In James 2:18-26, we enter into one of the most controversial texts in the entire Bible. In verse 1 of this chapter, James discusses the importance of holding the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He then talks about how that faith in Jesus must result in actions. In verse 17, James states his thesis for his readers: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” The phrase “by itself” could also be translated “in itself.” In other words, people who simply trust in their faith, not in the One to whom that faith is pointing, really have a dead faith. James is clear that “that faith” (or, that kind of faith) does not experience salvation.
Now we enter more controversy. Verse 21 starts off by saying, “Was not our father Abraham justified by works.” Anyone who has been in the school of Christianity for pretty much any length of time probably sees an apparent problem in this text. It seems as though James is saying that we are made righteous by works. Hence, we come into a right relationship with God based on the good works we do. When we read verse verse 24, we have an even greater contrast with the Apostle Paul’s writings.
James 2:24 – “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
Romans 3:28 – “We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law;”
Look at the similar construct of the passage. What are James and Paul saying? Are they saying totally contradictory things? And, if so, can the Bible be trusted? Or, should James or Paul be out of the Scriptures because one of them is lying? Thankfully we can glean a few things from this passage, but let me say this first: just because people use the same word, that does not mean they are saying the same thing. For example, in chapter one, we studied about trial and temptation. In the Greek language, trial and temptation are the same word. Based on the context, this word can either mean something that is good for us or it can mean something that is dangerous if not fought against. It’s the same Greek word for lust and desire. Based on the context, it can mean something bad or it can mean something good.
If we look at the context of James’ letter, I believe James makes his point very plain. James is correcting people’s understanding of the mantra “Faith Alone.” Some people’s tendency is to say, “We can continue in sin that grace may abound” (an idea that even Paul is against). James is seeming to show irony by saying, “You’re faith alone is really a faith that’s all alone (a faith in itself). Therefore it is dead.” He’s not denying the importance and value of faith alone as declaring us righteous before God (as we’ll see in a moment), but he is denying that you can have faith and no works proceeding from that faith. There are a couple of reasons why works are necessary, according to James: 1) God promised to make us a firstfruit offering (Jas. 1:18) and 2) There is going to be a judgment and God’s mercy is going to triumph on His children’s behalf in granting forgiveness and, by implication, obedience (Jas. 2:12-13).
In order for James to drive his point home, he moves on with an illustration about Abraham offering up Isaac to be an offering to God. This story tells us that God commanded that Abraham take his son to an altar and sacrifice him there. While Abraham had the knife in the air to kill his own son, God stopped him and said, “Now I know that you fear God.” James says the following of this scenario: “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God” (vv. 22-23).
James says that this scenario happened for two reasons.
- Verse 22 states that this scenario with Abraham happened as a necessary of true faith’s goal of completion. Faith desires to be whole; therefore, Christians cannot make excuses for sin in their life (Jas. 1:4). Instead, they must fight (Jas. 1:12-15)! James is clear that faith comes first, and true faith has an objective of overseeing the process of having good works. Faith cannot grow apart from these godly actions.
- Verse 23 gives another answer as to why Abraham went through this scenario: so that the Scripture might be fulfilled that Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. In other words, James again is saying that God declares people righteous when they believe and that righteousness must be lived out. God does not save someone without giving them the promise that they’ll live out that salvation. What’s interesting is that between the time that Abraham believed to the time that Abraham offered Isaac, there was sin that took place. And, there was unbelief. But, Abraham’s belief grew through testing and finally came to this great test of faith in God. Instead of questioning God, he did what God commanded even though he did not fully understand what God was going to do.
This situation can also relate to the Jewish Christians in their trials of being dispersed and persecuted (Jas. 1:1). They’re going through a significant test. Are they going to continue to sin and declare that they had a fake faith or are they going to prove that they have had a true faith? James says to them, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (v. 24). This word for justify is different from Paul’s primary usage. It is probably the same sense that Jesus gives it in the book of Matthew in chapter 11:19, where it says, “Wisdom is proved right by her actions.” “Proved right” is the word “justify.” Therefore, we could say that a person is “proved right” by works and not a faith that is alone. Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. God said he was righteous, and that righteousness manifested itself in growing works – not perfection, but a growing obedience to God which leads to maturity (aka – perfection).
