Sin-free anger, Psalm 4

David covers a lot of territory in the short Psalm 4, but one striking section contains the apparently contradictory command to: “Be angry, and do not sin” (Psalm 4:4a, ESV).

Prior to the first verse, this notation appears: “To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.” The psalmist begins, as he does many psalms, by crying to God for relief and grace (verse 1, ESV):

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
   You have given me relief when I was in distress.
   Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!

David acknowledges God as the source of personal righteousness and expresses his confidence in him. His confidence is rooted in hard evidence; he has seen God’s deliverance in the past (“You have given me relief when I was in distress). Because he has witnessed God’s mercy first hand, he prays with hope for God’s grace.

In the next verse, David addresses the men who seek to discredit him (2, ESV): 

O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
   How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?

These men try to damage David’s reputation with vain words and attempted lies. We know that this has been a chronic struggle from David’s repeated cry, “How long?”

Perhaps still speaking to those trying to dishonor him, but also to all of us, David declares two truths about God: He has set apart a people for himself; he hears them when they call.

But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself;
   the LORD hears when I call to him (3, ESV).

Then comes that rather puzzling verse about anger (4, ESV):

Be angry, and do not sin;
    ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.

The gospel accounts of Christ cleansing the temple best portray sin-free anger (Matthew 21, Mark 11, John 2). Christ made a whip and drove the money-changers out of the temple, overturning their tables in his righteous wrath. That’s action! And that’s anger!

But not even the least taint of sin stained this or any of Christ’s actions. This was righteous and sin-free anger.

What does it mean for us to “Be angry, and do not sin”? Because anger often causes us to fall into distressing sins, it’s difficult for us to wrap our finite minds around the concept of righteous anger.

Taking our cue from Christ, we realize we cannot ignore evil that dishonors God’s name. Although we don’t have money-changers in our temples, there may still be practices or people today that call for us to take drastic action. We must follow Christ’s lead in any situation, taking care that our anger is because God’s name–not ours–is dishonored.

That seems to be where the next part of the verse comes into play: “ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.” Our actions must follow serious self-examination that recognizes and repents from personal sin.

The humble and repentant person trusts in God, rather than himself, and takes appropriate action.

Offer right sacrifices,
   and put your trust in the LORD (5, ESV).

Only those who truly trust in God can offer themselves and their work as proper sacrifices to him.

In the ancient world and still today, many look for answers (6, ESV):

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
    Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”

The only answer then, and the only answer now, is to look to the Lord. Good comes only from God. He lifts the light of his face so that it bathes believers in warm illumination. God’s light is the source of blessing and joy.

You have put more joy in my heart
   than they have when their grain and wine abound.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
   for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety (7-8, ESV).

Imagine the joy of a farmer whose harvest exceeds expectations. His family and friends join him in a feast and raise a toast. But the joy God puts in believers’ hearts far surpasses that fleeting moment of fuzzy feelings in the candle’s rosy glow.

The joy in our hearts lasts long after the candle’s flame sputters and disappears into a rising string of smoke. It is a deep-rooted assurance that doesn’t depend on momentary feelings. Because we know God is always with us, we go to bed and sleep through the night without fear. We dwell now in safety and we will dwell forever in safety. Our home is in the Lord.


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