Psalm 4: Lessons from David’s Example Regarding the Steps that a Believer Should Follow When Attacked

Introduction: In this psalm, David poured out his heart to God in the face of his enemy’s slanderous attacks. He then encouraged his enemies to turn back to God. From David’s example, the Bible reveals seven steps that a believer should follow when attacked. These include: (1) hope, (2) faith, (3) submission, (4) trust, (5) encouragement, (6) joy, and (7) peace.

First, as our example, David cried out to God when his enemies slandered him. When you are attacked, God also wants you to put your hope in Him for your deliverance. Second, David told his enemies that their attacks would fail because of God’s promises to him. When you are attacked, God also wants you to have faith in His Word and His promises. God will always be faithful to keep His promises to you. Third, David then warned his enemies to let go of their anger and meditate on God’s Word. When you are attacked, God also wants you to meditate on God’s Word and submit to His will. Fourth, instead of challenging God’s will, David encouraged his enemies to instead “offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and trust in the Lord.” In any circumstance, God also wants you to show your trust in Him by making your life a living sacrifice for Him. Fifth, when David’s followers became filled with doubt, David encouraged his followers to put their faith in God. When others become filled with doubt, God also wants you to encourage them in their faith. Sixth, in the face of the enemy’s attacks, David thanked God for the joy that God gave him. David valued it more than any physical blessing. When others attack you, God also wants you to turn to Him to find the joy of the Holy Spirit. Finally, in the face of the enemy’s attacks, David also thanked God for giving him peace. When others attack you, God also wants you to turn to Him to find His peace that surpasses all understanding.

1. Hope: When You Are Attacked, Put Your Hope in God For Your Deliverance. Ps. 4:1.

  • David called out to God for relief from his distress. In the face of slander, David placed his hope in God and cried out with all his heart for God’s deliverance: “For the music director; on stringed instruments. A Psalm of David. 1 Answer me when I call, God of my righteousness! You have relieved me in my distress; be gracious to me and hear my prayer.” (Ps. 4:1). One commentator observes that David provides believers with an example to follow when they are attacked: “There is passion in David’s cry. He doesn’t want to just cast up words towards heaven. He needs God’s attention to his present problem. Often power in prayer is lacking because there is little passion in prayer. It isn't that we persuade God by emotional displays, but God wants us to care deeply about the things He cares deeply about. The prophet Isaiah spoke with sorrow about the lack of this in Israel: And there is no one who calls on Your name, who stirs himself up to take hold of You (Isaiah 64:7). This is a good example of David stirring himself up to take hold of God . . . David knew that his righteousness came from God, and not from himself. He calls upon the God who makes him righteous. . . In a familiar pattern, David uses past mercy as a ground for future help.” (David Guzik on Ps. 4) (italics in original).1

David cried out for God to deliver him from his enemies2

  • David repeatedly poured out his heart during times of distress. As our example, David’s psalms are filled with examples where he repeatedly poured out his heart to God during his trials: “I was crying out to the LORD with my voice, and He answered me from His holy mountain. Selah” (Ps. 3:4). “I have called upon You, for You will answer me, God; incline Your ear to me, hear my speech.” (Ps. 17:6). “In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried to my God for help; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry for help before Him came into His ears.” (Ps. 18:6). As your Father, God wants you to pour out your heart to Him the way a child does to a parent. The mindless use of formulaic prayers are meaningless. Are you pouring out your heart to God?

  • Put your hope in God to deliver you. Also as our example, David always put his hope in God to deliver him: “They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support.” (Ps. 18:18). “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” (Ps. 25:16). During times of distress, do you put your hope in God?

