The title of the psalm acquaints us that David, having penned it by divine inspiration for the use of the church, delivered it to the chief musician, or master of the song, who (according to the divine appointment of psalmody made in his time, which he was chiefly instrumental in the establishment of) presided in that service. We have a particular account of the constitution, the modelling of the several classes of singers, each with a chief, and the share each bore in the work, 1 Chron. 25:1-31 Some prophesied according to the order of the king, Ps. 4:2. Others prophesied with a harp, to give thanks, and to praise the Lord, Ps. 4:3. Of others it is said that they were to lift up the horn, Ps. 4:5. But of them all, that they were for song in the house of the Lord (Ps. 4:6) and were instructed in the songs of the Lord, Ps. 4:7. This psalm was committed to one of the chiefs, to be sung on neginoth—stringed instruments (Hab. 3:19), which were played on with the hand; with music of that kind the choristers were to sing this psalm: and it should seem that then they only sung, not the people; but the New-Testament appoints all Christians to sing (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), from whom it is expected that they do it decently, not artfully; and therefore there is not now so much occasion for musical instruments as there was then: the melody is to be made in the heart. In Ps. 4:1-5
I. David addresses himself to God, Ps. 4:1. Whether the sons of men, to whom he is about to speak, will hear, or whether they will forbear, he hopes and prays that God will give him a generous audience, and an answer of peace: “Hear me when I call, and accept my adorations, grant my petitions, and judge upon my appeals; have mercy upon me, and hear me.” All the notice God is pleased to take of our prayers, and all the returns he is pleased to make to them, must be ascribed, not to our merit, but purely to his mercy. “Hear me for thy mercy-sake” is our best plea. Two things David here pleads further:—1. “Thou art the God of my righteousness; not only a righteous God thyself, but the author of my righteous dispositions, who hast by the grace wrought that good that is in me, hast made me a righteous man; therefore hear men, and so attest thy own work in me; thou art also the patron of my righteous cause, the protector of my wronged innocency, to whom I commit my way, and whom I trust to bring forth my righteousness as the light.” When men condemn us unjustly, this is our comfort, It is God that justifies; he is the God of a believer’s righteousness. 2. “Thou has formerly enlarged me when I was in distress, enlarged my heart in holy joy and comfort under my distresses, enlarged my condition by bringing me out of my distresses; therefore now, Lord, have mercy upon me, and hear me.” The experience we have had of God’s goodness to us in enlarging us when we have been in distress is not only a great encouragement to our faith and hope for the future, but a good plea with God in prayer. “Thou hast; wilt thou not? For thou art God, and changest not; thy work is perfect.”
II. He addresses himself to the children of men, for the conviction and conversion of those that are yet strangers to God, and that will not have the Messiah, the Son of David, to reign over them.
1. He endeavours to convince them of the folly of their impiety (Ps. 4:2). “O you sons of Men” (of great men, so some, men of high degree, understanding it of the partisans of Saul or Absalom), “how long will you oppose me and my government, and continue disaffected to it, under the influence of the false and groundless suggestions of those that wish evil to me?” Or it may be taken more generally. God, by the psalmist, here reasons with sinners to bring them to repentance. “You that go on in the neglect of God and his worship, and in contempt of the kingdom of Christ and his government, consider what you do.” (1.) “You debase yourselves, for you are sons of men” (the word signifies man as a noble creature); “consider the dignity of your nature, and the excellency of those powers of reason with which you are endued, and do not act thus irrationally and unbecoming yourselves.” Let the sons of men consider and show themselves men. (2.) “You dishonour your Maker, and turn his glory into shame.” They may well be taken as God’s own words, charging sinners with the wrong they do him in his honour: or, if David’s words, the term glory may be understood of God, whom he called his glory, Ps. 3:3. Idolaters are charged with changing the glory of God into shame, Rom. 1:23. All wilful sinners do so by disobeying the commands of his law, despising the offers of his grace, and giving the affection and service to the creature which are due to God only. Those that profane God’s holy name, that ridicule his word and ordinances, and, while they profess to know him, in works deny him, do what in them lies to turn his glory into shame. (3.) “You put a cheat upon yourselves: You love vanity, and seek after leasing, or lying, or that which is a lie. You are yourselves vain and lying, and you love to be so.” Or, “You set your hearts upon that which will prove, at last, but vanity and a lie.” Those that love the world, and seek the things that are beneath, love vanity, and seek lies; as those also do that please themselves with the delights of sense, and portion themselves with the wealth of this world; for these will deceive them, and so ruin them. “How long will you do this? Will you never be wise for yourselves, never consider your duty and interest? When shall it once be?” Jer. 13:27. The God of heaven thinks the time long that sinners persist in dishonouring him and in deceiving and ruining themselves.
