Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
1. "The title of the psalm." - The title of this psalm is "To the chief Musician on Neginoth. A psalm of David." This phrase in the title, "To the chief Musician," occurs at the beginning of 53 psalms, and at the close of the hymn in Hab 3:19. It is uniformly rendered "to the chief Musician," and means that the psalm was intended for him, or was to be given to him, probably to regulate the manner of performing it. In no one instance does the title imply that he was the author. The word rendered "Chief Musician, מנצח menâtsēcha, is derived from נצח nâtsach, properly meaning "to shine," but not used in the Qal. In the Piel form it means to be conspicuous; to be over anything; to be chief; to be superintendent Ch2 2:2, Ch2 2:18; Ch2 34:12, and then it means to lead in music. The meaning of the form used here, and in the other places where it occurs as a title to a psalm, is "Chief Musician," or precentor; and the idea is, that the psalm is to be performed under his direction; or that the music is to be directed and adapted by him.
In the case before us there is a particular designation of the "instrument" that was to be employed in the music; which occurs also in Psa 6:1-10; Psa 54:1-7; Ps. 55; Psa 61:1-8; Psa 67:1-7; Psa 76:1-12; where the same instrument is mentioned as here. In Psa 8:1-9; Ps. 81; Psa 84:1-12, another instrument is mentioned; and in Ps. 45; Psa 60:1-12; Ps. 80, another instrument still. It would seem that the author of the psalm frequently adapted his poem to a particular kind of instrument, but left the further arrangement of the music to the precentor himself. The word "Neginoth," plural of "Neginah" - נגינה negı̂ynâh - means properly "stringed instruments." It occurs in the title of the following psalms, Psa 4:1-8; Psa 6:1-10; Psa 54:1-7; Ps. 55; Psa 67:1-7; Psa 76:1-12. It means in these cases that the psalm was designed to be sung with the accompaniment of some stringed instrument, or under the direction of the musician, who presided over the department of stringed instruments. It designates nothing as to the kind of stringed instruments which were to be employed.
2. "The author of the psalm." This psalm, like the preceding, purports to be a psalm of David, and there is no reason to doubt the correctness of this opinion. Indeed, there is some internal probability that, if the former psalm was composed by him, this was also, for as that appears to be a "morning" psalm Psa 3:5, so this seems to be its counterpart, and to be designed to be an "evening" psalm, Psa 4:4, Psa 4:8. The general resemblance in the structure, and the reference in the one to the morning, and in the other to the evening, show that the two were designed, probably, to be a kind of "double" psalm, to be used on the same day, the one in the morning, and the other in the evening. If this is so, and if David was the author of the third psalm, then there is the same reason to suppose that he was the author also of this. It may be added there has been a general concurrence of opinion in the belief that the psalm was written by David.
3. "The occasion on which the psalm was composed." There is nothing in the psalm, or in the title, to determine this question, and it is now impossible to settle it with certainty. The Jewish interpreters generally, and most Christian expositors, suppose that it was composed on the same occasion as the preceding, in relation to the rebellion of Absalom. But there is nothing in the psalm itself which will certainly determine this, or which would make it improbable that it might have been composed at some other time in the life of David. It should be said, however, that there is nothing in the psalm which is inconsistent with that supposition, especially as the manifest purpose of the psalm is to make the occasion, whatever it was, one on which to utter great thoughts that would be valuable at all times. There is some internal evidence that this psalm was composed in reference to the same circumstances as the preceding, with this difference, that "that" was when the writer was in the midst of his troubles, and when he thought it a great mercy that he had been permitted to enjoy a night of quiet rest Psa 3:5; "this," when he had obtained deliverance from those troubles, and now felt that he "could" give himself to calm repose without anxiety and fear, Psa 4:8.
4. "The contents of the psalm." The psalm expresses general confidence in God, and a general sense of security. The writer is conscious, indeed, that he has enemies, and that they would "turn" his "glory into shame" if they could; that they are false men who seek his ruin by detractions Psa 4:2, but still he has confidence in God that all will be well. Though he has enemies who are seeking to destroy him, yet his mind is so calm that he feels that he can commit himself confidently to God, and lie down and slumber. The general subject, therefore, of the psalm is the fact that confidence in God will make the mind calm in the midst of troubles, and that reliance on his protecting care will enable us to give ourselves at night to undisturbed repose. The following points occur in the psalm on this general subject.
(a) The writer calls on God to hear him, and makes it the ground of his petition that he had formerly heard him - that he had enlarged him when he was in distress, Psa 4:1.
