COMMENTARY ON PSALM 4
translated by F.F. Reilly
In Psalm 3, David implores assistance of the Lord God by prayers regarding enemies. Here in Psalm 4 he admonishes others to trust in God, while perceiving his own prayers as heard. So, Psalm 4 exposes the love of a person who has experienced divine blessings, mercy, and justice. It also urges others they should never lose hope in God.
The title for Psalm 4 is: "To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David." Within this title are two ideas, as referring to the entire Psalter. First, the title expresses a canticle, second it refers to a choirmaster.
As a canticle, David composed metrically this Psalm 4. He sang this canticle before the Ark of the Covenant as within psalmody (cf. 2 Samuel, Chapter 6, in passing). So, Psalm 4 is termed "a psalm" as sung according to psalmody method. Yet, it is sung with the accompaniment of a stringed musical instrument called a "Maybell."
Some of David's psalms are attributed as being rendered with a "Maybell." Other Davidic psalms could be sung minus such a musical instrument. Yet, in some such psalms un-accompanied instrumentally, the human voice begins these psalms. Then, one person afterwards responds on the "Maybell." So such psalms are called "A Canticle Psalm."
Moreover, in some psalms one person sings the psalm, plus the "Maybell," as another person responds. Such psalms are termed: "A Psalm Canticle." And according to the "Gloss," the difference is literal, and as interpreted mystically.
A "Psalm" indicates a good deed. A "Canticle" signifies the raising of one's mind towards eternal truths. As both a literal and mystical exposition is within any psalm, one is duly concerned with both interpretations.
So, Psalm 4 is also entitled: "To the choirmaster." This can be exposed as if there is a figure of human speech, through a psalm process. Thus the psalm's idea is exposed, as then known by the choirmaster. Thus, a psalm can be a pre-figure of the coming of the promised Messiah: Christ. "For Christ is the end of the Law, that everyone who has faith be justified." (Romans 10: 4).
Also, if the psalm-title:"To the choirmaster" be exposed as a figure of human speech, then it is understood to be sung regarding some deeds done. Thus, Psalm 4 was composed at the end of David's persecution from his own son, Absalom. As such it is considered: A victory psalm. Thus, other events are considered as David's victories within the Psalter. For David composed his psalms after he overcame all events within his own life. But, this exposition cannot be held as completely true for the entire Psalter.
Psalm 4 is divided into two parts. It begins with an action of divine blessings as benefits bestowed. So is said: "Answer me when I call, O God of my right~ Thou hast given me room when I was in distress." (Verse 1).
Secondly, Psalm 4 ends in an exhortation to others that they turn to the Lord God. There: "O men, how long shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?" (Verse 2).
Concerning an action of divine blessings, two ideas are presented. First the very blessings are pointed out presently, then those in the future. There: "Be gracious to me and hear my prayer." (Verse 1).
Regarding past blessings, two aspects are viewed. First is reference to those blessings received and second, that one has been answered in quality of benefits. There: "Thou hast given me room when I was in distress." (Verse 1).
It must be here noted that such a method of answering prayer is twofold'. One version is: "He has answered," and another version (in this same Psalm 4) is: "You have answered." And Jerome adheres to the second version, and his view lends weight to this version.
"Answer me when I call, O God of my right. Thou hast given me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer." (Verse 1).
Here four ideas are conveyed. First, a prayer, and its answer are presented. For God does not answer one, not calling by praying. Hence is said: "Answer me when I call." (Verse 1). That is, a person implores divine assistance in every necessity. Because: "In my distress I cry to the Lord that he may answer me." (Psalm 120).
A second idea is that a person is required to be just. Because, if the Lord God does not hear sinners, this is so through divine mercy, and not through his divine justice. Hence is said: "O God of my right." (Verse 1).
