Psalms, Chapter 4:1-9
(The following material is compiled predominantly from an anthology of Orthodox Jewish commentary, written and arranged by Rabbi Avroham Chaim Feuer from the Artscroll Tanach Series Tehillim Volume 1. Additional insights from a Nazarene Israelite perspective have been added by Jason Jordan. The translation of the TaNaK [Old Testament] used in this work is by Rabbi Avroham Chaim Feuer, Rabbi Nsson Scherman and Meir Zlotowitz.)
This Psalm was also composed during King David’s flight from his son Absalom. While the previous chapter called for Elohim’s salvation, this Psalm goes onto lecture David’s enemies and admonishes them to improve their morals and ethics. King David tears away the false mask of Absalom’s supporters by revealing that it is the Evil Inclination which is driving their conduct, rather than loyalty to his son. Absalom and his supporters have become puppets in each others hands, as their manipulate one another to further their own selfish ambitions.
This is no more obvious than in Absalom’s staunchest supporter, Achitophel, who had a dream that he would one day sit on the throne of Israel. In actual fact his dream meant that royalty would eminent from his seed, through his granddaughter Bath-Sheba, wife of King David, whose son Solomon would become king of Israel. Like Korah who rebelled against Moshe because of his misinterpretation of a dream that actually pointed to the greatness of his descendant Samuel the Prophet, Achitophel rebelled against the king of Israel under a similar delusion.
Achitophel’s urgency that Absalom violate King David’s ten concubines on the roof of his palace was encouraged with a premise to accuse Absalom of committing atrocities, putting pressure on him to vacate the throne.
Instead, one of King David’s requests as he flees is answered. 2 Samuel 15:31; “And David said, O YHWH, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Achitophel into foolishness.”
2 Samuel 17:23; “When Achitophel saw that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his donkey and set out for his house in his hometown. He put his house in order and then hanged himself. So he died and was buried in his father's tomb.”
King David sees all the motives that drives his enemies clearly and pleads with them to save themselves from destruction and seek t’shuvah (return). Instead of seeking retribution he offers reconciliation, an opportunity to guide his enemies onto the path of true fortune and happiness.
Verses 1-3; “For the Conductor; with instrumental music, a song of David. When I call, answer me, Elohim of my vindication, You have relieved me of my distress, be gracious to me and hear my prayer. Sons of great men: How long will you put my honour to shame, and love vanity, and seek deception? Selah.”
“For the Conductor…”
For the Levite who directed the entire Temple orchestra. On a deeper level this refers to YHWH because His symphony is everlasting.
“…with instrumental music, a song of David”
The sage Radak states “that the art of musicology is an essential wisdom, for melodies have the power to arouse the soul as nothing else can.” - Artscroll Tanach Series Tehillim Volume 1
The Midrash says that this Psalms is expressed in three forms of praise - by orchestration (Nitzuah) “For the Conductor...,”
by “instrumental music”
(Nigun) and by song (Mizmor), “…a song of David.”
“…with instrumental music…"
is important because it draws YHWH near according to 2 Kings 3:15; "And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of YHWH came upon him."
The Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) is drawn down through the singing and/or playing of music that glorifies YHWH. King David was unique because he was constantly in a state where he had an increased level of the Ruach HaKodesh resting upon him. This was why he was often sort to play music. When he started playing the Divine Presence was almost always guaranteed to descend in the general vicinity of his music.
“When I call, answer me, Elohim of my vindication…”
Because You have always answered me faithfully in the past, please be gracious to me now.
“You have relieved me of my distress…”
In days gone by You have helped me, now take pity on me and hear my prayer. David uses past tense in another demonstration of his unshakable faith. “Distress” means ‘a tight constricted place’ while “relieved” means a ‘widening’ or ‘enlarged place.’
“…be gracious to me and hear my prayer.”
“Grace” means to have been given favour and power for no reason. The Hebrew word for “grace” is related to the Hebrew word for “unearned.”
“Sons of great men: How long will you put my honour to shame, and love vanity, and seek deception? Selah.”
“You are all the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, each of whom is described by the Torah as great men.” – Rashi (i.e., You are great men and the sons of great men, yet you have become prone to the Evil Inclination.)
King David points out that it is unbecoming to draw honour through dishonouring another person. Furthermore, King David’s afflictions, which his enemies proclaim to be his shame, are badge of honour and glory. Because they allow him to suffer in order to cleanse him and thus render him worthy to be counted among the righteous.
Verse 4-6; “Recognise that just as YHWH distinguished His devout one, YHWH will listen when I call upon him. Tremble and sin not, reflect in you hearts while on your beds, and be utterly silent. Selah. Offer up sacrifices of righteousness, and trust in YHWH.”
“Recognise that just as YHWH distinguished His devout one, YHWH will listen when I call upon him.”
Recognise [literally ‘and know’] Take heed and pay attention to the fact that just as YHWH draws close to those who are devoted to Him and singles them out for preferential treatment, the wicked will not prevail against them. YHWH distinguishes by setting apart and placing his devout ones in circumstances and with people where they can learn more about Torah and gain closeness to the Divine Presence.
“Tremble and sin not, reflect in you hearts while on your beds, and be utterly silent. Selah.”
If you lack a sense of awe for me as king, at least fear YHWH who still endorses me.
King David confronts his vilifiers who accuse him on account of the sin he committed in taking Bath-Sheba into his bed. “Tremble”
with fear “and sin no more”
with your evil talk against me. “Say this within your heart, upon your bed, and be still forever.” That is: Attend to the sins you yourself have committed on your beds and you will then cease your verbal tirade against me.
Be distressed and upset by the prospect of sin in your own lives over your so-called distress and anguish over my actions.
When the Evil Inclination is roused be agitated and grieved over your previous sins and you will not sin again.
“Offer up sacrifices of righteousness, and trust in YHWH.”
Conquering the Evil Inclination by rectifying one’s deeds is a sacrifice of righteousness. When one offered an animal sacrifice to YHWH and immediately returned to a sinful deed it was considered as an abomination, because it revealed insincerity.
Verses 7-9; “Many always say, ‘Who will show us good?’ Let the light of Your face shine upon us, YHWH. But in my heart You put gladness from when their grain and wine abound. In peaceful unity I could lie down and sleep, for You, YHWH, will make me dwell apart and secure.”
“Many always say, ‘Who will show us good?’
” At the time of Absalom’s revolt many Israelites were saying, ‘If only Absalom were victorious and David was killed! With David’s downfall all of our dreams for better times would come true.’ A wicked man is never satisfied with his lot if he is able to look around and see someone living better. Though manna was the food of angels it was disregarded over meat, because the Israelites of the wilderness generation kept recalling their captivity in Egypt where meat was still available despite their trials. This looking back was reminiscent of the motive behind Lot’s wife as she glanced momentarily back at Sodom. Like all Israel she was saved, yet she still looked back.
“But in my heart You put gladness from when their grain and wine abound.”
Even though some Israelites grow bitter at prosperous Gentiles, it fills me with gladness, because if this is what you do to the one who angers you, how much more will you reward the one who pleases You.
“In peaceful unity I could lie down and sleep, for You, YHWH, will make me dwell apart and secure.” “All prophets begin with harsh admonition and conclude with gentle consolation.” – Artscroll Tanach Series Tehillim Volume referencing the Sage, Yalkut.