The RIGHTEOUS One’s Contentment

A brief study of Psalm 4, transcribed and edited from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 19 May 2006

Psalm 4 may be known as the righteous one’s contentment in perplexity.

All of us live in circumstances of much perplexity. Just yesterday something very perplexing happened to me. When I switched on my computer, I realized that it was not working. The more I tried, the worse it became. It was especially perplexing to me because I had not printed out the sermons that I had prepared to preach on the Lord’s Day. So I called a brother in the Lord for help; and he came by in the middle of the night. We tried to work at it; but in the few hours, we accomplished nothing. The next morning, we discovered that the hard disk had crashed. Nothing was retrievable. It was a rather distressing time.

Well, in the midst of this perplexity, I began to think about this Psalm,—this very Psalm that we are looking at tonight.

Very providentially, this Psalm describes the very kind of situation that I was in. It is a Psalm that brings comfort,—a Psalm that reminds us that we can sleep in the midst of trails and difficulties.

Notice how this Psalm begins with distresses:

Hear me when I call, O God of my Righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.

In my time of perplexity, in my distress, in the difficulties that I am in, hear my cry, and enlarge me and have mercy upon me.

And look at how it ends in verse 8:

I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety.

In times of perplexity and distress we often find it difficult to sleep. Well, last night I had a difficult time sleeping. How to sleep when I did not have my sermon on hand? The whole week of work seemed to have gone down the drain. All I could do was rely on memory to preach the sermon. So I was running the sermons through my mind, trying to recall them. And then, when I managed to catch some sleep, it was a troubled sleep with dreams involving ghosts—I think because we were working with a Norton recovery utility known as ‘Ghost’!

It was a difficult night. But in the morning as I began to meditate on this Psalm I realized I can have peace in the Lord!

This Psalm no doubt was used by the Lord Himself who faced much perplexity in His earthly ministry. In fact, the Lord, of all men, would have faced most intensely, the perplexity, frustration, and exasperation as alluded to in this Psalm.

The Lord was seeking to do good and yet people were pursuing after Him for His blood. At the very same time He knew that His own disciples would forsake Him and one of them would betray Him. How perplexed can a person be? Our Lord no doubt would have sung these words or meditated on the word of this Psalm as He went through those days of great difficulty. And as our Lord used those words so we too can use them in times of difficulties, whether it has to do with people, or circumstance, or machine. Whatever the circumstance of perplexity may be in our life, we can come to this Psalm and meditate on it to encourage ourselves in the Lord.

Now this Psalm has 4 parts. Interestingly it is not according to musical divisions suggested in the Psalm. You see, the word ‘Selah’ actually breaks the Psalm into stanzas. But in this Psalm the divisions do not fall according to the ‘selahs.’ Which gives us an idea that these are musical notations, and sometimes with musical notations you cannot put them exactly at the place where the idea in the song breaks logically.

And that is what happens also in the Scottish Psalter. In the Scottish Psalter the translators essentially drop off all the ‘Selahs’ and simply write according to the metre that is suitable for our singing. The reason is that it is nearly impossible to match the musical stanzas with the logical paragraphs very nicely all the time.

There are 4 parts to this Psalm:

In verse 1, we have "The Righteous One’s Cry unto the Lord."

Verses 2 & 3 may be entitled, "The Righteous One’s Chagrin" as he expresses the exasperation that he was experiencing.

Verses 4 & 5, we have "The Righteous One’s Counsel to the Godly" when they are in such circumstance.

And finally from verses 6-8 give us "The Righteous One’s words of Comfort."

Let’s look at these 4 parts and see how they ought to encourage us in our times of trials.

1. The Righteous One’s Cry

1 Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.

Here the Righteous One, Christ our Lord cries to the Father in a moment of distress. Notice how even as He cries unto the Father to hear Him, He reminds Himself of how the Father has heard Him in the past, and that the Father never fails. "Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress": "I felt very constricted. I was stuck. I felt like I was between two brick walls,—not knowing how to get out of the situation." "But thou didst enlarge me, thou didst give me freedom in my heart." "Now Lord, hear me again. Hear my prayers as I am in this present strait, for I cry unto thee with the assurance that thou would deliver."

As the Lord was delivered, so we too can expect the LORD to deliver. When we cry unto the Father we can cry on the basis not just that He has delivered us in the past, but on the basis that He has delivered our Lord, who laid down His life for us. We have tremendous assurance to cry out unto the LORD.

Are you, beloved brethren, in a time of distress? Are you in a difficult situation, that leaves you wondering what is going to happen next …or that robs you of sleep? Go to the LORD! Cry unto Him as the Righteous One cried unto the Father.

But now let’s look at…

2. The Righteous One’s Chagrin

2 O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? Selah. 3 But know that the LORD hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the LORD will hear when I call unto him.

It can be extremely perplexing for a child of God to deal with people who are disagreeable or with the enemies of the gospel. If you ever deal with such persons, you will, no doubt, feel vexed by the things that you have to hear.