The "Gloss" states: "A bestower of justice," or of my justification. For: "The eyes of the Lord are towards the righteous and his ears towards their cry." (Psalm 34)
Another reason why a prayer and its answer is first, is because one attributes all justice to God alone, and not to one's self. Hence is said: "O God of my right." (Verse 1).
This sentiment is contrary to the Apostle Paul. For, Paul claims: "For being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from
God and seeking to establish their own they did not submit to God's righteousness." (Romans 10: 3).
It is befitting one attributes to God alone all goodness. Second, that God alone possesses all divine justice. Third, that one call upon God alone. Fourth, that one be answered.
The method of answering a prayer is exposed. Here: "Thou hast given me room when I was in distress." (Verse 1). For, it was said: "Answer me," and then: "Thou has given me rooms" (Verse 1). This is so, perchance to make Psalm 4 metrically sound. It is opportune for Psalm 4's composition here to be metrically changed in Verse 1. Or, this can be due to the method of praying. Since one can change their manner of speaking, due to their different affections.
So is said: "Thou hast given me room when I was in distress."
(Verse 1). That is: it is much more satisfying to be freed completely than just a little bit. Thus is said, as it were: You are not merely freed a little bit, not even in your heart's distress you are accorded a wideness of freedom. Because: "Thou didst give me a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip." (Psalm 18]
Either the Lord God has granted a wideness of one's soul to sustain patiently tribulations, or has granted a latitude of power. This is recorded in the Book of Genesis: "God enlarge Japheth and let him dwell in the tents of Shem and let Canaan be his slave." (Genesis: 9:27). So, Verse 1 concludes: "Be gracious to me, and hear my power." Namely, as one is praying for future blessings.
"O men, how long shall my honor suffer shame? (Verse 2). Here Psalm 4 addresses itself to an exhortation towards others. >So, around this idea two points are made. First, there is the accusation of sinners that is replied to. Second, this Psalm 4 exhorts to reform. There "But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him." (Verse 3).
Regarding an answer to an accusation of sinners, two further expositions are treated. First, there is the conditions of sinners as recalled, and second, their sins are made clear. There: "How long will you love vain words and seek after lies" (Verse 2). The conditions of sinners are recalled by declaring: "O men, how long shall my honor suffer shame?" (Verse 2). This question can be understood in two ways.
First, is regard for the evil ones, or sinners, by the phrase "O men." (Verse 2). Namely, corruptible men, prone to sin, and in accord with inferior human nature. For: "Then the Lord said: 'My spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years' (Genesis 6:3).
Also, "For the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Genesis 8:21). Which declares, as it were: You show us, O Lord, to be sons of men, as sinners from Adam and Eve (our first parents).
Then follows in Verse 2: "O men, how long shall my honor suffer shame?" (Verse 2). Because: "Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evil-doers, sons who deal corruptly." (Isaiah: 1:4).
Secondly, the phrase "O men" (Verse 2), can be referred to good men. "For insofar as man is an image of God, and not to a likeness of brute beasts." Because: "Man cannot abide in his pomp, he is like the beasts that perish." (Psalm 49:13).
Then: "How long shall my honor suffer shame?" (Verse 2). Namely, since good men ought to be solid, and durable. And: "How long", that is: Will you men turn your back on the Lord God?
Jerome declares: "Sons of men, how long will you, my much esteemed ones, love shameful vanity, seeking it by lying?" Thus, Jerome underscores vain words and lies, as Verse 2 states: "How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?"
Concerning sin, two ideas must be here considered: the will tending toward something, and one's own intention towards something. Such ideas border upon an inordination of one's love, or affection. Hence is said: "How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?" (Verse 2).
Since temporalities are vain, they contain nothing solid and durable, but merely passing goodness. Because: "Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities" (Ecclesiastes 1: 2). So, this Verse here declares, as it were, You, who love temporalities, or vanities, love vain words.