2. Faith: When You Are Attacked, Have Faith in God’s Word and His Promises. Ps. 4:2-3.

  • David warned his enemies not to mistreat him because of God’s Covenant. Because of God’s Covenant, David warned his enemies not to slander God’s anointing of him: “You sons of man, how long will my honor be treated as an insult? How long will you love what is worthless and strive for a lie? Selah. But know that the Lord has set apart the godly person for Himself; the Lord hears when I call to Him.” (Ps. 4:2-3). The exact slander is unknown. Yet, it likely questioned David’s right to be king. This might have happened during Absalom’s coup d'état. But it could have happened at any time. Even before he became king, Saul repeatedly challenged his right to be king. Whenever it took place, David drew confidence in God’s Covenant with him. “He calls them ‘sons of (an individual) man (בְּנֵ֥י אִ֡ישׁ), which may indicate that they are men of high degree, perhaps distinguished and influential people (see Pss. 49:2; 62:9) . . . The question is lamenting the fact that they were trying to ruin him, but the interrogative ‘how long’ also implies there is a limit to this treatment by them. The second half of the verse is also a rhetorical question, criticizing them for loving vanity and lies. These expressions probably refer to false accusations that were designed to bring disgrace to David (see Ps. 31:18) . . . These rhetorical questions are based on the psalmist’s confidence that the Lord will answer his prayer and deliver him from them.” (Allen Ross, A Commentary of the Psalms: Volume 1 (1-41), Kregel Academic (2011) p. 235).

  • When slandered, David also gave his burdens to God. Because his opponents repeatedly slandered him, David wrote many psalms to record his feelings of sadness. What made him a man of faith was that he always gave these burdens to God: “All who see me deride me; they sneer, they shake their heads, saying,” (Ps. 22:7). “You know my disgrace, my shame, and my dishonor; all my enemies are known to You.” (Ps. 69:19). “But I am a worm and not a person, a disgrace of mankind and despised by the people.” (Ps. 22:6). “Because of all my adversaries, I have become a disgrace, especially to my neighbors, and an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me.” (Ps. 31:11). “I also have become a disgrace to them; when they see me, they shake their head.” (Ps. 109:25). “Why did I ever come out of the womb to look at trouble and sorrow, so that my days have been spent in shame?” (Jer. 20:18). If others are attacking you or slandering you, are you giving your burdens to God?

  • Rejoice when you are attacked for following God’s calling in your life. Jesus’ enemies also slandered Him: “And those passing by were speaking abusively to Him, shaking their heads,” (Matt. 27:39; Mk. 15:29; Lk. 23:35). His enemies also picked up stones to throw at Him (Jo. 8:59; 10:31; 10:39, 11:8). Because He suffered these abuses, He knows your pain when you suffer. You can also rejoice when you are attacked for following His will because He will reward you for your faithfulness: “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in this same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:11-12).

  • Find comfort in God’s Word when you are attacked. David was confident in the face of the enemy’s attacks against him because he knew that God would be faithful to keep His promises to David. When you are attacked, you can also find comfort in God’s Word. God will always be faithful to keep His promises: “Not one of the good promises which the LORD had made to the house of Israel failed; everything came to pass.” (Josh. 21:45). “[A]nd you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the LORD your God spoke concerning you has failed; they all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed.” (Josh. 23:14b). “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:9). “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will do it.” (1 Thess. 5:24). “But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” (2 Thess. 3:3). Thus, when you are attacked, you can also find comfort in God’s Word.

  • Give thanks when God answers your cries for help. David also had the faith to warn his attackers: “the Lord hears when I call to Him.” (Ps. 4:3). David further had the faith to thank God whenever he was successful. David always credited God and thanked Him for answering His prayers: “I was crying out to the LORD with my voice, and He answered me from His holy mountain. Selah” (Ps. 3:4). “Leave me, all you who practice injustice, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping. The LORD has heard my pleading, the LORD receives my prayer.” (Ps. 6:8-9). “I have called upon You, for You will answer me, God; incline Your ear to me, hear my speech.” (Ps. 17:6). When God answers your prayers, are you thanking Him and giving Him the full credit?

