An Evening Prayer: Psalm 4


Often called the “Evening Prayer”, Psalm 4 is another example of a song of trust from the grand hymnbook of ancient Israel. The occasion for David’s composing this psalm is likely during his flight from his rebellious son Absalom and is a prayer offered to God at the close of yet another long, trouble-filled day. The psalmist, David, is suffering from a vicious, unrelenting campaign of personal attack. His character is being assailed; his honor and reputation is being assaulted as his enemies engage in malicious slander. And the pressure of this daily onslaught is mounting and would seek to drain every remaining ounce of faith from David’s heart. The walls inch ever closer, hemming the man of God in on every side with seemingly no way of escape. And it is precisely in this moment of obvious distress, when all hope seems lost and the ungodly appear to have the upper hand, that David turns to God in prayer.  

1 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.
2 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.
3 But know that the LORD has set apart the godly man for Himself;
The LORD hears when I call to Him.
4 Tremble, and do not sin;
Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.
5 Offer the sacrifices of righteousness,
And trust in the LORD.
6 Many are saying, “Who will show us any good?”
Lift up the light of Your countenance upon us, O LORD!
7 You have put gladness in my heart,
More than when their grain and new wine abound.
8 In peace I will both lie down and sleep,
For You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety.

David’s appeal to God (v. 1) is honest and straightforward. With the circumstances of his life squeezing tighter, he cries out for God to make room and bring him relief from these dire straits. In agony, he humbly pours out his heart with an urgent plea for mercy. Deal with me, David petitions, according to Your grace, “O God of my righteousness!” David might have been tempted to think himself righteous in this situation, especially by comparison with those seeking to do him harm. But instead, he recognizes and, remarkably, confesses his own unworthiness. David is a sinner standing in need of God’s tender compassion in order to survive this fiery ordeal. “God”, he prays, “give me what I need most but don’t deserve.” This is David’s appeal to the righteous Lord.

Subsequently, the psalmist turns his attention and begins to address his enemies (vv. 2-5). These are interesting verses as David now speaks directly to these dishonorable men as if to win them over from their error and sin. To these revilers, David asks and answers the question of “How long?”, which demonstrates the futility of his enemies’ actions. With growing confidence, he preaches to his own heart as well as to them, “But know that the Lord has set apart the godly man for Himself” (v. 3). By this, David begins to find confidence in God’s providence. Men may shame, he reasons, but God sanctifies.

At the end of the day, this psalm asserts that man is found to be completely impotent in his ability and authority while God reigns supremely and rules sovereignly over all. The Lord has set apart His godly ones for Himself and His purposes. He will, therefore, not abandon His own nor allow them to perish at the hands of evil men. For this reason, David can rest assured that though attacks will come, they will ultimately be unsuccessful and will never thwart God’s will.

What a comfort it must have been for David to comprehend that he stood under the special protection of YHWH through this great trial. If God be for me, who can be against me. This reality resided in David’s mind, and it must reside in ours when we too are confronted with similar, challenging circumstances in life. This psalm instructs us that we, like David, must have a God-ward focus in the midst of the muck of this world.

And please take note of the effect that prayer has upon the psalmist. David is undergoing an inward transformation, if you will, though his external circumstances remain basically unchanged. Through the simple, spiritual exercise of prayer, his heart increasingly graduates from fear to faith. In the span of just a few verses, David moves from anxiety to assurance, from turmoil to a quiet trusting in the Lord. And this is the very nature of prayer. Far from being an empty, vain practice, prayer is a full and vibrant communion with our heavenly Father who eagerly gives ear to His own.

So, having opened with a somber mood of burden and oppression, this psalm closes with a profound sense of God’s good favor that further produces within David overwhelming joy and peace (vv. 7-8). In the original Hebrew, the iambic rhythm of the poetry beautifully mirrors the perfect peace being expressed. The tension and turmoil that had once dominated the landscape of much of this song, now fades away like the final strains of a lullaby, giving rise to tranquil rest.

What sweet assurance and steadfast faith we receive in learning from this psalm that true joy and peace are not dependent upon favorable circumstances but God’s presence and provision in our lives. However deep the anguish, may we be reminded that in Christ, God has caused His face to brilliantly shine upon us. Ultimately, it is through Jesus that we come to experience the fullness of joy and the blessedness of peace.  

I think we can agree that there are days in each of our lives that require a psalm like this one. We as believers are certainly not immuned from affliction in this world. Scripture even says that in this world we will have troubles, troubles that seem to only multiply by the day. But when these difficult times come, and they will, may we find confidence in the knowledge that we can cry out to God. And may we find comfort in knowing that the Lord hears and answers the prayers of His children according to the kind intention of His will and outworking of His perfect providence. Charles Haddon Spurgeon rightly asserts, “God’s sovereignty is the pillow upon which the child of God rests his or her head at night, giving perfect peace.”

Keith Phillips - Elder
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