[The audio for this week’s evening service is available at Sermon.net, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer (right-click, save link as….)]
Like many psalms, the writer describes his oppressor, although it is impossible to relate this to an event in David’s life with any certainty. It is possible Psalm 4 was intended to be read along side of Psalm 3, which does make reference to Absalom’s rebellion, but this is not necessary. In fact, there is enough ambiguity in the text to apply it to any number of scenarios in the Hebrew Bible.
They seek to turn the Psalmist’s glory into shame. The noun honor (ESV, Heb. כָּבוֹד) can refer to personal glory, distinction, or even reputation. In the context of David’s life, this could refer to the time when he was king. At that time he was honored and had a growing reputation, but many were jealous of his success and sought to attack him. On the other hand, the noun could be taken as a title for God, he is “My Glory.” The opponents may be attacking the Psalmist’s God. If the opponent is outside of Israel, then the opponent may be claiming that he is not worthy of worship. If the opponent is from within Israel, then perhaps the attack is aimed at the worship of God in the Temple at Jerusalem. There are a number of times in the Hebrew Bible when exclusive worship fo the Lord at the Temple was attacked (from the northern kingdom under Ahab and Jezebel, or later under the Judean kings Ahaz and Manasseh).
If “my Glory” refers to God himself, then the point of this line is that the opponent is saying that the God of Israel is not worthy of worship, he is in fact a shameful God. This could be the words of a foreign nation, or even from the Northern kingdom, saying that worship in the Temple is not acceptable, it is in fact a shameful thing.
They love vain words. The adjective “vain” (רִיק) refers to something that is empty or void. This can be an action which cannot hope to succeed (the nations plot in vain against the Lord’s anointed, Ps 2:1), and frequently it refers to work which is “in vain” (Isa 49:4; Jer 51:58; Hab 2:13). The noun “words” does not appear in the Hebrew Bible, hence the NIV’s “they love delusions.” This is particularly evocative translation for me, since it seems to me that there are many people who are committed to an illusion of life rather than to life as it really is. But this illusion is in vain, it cannot come to any benefit at all since it is empty to begin with.
They seek after lies. Just as the oppressors seek an illusion rather than reality, they seek lies rather than truth. The noun here (כָּזָב) is not the usual word for a lie, this is a deception, something which tries to look like the truth but is in fact false. It is very easy to create a self-deception, it is also very easy to believe the lies you tell yourself – the opponents in this Psalm create a reality which suits them!
Just as in Psalm 4, There is a sad tendency in contemporary culture to dismiss someone who even believes in God as some sort of sub-intellectual who holds on to a fairy-tale belief in the face of real-world scientific fact. To believe in God is to be “shameful,” to be an evangelical Christian is to be the same as people who believe a flat Earth.
This attack is (unfortunately) creates a spiritual inferiority complex. People say something like, “I believe in God, but not like those people.” Or people reject the name Christian, preferring to be called a “spiritual person” instead. The real problem is that there are too many Christians who are shameful (Fred Phelps, and many others). They are the ones who manage to get into the media, or make YouTube videos, or get caught in some incredible hypocrisy.
There are too many of “those people” who turn “our Glory” into a shameful thing.