Then in Verse 2 a perverse intention aimed at something is declared: "And seek after lies?" (Verse 2). That is: why do you love riches, since you possess enough. For: "He who loves money will not be with money, nor he who loves wealth with gain: this also is vanity." (Ecclesiastes 5: 10). And: "I looked upon the earth, and lo, it was waste and void and to the heavens, and they had no light." (Jeremiah 4: 23).
Again:"And seek after lies?" (Verse 2). That is, seek after idols, or false gods. Because: "We know that an idol has no real existence." (1 Corinthians: 10: 19), and that, "There is no God but one." (1 Corinthians 8:4 and Deuteronomy 6: 4). Thus is said: How long will one seek vanity and lying, and be turned away from God.
Then there follows:"But know that." (Verse 3). Here the sinner is exhorted to reform, so three ideas are exposed.
First, David recalls the blessings granted to himself. Second, he exhorts sinners to return to God. There: "Be angry and sin not, commune with your own hearts on your beds, and be silent." (Verse 4). Third, David exposes the preeminence of the Lord God in relation to just persons. There: "Thou hast put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound." (Verse 7).
So is declared "But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself." (Verse 3). And here must be noted that such a Verse is termed in the Greek language as: "Diapsalma," in the Hebrew language as: "Selah." Jerome, in the Latin language, has: "Feliciter, vel Semper;" that is, "Happily," or "Forever."
So, a Diapsalma, or "Selah" connotes a psalm division of verses. For, when Psalm-singers chanted they made definite pauses within a psalm. According to Augustine, such pauses pointed toward verses following, and pertaining to a definite idea.
On the contrary, there is another viewpoint. According to another exposition the term "Diapsalma," or "Selah" would never be found at the end of any psalm. Yet, in Jerome's Latin Vulgate version, these terms can indeed be found at a psalm's ending. Now, the Hebrew term "Selah" comes from the word "Selon," meaning "Peacefully." Such agrees with Jerome, who exposes "Selah" as: "Happily, Peacefully, or Forever." And the Latin term "Pacifica," in the sense as "Forever," seems the better exposition, Since the Hebrew term "Selah' connotes the same meaning.
The blessings David here recalls are twofold. They recall the past, and the future. There: "The Lord hears when I call to him," (Verse 3).
Regarding present blessings is said: "But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself." (Verse 3). Since this statement is the beginning of Verse 3, it is contained in a reference to the prophet-psalmist David's own heart. It is somewhat like the beginning of Ezekiel's prophecy: "In the thirtieth year in the fourth month on the fifth day of the month," etc. (Ezekiel: 1: 1).
Since the Hebrew term "Selah" has been exposed as the Greek term "Diapsalma," it is placed here before Verse 3. For it so connotes a definite exposition here in Psalm 4.
Or, this term "Selah" may be in reference to preceding Verses 1-2. It could connote, as it were: Do not love vain words, but know. And why? Because: "The Lord has set apart the godly for himself." (Verse 3).
Then, behold how many blessings the Lord God granted to David. Since:"The Lord has set apart the godly for himself." (Verse 3). That is, the Lord God granted to me, David, remarkable blessings.
Even the term "Selah" can continue to connote something else, according to the "Gloss." It could connote, as if: Since you, David, know vanities and what follows, thus: "The Lord has set apart the godly for himself." (Verse 3). That is, Christ, principally, as an intellectual figure of speech can connote: the saint of all saints. Of Christ (the Messiah) the prophet Daniel declared: "...To seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place." (Daniel: 9: 24).
Whosoever is just is termed: wonderful. For greater are the works of justice of persons inwardly than exterior wonders. For: "Terrible is God in his sanctuary, the God of Israel, he gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God." (Psalms 68:35). And: "His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah: 9: 6).
As to future blessings is said: "The Lord fears when I call to him." (Verse 3). Because: "Before they call, I will answer while they are yet speaking I will fear." (Isaiah: 65: 24).
Then is said, "Be angry and sin not." (Verse 4). Here sinners are exhorted to reform their lives, and three ideas are advanced.