This truth is the same for believers today. God has made a promise to us. He is merciful towards you. Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, and obey by the grace God has given you!
David has been falsely accused by “Cush – a Benjamite” and he is seeking God’s justice in this temporal situation. From a literary perspective, this psalm could be tied together almost like a sandwich (technically, this psalm forms an “inclusio.”) Verses 1-3 and 17 are like the bread – sharing similar themes. Verses 3-5 and 14-17 are the cheese and verses 6-13 are the meat. We will approach this psalm from that perspective.
In verses 1-3, we find that deliverance comes from the Lord – providing stability to the believer. Many times in the midst of false accusations, people are tempted to quickly turn to others around them and say, “Did you hear about what happened to me? Those people are such liars!” Sometimes, people might mope around in fear – never wanting anyone to approach them or even allow them to see the light of day. In and of themselves, neither of these responses are truly helpful. Psalm 7 reveals that our greatest hope is found in the Lord. David refers to the Lord as “my God” and the One in whom he puts his trust. Again, the phrase “my God” is similar in tone to the Greek phrase “Abba! Father!” It is a term of intimacy. David further reveals this closeness by saying that God is his refuge. Since God is David’s God and the One who protects David, David explains his need for God’s justice to be displayed at the present time. False accusations are rising up against him and are tearing him apart much like a lion tears apart its prey. In these verses, David does not say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Instead, David confesses the pain these words have caused, and calls on God to act accordingly – on behalf of His child. Words do have power, and people need to realize that power and act appropriately (see Jas. 3:1-12).
In verse 17, we see the conclusion of someone who finds refuge in the Lord. Since the Lord is righteous and good towards His children, David can rejoice! Note that David refers to Yahweh (aka – the LORD) as the Most High. This phrase was first mentioned in Genesis in the interaction between Melchizedek and Abraham (Gen. 14). This phrase is “descriptive of the universal rule of God, to whom his subjects sing praise” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 135). Having seen that all the Old Testament Scriptures point to the Messiah, and that Jesus is LORD, we also see that the phrase “Most High” prefers to Jesus as well. Therefore, we praise Jesus! He suffered unjustly. Jesus was lied about. Jesus endured the wrath of God on the behalf of sinners (Rom. 3:21-26). Then the Bible says that we ought to share in His sufferings (Rom. 8). But, the Bible does not stop there either. The Bible says that He is ruling and reigning today. He is the One Who is worthy (Eph. 4:8, Heb. 1:3). He sits at the right hand of the Father today – ever living to make intercession for us, while preparing a place for us, and also enjoying the praises of the heavenly hosts (Jn. 14:3, Heb. 7:25). This God is the God who has rescued David, and this God is the God who has rescued many throughout the ages! Therefore, if God be for His children, who can be against them (Rom. 8:31)? Rest your case at His feet.
Since God is the judge, David is able to entrust his enemies and even himself at God’s judgment. These truths we find in verses 3-5 and 14-16. In verses 14-16, we find the description of the wicked. Here are a couple of truths we find in David’s description: 1) “The wicked brings forth. . . .” Jesus says that it is not the things outside of us that makes us filthy, it is what is inside of us that reveals our filth (Matt. 15:10-20). This means that by nature we can only sin unless the grace of God enters to save us, 2) Within our own selves, human beings have an adulterous relationship against their Creator and bring about trouble and falsehood. Every human being was created in the image of God to glorify Him, and every human being somehow steals that glory for themselves by not actively giving to God the glory due to His name, 3) Death is the ultimate end of the wicked because their actions pursue an existence apart from God (see Lk. 16:19-31 for an example of a man who still tries to be in control in Hell).
All this said, David is not merely hoping for judgment on others. David really pleads for God’s righteous judgment to be displayed – even if that means for God to discipline David. Keep in mind, David believes he is innocent. He also knows that he is the Lord’s anointed (Ps. 2), but he realizes that God’s justice is more important. If he is wrong in this situation, God must reveal that. We see this truth communicated in verses 3-5.
