In the fourth Psalm David said, “The Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself” (Ps. 4:3). It was good for David to remember that, for David was distress by his enemies. He said, “O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing?” (Ps. 4:2). “Leasing” is an old word for “falsehood.” Their falsehood had made David angry, but catching his anger David wrote, “Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah” (Ps. 4:4). Strong’s Analytical Concordance tells us that the Hebrew word translated “awe” can mean “agitated …with rage or fear.”
Paul paraphrased the Greek Septuagint translation of Psalm 4:4 in Ephesians 4:26-27. Paul wrote, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil.” This New Testament use of the fourth Psalm is the key to its understanding. Some think that David is addressing his enemies in Psalm 4:4, but Paul’s use of this psalm makes me think that David is telling himself to calm down and to put his trust in the Lord (see Ps. 4:5). A sanctified relationship with God empowers a man to assuage anger, resist sin, and find peace in times of trouble.
David needed sleep. Sleep has been called “nature’s best medicine.” Shakespeare called sleep, “Sore labor’s bath, Balm of hurt minds, Great nature’s second course, Chief nourisher in life’s feast;” he said it was sleep that “…knits up the raveled sleeve of care.” Twice Solomon said sleep is sweet: “When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet” (Prov. 3:24), and “The sleep of a laboring man is sweet” (Eccl. 5:12). But David was angry, and it is hard to sleep when angry. The fourth Psalm shows us how to soothe our souls.
Music can soothe the soul. The inscription of this Psalm says, “To the Chief Musician upon Neginoth.” In Habakkuk 3:19 the word “neginoth” is translated, “upon my stringed instruments.” If this is the meaning of “neginoth,” then this is a first but subtle mention of instrumental music in the Psalms. The Psalms are not telling us how to worship in the church, but the instruments in the Psalm testify to the power of music. I am reminded of how a troubled King Saul would send for David, “…a cunning player on an harp… And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed.” (1 Sam. 16:14-23). If you are troubled so that you cannot sleep, try listening to music. Better yet, find an old hymnal and sing softly to yourself. Sing, “Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side… Leave to thy God to order and provide; In every change He faithful will remain… thy best, thy heavenly, Friend… thy God doth undertake To guide the future as He has the past. Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake… the waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.”
Prayer can soothe the soul. This psalm begins, “Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy on me, and hear my prayer” (Ps. 4:1). Our departed brother Tillit S. Teddlie put these words to music in his hymn, “Hear Me When I Call.” That is another hymn you may want to sing to yourself. When you cannot sleep, take it to the Lord in prayer. Sometimes we sing, “O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer!”
Godly living can soothe the soul. David said in Psalm 4:5, “Offer the sacrifices of righteousness…” David lived when God was approached through the sacrifices of animals and of bread and wine, but here David spoke of righteousness as a sacrifice. We are told in Hebrews 13:16, “…to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” Paul said, “…present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12;1). Thomas Watson was a non-conformist Puritan preacher from the 1600’s. He is reported to have said, “A good conscience can sleep in the mouth of a cannon.”
The Scriptures can soothe the soul. Seek out passages on assurance, comfort, and grace. David wrote, “Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah. I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about” (Ps. 3:3-6). Here he prayed, “Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased” (Ps. 4:6-7). When David sang of the light of the Lord’s countenance, he was singing of God’s blessings and favor.
In Psalm 127:2 we read, “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.” David came to peace by remembering that he was beloved of God, and that the Lord had set him apart to himself (Ps. 4:3). None of his enemies’ falsehoods could change that. We should have that peace. Where the King James Version says that we are to God “a peculiar people,” the American Standard Version says that we are “a people for God’s own possession.” Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). Knowing that he had been set apart, David closes by saying, “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety” (Ps. 4:8). Though angry, David did not give place to the devil.