Be angry, and do not sin — Psalm 4

Psalms of David

Psalms in Book 1 (Psalms 1 to 41) are mostly personal songs, so I will be looking at how they apply to us personally. Social and communal aspects of life and work do not come in until the later books of psalms.

The first part of. “Be angry, and do not sin,” is an instruction: Be angry. Anger in itself is not sinful, but uncontrolled anger can lead to sin. This verse was quoted by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:26, with the added instruction to “do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Do not remain in your anger, let it motivate you to take action against injustice but do not remain in your anger, being angry all the time is not good for you, but when you see something that angers you, especially an injustice that goes against God or against other people then be angry. Anger that is controlled is good.

A mobile phone showing a large emoji of an angry face.
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

The books of Psalms are roughly themed like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.

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

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!

O men, how long shall my honour be turned into shame?
    How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah
But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself;
    the Lord hears when I call to him.

Be angry, and do not sin;
    ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah
Offer right sacrifices,
    and put your trust in the Lord.

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
    Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!”
You have put more joy in my heart
    than they have when their grain and wine abound.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
    for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 4 ESVUK

Trust and Joy in God

I’m playing games with structure here. I really like to see structure in things and I have seen a structure in this psalm, it has a start and conclusion, the start being the title and verse 1 and the conclusion verses 6 to 8. This conclusion gives the theme of the psalm which is joy and trust in God.

In between are two questions and answers, each question pivots around the Hebrew word Selah, which is in italics in the English Standard Version of the Bible. No one knows the meaning of Selah, it is thought likely that it is a musical or liturgical direction, possibly for an instrumental interlude or a silence for thought. From a source*, Psalms is after all their songbook, I saw verses 4 & 5 linked together, so I began to think. “What if the Selah links a question and answer in this psalm?” What follows is speculative, but there is plenty of scope for speculating on the meaning of scripture.

Introduction

The title of this psalm may also be translated as “To He Who Grants  Victory through the Art of Music, for David”. This is a song of victory, of trust in God.

There is a Selah at the end of Psalm three. Wikipedia says that this could mean that if Selah is a connection, it is as if David recited his Psalm 3, then paused and began to sing, continuing with his harp. Sadly, Wikipedia is no help in the meaning of the psalm, though it does make the connection that Psalm 3 is about false worship and Psalm 4 about true worship. If that is correct we can also assume the cry for repentance is directed toward Absolom like the previous psalm.

Question 1 vv. 2&3

The first question is two-edged. It is for both those who like David are in trouble and also those who gain their position by being less than ethical. “Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself;” is a comfort to those who are not getting justice, but it need not be a threat to those who achieve their position by deceit. They can join the godly that the Lord hears by repenting.

Question 2 vv. 4&5

“Be angry, and do not sin,” this Psalm follows this with, “ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent,” Paul followed it with, “do not let the sun go down on your anger.” We have been given permission to let our anger go, let it go. Be angry for a day, and let your anger motivate you, if you are angry against an injustice, resolve to take action to stand against injustice—protest is good. But then let your anger go.

Letting our anger go is a sacrifice that goes up to God.

It is the same with frustration and sadness, we have forgotten the power of lament. Many of the psalms are laments, a few are full-on rants, be like the psalmists, be sad, be frustrated, but take them to God and let them go. We have permission to let them go: Letting go is a sacrifice to God.

Conclusion

This psalm is the prayer of a single person, David, But it is more than that, like most of the psalms in Book 1 of the psalms it can be the prayer of any individual. Please look over the Psalm and make it your own, recalling your own present troubles and also where God has been faithful to you in the past. Then let it go, that is where both joy and peace are found.


*I am not taking the claim of Britam Hebrew Nations that British and American peoples are the 10 lost tribes of Israel, I am just looking at a suggestion that the verses on either side of the Selah are a question and answer,


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