First, sinners are exhorted to depart from evils, and second, to tend towards goodness. There: "There are many who say "O that we might see some good!" (Verse 6).
Concerning sinners departing from evils, it must be noted that sins arise within each one of us through three causes. They are: an irascible corruption, an irrational corruption, and a concupiscible corruption. Hence is said first: "Be angry, but sin not." (Verse 4). Such anger within an irascible corruption is understood in three ways.
First, as an inordinate anger. As if it is stated: It is permitted that a form of anger can arise within us, Yet, such a way does not indeed produce an anger, as action to sin. Because: "Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger." (Ephesians: 4: 26). Or: "Be angry." (Verse 4). Namely, be angry against one's own sins. For: "I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold." (Isaiah: 63: 5). Or, as a form of wrath-exposed as one's concern towards sins of others. So: "But sin not" (Verse 4). That is, by correcting others while acting inordinately. For, it is befitting that wrath be directed by one's reason.
Regards the idea that sinners should tend towards goodness, an irrational corruption is prohibited by any dissimulation. Thus: "Commune with your own hearts, on your beds and be silent" (Verse 4). That is, as if: the hearts that could be within you. So, as it were: You should intend one thing within your hearts, than pretending another thing outside your hearts.
Then, a question is put forth, arising from concupiscible corruption, should be prohibited. So: "Commune with your own hearts." (Verse 4). Namely, do give some concern for the sins committed. Thus: "On your beds and be silent". (Verse 4). For: "Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy." (Romans 13:13).
Again: "On your beds and be silent." (Verse 4), as it concerns a twofold sin. Namely, first, "be silent", and second, "sin not." That is, as has been exposed as wrath through one's zeal for goodness.
Then: "Commune with your own hearts. " (Verse 4). That is, as has been exposed concerning a concupiscible corruption. Namely,
like by one's own eyes, or by one hiding within oneself. Such an exposition seems literal. For instance, like Jerome declares: "Be not talkative but silent." That is, do not proclaim inordinately in your announcements.
Also, such may be exposed as wrath, or anger, through sins. Such could prohibit one from proceeding towards an evil deed, as the anger becomes worse. And it may be exposed as a wrath regards the sins of others . Therefore , that such sinners begin to tend to goodness, so it is then exhorted. So, first principles towards goodness are directed, as if in exhortation: "Commune with your own hearts on your beds, and be silent." (Verse 4).
The Book of Leviticus, Chapter 4 (Peace Offerings, The Law of Sin Offerings) commands sacrifices for one's sins. Yet the Lord God did not much care for such sacrifices. Because: "Sacrifice and offering thou dost not desire, but thou hast given an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering thou hast not required." (Psalm 40:6). Hence is declared: "And put your trust in the Lord." (Verse 5).
Verses 6 -7
"There are many who say, "O that we might see some good. Lift up the light of thy countenance upon us, O Lord." (Verse 6). Namely, as some goodness out of sacrifice, and praise. Because: "I appeal to you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Romans 12: 1). Thus, sinners are directed towards the aim to goodness, There: "And put your trust in the Lord" (Verse 5). Which declares, as if: You must eagerly hope in the Lord God by whom you succeed.
Then is said: "There are many who say, 'O that we might see some good!" (Verse 6). Which states, as it were: In what can we know that such sacrifices are acceptable to God? Such a question is answered as it declares: "Lift up the light of thy countenance upon us, O Lord" (Verse 6). Which claims, as if: our own un-aided natural reason allows us to distinguish between goodness, and evil. Thus is said: "Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O Lord." (Verse 6). Such a countenance by which the Lord God is known, is somewhat similar to that which a person is known by his countenance.
