A number of Psalms have introductions that point to particular incidents in David’s life. We encountered some of them early on in our series of studies on David. Psalm 4 has no such introduction, but Psalm 3 does, where it is headed ‘A psalm of David, regarding the time David fled from his son Absalom.’
Some scholars believe this Psalm 4 reflects the same incident when David was in serious danger from his own son. So first we read some of the background story and then reflect on the Psalm itself.
This whole sorry tale begins in 1 Samuel 13 with the rape of Absalom’s sister, Tamar, and carries us right through to chapter 19 when David returns to Jerusalem after the death of Absalom.
David did not make family life easy: 2 Samuel 3 lists 6 of his sons – all with different mothers! Absalom, the third eldest of David’s sons, acted deviously and won over the hearts of the people and was then proclaimed King by a substantial proportion of the population. David’s life was threatened, and he had to escape from Jerusalem. All sorts of accusations were thrown against him, hence his outburst at the beginning of this Psalm.
V 2. How long will you people ruin my reputation?
How long will you make groundless accusations?
How long will you continue your lies?
Certainly Absalom’s rebellion deeply troubled David as he felt he was on the wrong end of unjust and ill-founded criticism. The emotions expressed in the Psalm could well reflect David’s feelings at that stage.
This is one of the hardest things for any leader to bear: mis-informed and poorly understood criticism saps the enthusiasm and initiative of even the best of leaders. Countering it involves an element of self-justification (which never goes down well!) or just dignified silence, which is painful.
This Psalm highlights the anguish that leaders sometimes have to bear. So it begins with David in the doldrums and slowly but surely leads him through to measured confidence in God and His justice.