2. He shows them the peculiar favour which God has for good people, the special protection they are under, and the singular privileges to which they are entitled, Ps. 4:3. This comes in here, (1.) As a reason why they should not oppose or persecute him that is godly, nor think to run him down. It is at their peril if they offend one of these little ones, whom God has set apart for himself, Matt. 18:6. God reckons that those who touch them touch the apple of his eye; and he will make their persecutors to know it, sooner or later. They have an interest in heaven, God will hear them, and therefore let none dare to do them any injury, for God will hear their cry and plead their cause, Exod. 22:23. It is generally supposed that David speaks of his own designation to the throne; he is the godly man whom the Lord has set apart for that honour, and who does not usurp it or assume it to himself: “The opposition therefore which you give to him and to his advancement is very criminal, for the rein you fight against God, and it will be vain and ineffectual.” God has, in like manner, set apart the Lord Jesus for himself, that merciful One; and those that attempt to hinder his advancement will certainly be baffled, for the Father hears him always. Or, (2.) As a reason why they should themselves be good, and walk no longer in the counsel of the ungodly: “You have hitherto sought vanity; be truly religious, and you will be truly happy here and for ever; for,” [1.] “God will secure to himself his interest in you.” The Lord has set apart him that is godly, every particular godly man, for himself, in his eternal choice, in his effectual calling, in the special disposals of his providence and operations of his grace; his people are purified unto him a peculiar people. Godly men are God’s separated, sealed, ones; he knows those that are his, and has set his image and superscription upon them; he distinguishes them with uncommon favours: They shall be mine, saith the Lord, in that day when I make up my jewels. Know this; let godly people know it, and let them never alienate themselves from him to whom they are thus appropriated; let wicked people know it, and take heed how they hurt those whom God protects. [2.] “God will secure to you an interest in himself.” This David speaks with application: The Lord will hear when I call unto him. We should think ourselves happy if we had the ear of an earthly prince; and is it not worth while upon any terms, especially such easy ones, to gain the ear of the King of kings? Let us know this, and forsake lying vanities for our own mercies.
3. He warns them against sin, and exhorts them both to frighten and to reason themselves out of it (Ps. 4:4): “Stand in awe and sin not” (be angry and sin not, so the LXX., and some think the apostle takes that exhortation from him, Eph. 4:26); “commune with your own hearts; be converted, and, in order thereunto, consider and fear.” Note, (1.) We must not sin, must not miss our way and so miss our aim. (2.) One good remedy against sin is to stand in awe. Be moved (so some), in opposition to carelessness and carnal security. “Always keep up a holy reverence of the glory and majesty of God, and a holy dread of his wrath and curse, and dare not to provoke him.” (3.) One good means of preventing sin, and preserving a holy awe, is to be frequent and serious in communing with our own hearts: “Talk with your hearts; you have a great deal to say to them; they may be spoken with at any time; let it not be unsaid.” A thinking man is in a fair way to be a wise and a good man. “Commune with your hearts; examine them by serious self-reflection, that you may acquaint yourselves with them and amend what is amiss in them; employ them in solemn pious meditations; let your thoughts fasten upon that which is good and keep closely to it. Consider your ways, and observe the directions here given in order to the doing of this work well and to good purpose.” [1.] “Choose a solitary time; do it when you lie awake upon your beds. Before you turn yourself to go to sleep at night” (as some of the heathen moralists have directed) “examine your consciences with respect to what you have done that day, particularly what you have done amiss, that you may repent of it. When you awake in the night meditate upon God, and the things that belong to your peace.” David himself practised what he here counsels others to do (Ps. 63:6), I remember thee on my bed. Upon a sick-bed, particularly, we should consider our ways and commune with our own hearts about them. [2.] “Compose yourselves into a serious frame: Be still. When you have asked conscience a question be silent, and wait for an answer; even in unquiet times keep you spirits calm and quiet.”
4. He counsels them to make conscience of their duty (Ps. 4:5): Offer to God the sacrifice of righteousness. We must not only cease to do evil, but learn to do well. Those that were disaffected to David and his government would soon come to a better temper, and return to their allegiance, if they would but worship God aright; and those that know the concerns that lie between them and God will be glad of the Mediator, the Son of David. It is required here from every one of us, (1.) That we serve him: “Offer sacrifices to him, your own selves first, and your best sacrifices.” But they must be sacrifices of righteousness, that is, good works, all the fruits of the reigning love of God and our neighbour, and all the instances of a religious conversation, which are better than all burnt-offerings and sacrifices. “Let all your devotions come from an upright heart; let all your alms be sacrifices of righteousness.” The sacrifices of the unrighteous God will not accept; they are an abomination, Isa. 1:11-15 (2.) That we confide in him. “First make conscience of offering the sacrifices of righteousness and then you are welcome to put your trust in the Lord. Serve God without any diffidence of him, or any fear of losing by him. Honour him, by trusting in him only, and not in your wealth nor in an arm of flesh; trust in his providence, and lean not to your own understanding; trust in his grace, and go not about to establish your own righteousness or sufficiency.”
In singing Ps. 4:1-4 we must preach to ourselves the doctrine of the provoking nature of sin, the lying vanity of the world, and the unspeakable happiness of God’s people; and we must press upon ourselves the duties of fearing God, conversing with our own hearts, and offering spiritual sacrifices; and in praying over Ps. 4:1-4 we must beg of God grace thus to think and thus to do.