King David’s utter trust in God.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 May 2023

When I translate psalms, I try to make ’em rhyme. I borrowed the Scottish psalter’s 8·6·8·6 iambic meter, but you’ll notice it’s different. Asterisks indicate where David put סֶֽלָה/seláh; nobody knows what it means, so I skipped ’em.

Psalm 4 KWL
0 For the director. For strings. David’s psalm.
1 When I call out to you, my God,
my righteous one, reply!
You widen narrowness for me.
Show mercy! Hear my cry!
2 Oh sons of men, how long will my
successes bring you shame?
Why do you all love empty things?
Why follow lies? How lame.*
3 Know this—that for himself, the LORD
the pious ones he’ll choose.
The LORD, when I call out to him,
will listen, not refuse.
4 So shake in awe, and don’t trespass.
Make mute your hearts in bed.
5 Present more righteous offerings,
and trust the LORD instead.
6 The great might say, “Who knows what’s good?
And who will show the way?”
LORD, lift your face, your countenance,
and light our path each day.
7 You give joy to my heart, my God.
I’m thinking of the time
my heart was full because it had
a lot of grain and wine.
8 In peace, together, I lie down
and off I go to sleep.
Because of you alone, oh LORD,
I live in safety deep.

There are a great many things taught about David ben Jesse, the third king of Israel. Like people who teach he’s only the second king of Israel—’cause they don’t count Ishbaal ben Saul. (The Deuteronomistic historian, who wrote 2 Samuel, calls him “Ishbosheth” ’cause he objected to the suffix -baal, ’cause Baalism.) Samuel ben Elkanah didn’t anoint Ishbaal king, so many a Christian will insist he doesn’t count. Same as they tend to skip presidents they don’t like, even if they legitimately were president. But I digress.

The LORD refers to David as “a man after mine own heart,” Ac 13.22, 1Sa 13.14 because David did whatever the LORD told him. Whatever else David was—and he was a lot of good things, but also a lot of bad—he was bananas for God. And the LORD honored him for it.

Problem is, a lot of Christians are bananas for David. Particularly Christians who like to teach about leadership, whether church or business leadership. They tend to hold David up as the best example of a successful CEO. And he’s really not; Jesus is. But these folks find it way easier to put words in David’s mouth, and assign him motives which—conveniently!—sound exactly like their motives. There’s an awful lot of sock-puppet action going on there.

As a result of trying to focus only on David’s successes, victories, and positive enthusiasm, these teachers frequently skip or skim over the parts of the psalms where David’s just frustrated, angry, struggling, lamenting his situation, just railing against his enemies, or dealing with the consequences of his own sins. Like I said, he did a lot of bad things. He was a lousy father, a horny womanizer, an impatient and short-sighted judge, and a straight-up murderer. Not traits you want in a successful CEO, do you?

These teachers whiff past David’s real difficulties, and treat ’em as if God quickly mopped them up, and David leapt from success to success. They fail to realize the psalms contain David complaining about his problems a lot. Because it’s not easy being king! Plus, y’know, the lousy fathering, the horny womanizing, the sloppy judgment, the murdering.

But being bananas for God means he did totally trust God to get him through every single one of his problems. Even though he had ’em. Just like we do.

The real King David.

If you want an accurate picture of David ben Jesse, don’t read a leadership book. Read the bible. Specifically 1–2 Samuel, and the beginning of 1 Kings.

Imagine you’re living in the 10th century BC. Until very recently, probably within your lifetime, your 13 tribes were very loosely connected by your common worship of the One God, his priests, and their “seer,” Samuel ben Elkanah, who’s kinda been leading the tribes, but not well. Plus there are these Iron-Age white pagans who set up coastal colonies a few centuries ago (whom you call פְלִשְׁתִּ֗ים/pelištím, “foreigners,” KJV “Philistines,” today “Palestinians”), who keep advancing on your tribes’ territory, like Brits taking over Indian land.

Anyway, a few years ago Samuel appointed Saul ben Kish as king over the 13 tribes. And while Saul was a really big guy, and wasn’t half bad as a warrior, he wasn’t religious at all, which enraged Samuel. (Plus Saul was a little bit nuts.) After some years, with many clashes against the more advanced Philistine tribes, the Philistines finally killed Saul and his four eldest sons. Ishbaal, the fifth son, backed by Saul’s uncle Avner, becomes king.