(b) He addresses directly his enemies, and gives them counsel as to what they ought to do, Psa 4:2-5. He solemnly appeals to them, and asks them how long they would persevere in attempting to turn his glory into shame, Psa 4:2; he conjures them to remember that all their efforts must be in vain, since the Lord had set apart him that was godly for himself, and would protect him, Psa 4:3; he exhorts them to stand in awe, and to fear the consequences of the course which they were pursuing, and exhorts them to take proper time to reflect upon it - to think on it in the night, when alone with God, and when away from the excitements of the day, Psa 4:4; and he entreats them to become themselves true worshippers of God, and to offer to him the sacrifices of righteousness, Psa 4:5.
(c) He contrasts the sources of his own joy and theirs, Psa 4:6-7. They were seeking worldly good, and endeavored to find their happiness in that alone; he desired more than that, and, as the chief source of his joy, asked that God would lift upon him the light of his countenance. He had experienced this, and he says that God "had put gladness into his heart more than in the time that their corn and wine increased." He had more real happiness in the conscious favor of God than the greatest worldly prosperity without that could afford. Religion will, in time of trouble, give more true happiness than all that the world can bestow.
(d) As the result of all, and in view of all these mercies and comforts, he says that he will lie calmly down and sleep. Though he had enemies, his mind is composed and calm; though there may be dangers, he can confide in God; and though he may be less prospered in worldly things than others, he has a joy in religion superior to all that the world can give; and that makes the mind calm as the body is committed to rest in the darkness of the night, Psa 4:8.
Hear me when I call - When I pray. The word "hear" in such cases is always used in the sense of "listen to," "hear favorably," or "attend to;" hence, in the literal sense it is always true that God "hears" all that is said. The meaning is, "hear and answer me," or grant me what I ask.
O God of my righteousness - That is, O my righteous God. This is a common mode of expression in Hebrew. Thus, in Psa 2:6, "hill of my holiness," meaning "my holy hill;" Psa 3:4, "his hill of holiness," meaning "his holy hill." The psalmist here appeals to God as "his" God - the God in whom he trusted; and as a "righteous" God - a God who would do that which was right, and on whom, therefore, he might rely as one who would protect his own people. The appeal to God as a righteous God implies a conviction in the mind of the psalmist of the justice of his cause; and he asks God merely to do "right" in the case. It is not on the ground of his own claim as a righteous man, but it is that, in this particular case, he was wrongfully persecuted; and he asks God to interpose, and to cause justice to be done. This is always a proper ground of appeal to God. A man may be sensible that in a particular case he has justice on his side, though he has a general conviction that he himself is a sinner; and he may pray to God to cause his enemies to do right, or to lead those whose office it is to decide the case, to do what ought to be done to vindicate his name, or to save him from wrong.
Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress - That is, on some former occasion. When he was "pressed" or "confined," and knew not how to escape, God had interposed and had given him room, so that he felt free. He now implores the same mercy again. He feels that the God who had done it in former troubles could do it again; and he asks him to repeat his mercy. The prayer indicates confidence in the power and the unchangeableness of God, and proves that it is right in our prayers to recall the former instances of the divine interposition, as an argument, or as a ground of hope that God would again interpose.
Have mercy upon me - In my present troubles. That is, Pity me, and have compassion on me, as thou hast done in former times. Who that has felt the assurance that God has heard his prayer in former times, and has delivered him from trouble, will not go to him with the more confident assurance that he will hear him again?
O ye sons of men - Turning from God to men; from Him in whom he hoped for protection to those who were engaged in persecuting him. We are not, of course, to suppose that they were present with him, but this is an earnest, poetic remonstrance, "as if" they were with him. The reference is doubtless to Absalom and his followers; and he calls them "sons of men," as having human feelings, passions, and purposes, in strong distinction from that righteous God to whom he had just made his solemn appeal. God was holy, true, and just, and he might appeal to Him; they were ambitious and wicked, and from them he had nothing to hope. He looked upon God as righteous altogether; he looked upon them as altogether depraved and wicked. God he regarded as his just Protector; them he regarded as seeking only to wrong and crush him.
How long - The phrase used here might refer either to "time" or to "extent." How long in regard to "time," - or to what "degree" or "extent" will you thus persecute me? The former, however, seems to be the true signification.
Will ye turn my glory into shame - My honor, or what becomes my rank and station. If this refers to the rebellion in the time of Absalom, the allusion is to the fact that his enemies were endeavoring to rob him of his scepter and his crown, and to reduce him to the lowest condition of beggary and want; and he asks with earnestness how long they intended to do him so great injustice and wrong.
