Summary: where can "safe space" be found?
The buzzword today seems to be “safe places.” Universities and other institutions are setting up safe places where people can express their opinions without anyone challenging them. People with differing opinions are simply not allowed. This, somehow is supposed to make people feel safe. But are these “safe places” safe at all.
Today we will look at Psalm 4, which is said to be a Psalm of David to be played upon stringed instruments. Other than that, we don’t know the specific situation David was facing at this time. There are many experiences recorded in David’s life that could fit. David was a man of war and had many external enemies. He also had internal enemies. He had strife and intrigue within his own family. Some of his problems came from without and some were of his own making. But the common denominator is that David’s life was often in danger, and he was conflicted himself.
Because we don’t have a written occasion for the psalm, we must go to the text itself to explain this psalm. It is obvious from the beginning that David is in distress, and when he was in distress he called upon God. He reminds that God is righteous, and that David was one of His own. David is calling upon God his benefactor to make a situation in his life right. He asks God to be merciful to him and hear his prayer. In the benefactor arrangement with a client, David was following the rules of addressing his superior. The benefactor, or suzerain, was obligated to come to the relief of his subject in time of need. In times of war, this would mean sending an army to protect a client city from external attack, for example. At the same time, David is careful not to demand his rights as God’s subject but instead asks God to be merciful to him. This is the posture of humility expected of a client.
Verse three seems to indicate that he was the subject of false accusations from outside Israel. He says these people were shaming him. David was personally pained by these accusations. He noticed that his accusers were going after false gods. This might indicate that his accusers came from the nations surrounding him. An occasion like this would be when the Jebusites taunted David in 2 Samuel 5:6 that even the blind and lame in the city could stop David. One might also think of the taunts of Goliath. So David makes God aware that by defending him, He is also vindicating Himsel against the claims of false gods. By helping David, God is also helping Himself.
David continues to address his enemies by reminding them that Yahweh has reserved the godly person to Himself, and that they should be careful not to attack the LORD’s people. Yahweh would certainly come to the rescue of David, just as He comes to rescue all His people. David reminds his enemies not to sin in their anger and to put aside these delusional dreams and schemes they devise upon their beds.
David now appeals to his enemies to turn from their wicked designs and instead offer proper sacrifices to the LORD. He challenges to give up these false gods they had been serving and instead to trust in the God of Israel. He does not pray for the destruction of the enemies, but rather that they might be won over to the true God and therby become his friends.
In verse six, David relates that there was much confusion, apparently in the camp of Israel. Those who were taunting David seem to also have been taunting the people of Israel as a whole. They were wondering where they might find help. David reminds them that their help comes from the LORD. He asks the LORD to shine in their hearts and encourage them that He is stronger than their enemies.
David ends the psalm with a benediction. When He reflects on all the good the LORD has graced David with, he realizes that it is far greater joy than the joy of the feast in which men are gladdened by abundant food and wine. Yahweh is the one who sets table in the presence of enemies and not just in the presence of friends. This is affirmed in the 23rd Psalm. Surely, the LORD’s cup runneth over even here. Even in the presence of his accusers, he can rest peacefully, knowing that the LORD is with him. The enemies devise schemes on their beds, but David does not need to scheme but trust in the God of Israel. Nothing else could make him sleep peacefully. The LORD will keep David safely as He has done in the past.
We find a situation like the one David faced in the life of St. Augustine which he records in the “City of God.” Towards the end of his life, the barbarians breached the defenses of Rome and sacked it. Many were killed and others taken off captive. It was a time of terrible distress. Rome, the “Christian” city was utterly humiliated. Yet, every one who took refuge in the churches of the city were spared as the barbarians were afraid t enter and desecrate the church. Even so, many accused the ruin of Rome of Christianity. They had forsaken the ancient gods of Rome whom they thought had protected the city. Many of the Romans seemed to forget that is was the Christian churches which had offered them sanctuary in troubled times. Augustine in several hundred pages addresses this calamity, In it, he provided much comfort in confusing times. Even in the midst of calamity, the people of God had reason to sleep at night. The walls of Rome were no refuge. They provided no safe space. It was only the walls of the church which gave them safely. The LORD of the church had protected them.