David uses the dynamic use of three – “if, if, if.” He does not believe he is guilty, but if he is, he asks that he would be overtaken because justice must be seen in this scenario. Many times, we humans plead for mercy. We often think that mercy means no consequences for our actions. That can definitely be the case, but mercy also includes God’s abundant love towards His children to mold them into His image more and more. If a more severe consequence would keep His child from being conformed to God’s image, He will not allow it. If God’s child needs that consequence to be molded into His image, He’ll grant it – even if that means taking away things that you have worked hard for (hence David praying for his honor to lay in the dust). These are very strong words, and for that reason, I think this is why we find the word “Selah” here and nowhere else in this Psalm.
We have seen so far that God is the judge and that everyone will be judged by Him. Now we see more clearly that God will judge rightly (vv. 6-13). David again uses the dynamic use of “three’s” by asking for the Lord to arise, lift up, rise up. He believes he is innocent in this earthly matter and he is seeking God’s deliverance. There are three truths we see from verse six: 1) David seeks for God’s anger towards sin be displayed clearly, 2) David believes the enemy’s rage is so intense that they need to be stopped and shamed, 3) David believes that God’s faithfulness to His children requires that God answer him in this scenario.
In verses 7-8b, David addresses what I believe to be future reality. Basically David is saying, “continue to reveal your judgment on this earth since everyone will someday be judged around Your throne.” One commentator said, “. . .all of God’s judgments in this life are dress rehearsals for the final judgment” (The Preacher’s Commentary, p. 72). David quickly returns to his specific situation in verse 8b. He asks the Lord to judge his actions justly. Verses 12-13 talk about God’s direct punishment towards the wicked in sharpening His sword and making His bows ready. There will be a day when wickedness will come to an end (Rev. 19). At that final judgment, the righteous LORD will test hearts and minds. For all the righteous, Jesus will be their defense and their righteousness. And, since God is a just judge, He will justly punish the wicked (Rev. 20:10).
Now, where does this psalm point us to today? I cannot help but be reminded of Romans 1-3. Everyone is a sinner (Rom. 3). There are areas of innocence in earthly matters. God cares about those matters, and we ought to pray that His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven (Matt. 6). But with regards to our innocence in the heavenly courts, everyone is wicked.
Thankfully, Jesus enters the Heavenly Courts. The book of Zechariah gives a wonderful story of Joshua (the High Priest) coming into God’s courts with dirty clothes and God placing His clean robe on Joshua – symbolizing forgiveness (Zech. 3). In the same way, Jesus died and shed his blood on behalf of sinners so that they might have a robe of righteousness placed on them. Jesus enters the Heavenly Courts and says, “Judge them according to my righteousness, and according to my integrity within me.” When those who have been saved get to the judgment, we ought never to say, “Lord, didn’t we do many wonderful works in your name” as a means of gaining access into eternal life (Matt. 7:21-23). To those people God says depart from me. Instead, we ought to say with the song-writer, “I need no other argument or plea. It is enough that Jesus died, and that He died for me” (Eliza Hewitt, My Faith Has Found A Resting Place; see also Gal. 2:20).
So, what does David’s response to false accusations teach us? We too ought to remember God’s judgment, entrust ourselves to Christ and then focus on our glorious eternal future. In the final judgment there is either going to be people who believe on Jesus or people who have rejected Him. For those who believe, there will be glorying in Him with great admiration! We will say that God is our righteousness, our defense and our salvation. God’s children will say with verse 17 of this psalm, “I will praise the LORD according to His righteousness, And will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.”
Have you ever really wanted something to eat so bad, you could almost taste it? Maybe you’ve gone out to a restaurant and you order a steak or a burger or a salad that you’ve been craving all day. Finally, the food arrives. You eat it. You’re satisfied. Your meal was a success!
Have you ever had a similar situation with trials? Think about it. You placed your order in with God. You ask for relief and satisfaction. You just want them to be over. The hunger pains for God (and relief) are getting stronger, and yet God doesn’t seem to be coming to you. You may be learning some from His Word, but for some reason God is making you wait.
Mark 8 brings some particularly helpful insights for the hungry soul.