Will ye love vanity - Compare the notes at Psa 2:1. That is, how long will you act as if you were in love with a vain and impracticable thing; a thing which "must" be hopeless in the end. The idea is, that God had chosen him, and anointed him, and had determined that he should be king Psa 4:3, and therefore, that their efforts "must be" ultimately unsuccessful. The object at which they were aiming could not be accomplished, and he asks how long they would thus engage in what must, from the nature of the case, be fruitless.
And seek after leasing - The word "leasing" is the Old English word for "lie." The idea here is, that they were pursuing a course which would yet prove to be a delusion - the hope of overturning his throne. The same question, in other respects, may be asked now. Men are seeking that which cannot be accomplished, and are acting under the influence of a lie. What else are the promises of permanent happiness in the pursuits of pleasure and ambition? What else are their attempts to overthrow religion and virtue in the world?
Selah - See the notes at Psa 3:2.
But know - This is addressed to those whom, in the previous verse, he had called the "sons of men;" that is, his foes. This is designed to show them that their opposition to him must be vain, since God had determined to set him apart for his own service, and would, therefore, hear his prayer for relief and protection.
That the Lord hath set apart - That Yahweh had done this; that is, that he had designated him to accomplish a certain work, or that he regarded him as an instrument to perform it. He would, therefore, protect him whom he had thus appointed; and their efforts were really directed against Yahweh himself, and must be vain.
Him that is godly for himself - For his own purposes, or to accomplish his own designs. The reference is here undoubtedly to the psalmist himself; that is, to David. The word "godly," as applied to himself, is probably used in contrast with his enemies as being engaged in wicked designs, to wit, in rebellion, and in seeking to dispossess him of his lawful throne. The psalmist felt that his cause was a righteous cause, that he had done nothing to deserve this treatment at their hands; and that he had been originally exalted to the throne because God regarded him as a friend of himself and of his cause; and because he knew that he would promote the interests of that cause. The word here rendered "godly," חסיד châsı̂yd, is derived from חסד chesed, which means desire, ardor, zeal; and then kindness, benignity, love toward God or man. Here the word properly denotes one who has love to God, or one who is truly pious; and it is correctly rendered "godly." Compare Psa 30:4-5; Psa 31:23; Psa 37:28. The idea is, that as God had appointed him for his own great purposes, the real aim of the rebels was to oppose Yahweh; and the purposes in which they were engaged could not, therefore, be successful.
The Lord will hear when I call unto him - As I am engaged in his service; as I am appointed to accomplish a certain purpose for him, I may confidently believe that he will hear me, and will deliver me out of their hands. Is not this always the true ground of encouragement to pray - that if God has a purpose to accomplish by us he will hear our prayer, and save us from danger, and deliver us out of the hand of our enemies? And should not this be the main design in our prayers - that God "would" thus spare us that we may accomplish the work which he has given us to do?
Stand in awe - Still addressed to those who in Psa 4:2 are called "sons of men;" that is, to his enemies. This is rendered by Prof. Alexander, "Rage and sin not." The Aramaic Paraphrase renders it, "Tremble before him, and sin not." The Latin Vulgate, "Irascimini" - "be angry." The Septuagint ὀργίζεσθε καὶ μὴ ἁμαρτάνετε orgizesthe kai mē hamartanete, "Be ye angry, and sin not" - a rendering which Paul seems to have had in his eye in Eph 4:26, where the same language is found. It is not necessary, however, to suppose that, in this case, or by so quoting this language, Paul meant to give his sanction to the Septuagint translation of the passage. The truth doubtless is, that he found this language in that version, and that he quoted it, not as a correct translation, but as exactly expressing an idea which he wished to convey - in the same way as he would have quoted an expression from a Greek classic.
It was made to convey an inspired sentiment by his use of it; whether it was a fair translation of the original Hebrew was another question. For the meaning of the sentiment, see the notes at Eph 4:26. The original word here - רגז râgaz - means to be moved, disturbed, disquieted, thrown into commotion; and as this may be by anger, fear, or grief, so the word comes to be used with reference to any one of these things. - Gesenius, Lexicon. The connection here would seem to require that it should be understood with reference to "fear" - since we cannot suppose that the writer would counsel them to be moved or agitated by wrath or anger, and since there was no ground for exhorting them to be moved by grief. The true idea is, doubtless, that which is conveyed in our translation - that they were to fear; to stand in awe; to reflect on the course which they were pursuing, and on the consequences of that course, and by so doing to cease from their plans, and to sin no further. God had determined to protect him whom they were engaged in persecuting, and, in prosecuting their plans, they must come into conflict with His power, and be overcome. The counsel, therefore, is just such as may properly be given to all men who are engaged in executing plans of evil.
