Psalm 4 – “They Love Vain Words”

[The audio for this week’s evening service is available at, 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.

Psalm 3:3 – The Lifter of My Head

[The audio for this week’s evening service is available at, 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….)]

David describes the Lord with three metaphors in Psalm 3:3.  First, The Lord is a Shield.  This is a common metaphor for God In the Psalms, Ps 84:10 describes the king as a shield of protection for God’s people (cf. Ps 7:11, 18:3, 31, 36,119:114). This shield (מָגֵן)is a small, round shield used by a soldier in battle, sometimes called a buckler.    The image may go back to Gen 15:1, the second repetition of the Abrahamic covenant. There Abram was concerned that the Lord would not fulfill his promise give him a son, but the Lord reassures him by describing himself as a shield, protecting Abram until the time was right for him to have a son.  Similar words are used in by Moses in Deut 33:39, the final lines of his testament.   But this shield is more than a defense in front of David, the Lord is a shield on all sides. David is safe from attack from any side since he is within the Lord’s shield.

Second, The Lord is David’s glory.  The noun glory (כָּבוֹד) can be used for a reputation, the thing which gives a person some importance (weight) in society.   John Oswalt commented that “it is an easy step to the concept of a ‘weighty’ person in society, someone who is honorable, impressive, worthy of respect” (TWOT 943g).  If David has any personal glory, it has come from what the Lord has done through him in the past.  All of David’s “street cred” comes from what the Lord has done, not what David has accomplished.

Third, The Lord is the “lifter” of David’s head.  For a sovereign to “lift one’s head” is a sign of acceptance.  A person would not raise their eyes to look at a great king, their eyes and head should be bowed low until the king gives them permission to “lift their head.”  For example, in Genesis 40:13 Joseph interprets the cup-bearer’s dream to mean that in three days time the Pharaoh will “lift up his head” and restore him to his position.  (Although in Genesis 40:13, the verb is נשׂא rather than רום).

Applied to David, this is a metaphor God allowing David to be the king of Israel.  It is not that David deserved it, but that the Lord “lifted his head” and accepted him, establishing his throne in Israel.  Rather that a depressed and humbled king escaping his rebellious son, David will return to Jerusalem with “his head held high.”

This tri-fold description highlights God’s protection of David as well as his restoration to the throne.