In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” (Mark 8:1-3)
A couple of truths jumped out to me. The first of which is this: Jesus cares about people. This shouldn’t come as a shock, but many times I can get a thought that Jesus just wants me to buck up, try harder, and work for God’s approval. Obviously I often feel weak when these thoughts control me. So, in the margin of my Bible, I wrote, “Jesus cares when you’re exasperated.” The reason I wrote it that way is because Jesus was concerned not only that the people hadn’t eaten food, but he was concerned at the consequences of not eating. In other words, if those people didn’t eat on that day, they would faint. Their physical bodies would “give up.”
The second truth I saw was that Jesus could have fed the people on the first or second day. He could have fed them all of the days. But, He didn’t feed them until the third day.
The third truth I saw was that Jesus gave more than enough food to satisfy each person. “And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.”
Listen carefully here. If you have trusted in Jesus, you are one of God’s children (Rom. 8:17). Therefore, if you find yourself in a dry season, know that God knows what you can bear. You may be in the first day and your hunger for God is known through growling. You may be in the third day and you are getting worried about the spiritual journey ahead. You may not be growling for food, but you feel weak and you know if you take too many more steps, you’ll faint. Be confident about this: Jesus cares. He cares that you’re exasperated. He doesn’t want you to faint on your walk with Him. He knows how many “days” you can bear. While you might feel hungry now, there’s going to be a time when he feeds you to the full and you will be satisfied with more than enough food. Then, one day in Heaven, you will say, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).
Believers, keep looking to the Savior who truly cares for you and entrust yourself to the faithful Creator (1 Pet. 4:19)! If you have never trusted in the sacrifice and resurrection of the Messiah, my encouragement is basically the same. Stop leaning on your own ways to save you and entrust yourself to God and His salvation plan (1 Pet. 4:19, Jas. 1:7-10).
For all who have been saved by God, His promise stands:
“I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5 b).
David’s requests are mentioned in verses 1-3, 8, 10 and 11.
Verses 1-3 are merely repetition of what David is about to do and say. But, there is very important wording here. He is asking and pleading for God to listen to him. This is many times missing in the prayers that we make to our Father. While Jesus says that God listens to His children, He also communicates that we need to go to Him with dependency. The mere fact that David is pleading to God for Him to answer reveals that he is not arrogant in his attitude. He can, in other psalms, boldy say, “Save me, O my God!” and “Arise, O LORD,” but he always asks that on the basis of God’s character – not ultimately on the basis of his own character. David asks humbly and then expectantly looks up to God for an answer.
Verse 8 is a personal request. David says, “Lead me, O LORD, in Your righteousness because of my enemies.” This is a two-fold request which is summed up nicely at the end of verse 8: “Make Your way straight before my face” (see also Prov. 3:5-6). What this means is that God will bring us to our expected end. David expounds on that here by saying that we will only get to our expected end if the LORD – Yahweh, the covenant-keeping Creator – leads us every step of the way. David is asking that God’s righteousness would be worked through his actions because of David’s enemies. David seems to be asking that the Lord would lead him and work His righteousness through him so that God’s enemies would see that God’s path is right and just and best. In other words, David wants God’s enemies to be put to shame in their sin and to see God’s Truth.
In verse 10, David asks that God would pronounce the wicked guilty, and he asks that a just punishment is given to them. David wants their own sin to be their ruin and he prays that God would cast them away from His people. This theology is also seen in the New Testament in Romans 1.
All this said, David’s requests do not end on punishment. Instead he focuses on God’s design for human beings. Verse 11 gives us David’s final request: let all who trust in Yahweh, rejoice. David emphasizes the word joy three times. When authors in the Old Testament times wanted to reiterate a fact, they would say something three times. They didn’t have punctuation. They didn’t have exclamation points. They could not put a question-mark and an exclamation. Instead, they would say something like, “Rejoice, shout for joy, be joyful!” God desires that we be full of joy. If those who trust in God understand the severity of God’s punishment (which all of us deserve) then we ought to be people who are full of joy.
The next question one may ask is, “What does God’s punishment look like?” That’s another theme David addresses: the consequences of the wicked (vv. 4-6, 9-10). In order to understand the riches of God’s grace, we need to understand the horrors that our sins deserve. David cries out against the wicked because they have turned against the Lord. Since David is confident that God is righteous, he knows that the Lord will act righteously towards those who do not trust in Him. A few points we see in verses 4-6 (which are similar to 9-11) are that 1) God takes no pleasure in wickedness, 2) Evil will not dwell with God, and 3) The LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. This does not negate the chance they could repent and receive God’s eternal love. This does not mean that God is not showing mercy to them even today in allowing them to experience many of His blessings. But, the Bible does say that God’s wrath abides on such a one who has not turned to God through Christ. In some mysterious way, God can hate and also display love towards unbelievers for a time.
