Summary: Having the audacity to implore God in the imperative.
A LIVING FAITH AT PRAYER
It is because we have had experience of answered prayer in the past that we can expect answered prayer for the future. It is because we are ‘the righteousness of God’ in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21) that we can ‘boldly approach the throne of grace’ (Hebrews 4:16) and have the audacity to implore God in the imperative as the Psalmist does here. “Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness” (Psalm 4:1a) is not self-righteousness but living faith-in-action!
The plea is based in past mercies: “you enlarged me/ gave me room when I was constricted”; or “you relieved me when I was in distress” (Psalm 4:1b). The fact of the matter is, that God answers prayer - as every Christian should surely know. So, we can say, ‘It is because of your mercy that we are not consumed… Great is your faithfulness’ (Lamentations 3:22-23).
And we can go on pleading in the imperative, “Have mercy on me”, or “Be gracious to me” - and “hear my prayer” (Psalm 4:1c). It may seem impossible, or perhaps already too late: but ‘nothing is impossible with God’ (Luke 1:37); indeed ‘all things are possible with God’ (Matthew 19:26). And the answer of God to our prayers is never too late.
Think of Jesus at Gethsemane: did He not sweat great drops of blood? ‘In the days of His flesh,’ did He not offer up ‘prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death’ and was He not ‘heard in that He feared’ (Hebrews 5:7)? Yet the bitter cup did not pass from Him, but He was saved not from, but out of death - and procured our salvation in the process!
David has already identified the LORD as ‘my Glory and the lifter up of my head’ (Psalm 3:3). The Psalmist now addresses his enemies, complaining that “his glory (or honour)” has been turned to shame (Psalm 4:2a). This is not just about personal honour, but zeal for the LORD: it is one thing for our name to be cut off from the earth, but quite another when people bring disgrace to the name of the LORD (cf. Joshua 7:9)!
Slander appears to be the basis for the Psalmist’s complaint (Psalm 4:2b). (In K.J.V., “leasing” is an old English word for lies). ‘Blessed are you,’ says Jesus, ‘when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my name’s sake’ (Matthew 5:11).
But the Psalmist’s confidence is in the LORD. “Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for Himself: the LORD will hear when I call Him,” he asserts to his would-be naysayers (Psalm 4:3).
As well as naysayers, the Psalmist has friends. The Christian under persecution may think he is all alone, as did Elijah (1 Kings 19:10): but we are not (1 Kings 19:18). So, the Psalmist gives proverbial advice to his friends.
The proverb begins in the imperative: “Stand in awe and sin not” (Psalm 4:4a), quoted by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:26 as ‘Be angry but sin not: let not the sun go down on your anger.’ There is, after all, such a thing as righteous anger: but we must not allow it to fester in our hearts, nor give vent to our anger in a sinful manner.
So, the second piece of advice is to meditate within our hearts on our beds, and “be still” (Psalm 4:4b). When the troubles of the past day present themselves in what should be our sleeping hours, meditation on the word of God is an appropriate response (cf. Psalm 63:6).
The writer here adds, “Offer the sacrifices of righteousness” (Psalm 4:5a). Jesus addresses the issue of ‘right sacrifices’ in Matthew 5:23-24. We cannot present ourselves anew to the Lord in the morning, if our hearts are still festering with yesterday’s arguments. No, we must “put our trust in the LORD” (Psalm 4:5b).
There may be an ironic ring to Psalm 4:6a: “There be many that say, ‘Who will show us any good?’” There is a difference after all, between ‘saying prayers’ and truly praying. Or it may be for real: perhaps it is only when we offer “right sacrifices” (Psalm 4:5a; cf. Romans 12:1-2) that we can truly contemplate what it means to have the LORD “lift up the light of His countenance upon us” (Psalm 4:6b; cf. Numbers 6:26)?
By the end of this short prayer, the Psalmist is rejoicing in his heart. It is a gladness that exceeds the joy of harvest (Psalm 4:7) when we know that the LORD has heard and is answering our petitions (cf. Isaiah 65:24).