And sin not - That is, by continuing to prosecute these plans. Your course is one of rebellion against Yahweh, since he has determined to protect him whom you are endeavoring to drive from his throne, and any further prosecution of your schemes must be regarded as additional guilt. They had indeed sinned by what they had already done; they would only sin the more unless they abandoned their undertaking.
Commune with your own heart - Hebrew: "Speak with your own heart;" that is, consult your own "heart" on the subject, and be guided by the result of such a deliberation. The language is similar to what we often use when we say, "Consult your better judgment," or "Consult your feelings," or "Take counsel of your own good sense;" as if a man were divided against himself, and his passions, his ambition, or his avarice, were contrary to his own better judgment. The word "heart" here is used in the sense in which we now use it as denoting the seat of the affections, and especially of right affections; and the meaning is, "Do not take counsel of, or be influenced by, your head, your will, your passions, your evil advisers and counselors; but consult your own better feelings, your generous emotions, your sense of right, and act accordingly." People would frequently be much more likely to do right if they would consult their "hearts" as to what should be done than they are in following the counsels which actually influence them. The secret, silent teachings of the "heart" - the heart when unbiased and uninfluenced by bad counselors - is often our best and safest guide.
Upon your bed - Admirable advice to those who are engaged in plans of wickedness. In the silence of night; in solitary musings on our bed; when withdrawn from the world, and from all the promptings of passion and ambition, and when, if at any time, we cannot but feel that the eye of God is upon us, the mind is most likely to be in a proper state to review its plans, and to inquire whether those plans can be expected to meet the divine approbation.
And be still - When you are thus quiet, reflect on your doings. For a most beautiful description of the effect of night and silence in recalling wicked men from their schemes, see Job 33:14-17. Compare the notes at that passage.
Selah - This, as explained in the notes at Psa 3:2, marks a musical pause. The pause here would well accord with the sense, and would most happily occur after the allusion to the quiet communion on the bed, and the exhortation to be still.
Offer the sacrifices of righteousness - Offer righteous sacrifices; that is, sacrifices prompted by right motives, and in accordance with the prescriptions in the law of God. This appears to be addressed also to those who in Psa 4:2 are called "sons of men;" that is, those who were arrayed against the psalmist. According to the common opinion this psalm was composed by David on occasion of his being driven from his throne and kingdom; and, of course, Zion, the ark, and the tabernacle, were in the hands of his enemies. The exhortation here may be, either that, as his enemies were now in possession of the usual seat of public worship, they would conduct the worship of God by keeping up the regular daily sacrifice; or, more probably, it means that in view of their sins, particularly in this rebellion, and as the result of the calm reflection to which he had exhorted them in Psa 4:4, they should now manifest their repentance, and their purpose to turn to God, by presenting to him an appropriate sacrifice. They were sinners. They were engaged in an unholy cause. He exhorts them to pause, to reflect, to turn to God, and to bring a sacrifice for their sins, that their guilt might be blotted out.
And put your trust in the Lord - That is, turn from your evil ways, and confide in God in all his arrangements, and submit to him. Compare Psa 2:12.
There be many that say - Some have supposed, as DeWette and others, that the allusion of the psalmist here is to his own followers, and that the reference is to their anxious fears in their misfortunes, as if they were poor and forsaken, and knew not from from where the supply of their wants would come. The more probable interpretation, however, is that the allusion is to the general anxiety of mankind, as contrasted with the feelings and desires of the psalmist himself in reference to the manner in which the desire was to be gratified. That is, the general inquiry among mankind is, who will show us good? Or, where shall we obtain that which seems to us to be good, or which will promote our happiness?