The promise is that because the people are living this way, they will never dwell with God because evil will not dwell with God. Some argue that God cannot be loving and send people to Hell; however, in the Scriptures, we see a portrait of people in Hell who continue to deny Him. Hence, we can more fully understand a phrase like, “Cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions.” Throughout all eternity, if you do not trust in the LORD, your sin will be yours. It will cling to you and you will waste away in that sin for eternity – always being tormented, never finding relief because you cling to your sin.
This is justice. And, as we see clearly in the Scriptures, this is what we all deserve because we are sinners, all our words are like a grave (see Rom. 3 where part of this Psalm is quoted). Our most inward part of our being is destruction because we are sinners – hence Hell is our destination if we have not turned to Yahweh.
Is there any hope? Yes, definitely! The final piece of this Psalm that we need to see is the blessing of the righteous. Again, since God is righteous in His very being, He will act righteously towards the wicked and also towards the righteous. But, there is none righteous, no, not one! Thankfully, as we saw in our study of Psalm 1, only Jesus could be considered righteous, and it is on the basis of His righteousness that we, too, can be declared righteous. All blessings are given to Jesus, and we receive them by trusting in Him – the LORD. As a result, we experience an infinite number of blessings from the eternal God. “For You, O LORD, will bless the righteous; With favor You will surround him as with a shield.”
What are a few of the blessings this psalm tells us that we receive through the Messiah? First, God hears the prayers of the righteous. Even if we cannot come up with the words and we can only groan, God will answer us (note: “meditation” means “to groan”). Second, unlike the wicked, the righteous enter into God’s house. Third, those who trust in God have His steadfast, forever faithful, love. In spite of our disobedience, God showers down a love that never wavers. Fourth, believers can truly worship God because of His forgiveness. David realizes that he deserves to be punished, yet he says, “But as for me. . . .”
Ultimately, it is God’s character and actions that matter – not ours. We need Him. David makes this more clear even in the names he uses to reference God: 1) O LORD, 2) My King, 3) My God.
He recognizes God is the covenant-keeping God of steadfast love towards His children. He recognizes that He can’t solve all of life issues and can’t bring about true righteousness – only the King can do that as He reigns from His throne on high at the present time. He realizes that this God is not just a God off in the distance but He is his God. One commentator pointed out that in Hebrew, to call God, “my God” was the greek equivalent to saying, “Abba” (Longman, Tremper & David Garland, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, p. 115). It is no wonder that Jesus prays that way and we even find Paul calling God “Abba.”
So, what do we see of Jesus in this psalm? Obviously, there could be a myriad of pictures of Jesus here. I will touch on a few. First, we see David, the anointed one, praying on behalf of those who trust in God. In John 17, we see Jesus, the Anointed One, praying on behalf of all who will trust in Him. Second, we see that the LORD also refers to Jesus. Salvation belongs to Him. Through Jesus, we are saved. He is the way, the truth and the life. Third, we see that Jesus is also the King. In Isaiah 6, Isaiah talks of God in the temple on the throne with the train of His robe filling the temple. Then in John 12:41, the Scriptures say that Isaiah’s revelation was of Jesus’ glory. Jesus is King. In this King, we can bring all of our cares – knowing that He will take care of us. Fourth, we receive blessings through Jesus. The last two lines can also be translated, “You will crown them with favor as with a shield.” One commentator said, “From one hand the Lord extends his protection and favor, likened to a ‘shield’. . .; from the other hand he bestows his royal glory on the godly. . .” (Longman, Tremper & David E. Garland, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 119).
It is very true what the psalmist says. Those who trust in the Lord are immeasurably blessed and have eternal blessing in store for them.
Rejoice, all those who trust in Him!
