Psalm 4: The Worship Leader and the Shining Face of God
With its final confident declaration, ‘I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety,’ the fourth Psalm is a favourite for night-time. Yet this Psalm is much more than a simple bedtime prayer. Although nowadays it’s prayed by millions of people every night (it is, after all, the first Psalm of Compline, that last time of daily prayer before sleeping), David originally gave the instructions for singing it to only one person: the ‘chief musician’ or ‘choirmaster’ (depending on what translation you’re using). This was the worship leader who led Israel in praise in the Tabernacle and Temple, and that’s who, first and foremost, sings this Psalm – the worship leader.
But if that makes you think of a solo from a chap with skinny jeans, a guitar, and a hipster beard (my apologies to all those who lead congregations in song at this point!), it might be worth thinking again. Who is our worship leader? The New Testament never uses a term anything like this to speak of a role in the early church. And yet it does use a word which we would translate well into our term ‘worship leader.’ It’s the word leitourgos, and it’s used in Hebrews 8:2, but only of our Great High Priest, Jesus.
So, the true worship leader isn’t to be found on the platform when we gather in church on Sunday morning. The true worship leader is to be found at the right hand of God, because the Lord Jesus is our worship leader. And that’s who this Psalm was written for. We’re not supposed to sing it by ourselves. We supposed to join Him and sing it along with Jesus as He leads us in His song. (Already this should be making sense to us, after what we saw about the Psalms being sung by the whole Christ, head and members, in Psalm 3.)
So, we lift our voices to sing Psalm 4 with confidence in our Jesus, our leitourgos and Great High Priest. He Himself is the ‘God of my righteousness’, for He is the One ‘who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption’ (1 Cor. 1:30). He is the One who ‘knew no sin’ yet became ‘sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him’ (2 Cor. 5:21). It is ‘through faith in Christ’ that we receive ‘the righteousness which is from God by faith’ (Phil. 3:9), so He is the One to whom we can cry out for mercy in this Psalm.
But not only is this Psalm a cry to the Lord our Righteousness for mercy and help (v.1), it’s also a sigh of longing for the salvation of those who chase after falsehood instead of trusting in Christ the Truth (v.2). It’s not only we who trust in Christ and lift our voices in prayer who need His mercy and help; the whole world needs the mercy and help of the Lord of righteousness and truth. All of us need Him to turn us away from our love of vanity and all sorts of worthlessness, from our love of what turns out to be nothing but lies and our consequent wallowing in our shame, back to Him who is ‘the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth’ (Jn 1:14).
There is one who is set apart for the Lord, the Psalm reminds us. We’ve seen this already back in Psalm 1. While the way of the ‘sons of men’ (Ps 4:2) is to walks ‘in the counsel of the ungodly,’ stand ‘in the path of sinners,’ and sit ‘in the seat of the scornful’ (Ps 1:1), the ‘godly’ one is ‘set apart’ by the Lord ‘for Himself’ (Ps 4:3). The godly one is in the singular, just like the man in Psalm 1, for there is only one man who is truly and perfectly godly: the God-Man, Christ Jesus. It is because Jesus has been set apart – because Jesus ‘was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin’ (Heb. 4:15) and set Himself apart (sanctified Himself – Jn 17:19) in dying for our sins on the cross – that we have confidence that ‘the Lord will hear when I call unto Him’ (Ps 4:3). It is only because Jesus, the Godly One, has been set apart in His sinless life, atoning death, and triumphant resurrection, that we can ‘stand in awe and sin not’ (v.4). As we look to Jesus and how He has been set apart for us, as we look to Jesus and see in Him the truth and glory of God, as we look to Jesus and see Him as the Lord our Righteousness, the reality of His glorious person causes us to ‘stand in awe’, to ‘tremble’ with the true fear of the Lord in wonder and delight at who He is and what He has done for us. And it’s only as we ‘stand in awe’ in recognition of this revelation of Jesus Christ, that through Him are set apart to be godly in Him and ‘sin not’.
