Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!Psalm 4
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!
O men, how long shall my honour be turned into shame?
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah
But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself;
the LORD hears when I call to him.
Be angry, and do not sin;
ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah
Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the LORD.
There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”
You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.
Today’s evening psalm talks about two kinds of people—those who have trespassed against others and those who have been trespassed against. Not a single human being, except for our Lord, who taught us to pray for forgiveness, can be excluded from either of these categories. No wonder that the Western Church has, for centuries, appointed Psalm 4 as one of three psalms especially appropriate to pray just before bedtime (the other two being Psalms 91 and 134).
King David, the psalmist, falls squarely in the second category of people in the context of this psalm. Hounded and harassed by his persecutors, he cries out to God for vindication. He appeals to God based on God’s faithful deeds of old (Psalm 4:1). He makes his appeal confidently, in the certain hope that God would answer his prayer. When we are sinned against, we can share in David’s confidence, but only if we have a good conscience before God. This good conscience relies solely on God’s grace and mercy, recognising that only God can vindicate us and grant us “righteousness” (v. 1).
We must rely on God’s grace and mercy because all of us are sinners, who fall into the other category of people that David addresses in his psalm. Often, we rebel against God’s clearly revealed will for us (our sanctification; see 1 Thessalonians 4:3) and even manage to deceive ourselves that what we are doing is right before God. This is why David entreats the sinners to turn away from “vain words” and “lies” (Psalm 4:2). Instead, he says, they should examine their consciences in quietness (v. 4) and render to God “right sacrifices” (v. 5a), which, as David would realise, are hearts which are “broken and contrite” (Psalm 51:17), humbly and sincerely repentant of sin.
When we confess our sins to God, praying that He would forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, we are putting our trust in Him to forgive us and grant us a good conscience (Psalm 4:5b). Only when we have done this, only when we have passed through this confrontation with sin in our lives and received pardon from our Lord, can we truly say with David: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety” (v. 8).