This past Sunday, I preached on James 1:12-18. Within the first chapter of this book, James addresses people by encouraging them to “count it all joy” and to know that God intends good for them – that their faith in the Lord would be trained. He does not want to see double-mindedness. Instead he spurs them on to emulate God’s single-focused liberality. He ensures them that the temptation they are facing is not from the Lord, but instead their own flesh trying to take them down.
So, how do we persevere? How do we stand against the onslaught of temptations during the trials we will face? Remember, we are to persevere by faith in God. That’s where verses 17-18 comes in.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
You might be tempted to think, “This situation I am in is too unbearable” – not remembering that God provides His children with a way of escape in every temptation. You might be tempted to think that God has forgotten you, and you want to quit. But, James gives a final blow to any of those thoughts in verse 18 (one of my favorite verses in the Bible). Just as the Father of lights said, “Let there be light and there was light,” He also said, “Let there be spiritual life, and there was spiritual life in His children!” What James is saying here is that God is the ultimate giver of great gifts and he never ceases to give great gifts. The ultimate gift is the one of salvation that keeps you secure in Him and won’t allow temptation and sin to completely and decisively overtake you. God’s salvation will keep you secure in trial and will ensure that you will remain steadfast under trial until you receive the crown of life.
James is using some very strong language here. More literally, James is saying, “Having made his decision….” God made His decision to rescue His children! Your ultimate confidence does not rest in your abilities. It rests in the God who made His decision for you and set his love on you before you even loved Him. It rests in a God who sent His Son to die in your place while you were yet a sinner. Therefore, because God made a decision for you, nobody and no circumstance can thwart God’s plan. God has made his decision. He remains steadfast towards you. He is resolute to every good giving and every perfect gift towards you in order that you may be perfect, complete – lacking in nothing!
Psalm 4 is very similar to the preceding psalms in many of the truths that it communicates. In this psalm, David essentially compares the differences between the godly and the ungodly. In the midst of this psalm calls the ungodly to trust in the LORD because of the joy and peace that eternally exists in Him.
David begins his plea to God- calling on Him to answer. Keep in mind, when someone in the Scriptures asks for God to answer or “hear” them, the implication is that they are looking to God for aid – not merely an acknowledgement that their prayer has been “heard.” David calls out to Yahweh for a couple of reasons.
- God is righteous. The Hebrew word for “righteous” bears with it not only the understanding of God’s character being righteous, but also that His actions correspond to his character. Therefore, if God is righteous, it makes sense for David to call out to God.
- David says that God is his righteousness. This is a key theological concept. David does not say “Answer me according to my righteousness apart from You, LORD.” Instead, David says, “Answer me when I call, O God of myrighteousness!” David completely sets his hope in God and receives a righteous standing in Him. On the basis of that standing, David has confidence that God will answer him.
- David recounts God’s past faithfulness to him. This is vital for those who trust in God to do. When going through difficulties and pains, God’s children must remember that He has always been faithful in the past, He will always remain faithful. “You have relieved me in my distress.” This phrase can literally be translated, “I was hard pressed, and you did set me at large.” It is similar to when one says that “I’m in between a rock and a hard place.” And, to be set at large indicates freedom and release. One way to understand this word imagery is to imagine a time when you had a migraine disappear after taking medicine. Remember the release you experienced? David says, “God, you have released me and set me free in the past. Answer me.”
David now recounts the unfaithfulness of some people. The word for “men” in this psalm refers to people in prominent positions. Again, we cannot know for sure the details surrounding this psalm, but we can be confident that people have risen against David, the anointed one (who is a picture of the Anointed One who was to come, Ps. 2). David describes their actions as worthless – while seeking falsehood and glorying in shaming God’s chosen one. We can see similarities of this psalm with Romans 1. People glory in their shame – shaming God and His ways by continuing to pursue their own passions above what is right. As you move to Romans 2 and 3, you realize that the entire human race has shamed God in pursuing anything else other than God. Yet, God has made a way for rescue through Christ (Rom. 3:21ff).
David sees the ungodly as following worthless pursuits and is very concerned. He knows that God has set him apart and will hear him when he calls, but he is confident that God will not hear them. This is a scary reality for the ungodly. Therefore, David calls the ungodly to repentance. He gives six commands:
- Be angry. In the context, they’re angry with God’s King. Given the next couple words, we can be confident that David doesn’t want them to be angry with them, but David does give them the permission to be angry.
