Devotional: Psalm 4

The Joke’s on You!

Psalm 4 (NIV)
For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.
1 Answer me when I call to you,
my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
have mercy on me and hear my prayer.
2 How long will you people turn my glory into shame?
How long will you love delusions and seek false gods? 
3 Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.
4 Tremble and do not sin;
when you are on your beds,
search your hearts and be silent.
5 Offer the sacrifices of the righteous
and trust in the Lord.
6 Many, Lord, are asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?”
Let the light of your face shine on us.
7 Fill my heart with joy
when their grain and new wine abound.
8 In peace (Shalom) I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety.

When we place our trust in the Lord, we shouldn’t be surprised to find ourselves as the object of slander or the brunt of someone else’s joke. That seems to be the case for the Psalmist here, but in the act of turning to God as his anchor, he can confidently say to the mockers: “The joke’s on you!”
The Psalmist is in distress as his “glory is turned into shame” by those who seek falsehood (the NIV inserts “gods” here, which is a good interpretive decision, as the context probably refers to Baal worshipers who seek Baal for “grain and new wine”). So how does the Psalmist (David) handle this situation?

  1. What does he know? He reminds himself and his accusers that the Lord has set His people apart as His own.
  2. He knows the Lord will hear when he calls.
  3. He seeks the true treasure: The light of God’s face shining upon His people. The picture he evokes here reminds us of Aaron’s prayer: “May the Lord cause His face to shine upon you.” It is associated with the priestly job of keeping the light of the menorah lit at all times to shine upon the table of the “bread of the faces” – representing the people God had set apart for himself – in the Holy place of the tabernacle/temple: God’s dwelling place on earth as in heaven.

To live in right relationship with God would mean Shalom (peace/prosperity/wholeness) and long life in the land. This is the source of real joy.
Notice the contrast: “In peace (Shalom) I will – at the same time – lie down and sleep.” In other words, I have joy and calm assurance that I dwell securely in the Lord. Therefore I have no trouble sleeping. On the other hand, David cautions his adversaries to tremble and ponder in their beds. He urges them to trust in Yahweh and sacrifice to Him instead of other gods. The peace, joy and assurance of dwelling in Yahweh are far greater treasures than the grain and new wine enjoyed by the Baal worshipers who enjoy their wealth but at night cannot sleep because they do not “dwell securely.” Sadly, the joke is on them.

Sometimes the wicked prosper. Sometimes following Jesus yields no earthly reward. It’s important to remind ourselves of what we know, that in Christ you are set apart as His own. The Lord hears you when you cry out to Him. And finally, we have a greater treasure. We can sleep at night knowing we are in God’s hands, while those who seem secure rest only in the shallow confidence of the guarantor of their earthly possessions.

Easier said than done. I suspect that we need these reminders continuously. But I am reminded of the time I had heart surgery at the age of 15. Lying on the bed, awaiting the anesthesia to take effect, I knew I was about to have my sternum split open and my most vital organ was going to be whittled on by a surgeon. And yet, the most incredible peace came over me. I was okay. I placed my trust in the Lord and I knew I dwelled securely. I can’t explain it. It wasn’t a matter of mental gymnastics. It just happened. That is a great treasure. Let us place our confidence in Him this week.