This idea is indeed true concerning the countenance of the Lord God. For, by his truth is a likeness of his own eternal light, that shines within one's soul, as a light that is impressed within us. This light is a superior one, and above us, while it impresses a definite sign, or seal, upon the countenance. Thus, by such an eternal light one is enabled to know goodness. Because: "Blessed are the people who know the festival shout, who walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance." (Psalm 89:15).
Besides, one is signed, or sealed, with the Sacred Spirit. For: "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption" (Ephesians 4: 30).
Also, one is sealed by the sign of the Cross, which is impressed on the forehead in the Sacrament of Baptism. This sign we ourselves ought to impress on our forehead each day. For: "Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm." (Song: 8: 6). Then is said: "Thou hast put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. " (Verse 7). Here is exposed the preeminence of goodness, in relation to sinners. As if such sinners would exclaim: You, Lord God, exhort us to your goodness, and blessings since we ourselves' do not possess our own blessings.
Secondly, here temporal and spiritual blessings are compared. There: "You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound" (Verse 7).
Thirdly, a preeminence of spiritualities is exposed. There: "In peace I will both be down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety." (Verse 8). So, it is within eternal truth that each one has the light of your countenance, O Lord, which you have bestowed upon just, or holy, persons, and as a result I rejoice in you, O Lord." For the kingdom of God does not mean food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." (Romans: 14: 17).
On the contrary, evil persons possess an abundance of temporalities. Hence is said: "Than they have when their grain and wine abound." (Verse 7). So, then evil persons rejoice. And by such temporalities (as grain and wine) , must be understood as all else referring to a living necessity. Thus grain, as food, and wine, as drink, and oil, as condiment, are so referred.
Other versions of Verse 7 state literally:"At the harvest time for grain." So, a double defect of such temporalities is pointed out. For such temporalities are referred to time. "For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow, and there is no return from the death." (Wisdom: 2: 5). Hence is declared: "When their grain and wine abound." (Verse 7).
It is said? "In peace." (Verse 8), as the preeminence of spiritualities is considered. As if it declares: What exceeds such blessings, as joy in my heart. Such joy in my heart is evident from two causes. First, because the blessing will be eternal, while another is merely temporal. Second, because one eternal blessing is simple, another temporal blessing is complicated.
The complicated blessing is there considered:"For you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety." (Verse 8). So: "In peace I will both lie down and sleep." (Verse 8). Which declares, as it were: Some will act so in time, but I, David, will not act in time, but: "In peace I will both lie down and sleep." (Verse 8).
Therefore, it must be noted that even within our present life, a just person is said to be within goodness, due to four causes, or reasons.
First, because a just person is not impeded eternally. For: "My people will abide in peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places" (Isaiah 32: 18).
Second, because of an unchangeableness in the very nature, or essence, of some things. For personal peace ever remains the same. Hence, "In peace I will both lie down and sleep." (Verse 8). For instance: "Jerusalem, built as a city which is bound firmly together" (Psalm: 122:3).
Third, because due to a lack of an anxiety. For example: "In peace I will both lie down and sleep." (Verse 8). As: "I slept but my heart was awake." (Song: 5: 2).
Fourth, because of a quietude after one's work is done, as stated: "In peace I will both lie down and sleep." (Verse 8). Such can be in our present life, due to the first of the four causes, or reasons, since a just person is not impeded eternally. Because, for holy persons all such blessings are here and obtained from the Lord God, and will be blessings perfected within heaven.
Thus, such an eternal blessing, I, David, indeed here possess, because I, David, have the one, the Lord God, in whom all blessings exist. So is declared further in Psalm 27:4: "One thing have I asked of the Lord that I will seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord."
All such replies are in relation to what has been exclaimed in Verse 6:"There are many who say, 'O that we might see some good"
Then, Verse 8: "For you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety." That is, as it were: I, David, personally trust in you, O Lord.
This Verse 8 sounds literally like Jerome's version: "For thou alone, O Lord, have made me to dwell especially secure." For: "It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in man" (Psalm 118:8).