There is uncertainty about the significance of the Hebrew designation natsách, commonly understood to mean “musical director” or “leader.” The words “with stringed instruments” could indicate that only strings (and no wind and percussion instruments) were to accompany the singing. As a psalm or song ascribed to David, the composition appears to fit the period of Absalom’s rebellion, and this is the background against which the comments that follow are presented.
David’s calling is an appeal for divine help, the answer being sought is a favorable response. Both the Hebrew text and the Septuagint read, “God of my righteousness.” This expression could mean the God who reveals the psalmist to be in the right. It has been variously rendered, “God, my vindicator” (Tanakh), “God, my defender” (TEV), “God of my right” (NRSV), “God, the upholder of my right” (REB), and “my saving God” (NAB). When addressing the Most High as “God of my righteousness,” David looked to him to execute justice.
The “distress” evidently refers to the psalmist’s being surrounded by enemies. When “given room,” he would be furnished with a way out. Instead of remaining in a vulnerable situation, with escape blocked, he would be divinely provided with space for maneuverability and, hence, with deliverance. (Compare 1 Samuel 23:19-28.)
David petitioned for divine favor to be extended to him and for a responsive hearing to his prayer for aid. His being rescued from danger would constitute the evidence that YHWH had shown him favor and indeed heard his plea.
Because the word for “man” is ’ish, not ’adám (earthling), the reference to “sons of man” could be to the prominent ones. The meaning is made explicit in the rendering “men of rank” (REB). There is, however, a possibility that the designation “sons of man” points to their mortality. They are merely human offspring.
David’s glory could refer to his royal dignity or honor. His question implies that for a considerable time already men had made him an object of insult, and he wondered how much longer this would continue. In the Septuagint, the question concerns their slowness of heart, or dullness of understanding. This provides the basis for the rendering, “how long will you be heavy of heart?” (NJB)
The Hebrew word riq has been defined as “vanity” or “emptiness.” Perhaps this refers to the vain or empty plot to deprive David of kingship, replacing him with Absalom. So ardently did certain men desire the attainment of this unworthy goal that David referred to it as loving vanity. The “falsehood” or “lie” (kazáv) apparently describes something that is elusive. By backing the usurper, David’s adversaries were seeking something that would prove to be disappointing (as when people are persuaded to believe a lie, act on it, and then suffer the consequences for their error).
Apparently David urged the plotters to “know” or recognize that the godly are under YHWH’s special care, for he has singled them out. Based on the reading of the Septuagint, however, YHWH “did wonders for his devoted one.” This rendering suggests that the rebellious ones should recognize that YHWH could again effect a marvelous deliverance for his loyal servant. David confidently spoke of YHWH’s hearing him when he made his appeal.
In verse 4(5), the first word is ragáz, meaning “be agitated,” “be excited,” “quiver,” or “quake.” If the reading of the Masoretic Text is directly linked to the preceding verse, this could mean that David admonished the discontented ones to be in a state of trembling or fear before YHWH and to avoid sin, apparently the sin of revolt. In their hearts, their deep inner selves, they should consider the rebellious course on which they were embarking and choose to abandon it. While in bed, during the quiet hours of the night, they should vent their thoughts within themselves. For them to “be silent” suggests that they would refrain from agitating for revolt.
In the Septuagint, a form of orgízo (be angry) is the rendering for ragáz (as is also the case in Ephesians 4:26, where part of this verse is quoted). According to the Septuagint reading, the discontented ones should not allow their anger to plunge them into sin, apparently the sin of rebellion.
The proper or right sacrifices would be those offered with a pure motive. Sacrifices offered by rebellious ones would not be acceptable. Instead of taking matters into their own hands and making themselves guilty of sin, those contemplating an uprising were to trust in YHWH, confident that he would execute justice.
During the time of Absalom’s plotting, many voiced discontent, wanting to see good or better conditions. In the Septuagint, they are represented as raising the question, “Who will show us good things?” According to Psalm 41, David was seriously ill, and this may have contributed to the deteriorating situation in the realm. (Also see Psalm 3.) Discontented, many Israelites were prone to shift their loyalties away from David to Absalom. Therefore, David prayed for YHWH to lift up the “light” of his countenance or to grant the people his favorable attention, leading to improved circumstances for them.
On account of YHWH’s loving care, David referred to experiencing a rejoicing in his heart, his deep inner self, that proved to be greater than when grain and grape harvests are bountiful. Having committed his anxious concerns to YHWH, he could retire for the night in peace or with a sense of calmness, without disquieting or disturbing thoughts interfering with his sleep. He recognized that only YHWH could make it possible for him to reside in safety, and this enabled him to remain free from undue fear and anxiety.
In the Septuagint, the superscription reads, “To the end; a song among psalms to David.”
Regarding “selah,” see Psalm 3.
For an explanation of the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.