Psalm 4 is part of a unit with Psalm 3 – and both of these songs arose out of David being betrayed by his son Absalom. Just a short review of this is in order. After David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then killed her husband through a horrific military mismanagement on purpose – God said that David would face some serious consequences for his actions. The first of those came as his son Amon fell in lust with his half sister (whose brother was Absalom). He then connived so as to get her into his house – raped her – and then threw her out wanting nothing to do with her after his crime. Tamar, the half sister who was raped, was devastated and lived a desolate life in her bother’s household. Amon was not punished – and his half brother Absalom fumed with rage at what he had done. Absalom would have his day of vengeance at a feast he threw for all David’s sons. At a high point in the festivities he arose and had Amon killed. He then withdrew into a self-imposed exile. Through a series of events Absalom was restored to the kingdom, but David would not see him personally. That led to Absalom being bitter at his father – which also led to him stealing the hearts of the people of Israel by saying that David wasn’t caring for them as he should (something Absalom felt just about every day due to their very sticky situation). In time a conspiracy grew to the point where it was clear Absalom was going to declare himself king (and probably his first act would be to kill David and those who supported him). Just for the record – this was a bona-fide mess in every way. There was enough sin to go around for just about everyone in this situation. But – it did not merit rebelling against the king God established – and then seeking to kill him.
Just an aside here for our benefit is in order. We live at a time when men are furious with whatever president we have – regardless of which party he comes from in the political world. The press keeps us enraged so that our anger is always brewing beneath the surface. One can easily see where this may one day end in a coup and a rebellion to overthrow just about anyone who is in office. In light of our equally sticky situation in this day – it would be wise for us to consider the admonition given in this “Mad-as-all-Get-out” song.
Tremble and do not sin;
Meditate in your heart upon your bed and be still. Selah
Offer the sacrifices of righteousness
And trust in the LORD.
Many are saying, “Who will show us any good?”
Lift up the light of Your countenance on us O LORD!
You have put gladness in my heart,
More than when their grain and new wine abound.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep.
For you alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety.
David began this song by crying out to God for help in his distress. He wanted God more than anything in this distressing situation – which was good. When we face distressing situations it would behoove us to remember that God is better than anything, anyone, or any position that is available now – or – even will be available. David was king – deposed at the moment – but he was not crying out for a return to power. He was crying out for more of God in the midst of this mess. That is a sure sign that God is working in your mess – when you want Him more than you want relief from your problems. Many of the Jewish scholars say that by this time David was across the river and was in a relatively safe place. People were gathering to him in larger numbers – and he was no longer in grave danger of losing his life any minute. God was turning things – and eventually Absalom’s rebellion would be put down – and the young man Absalom would be killed. It is in this sense of God turning things that this part of the song was written.
Go Ahead – Be Angry . . . But
Tremble in verse 4 means to tremble with anger – and later this verse is quoted in Ephesians 4:26 as “Be angry and do not sin.” It is one thing to be angry about the sin and failings of others – but it is quite another to allow that anger to turn into bitterness, gossip, discontent, and arrogance. That is where Absalom went and it led him into murderous revenge, rebellion, gossip and lies, and even raping 10 of David’s concubines in public (the very sin he despised in Amon). When we don’t deal with our sin, as God would have us to deal with it – we wind up eventually sinning in similar ways ourselves. When it comes to anger – be very careful what you describe as “righteous anger.” If your anger leads you to other sins – it isn’t righteous.
Oh what wise counsel is given to us when David says our response should at least include time lying still meditating on our beds. I’ve noticed in my own life when I get angry that if I do not consciously do something to calm down – my anger will only escalate. Telling others about my anger leads to things like gossip, rebellious statements toward authority, judgmental statements toward authority, and arrogant statements about 99% of the time. It is better to shut down the anger – and lay down to take some time to meditate on matters. The word for meditate means to “speak within your own heart.” When we do this – and combine it with being still before God – it does wonders for our “mad-as-all-get-out” moments. David offers another wise piece of advice. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness. The phrase can also be translated, “Offer righteous sacrifices.” Cling to God’s righteousness – but also cling to the way the Righteous One shows mercy to those who offend it as well. A righteous sacrifice could also mean dealing with our own sin – even as we are so keenly aware of the sin of others in that moment. Remember that we prefer God to show mercy – when we are the ones being stupid and sinful. We might want to offer that same mercy to others in the midst of their mess too.
Go Ahead - Be Cynical . . . But
What is fascinating at this point is that what others are saying it brought into this equation. They are saying, “Who will show us ANY good!” (Emphasis mine) There is a tendency in moments like this to see the human sinfulness of these situations and want to throw up your hands in frustration. Is there any good out there? Can anyone make any sense of the mess between Absalom and David? By the time it is over the whole situation is like a three-dimensional puzzle that is beyond solving! With the prospect of no good at all – some become cynical and throw up their hands saying that there is no hope. There is no justice. There is no answer. Therefore we can’t even begin to come up with what is right. Therefore we either quit – or we just look after ourselves and give up on the rest of humanity. David’s answer is priceless!
Lift up the light of Your countenance on us O LORD! The human factor alone will lead us every time to hopelessness – because mankind is hopelessly bound in sin and selfishness. That is why we need to lift our gaze off of man – and put it on God. I’m losing all faith – until – I cry for God Himself to lift up the light of His face upon me. That is where hope – and more specifically redemption – is found. They are in HIM! When we look into the light of His face – the things of earth grow strangely dim – and we learn wisdom and what makes for true righteousness, justice, and change. Wisdom is to fear Him. Righteousness is His gift to us in Jesus Christ. Justice is what He did at Calvary, taking the sin of the world upon His Son and paying it in full. Jesus bore the penalty for all the sin of mankind. It is all answered in Him – but remember – only in Him.
David further reminds us that gladness comes from Him by His merciful grace to us. There is a gladness that abounds through Him – and that can beat any earthly possession or desire. Finally we see that we can lie down in peace and sleep – undeterred by the failings of men – by the foibles of politics – and by the frustrations of human leaders. God is the One who will give us such peace. We can even sleep peacefully. Imagine David – only a day or two out of being exiled from his kingdom. Imagine that he is only hours from fearing for his life – as he crossed a flowing river and scrambled up a mountainside to shelter. Yet now – after calling on the LORD – he is sleeping peacefully. HOW!? He took the situation and left it in the presence of God. He prayed – and possibly even sang to the God who promised to protect and keep him. This is truly amazing.
So what do we do when we are in a “Mad-as-all-get-out” moment singing a blues song about how ticked off we are at another person – another politician – another spiritual leader who we learned has clay feet? For starters – we don’t give anger a wide berth in our lives. We narrow it to God’s righteousness – and temper it with God’s mercy (even as we remember more than a few times when God withheld wrath and showed mercy. Then we take time to talk to ourselves in a peaceful, meditative moment with the Lord. Then we ignore the naysayers who want to fill our minds with hopelessness – with cynicism – and with recrimination against those who have failed us. Instead, we fix our eyes on the Lord Himself. We find what is good and holy in a fixed gaze upon Him. Then we remember that what is best is He Himself and what He provides. And we surrender to God taking us out of our “mad-as-all-get-out moment and introducing us to His view of things where even as sin abounds – mercy abounds as well.