- Do not sin. This adds to our understanding of what he is saying. It seems as though David is saying to unbelievers (and I think believers should heed this word as well), “Make sure that you are angry about the right things.” In other words, “You are angry, but do you have your facts straight and are you angry with the right attitude – desiring God’s glory?”
- Meditate within your heart. This means to ponder. Think about for what you are living. “Be angry about the right things and meditate as to whether you’re really living for eternal joy.”
- Be Silent. This is one of the hardest things for us to do when we are angry, isn’t it? Just to be silent. Sometimes we call someone or we talk to our friends or family members or husband or wife. Do you realize that could be keeping you from seeing things clearly? David says that sometimes silence is golden. Be still. Stop.
- Offer the sacrifices of righteousness. It is by God’s grace that upon deep contemplation the ungodly will see what they need to do. They will respond with right actions. But, right actions without a right heart are still ungodly. This word for “righteousness” reminds us of verse 1 – “God of my righteousness.” David says that God is his righteousness. Therefore God acts righteously. If actions of righteousness flow out of the character of God’s righteousness, then it is the same for His created beings. A heart that has been transformed by God is a godly heart. It is a heart that loves him and is faithful to him. Therefore, we have the final command.
- Put your trust in the LORD. We saw in Psalm 3 that “Salvation belongs to the LORD” – seeing that the LORD is Jesus Christ. We saw in Psalm 2 that the ones who are blessed by God are the ones who put their trust (take refuge) in Him. Now, Psalm 4 puts together these two thoughts very clearly. How are we ever going to be forgiven? How are we ever going to hope in Him? How are we ever going to get away from lies? It is only through the salvation that the LORD brings. And, anyone who trusts in Yahweh is blessed.
David reiterates his concern for the people in that they pray to God, but God does not answer them (v. 6). Yet, David’s prayer is answered (vv. 7-8). Some may ask, “So, God does not hear when the ungodly pray to Him?” He does hear, but not in the sense of giving rescue. When Jesus talks about the scribes and Pharisees praying to be seen by men, He says that they have their reward (Luke 6:5). This concept is reiterated in Romans 1 and even earlier in Matthew 6. If someone is calling out to God yet they really desire something else to rescue them, God will give them to that other thing. If someone is calling out to God and really seeking Him, He will pick them up and rescue them. This is why it is so important for the ungodly to see their sin and “put their trust in the LORD.”
David says that God has given him gladness (aka – “joy”) and peace. In the New Testament, both of these words are picked up as part of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). The ungodly might have real semblances of joy and peace, but according to David, they’re just pictures of the real joy and peace that is found in God. The reason? Because the eternal joy we have is found in our right relationship with God – the everlasting Creator. The peace that we have is not merely with men, but with God. While we can be happy when stocks are high and our jobs are going very well, the godly’s greatest source of joy is found in God – the One who makes them safe.
“. . .put your trust in the LORD” (Psalm 4:5b).
This past Sunday, I preached from James 1:9-11. In essence, this passages teaches us that there is more to be had that financial status. The rich ought to not glory in their status as being rich and the poor ought to not think they’re less human simply because their poor. Instead, both should rejoice in their heavenly status. The rich should rejoice in their low status as slaves of Christ (which is really their salvation). And, the poor should exalt in their high position in Christ (which is far greater than riches).
There are a couple of truths I want to point out regarding this passage:
1) This passage does not mean that the poor should just stay poor and that they are not in need of help. This would be a wrong application of these verses, and James will get to that in the following chapters. God is very concerned for the poor, and we ought to be as well.
2) This does not mean that the rich should hoarde their money. Instead, the rich should realize their wealth does not save, and those in Christ should give more freely! Again, James will pick up on these topics in the coming chapters.
3) How we spend our money (or view our monetary status) can reveal whether or not we truly love God or simply love the passing things of this world. The is just one way we can see whether we’re buying into the mindset of the “double-souled” person.
4) Eternity is wonderful beyond our comprehension. James says that the things of this earth pass away quickly. Yet, we many times stand in awe of the things we see around us. To me, that speaks to the everlasting beauty of eternity. If you have trusted in the LORD – and you are a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ – you can look forward to a glorious future!