To the chief Musician on Neginoth, A Psalm of David
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.
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.
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.
6. There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? LORD, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.
7. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.
8. I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety.
This Psalm is, for me, a difficult Psalm – probably because there are phrases that I have trouble understanding. I am using the King James Version in the presentation of these passages to you and we come up against the problem of changes in the meanings of words and phrases.
For instance, what is exactly meant by “Stand in awe, and Sin not?” For me, to stand in awe means to marvel at some object or at some action. The Hebrew translates into trembling and similar nuances. The present day meaning and the Hebrew meaning are similar, but it seems that today’s meaning has taken on the feeling of nonchalance. It is a word that has become common place and over used and so has lost the power that it once had. I’m not a Hebrew scholar and so will rely on the knowledge of those who are.
Psalm 3 and this are linked in that they are both written on the same occasion of David’s flight from the armies his son, Absalom, has recruited and they both have the same basic message to them. They both show that the writer is in distress; that those who are pursuing him are not heeding the word of God; that putting trust and confidence in God will give the peace needed to enable one to be able to sleep the night through.
It has a directive at the very beginning to the Chief Musician that the psalm is to played on the Neginoth – a stringed instrument. I am afraid that is all we know about this, but it suggests that (1) there were a variety of instruments used during the service and (2) that the musicians in the temple had a hierarchy – some having leadership roles and others of support.
David begins, (verse 1), by addressing God – basically a request that his prayer would be heard. He says, “O God of my righteousness.” David is saying that God, who is righteous (i.e., being in the right, being justified, being just), will support his righteous cause, but the cause must be righteous. We can’t be righteous all by ourselves. If we expect God to support us in an unrighteous cause, then we are asking God to lower Himself to our level of sinfulness. God will not lower Himself to our level – He will not support us in an unrighteous cause. David next acknowledges that God has protected him (enlarged me) in times past and even saved his life. Now, he once again comes to God, asking for mercy (protection) and again petitioning God to hear his prayer.
Verses 2 through 5 are addressed to the un-Godly, his enemies. He asks them how long will they “turn his glory into shame?” I think he is talking about two things. He is talking about his own position as king, but it goes deeper than this. David always knew that his life and position and honor were given to him by God. That God was the source of the glory that David enjoyed. Therefore, glory is in effect another way of saying God. So when he says they are turning his glory into shame he is saying they are turning God into shame.
He asks how long they will love vanity – vanity is defined as “emptiness” — something that is worthless. Leasing refers to something that is lying and deceitful. If we were to translate into more literal wording we could say something like: How long will you love what is worthless and empty; how long will you chase after deceitful idols? They will cause nothing but disappointment.
The verse ends with the “Selah.” A musical interlude that indicates it’s time to think about what’s already been said.
Now comes a warning to the un-godly in verse three. But know this: The Lord knows who is godly (i.e., one loving toward god and toward his brethren) and has claimed him for His own. He affirms that God will hear when he calls to him. We, too, can be sure of this. Our own situation in life may seem unbearable, but we can claim this for our own: If we are following God and have committed to Him, then He knows who we are and we can be certain that God will hear us when we call on Him!
So, “stand in awe,” that is tremble and have fear and do not (continue to) sin, but instead speak (commune) to God from your heart upon your bed (be humble) and be silent (stop your shenanigans). This verse, four, is guidance to those who find themselves falling into the category of the un-godly. Search your own heart and talk to God about it. Then the Selah — that is, think about it.
When you do come to your senses (verse five) offer sacrifices of righteousness (ask for forgiveness of your sins and don’t be hypocritical in asking forgiveness) to clear your name and “put your trust in the Lord.” The Israelites had a complicated system of sacrifices for every sin. The priests would kill the animal or fowl, sprinkle its blood on the ground or on the altar and then would offer it in burnt offering to God. This was a way of communing with God but it was also to show that there could be no forgiveness without the shedding of blood. When Jesus came into the world, He abolished the sacrificial system by offering up Himself as the Sacrifice once and for everyone.
David comments in verse six about the many people who, in tough times, give up in despair and for some reason can’t look beyond their present circumstances saying, “What good can come of this?”; “Who can show us any good outcome from this trouble?” To those with this frame of mind, of whom some may have been in his camp, David has an answer and prays: “Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.” Countenance generally means “face” – so here David is saying, “Show us you face.” Of course it is figuratively speaking, because no one can see God’s face and live. When the Lord shows his light in a dark world, all darkness and gloominess will be dispelled. The following verse supports this and he speaks of the joy he has following the Lord.
Verse seven is David’s expression of his Lord’s goodness. The harvest was always a time of joy and celebration because it was the assurance that they would now have fresh stores of food upon which to draw. Here David is saying the joy which God gives to him is greater than the joys expressed during the harvest.
Notice that he doesn’t give any pre-conditions. What he is saying is that God’s presence gives him joy all the time – not only when he is depressed and not only when he his feeling good. All the time.
The psalm concludes with David saying that the joy he gains from the Lord’s presence gives him a peace that enables him to lie down in peace and sleep. Why? – because the Lord protects and sustains him. (Deut 33:28)
In our own anxiety – for whatever reason – we too will be able to sleep peacefully if we know that God is on our side. We have the assurance that if God is on our side, we are called His children and He will always protect His children – His chosen.