Such was the experience of our Lord at the Cross, only that it involved not just a vexation, but a turning of the glory of the Righteous One into shame. The Righteous One trusted the LORD. He trusted in the Father. But His enemies derided Him: "He trusted in God, let him save himself, then deliver us. Let him prove that He is indeed the Son of God!" In so doing, they added grief to His already difficult circumstance.

"How long?" the Lord asks. "How long will you love vanity and seek after idleness, seek after the idols of this world without recognizing that there is one living and true God who is alone in control?’ "Know ye not that the LORD hath set apart him that is godly for himself?"

As the Righteous One expresses His chagrin over the sons of man who dishonour God in their failure to acknowledge His Son, He, at the same time, tells them to look and see how the LORD would deal kindly with those who are walking according to His ways.

The righteous need not be jealous over the prosperity of the wicked. Nor should the righteous succumb under the evil suggestions of the wicked when they mock: "You trust in the Lord, now see what you have got. The Lord is not hearing your prayer." We must not succumb to their temptations. Though we are exasperated at what they say, we must turn unto the Lord, and yet again acknowledge that He is in control. And we should bravely remind the wicked: "There is one living and true God. Do you not fear God?"

Consider, therefore,…

3. The Righteous One’s Counsel

4 Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah. 5 Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD.

Now what do we do when we are in times of perplexity? Very often, when we are perplexed, our tempers become very short. We become very impatient. Isn’t that true? When you face frustration you become very impatient. You become very angry easily over little things here and there.

But what does the Lord teach us? The Righteous one who was tempted at all points like as we are yet without sin calls upon us in such a circumstance, to "Stand in awe, and sin not."

Now, what does "Stand in awe" mean? Well in the New Testament there is a reference to this verse. In fact in the New Testament this verse is quoted directly, word-for-word from the Septuagint. And this verse is found in Ephesians 4:26—

"Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath."

There you have it. "Be ye angry and sin not." But the original Hebrew is translated in our English version as "Stand in awe." How do they connect? "Be ye angry…" versus "Stand in awe". How can the same Hebrew expression be translated so differently?

Well, the connection lies in the fact that when you are angry you are actually amazed. You are amazed and you allow those feelings of amazement to rise up and boil in your heart. This is anger. So what the Righteous One is telling us is this: "There may be times when you are so amazed to the point that you are angry, but do not sin."

There is such a thing as righteous anger. Our Lord was angry when He saw the people selling doves in the temple courtyard and changing money. He was so angry He made a whip and drove the people out. Did He sin? Of course not! It was righteous anger. Our Lord was tempted at all points like as we are yet without sin. But He was angry. So anger itself is not necessarily wrong. But do not be angry to the point of sin.

In times of great perplexity, you may get angry. But realise that it is very easy to slide into sin in such situations. Think about it. The computer breaks down. You get angry. What are you angry with? The computer is a dumb thing. You can’t get angry with it. So in the final analysis you are really angry with God—because God is He who is in control over all things, and is providentially bringing all things to pass. So your anger becomes sin.

Similarly, you can be angry with another person unjustly. Maybe he made a mistake unintentionally. Unfortunately his mistake got you into trouble and inconvenience. And so you get angry. Who are you angry with? It is with the person who made the mistake. But it was an accident. So you were angry unjustly. You had sinned. But the Lord reminds us in this circumstance, "Watch your heart." You may be angry, but sin not. Not only that, but do not let the sun go down upon your wrath. Commune with your own heart upon the bed and be still in the night.

Well, that’s what I failed to do. Lying there in the night, I was not angry, but I was restlessly tossing and turning. Well, I managed to sleep, but it was a disturbed sleep. We must learn to lie down. Be still. Trust in the Lord that He would bring all things to pass and that all would turn out well.

Then, we must offer the sacrifices of righteousness. Praise the Lord, and trust Him. Put your trust in the Lord. Worship Him in your perplexity. Our Lord did so. And we must learn to do so as we consider…

4. The Righteous One’s Comfort

6 There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? LORD, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.

Who will show us any good? God will show us good. And indeed, we can have the confidence that whatever happens, He is working all things together for our good. Does not the Word of God assure us of that? So we call unto the Lord, "Lift up your countenance upon us. Smile upon us. Give us grace to trust in you, and to know that you are in control."

Then will we be able to speak of what the Lord has done for us with that joyful assurance that the Righteous One had:

7 Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.

When you are in perplexity, as you cry unto the Lord to look down upon you with His heavenly smile, remember how the Lord has in time past blessed you. And He has given you much more to enjoy than when the times when the corn and wine of our fathers increase.

In those ancient agricultural days, when the harvest was good, and there was a lot of corn and wine, people were smiling all the time… We know that the Lord has given us far more than those things to enjoy.

So what if we are perplexed for a moment in our present life? Have we not greater reasons to trust the Lord? Has He not given us the glorious hope that one day all tears and sorrows will pass away? In that day, there will be no more perplexity, no more pain, no more sorrow. And so with that thought, we must do as the Lord was able to do, namely to sleep in the storm.

8 I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety.


You, Lord, enable me to dwell in safety. Whatever the circumstance is in my life. I know you know best. And therefore I will sleep in peace. Amen.

— JJ Lim