiah is praying for God’s whole provision, for all his people’s complete sustenance.

In the eye of the storm, when God seems silent, Messiah Jesus is praying for you that you will persevere until that time when your joy will be full and you will possess your eternal provision.  Jesus prays three things: that you will be kept from evil (Jn. 17:15); that you will be more and more set apart to serve God and your neighbor (Jn. 17:17); and, that you will be with Messiah when he consummates all things (Jn. 17:24).  Your prayers are heard, even in the storm when God seems silent because as it fares with Messiah, so it fares with every one of his people.

Rest (7)

Because the rain hasn’t yet begun to fall when David prays, he is still in the eye of the storm. The highborn are still turning to idols and grumbling at God’s sovereign plan. People are still rejecting I AM’s messiah. Animals are still dying. People are still starving. Merchants and farmers are still hemorrhaging funds. David doesn’t have results; but he has God’s covenant, God unshakable promise. And so, even during the storm, he can bed down and sleep in trusting peace (Mk. 4:37-39).

8 In peace I will lie down and fall asleep at once, / for you, I AM, make me dwell apart, in safety.

David sleeps in the peaceful certainty of God’s glory. The proof that God is NOT aloof and disinterred – even when he seems silent in the midst of your storm – comes at Calvary where his one-way loyalty love is fully and openly displayed. To all those sucked in, washed up, and blown over, Paul writes:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. …31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,             “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.[14]

 

[1] Bruce K. Waltke, James M. Houston, and Erika Moore, The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 223–224.

[2] “He indicates that his enemies are significant men, not people who can safely be ignored. This is implied by the Hebrew words beni ish, rather than the more common beni adam.” James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 1–41: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 39.

[3] Waltke, et. al., 227.

[4] Id., 223.

[5] Id., 225.

[6] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Ps 13:1–2.

[7] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Ps 22:1.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ro 5:2–5.

[9] Waltke, et. al.., 230.

[10] Boice, 40.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), 2 Co 5:21.

[12] Waltke, et. al., 236.

[13] Id., 239.

[14] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ro 8:31–9:1.