3. Submission: When Attacked, Meditate on God’s Word and Submit to His Will. Ps. 4:4.

  • David warned the wicked not to sin by trying oppose God’s appointed leader. Because God had anointed him, David warned his opponents that they were opposing God’s will: “4 Tremble, and do not sin; meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.” (Ps. 4:4). “David essentially teaches rebels to repent in Ps. 4:3-5 (MT 4:4-6), laying out a step-by-step process whereby they (1) acknowledge Yahweh’s king (4:3 [MT 4:4]); (2) work through their frustration and anger until they can quiet their hearts and be at peace with Yahweh’s purpose (4:4 [MT 4:5]); and (3) begin to worship Yahweh with righteousness and trust that pleases Him (4:5 [MT 4:6]). Paul quotes David’s Ps. 4:4 (MT 4:5) command to the rebels, ‘be angry, and do not sin,’ in Eph 4:26. Paul’s flow of thought aligns nicely with David’s, as Paul teaches former pagans how to leave off wickedness to conduct themselves in ways that please the Lord. Like David, Paul advises the Ephesian Christians to work through their emotional anger in a way that does not transgress, then he instructs them not to let the sun go down on their anger, dealing with it before they go to sleep, which seems to be what David counsels in the rest of Ps. 4:4 (MT 4:5), when he urges, ‘ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent’ (ESV). Paul’s previous words in Eph. 4:25 urge putting away falsehood and speaking the truth, and this matches the question posed in Ps. 4:2 (MT 4:3) as to how long vain words will be loved and lies sought out.” (James M. Hamilton Jr., Evangelical Bible Theology Commentary Psalms (Vol. I: Psalms 1-72) (Lexham Academic 2021) p. 119-120).

  • Submit to God’s appointed leaders. When the Jews murmured against Moses in the wilderness, Moses stated “Your grumblings are not against us but against the LORD.” (Ex. 16:8b). God commands that believers submit to His appointed leaders. First, believers submit to Him through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:14), His Word (2 Tim. 3:16), and His church leadership (Matt. 18:17-20, Heb. 13:17). Second, believers should submit to civil authorities (1 Pet. 2:13-14; Rom. 13:1-2). Third, believers should submit to God’s family order (Eph. 5:22-25; 6:10). Only when your authorities refuse to follow God’s Word can you ignore them (Acts. 4:19). Satan’s goal has always been to break down authority through rebellion. His goal is to create chaos and misery. Satan first led a third of the angels in rebellion against God’s rule (Rev. 12:3-9). He then led Eve to rebel against God’s rules (Gen. 3:1-4). He then led Adam and Eve to rebel against each other (Gen 3:16). All of Satan’s rebellions in the wilderness sought to depose Moses as the leader of the Jews. Jesus once quoted a prophesy: “I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.” (Mark 14:23). Upon His arrest, the disciples scattered. If Satan had succeeded in deposing Moses, the nation of Israel would have fought with itself and lost its direction in the wilderness. Satan also tries to have people bring down their church, civic leaders, and family leaders through rebellion. Society has reaped chaos from its rebellions. When you have contempt toward God’s leaders, it is equivalent to having contempt toward God. (Ex. 16:8; 1 Sam. 8:7). Thus, God warns you not to speak ill of His appointed leaders: “Do not touch My anointed ones, and do My prophets no harm.” (Psalm 105:15). Are you praying for your leaders? Or, are you undermining the authority of one of God’s appointed leaders through murmur or gossip?

  • Meditate on God’s Word with prayer and then submit to God’s will. God urged his enemies who were spreading lies to stop and meditate on God’s Word: “…meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.” (Ps. 4:4). As our example, the psalms are filled with exhortations to meditate on God’s Word: “I will remember my song in the night; I will meditate with my heart, and my spirit ponders:” (Ps. 77:6). “The LORD will send His goodness in the daytime; and His song will be with me in the night, a prayer to the God of my life.” (Ps. 42:8). “I will bless the LORD who has advised me; indeed, my mind instructs me in the night.” (Ps. 16:7). While eastern forms of mediation involve emptying your mind, Judeo-Christian mediation involves filling your mind with God’s Word. Are you reading God’s Word and meditating upon its application to you?