Who will show us any good? - The word "any" here is improperly supplied by the translators. The question is more emphatic as it is in the original - "Who will show us good?" That is, Where shall happiness be found? In what does it consist? How is it to be obtained? What will contribute to it? This is the "general" question asked by mankind. The "answer" to this question, of course, would be very various, and the psalmist evidently intends to place the answer which "he" would give in strong contrast with that which would be given by the mass of men. Some would place it in wealth; some in honor; some in palaces and pleasure grounds; some in gross sensual pleasure; some in literature; and some in refined social enjoyments. In contrast with all such views of the sources of true happiness, the psalmist says that he regards it as consisting in the favor and friendship of God. To him that was enough; and in this respect his views stood in strong contrast with those of the world around him. The "connection" here seems to be this - the psalmist saw those persons who were arrayed against him intent on their own selfish aims, prosecuting their purposes, regardless of the honor of God and the rights of other men; and he is led to make the reflection that this is the "general" character of mankind. They are seeking for happiness; they are actively employed in prosecuting their own selfish ends and purposes. They live simply to know how they shall be "happy," and they prosecute any scheme which would seem to promise happiness, regardless of the rights of others and the claims of religion.
Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us - That is, in contrast with the feelings and plans of others. In the pursuit of what "they" regarded as good they were engaged in purposes of gain, of pleasure, or of ambition; he, on the contrary, asked only the favor of God - the light of the divine countenance. The phrase, "to lift up the light of the countenance" on one, is of frequent occurrence in the Scriptures, and is expressive of favor and friendship. When we are angry or displeased, the face seems covered with a dark cloud; when pleased, it brightens up and expresses benignity. There is undoubtedly allusion in this expression to the sun as it rises free from clouds and tempests, seeming to smile upon the world. The language here was not improbably derived from the benediction which the high priest was commanded to pronounce when he blessed the people of Israel Num 6:24-26, "The Lord bless thee, and keep thee; the Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace." It may be added here, that what the psalmist regarded as the "supreme good" - the favor and friendship of God - is expressive of true piety in all ages and at all times. While the world is busy in seeking happiness in other things - in wealth, pleasure, gaiety, ambition, sensual delights - the child of God feels that true happiness is to be found only in religion, and in the service and friendship of the Creator; and, after all the anxious inquiries which men make, and the various experiments tried in succeeding ages, to find the source of true happiness, all who ever find it will be led to seek it where the psalmist said his happiness was found - in the light of the countenance of God.
Thou hast put gladness in my heart - Thou hast made me happy, to wit, in the manner specified in Psa 4:6. Many had sought happiness in other things; he had sought it in the favor of the Lord, and the Lord had given him a degree of happiness which they had never found in the most prosperous worldly condition. This happiness had its seat in the "heart," and not in any external circumstances. All true happiness must have its seat there, for if the heart is sad, of what avail are the most prosperous external circumstances?
More than in the time - More than they have had in the time referred to; or, more than I should have in such circumstances.
That their corn and their wine increased - When they were most successful and prosperous in worldly things. This shows that when, in Psa 4:6, he says that many inquired who would show them any "good," what they aspired after was worldly prosperity, here expressed by an increase of grain and wine. The word rendered "corn" means grain in general; the word rendered "wine" - תירושׁ tı̂yrôsh - means properly "must, new wine," Isa 65:8. The reference here is probably to the joy of harvest, when the fruits of the earth were gathered in, an occasion among the Hebrews, as it is among most people, of joy and rejoicing.
I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep - The word "both" here means "at the same time;" that is, I will alike be in peace, and I will lie down and will sleep; I will have a mind at peace (or, in tranquility) when I lie down, and will sleep calmly. This is said in view of his confidence in God, and of his belief that God would preserve him. He had put his trust in him; he had sought his happiness in him, and now he felt assured that he had nothing to fear, and, at peace with God, he would lie down and compose himself to rest. This is the counterpart of what is said in Psa 3:5. There he says in the morning, that, though surrounded by fear, he "had" been permitted to lie calmly down and sleep; here he says, that, though he is surrounded by fear, he has such confidence in God, that he "will" give himself to quiet slumber. His mind was free from anxiety as to the result of the present troubles; he had calm confidence in God; he committed all to him; and thus gave himself to rest. No one can fail to admire the beauty of this; and no one can fail to perceive that entire confidence in God, and an assurance that all things are under his control, are best adapted of all things to give peaceful days and nights.
For thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety - There are two ideas here:
(a) One a confidence that he would abide in safety;
(b) the other, that he owed this entirely to the Lord.
He had no power to defend himself, and yet he felt assured that he would be safe - for he put his trust entirely in the Lord. The whole language implies unwavering trust or confidence in God, and is thus instructive and useful for all. It teaches us:
(1) that in the midst of troubles we may put our trust in God; and
(2) that religion is adapted to make the mind calm in such circumstances, and to enable its possessor to lie down without anxiety in the slumbers of the night, and to pursue without anxiety the duties of the day.