But suddenly Saul’s old general David—who’s been living with the Philistines for several years—returns. Yeah he’s a bonafide war hero; when he was a kid he killed Goliath, the Philistine champion, with just a sling. He’s related to Saul only by marriage (although didn’t they divorce?), but he claims Samuel anointed him king too. His tribe backs him—one of the larger tribes, Judah—and this triggers a seven-year civil war against the 11 tribes who back Ishbaal. But when assassins kill Ishbaal, Gen. David takes the other tribes immediately.

David conquers a local Jebusite city, renames it Jerusalem and moves the capital there, moves the One God’s tabernacle there (and collects materials to one day replace it with a permanent temple building), builds a palace, and starts to build a bureaucracy. Yep, if you’re not a big-government fan, David’s not your guy.

David may have been popular with many, but he wasn’t politically strong enough to stop his nephew, Gen. Joab ben Zeruiah, from regularly undermining him. He had constant wars with the Philistines till he finally conquered them. He used one of those wars to murder a loyal soldier so he could steal his wife. Two of David’s own sons later tried to overthrow him—and one nearly succeeded. There were continued fights between David and Saul’s family, who still figured one of them should be king. He regularly had to fight open revolts.

And while David permitted people to openly oppose him—which was mighty tolerant of him, in those days before freedom of speech—he did a 180-degree heel turn at the beginning of 1 Kings, and told his successor Solomon ben David to kill a few of those foes as soon as Solomon had the opportunity. 1Ki 2.8-9

Considering the way most kings behaved throughout history (till they were depowered by democratic constitutions, and sometimes not even then), David was way better than average. But never assume he was an enlightened American-style president. He was mostly benevolent, but he was still a despot. We can see why he’d have enemies—and why they sought to destroy him.

And if you can’t see, I’ll list them.

  • Some didn’t believe he’d actually been anointed by Samuel; that was just a pretense to legitimize himself.
  • Some didn’t believe he was Saul’s legitimate successor; he was only Saul’s ex-son-in-law. (Who took his ex back—and away from her new husband!—but still.)
  • Some didn’t believe he was really a loyal Israeli after all those years among the Philistines.
  • Some didn’t like his taxes.
  • Or his morals, his religion, or his interpretations of the Law.
  • Or his lax Law-enforcement.
  • Or his constant wars.
  • Or even the fact he kept giving God credit for his successes; no doubt if people saw David as a political opponent, they’d figure David’s successes were in spite of God. Or whatever other god they followed.

Still bananas for God though.

Now to Psalm 4.

In this psalm, David reflects on how God’s come through for him in the past, despite

  • tight spots Ps 4.1
  • lying weasels Ps 4.2
  • the impious Ps 4.3
  • the disrespectful Ps 4.4
  • sloppy worshipers Ps 4.5
  • skeptics and atheists Ps 4.6

Regardless of anything these opponents did or thought, David was pleased with what God has done so far, Ps 4.7 and trusts God to keep him secure. Ps 4.8

People sometimes imagine desperation in David’s psalms, as if he’s constantly suffering from doubt and skepticism, and these psalms are just David trying to psyche himself up by praising God. But that’s not at all consistent with the David stories in Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. Whenever David called out to God, he got answers.

If you’re imagining David struggled to hear God, you’re mixing him up with Saul. Or people in the present day who think God doesn’t talk back in our prayers. Or people who imagine God only speaks through bible, prophets, on special occasions, or to extra-righteous people. We project our own lack of faith upon David, and invent a worried, disturbed attitude for him. It’s not warranted at all. David always got answers. He himself said so.

Whether David liked these answers is another issue. Regardless, the LORD always came through for David. We have no stories where God didn’t.

So Psalm 4 reflects David’s total faith in God. Don’t misinterpret it to insert any lack of faith into it. That’s not David.

To say God doesn’t answer our requests anymore, to say Christians who act in the Spirit’s power aren’t really doing so, is to embrace a useless lie. Ps 4.2 David had a powerful, supernatural relationship with God. God helped David when called upon. God kept David secure. They really were that close.

And we can be just as close—for we have the Holy Spirit in us, same as David. Ps 51.11 We just have to trust God like David did, and not dismiss such things like Psalm 4 as David’s mania or wishful thinking.