When you compare the wording in this psalm with Psalm 3, you cannot but draw the conclusion that they deal with the same situation in David’s life: foes/distress (v. 1), many/many (vv. 6, 2), glory (vv. 2, 3), call/answer (vv. 1, 4), lie down/sleep (vv. 8, 5). Psalm 3 is a morning psalm (v. 5) and Psalm 4 an evening psalm (v. 8). For the historical setting, review the introduction to Psalm 3. This is the first mention of "the chief musician," who is included in the titles of fifty-three psalms. He was the "minister of worship" and custodian of the sacred psalms at the tabernacle and then the temple (1 Chron. 6:31–32; 15:16–22; 25:1, 7). The Hebrew word neginoth means "accompanied by stringed instruments" (4, 6, 54, 55, 61, 67, 76) and refers to the harp and lyre (1 Chron. 23:5; 25:1, 3, 6). It’s a wonderful thing that David could turn this distressing experience into song, to the glory of God. His example shows us what our responses ought to be in times of crisis.
Look to the Lord (v. 1)
"Hear me" is a passionate and concerned call that means "Answer me!" David had been praying for God’s help and was desperate to receive an answer. (See 18:6; 50:15; 55:16; 145:18.) During his youthful days of exile, he had a priest with him to consult the Urim and Thummim and determine God’s will, but not during Absalom’s rebellion. "God of my righteousness"7 implies not only that God is righteous and will do what it best ("my righteous God"), but also that David’s righteousness came from God, and therefore God should vindicate him ("God of my innocence"). Yes, David was being chastened because of his disobedience, but God had forgiven his sins. God had called David to be king, and God alone could vindicate him.
David reminded the Lord that He had often delivered him in times past, so He was able to deliver him now. "Distress" means "pressed into a corner, in a tight place." But God "enlarged him" or "set him in a broad place," for David grew spiritually in difficult situations (18:19, 36; 25:17; 31:8; 118:5; 119:32). David knew he didn’t deserve any help from the Lord, but he prayed on the basis of God’s mercy and favor. God in His grace gives us what we don’t deserve, and God in His mercy doesn’t give us what we do deserve.
Confront the Enemy (vv. 2–3)
David wasn’t at the scene of the revolt but he spoke out to those who had turned against him and made Absalom king. The phrase "sons of men" refers to the leading men of rank who had been seduced by Absalom and with him were leading the people astray. David understood their thinking and how Absalom had deceived them. David had no glory of his own, for all his glory came from the Lord (3:3). The enthusiastic mob was following vanity and would pay dearly for their sins. When you follow vain things and believe falsehood, you can only go astray. The people weren’t just deposing a king; they were fighting against the Lord Jehovah who had placed David on the throne. Absalom certainly wasn’t a man of God, nor was he God’s chosen one to rule over Israel. The rebels were actually following a false god when they listened to Absalom’s flattery and lying promises (2 Sam. 15:1–6). David didn’t try to compromise with the rebels; he knew what they were, and he rejected them.
Encourage Your Friends (vv. 4–5)
In these verses, David speaks to his own followers, some of whom were so overcome by their emotions that they were about to get out of hand. David gave them six instructions, all of which are useful to us today when we find ourselves getting angry.
Tremble before the Lord (4a). Believers who fear the Lord need not fear anything else. Absalom’s followers neither trembled before the Lord nor before their rightful king.
Don’t sin (4b).Sinful anger leads to sinful words and deeds, and even to murder (Matt. 5:21–26). Paul quoted this verse in Ephesians 4:26, using the Septuagint (Greek Version of the Old Testament). It reads, "Be angry, and do not sin" (nkjv), which reminds us that not all anger is sinful. There is a holy anger against sin that ought to be in the heart of every believer (Mark 3:5), but we must be careful not to be guilty of unholy anger.
Search your own hearts (4c). It’s easy to get angry at the sins of others and ignore our own sins (Matt. 7:1–5). In fact, David himself was guilty of doing this (2 Sam. 12:1–7). Some translate this phrase "Speak to your own heart" (see 10:6, 11, 13). Instead of tossing and turning in bed because of the things others are doing, take inventory and see if there aren’t sins in your own heart that need to be confessed.
Be still (4d). The Amplified Bible translates this, "Be sorry for the things you say in your heart." Another translation is "say so in your own heart," that is, "Say to your own heart, Sin not." The honest searching of the heart should lead us to confess our sins to the Lord and claim His gracious forgiveness (1 John 1:9).
Offer right sacrifices (5a). They couldn’t offer them there in the wilderness, but they could promise the Lord they would do so when they returned to Jerusalem. This is what Jonah did (Jonah 2:9). Absalom was offering insincere and hypocritical sacrifices to impress the people (1 Sam. 15:12), but God didn’t accept them. (See Ps. 50:14–15.)
Trust the Lord (5b). Absalom was trusting his leadership, his army, his clever strategy, and his popularity with the people, but he wasn’t trusting the Lord. His plans were destined to fail.
David was not only a great king and military strategist, but he was also a loving shepherd who cared for his people and wanted them to walk with the Lord. David knew that the spiritual condition of his people was far more important than their military skill, for the Lord gives victory to those who trust and obey (Ps. 51:16–19).
Praise the Lord (vv. 6–8)
David’s leaders reported to him what many of the people were saying, so he knew that there was discouragement in the ranks (see also 3:2). "Who will show us any good?" means "O that we might see some good!" (amp), or "Can anything good come out of this?" or "Who can get us out of this plight?" The tense of the verb indicates that this discouraging statement was repeated again and again by the complainers, and the more they complained, the more others took up the strain. The Jewish Publication Society version reads, "O for good days!" It’s well been said that "the good old days" are a combination of a bad memory and a good imagination. What kind of "good" were the people looking for—material wealth, peace and security at any price, a godly king, a successful new king?
David knew what kind of good he wanted: the light of God’s smile upon him and his people. To see the glorious face of God and know that He was well pleased would take care of everything. This statement refers to the priestly blessing in Numbers 6:24–26, and see also 31:16; 44:3; 67:1; 80:3, 7, 19; and 119:135. There was no priest present to bestow this blessing, but David knew that God would answer the prayer of his heart. The king wanted to see the Lord change darkness into light, and that’s exactly what He did. But not only did David’s darkness become light, but his discouragement was replaced by joy (v. 7). The Israelites experienced great joy at weddings and bountiful harvests (Isa. 9:3; Jer. 48:33); but the joy God gave David exceeded even those times. (See Rom. 15:13 and John 16:24.) Finally, David praised God for the peace the Lord placed in his heart before the battle had been fought and won (v. 8; see 3:5). God had given him rest the night before, and now he would rest again, knowing that God was his shield (3:3). The Hebrew word for "peace" (shalom) means much more than the absence of conflict. It carries with it the ideas of adequacy for life, confidence and fullness of life. Perhaps the Lord brought Deuteronomy 33:12 to David’s mind—"The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by Him, who shelters him all day long …" (nkjv). This promise is even more meaningful when you recall that David’s name means "beloved."