  • Meditating on God’s Word with prayer will also help to calm your anger. Paul quotes from David to urge believers: “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,” (Eph. 4:26). There are occasionally times when righteous anger is appropriate. An attack on civilians during an armed conflict would be an example of this. Yet, in most cases, your anger will stem from your unchecked flesh. You must never let your anger control you. Instead, when you are angry, you should turn to God to find His peace and direction for how you should respond to an upsetting situation or person.

4. Trust: Show Your Trust For God By Becoming a Living Sacrifice for God. Ps. 4:5.

  • David urged his enemies to turn back to God and trust Him. Instead of condemning his enemies, David urged them to make themselves pleasing to God and to trust Him: “Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and trust in the Lord.” (Ps. 4:5). A person of faith should turn to God in times of trouble and encourage others to do the same as well.

  • David repeatedly urged others to put their trust in God. As a man of faith, David repeatedly encouraged his friends and his enemies to put their trust in God: “Trust in the LORD and do good; live in the land and cultivate faithfulness. . . Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He will do it.” (Ps. 37:3, 5). “Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah” (Ps. 62:8). In any circumstance, God always wants you to turn to Him and put your trust in Him.

  • Demonstrate your trust in God by making yourself a living sacrifice for Him. Moses encouraged God’s people to make their lives “sacrifices of righteousness”: “They will call peoples to the mountain; there they will offer righteous sacrifices; for they will draw out the abundance of the seas, and the hidden treasures of the sand.” (Dt. 33:19). Paul also encouraged believers to show their gratitude by becoming “living sacrifices” for Jesus: “Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Ro. 12:1). Would others say that you are a “living sacrifice” to God?

  • Through faith, allow God to mold you through trials into a living sacrifice for Him. God molded David through his many trials to learn to trust Him. God will also allow you to experience trials so that He can refine you to become a living sacrifice for Him: “And He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness.” (Mal. 3:3). Are you allowing God to mold you into a person of faith?

5. Encouragement: When Others Face Doubt, Encourage Them in Their Faith. Ps. 4:6.

  • David calls upon God to bless his followers during their times of doubt. When David’s followers became filled with doubt in the face of the enemy’s attacks, David encouraged them with a prayer for God to bless them: “Many are saying, ‘Who will show anything good?’ Lift up the light of Your face upon us, Lord!” (Ps. 4:6). David could have focused on just his own need for comfort when he faced attacks. But David showed his incredible compassion by also caring about the faith of his doubting followers as well.

  • Encourage one another when others are filled with doubt. Like David, God wants you to be a source of encouragement to others when they face trials or when they doubt God’s faithfulness. “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:13). “But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.” (Heb. 13:22). Will you encourage others the way God encourages you?

  • Encourage others through prayers. David’s prayer for God to bless his doubting followers quoted from Aaron’s benediction to the Jews. To encourage the Jews during their times of doubt, Aaron prayed for God to lift up the faces of His troubled peoples: “The LORD lift up His face to you, and give you peace.” (Nu. 6:26). David further made prayers of encouragement a regular part of his walk with God: “For the music director; with stringed instruments. A Psalm. A Song. God be gracious to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us— Selah” (Ps. 61:1). “As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.” (Ps. 17:15). “Make Your face shine upon Your servant; save me in Your faithfulness.” (Ps. 31:16). When others are filled with doubt, do you pray over them to encourage them?

6. Joy: When Others Attack You, Turn to God For the Joy of the Holy Spirit. Ps. 4:7.

  • David proclaimed the joy of God’s provision to be greater than any worldly wealth. While David’s enemy’s took comfort in their physical possession, David praised God for instead giving him the more valuable gift of joy: “You have put joy in my heart, more than when their grain and new wine are abundant.” (Ps. 4:7). Regardless of the circumstances that you may face, you can always give thanks for the joy of the Spirit.

