Summary of the Text

Psalm 4, the lectionary psalm for this third Sunday of Easter, follows a psalm of lament (Psalm 3) in which David bemoans his political enemies, who included his own rebellious son Absalom. We might expect the psalmist to deride his enemies, but, to the contrary, Psalm 4 is a psalm of trust. In the history of the church, Psalm 3 has often been considered a psalm for us to pray in the morning (3:5) and Psalm 4 a prayer for the evening (4:8).

Juxtaposing lament and trust may at first strike us as an oddity, both in a literary sense and in our real life setting, but when we see the nature of Psalm 4, that David sought to reconcile with his enemies (4:4-5), a story that is told in 2 Samuel 19, the story becomes one of love and forgiveness. Obviously, it could have been a story of revenge. In more explicit words, the Lord Jesus admonished us: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:43-45).

When we read this psalm in the light of Psalm 3, and then read them both in the light of 2 Samuel 19, we have a beautiful narrative of love and reconciliation. In fact, David’s admonition to his enemies is “Search your hearts” and “trust in the LORD” (4:4-5). In that context the enemies come seeking reconciliation: “Who will bring us prosperity?” And David does precisely what Jesus said we should do, he prays for his enemies, reflecting the priestly benediction: “Let the light of your face shine on us” (see Numb. 6:4-9). Amazingly, and contrary to the admonition we often hear and see acted out in our world, that brings joy and peace (4:7-8).

We don’t know whether David had already prayed for his enemies before they came confessing their wrong, but we do know that he prayed for them after the fact. It is quite obvious that sometimes, maybe more often than not, the Lord acts in a preemptive fashion—the Lord hears the prayers we have not yet prayed. There’s nothing inefficient about God, who said to Israel: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” (Isa. 65:24). To trust in the Lord means that God has the whole situation under control, and God’s power and grace are so transforming that he can cause the wrath of men and women to praise him (Ps. 76:10 KJV).  

Hassell Bullock

C. Hassell Bullock is the Franklin S. Dyrness Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at Wheaton College (IL) where he taught for 36 years. He is a graduate of Samford University (Birmingham, AL), Columbia Theological Seminary (Decatur, GA), and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Instiutute of Religion (Cincinnati, O).

Among his published works are An Introduction to
the OT Poetic Books (Moody), Encountering the Book of Psalms, and a two-volume commentary on the Psalms, Psalms 1-72, and Psalms 73-150 (Baker Academic).

In addition to forty years of teaching in the college classroom, he has served Presbyterian congregations as pastor in Alabama and Illinois. He is married to his college sweetheart, Rhonda, and they have a son and a daughter and five grandchildren.

Sermon Resources

Key Quote

We must cease striving and trust God to provide what He thinks is best and in whatever time He chooses to make it available. But this kind of trusting doesn’t come naturally. It’s a spiritual crisis of the will in which we must choose to exercise faith.

Charles R. Swindoll

Key Illustration

FORGIVENESS is taking the burden of the offender’s guilt. 

Comment: We must not thrust David into our post-NT understanding of forgiveness. He was a man of his world; but when we read Psalm 4 in the light of 2 Samuel 19 and Psalm 51, we certainly see a depth of understanding that is moving us much closer to the NT doctrine of forgiveness, that Christ took our sins upon himself, and we, in our microscopic way, do the same when we forgive another person. One of our Savior’s dying words was: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Helmut Thielicke lays out this understanding of this transaction beautifully,

“What happens here may be expressed by the quite simple and yet unfathomable word, ‘forgive.’ What occurs when I forgive another person?  It does not mean . . .  that I can ‘forget’ what he did to me.  It just can’t do that.  No, when I forgive another, I myself step into the breach and say to myself, ‘The same thing that made the other person mean, hateful, and guilty toward me is in my heart as well.  Ultimately we are two of a kind.’ If I tell my neighbor, ‘I forgive you,’ and I say it from the bottom of my heart, then, in a manner of speaking, I take over the burden of his guilt and place it on my own heart just as though it were mine. . . . 

I say, ‘Yes, what you did to me was very wrong; it was even shocking.  But I know from looking at myself how fickle and wicked the human heart is.  Therefore I could do exactly what you did.  It’s coiled up in me too.  So I’ll suffer through it with you.  I’ll put myself in your place.  I’ll share your burden.’  When I forgive another person, I share the burden of his guilt.  I become his brother and his sister, a burden-bearer at his side.” 

(Helmut Thielicke.  I Believe:  The Christian’s Creed, trans. by John W. Doberstein and H. George Anderson.  Phil.:  Fortress Press, 1968, p. 116).    

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