Meditations on the Psalms
You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! (Psalm 4:1 ESV)
Those feeling distress look for relief. We do not know the circumstances which inspired the writing of this Psalm. Some suggest David wrote Psalm Four on the tail end of Psalm Three, as he was fleeing his son, Absalom. That the Psalmist is in distress is stated in this opening prayer to God, the only One who offers gracious relief.
Given me reliefmeans to grow large, enlarge or widened, as when the heart is filled with good things. Distress has the opposite allusion, meaning tonarrow, tighten, to find one self in a narrow, indefensible strait or place, by an adversary, foe, enemy or oppressor, whose attack is hard as flint. Gracious means to show favor or pity. Both David and Jesus, as with many Christians throughout history, found themselves in places where they were attacked on every side, hemmed in at a place which is indefensible, by an enemy whose intent and tack are meant to utterly destroy. Who is the enemy? They are the Deceiver, death, the wicked, rebellious nations lead by kings and rulers, those who surround the godly with the evil goals of usurping God.
Many of David’s writings are prophecies of Jesus Christ’s life. The thinking of the heart of this Psalm shows the thinking of the heart of Christ while living as a man among the people of Israel. Any number of Jesus’ situations and experiences are described here. One specific episode comes to mind.
Psalm Four describes many of the occurrences in the story of the death and resuscitation of Lazarus of Bethany, whose sisters were Mary and Martha. Jesus loved this family. He was raised from death but then died again and has been resurrected to eternal life. “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5 ESV). When Jesus heard Lazarus was sick He stayed where He was, several days journey away from Bethany. Knowing what was to happen, Jesus directed the attention of His disciples toward God, not toward the illness of the one He loved. “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4 ESV).
Finally, after two days, Jesus decided to return to Bethany. This frightened the disciples, who knew many people there wanted to murder Him. Jesus then declared Lazarus had died, using the metaphor of falling asleep. “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (John 11:11 ESV). Not understanding Jesus’ words, the disciples question Him about returning for a man who is simply asleep. Jesus revealed why He waited. “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him” (John 11:14-15 ESV).
This does not sound like Jesus felt either destress or fear to journey to a place where His enemies would attack Him. Jesus was not afraid to walk into circumstances where His life was threatened, knowing no one could harm Him until God’s purpose and plan were ready for fulfillment. When Jesus arrived at Bethany, He did experience distress over death. In the eyes of the witnesses, Jesus, a man larger than life, was enlarged even more by His public actions and public prayer.
It is the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35 ESV). Why did Jesus weep when He stood in front of the tomb of His friend Lazarus? Mary and Martha and others were weeping at the tomb because they would never see their brother and friend again. Jesus wept because of death, knowing the eternal consequences of dying. Jesus sobbed, bursting into tears, because He understood more than anyone what death means and why death happens. He will soon face His own death and feel such stress His sweat will drop like blood. “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44 ESV). Jesus felt deeply the effects of sin without sinning.
Jesus prayed. He knew what He would do days before. He knew what was happening and would happen from eternity. Lazarus was dead, but death means nothing to God, who cannot die. God controls death, having made it a natural part of the process of creation. Lazarus died, but there is nothing which can stop God from giving him back life.
Jesus commanded the people to open the tomb. Then He prayed. “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me” (John 11:41-42 ESV). He commanded Lazarus to come out of the tomb and out he walked. He who had died several days before emerged from the grave, fully alive. Only God can raise the dead. This is God’s grace on full display.
Jesus confronted the enemy, death, an enemy no one but God can conquer. Soon He would confront death again, with His own life, and conquer forever an enemy who claims all, claiming all for Himself. God has answered Jesus’ prayer. God has relieved His distress.