Jesus offers you the joy of the Holy Spirit3

  • Turn to God for the joy of the Holy Spirit when you are attacked. While people without faith find joy in belongings, David had God’s joy when he had nothing and faced attacks from his enemies. Paul also found joy even when attacked (2 Cor. 7:2-5). Joy is one of the fruits available to all believers through faith in Jesus and the Holy Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23). When you turn to Jesus, He offers you His joy: “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” (Jo. 15:11). “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.” (Jo. 16:24). When you are attacked, do you turn to Jesus for the joy of the Spirit?

  • David always praised God for God’s blessings. Also as our example, David’s psalms included regular prayers of gratitude for God’s blessings: “A Song, a Psalm of David. My heart is steadfast, God; I will sing, I will sing praises also with my soul.” (Ps. 108:1). “Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will dwell securely.” (Ps. 16:9). “That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent. LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” (Ps. 30:12). “A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, but when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken.” (Prov. 15:13). When God blesses you, do you give Him praise and let others know how He has been faithful to you?

7. Peace: When Others Attack You, Turn to God To Find His Enduring Peace. Ps. 4:8.

  • David praised God for his peace and security when in the face of his many enemies. Where others would be filled with sleepless nights of worry, David’s faith allowed him to sleep peacefully because he trusted in God’s Word: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, Lord, have me dwell in safety.” (Ps. 4:8). When you are under attack, God also offers you His peace that surpasses all understanding.

Jesus offers you the peace that surpasses all understanding4

  • With faith, God can give you the peace to dwell securely. David praised God because his faith allowed him to feel secure, even when he faced attacks from his enemies (Ps. 4:8). “Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will dwell securely.” (Ps. 16:9). Through Moses, God also promised that faith led obedience would allow His people to dwell securely in the Promised Land: “You shall therefore follow My statutes and keep My judgments so as to carry them out, so that you may live securely on the land.” (Lev. 25:18). “When you cross the Jordan and live in the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, and He gives you rest from all your enemies around you so that you live in security,” (Dt. 12:10). With God’s peace, you won’t need to flee because He will eventually put your enemies to rest. “When a person’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, He causes even his enemies to make peace with him.” (Prov. 16:7). “And who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good?” (1 Pet. 3:13). If you walk by faith with Jesus, you never need to fear your enemy’s attacks.

  • With faith, God can give you the peace that surpasses all understanding. When you have faith, Jesus offers you the peace that surpasses all understanding: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:7). “Peace I leave you, My peace I give you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, nor fearful.” (Jo. 14:27). “These things I have spoken to you so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (Jo. 16:33). If you are feeling attacked or if you are facing trials, are you crying out to Jesus for Him to bless you with His peace?

  • Whatever form of attack that you may face, the answer is to find refuge in God. One commentator observes that this psalm provides a road map that the faithful can turn to whenever they are attacked: “In Psalm 4, we find many actions that troubled people can take. When distress grips our soul, we can ask the Lord for relief and mercy (v. 1). We can take comfort in knowing we are among those who are favored by Him, remembering that He hears us when we call (v. 3). We can acknowledge our feelings and be quiet before Him (v. 4). We can do what is right (v. 5) and trust in Him to give us overflowing gladness (v.7). And we can rest in the assurance of peace and safety (v. 8).” (Dave Branon, Mart DeHann, Together with God, A Devotional Reading for Every Day of the Year, Discovery House, (2016), p. 7). If you are under attack, are you turning to Jesus?

  • Be patient for God’s timing if you don’t immediately feel peace or joy. Although God will ultimately provide you with His joy and His peace, He will only do so in His timing. His perfect plans may require you to suffer or experience hardship before He blesses you with joy and peace: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Ro. 8:28). David had to wait to become king as God molded Him as a lowly servant within Saul’s court. David would later suffer under Saul’s rule. But God used his suffering to mold David for His greater glory (Ps. 66:10). Like David, God wants you to be patient because He has prepared great plans for you: “Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him; do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.” (Ps. 37:7). “I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me and heard my cry.” (Ps. 40:1(b)). “I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope.” (Ps. 130:5). Do you patiently wait on the Lord and His timing?

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