How do you sleep at night?

Psalm 4:1-8

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.
As Psalm of David.

1 Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! 2 O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah 3 But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him. 4 Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah 5 Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD. 6 There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!” 7 You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. 8 In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

One of the biggest problems humans face is deep restlessness. Judith Shulevitz, famed New York Times columnist, described this deep restlessness and our need for deep peace this way:

“Most people mistakenly believe that all you have to do to stop working is not work. The inventors of the Sabbath understood that it was a much more complicated undertaking. You cannot downshift casually and easily, the way you might slip into bed at the end of a long day not only did drudgery give way to festivity, family gatherings and occasionally worship, but the machinery of self-censorship shut down, too, stilling the eternal inner murmur of self-reproach.”

When evening rolls around distracting situations vie for our attention. Often evenings can be such occasion.  The main theme of the psalm however is not just looking at sleeplessness, rather it is concerned with inward peace in a difficult  situation. The approach of night, with its temptation to brood on past wrongs and present perils, only challenges David to make his faith explicit and to urge it on others, as a committal of one’s cause (4f.) and oneself (, 8) to a faithful Creator.

Psalm 4 is traditionally classified as an individual lament, but more precisely it is a psalm of confidence in which the innocent worshiper rises above the grounds of lamentation with sure trust in God.

This Psalm hinges on David’s description of God. He does not appeal to God based on his “godliness” [literally devotion –chesed] (v3). Rather his answer will come from God’s own righteousness (v1). Neither pietistic, religious moralism, (“Who will show us some good?”) nor hedonistic self-discovery (those for whom “grain and wine abound”) will grant peace and rest. It is God alone who in peace will make us lie down and sleep, “for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (v8)

The Holy Spirit, speaking through David, challenges us to see where we derive our sense vindication or righteousness (v1). Any other way of seeking vindication will only lead to hotheadedness and disillusion, “O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?” (v.2) Paul challenges this very notion quoting this psalm in Eph 4:26 “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” If Jesus is our righteousness then we don’t have to fight for our rights. If Jesus is our vindication we do not need to prove ourselves. It is this confidence in justification that leads to true, deep rest. It is Jesus who speaks to the restlessness of our life, “Peace, Be still.”

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