Now, instead of chasing vanity and worthlessness, we recognise the true worth of communing with Christ, as we meditate on Him within our hearts upon our beds and be still before Him (v.4). We can abandon the constant search (which turned out to be after nothing but falsehood), and stop in the stillness of the One who is the Truth (Jn 14:6) and who gives us His peace (Jn 14:27).
In this newfound rest in Christ, we’re called to ‘offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put [our] trust in the Lord’ (Ps 4:5). But this isn’t a new relentless round of activity. We’re not sent out again to chase after and seek out ways to bring an acceptable sacrifice to the Lord. No! The sacrifice we’re to bring is the sacrifice of ‘righteousness’, but as the Psalm has already reminded us, the Lord Himself is our righteousness. The sacrifice of righteousness which we offer up to the Lord isn’t the effort of our attempts at righteous works; the sacrifice of righteousness is the sacrifice of the Righteous One in whom we have found righteousness. The sacrifice of righteousness is Christ’s sacrifice. And now, trusting in the Lord’s mercy in Jesus, we live our lives under that once-and-for-all sacrifice. We live our lives in dependence upon and with confidence in what Jesus has accomplished for us in His sacrifice on the cross. And so, we ‘offer the sacrifices of righteousness’ as we give thanks for, and rejoice in, and pray with confidence in, and seek forgiveness in the crucified and risen Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. To offer the sacrifices of righteousness is to plead the blood of Jesus, to pray in His name, to remember and give thanks for His sacrifice, and to rejoice in the Christ who died and rose again for us. To ‘offer the sacrifices of righteousness’ is to ‘put your trust in the Lord’ (v.5).
And this trust in the Lord doesn’t make all of life suddenly look amazing (v.6). The true Christian life may often look like ‘the valley of the shadow of death’ (Psalm 23:4), but even in the midst of the shadows, we can cry out to the Lord to ‘lift up the light of [His] countenance upon us’ (Ps 4:6), trusting that He will indeed ‘hear when I call unto Him’ (v.3).
But what does it mean for God to ‘lift up the light of [His] countenance upon us’? God is spirit; He doesn’t have a body, so He doesn’t physically have a ‘countenance’ or a ‘face’. Yet God’s face is spoken of quite a lot in the Bible, and just like here, it’s a good thing. So what is it?
Back in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve hid themselves from ‘the face of the Lord God’ (Gen. 3:8) when He came to walk with them in the Garden (after they’d eaten the forbidden fruit). So, from the very beginning of the Bible, there’s been an association between Gods’ face, and His presence and communion with Him. God draws near and reveals Himself by His ‘face’.
And in the New Testament this becomes even clearer. ‘No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him’ (Jn 1:18). Jesus is the face of God by which He makes Himself known to us and draws near to us. And in Jesus ‘God … has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Cor. 4:6). Jesus is the face of God. And when God lifts up the light of His face (His countenance) upon us, He reveals Himself to us in Jesus so that we see His glory and grace shining out to us in His Well-Beloved Son, our Saviour.
And by revealing Himself to us in Jesus, the Lord puts joy and gladness in our hearts (Ps 4:7), even at times when others can’t see the good that the Lord has done for us (v.6)! This joy is greater than the joy of the fulfilment of God’s blessings on Israel when He brought them into the land (cf. Deut. 33:28), because God’s greatest blessings are not the material blessings of this life; God’s greatest blessing to us is Himself. And so, it’s in trusting in Him, clothed with Christ for righteousness, gazing on the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ that the greatest of God’s blessings are found.
No trouble of this earth can snatch away this comfort we have in Christ, and so, with our trust in Him we can ‘both lie down in peace, and sleep’ (Ps 4:8), both tonight and at the end of our days, confident that, no matter what may befall, our Lord makes us ‘dwell in safety.’