Psalm 4:6
There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? LORD, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.
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(6) There be many.—Around the fugitive king were many whose courage was not so high, nor their faith so firm, as his. He hears their expressions of despair—

“Talking like this world’s brood.”—MILTON.

It is better to translate the words of these faint-hearted ones by the future, as in Authorised Version; not by the optative, as Ewald and others.

Lift thou up . . .—This is an echo of the priestly benediction (Numbers 6:24, et seq.), which must so often have inspired the children of Israel with hope and cheerfulness during their desert wanderings—which has breathed peace over so many death-beds in Christian times.

The Hebrew for “lift” is doubly anomalous, and is apparently formed from the usual word “to lift,” with a play upon another word meaning “a banner,” suggesting to the fearful followers of the king that Jehovah’s power was ready to protect him. The Vulg. follows the LXX. in rendering, “The light of thy countenance was made known by a sign over us:” i.e., shone so that we recognised it.

Psalm 4:6. There be many that say, &c. — There be many (the multitude, the generality of men in almost every station) that say, Who will show us any good? — That is, “Who will heap honours upon us? Who will point out the way to wealth and luxury? Who will present new scenes of pleasure, that we may indulge our appetites, and give full scope to the rovings of a wanton fancy?” That this is the substance of what was intended by the sacred writer in this question, the words put in opposition to it, in which he expresses his own wiser sentiments, are an undeniable proof; Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us — That what he here suggests is a fair representation of facts, experience loudly testifies; and that it is a false notion of human happiness, and a fatal error, reason plainly teaches; for what are honours, what are riches, what is sensual pleasure? They are light as vanity, fleeting as a bubble, thin and unsubstantial as air. The favour of God, and his approbation, are absolutely necessary to the happiness of mankind. The displeasure of our Maker includes in it the utmost distress and infamy; and his favour, every thing great, good, and honourable, so that the devout prayer of the psalmist will be likewise the fervent and humble supplication of every wise and virtuous mind. Lord, lift thou up, &c. — See Foster’s Sermons, vol. 4. “For the understanding of this phrase,” says Dr. Dodd, “and several other passages in the Psalms, it must be remembered, that when Moses had prepared the ark, in which he deposited the tables of the covenant, the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle; and after this, wherever the ark resided, God always manifested his peculiar presence among his people, by a glorious visible appearance from the mercy-seat, and this continued as long as Solomon’s temple lasted. It is this which is always alluded to where mention is made in the Psalms of the light of God’s countenance, or, his making his face to shine. Now as this was a standing miraculous testimony of God’s peculiar providence over the Jews, hence those expressions, of his making his face to shine, his lifting up the light of his countenance, and the like, did in common use signify his being gracious unto them, and taking them under his immediate protection. They are used in this sense Numbers 6:24. In like manner the hiding of God’s face meant the withdrawing of his favour and protection from them.”

4:6-8 Wordly people inquire for good, not for the chief good; all they want is outward good, present good, partial good, good meat, good drink, a good trade, and a good estate; but what are all these worth? Any good will serve the turn of most men, but a gracious soul will not be put off so. Lord, let us have thy favour, and let us know that we have it, we desire no more; let us be satisfied of thy loving-kindness, and will be satisfied with it. Many inquire after happiness, but David had found it. When God puts grace in the heart, he puts gladness in the heart. Thus comforted, he pitied, but neither envied nor feared the most prosperous sinner. He commits all his affairs to God, and is prepared to welcome his holy will. But salvation is in Christ alone; where will those appear who despise him as their Mediator, and revile him in his disciples? May they stand in awe, and no longer sin against the only remedy.There be many that say - Some have supposed, as DeWette and others, that the allusion of the psalmist here is to his own followers, and that the reference is to their anxious fears in their misfortunes, as if they were poor and forsaken, and knew not from from where the supply of their wants would come. The more probable interpretation, however, is that the allusion is to the general anxiety of mankind, as contrasted with the feelings and desires of the psalmist himself in reference to the manner in which the desire was to be gratified. That is, the general inquiry among mankind is, who will show us good? Or, where shall we obtain that which seems to us to be good, or which will promote our happiness?

Who will show us any good? - The word "any" here is improperly supplied by the translators. The question is more emphatic as it is in the original - "Who will show us good?" That is, Where shall happiness be found? In what does it consist? How is it to be obtained? What will contribute to it? This is the "general" question asked by mankind. The "answer" to this question, of course, would be very various, and the psalmist evidently intends to place the answer which "he" would give in strong contrast with that which would be given by the mass of men. Some would place it in wealth; some in honor; some in palaces and pleasure grounds; some in gross sensual pleasure; some in literature; and some in refined social enjoyments. In contrast with all such views of the sources of true happiness, the psalmist says that he regards it as consisting in the favor and friendship of God. To him that was enough; and in this respect his views stood in strong contrast with those of the world around him. The "connection" here seems to be this - the psalmist saw those persons who were arrayed against him intent on their own selfish aims, prosecuting their purposes, regardless of the honor of God and the rights of other men; and he is led to make the reflection that this is the "general" character of mankind. They are seeking for happiness; they are actively employed in prosecuting their own selfish ends and purposes. They live simply to know how they shall be "happy," and they prosecute any scheme which would seem to promise happiness, regardless of the rights of others and the claims of religion.

Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us - That is, in contrast with the feelings and plans of others. In the pursuit of what "they" regarded as good they were engaged in purposes of gain, of pleasure, or of ambition; he, on the contrary, asked only the favor of God - the light of the divine countenance. The phrase, "to lift up the light of the countenance" on one, is of frequent occurrence in the Scriptures, and is expressive of favor and friendship. When we are angry or displeased, the face seems covered with a dark cloud; when pleased, it brightens up and expresses benignity. There is undoubtedly allusion in this expression to the sun as it rises free from clouds and tempests, seeming to smile upon the world. The language here was not improbably derived from the benediction which the high priest was commanded to pronounce when he blessed the people of Israel Numbers 6:24-26, "The Lord bless thee, and keep thee; the Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace." It may be added here, that what the psalmist regarded as the "supreme good" - the favor and friendship of God - is expressive of true piety in all ages and at all times. While the world is busy in seeking happiness in other things - in wealth, pleasure, gaiety, ambition, sensual delights - the child of God feels that true happiness is to be found only in religion, and in the service and friendship of the Creator; and, after all the anxious inquiries which men make, and the various experiments tried in succeeding ages, to find the source of true happiness, all who ever find it will be led to seek it where the psalmist said his happiness was found - in the light of the countenance of God.

6, 7. Contrast true with vain confidence.

light of thy countenance upon us—figure for favor (Nu 6:26; Ps 44:3; 81:16).

6 There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.

We have now entered upon the third division of the Psalm, in which the faith of the afflicted one finds utterance in sweet expressions of contentment and peace.

There were many, even among David's own followers, who wanted to see rather than to believe. Alas I this is the-tendency of us all! Even the regenerate sometimes groan after the sense and sight of prosperity, and are sad when darkness covers all good from view. As for worldlings, this is their unceasing cry. "Who will shew us any good?" Never satisfied, their gaping mouths are turned in every direction, their empty hearts are ready to drink in any fine delusion which impostors may invent; and when these fail, they soon yield to despair, and declare that there is no good thing in either heaven or earth. The true believer is a man of a very different mould. His face is not downward like the beasts, but upward like the angels. He drinks not from the muddy pools of Mammon, but from the fountain of life above. The light of God's countenance is enough for him. This is his riches, his honour, his health, his ambition, his ease. Give him this, and he will ask no more. This is joy unspeakable, and full of glory. Oh, for more of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, that our fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ may be constant and abiding!

There be many; either,

1. Of my own followers, who are weary of waiting upon God, and ready to despair. Or rather,

2. Of mine enemies, and of the body of the people, who were either engaged against him, or at least unconcerned for him, and sought only their own case and advantage.

Who will show us, Heb. make or give us to see, i.e. to enjoy, as this phrase is frequently used, as Psalm 27:13 34:12 Ecclesiastes 2:1 3:13.

Any good, i.e. worldly good, as appears by the opposition of

the light of God’s countenance to it in the next words, and by the explication of it of corn and wine in the next verse. i.e. Who will put an end to our present broils and troubles, and give us that tranquillity and outward happiness which is the only thing that we desire. Withal, he may seem to intimate the reason and motive which induced so many persons to take part against him, which was their eager desire of honour or worldly advantage, which they promised to themselves by appearing against David: see 1 Samuel 22:7.

Upon us, i.e. upon me and my friends. Give us assurance of thy love and favour to us, and evidence it to us by thy powerful and gracious assistance.

There be many that say, who will show us any good?.... These may be thought to be the men of the world; carnal worldly minded men, seeking after temporal good, and taking up their rest and contentment in it; to whom the psalmist opposes his wish and request, in the following words. Or these are the words of the men that were along with David, wishing themselves at home and in their families, enjoying the good things of life they before had; or rather these are the words of the same many, the enemies of David, spoken of in Psalm 3:1; who were wishing, as Kimchi observes, that Absalom's rebellion might prosper; that David might die and his son reign in his stead, so the evil they wished to him was good to them: or they may be the words of the same men, expressing the desperate condition that David and his friends were in, which the psalmist represents in this manner, "who will show us any good?" none, say they, will show them any good, neither God nor man; there is no help for him in God; he and his friends must unavoidably perish: and this produces the following petition,

Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us; meaning his gracious presence, the manifestations of himself, the discoveries of his love, communion with him, the comforts of his Spirit, and the joys of his salvation; suggesting that in the enjoyment of these things lay their good and happiness, and their safety also; his face and favour, love and grace, being as a shield to encompass them, and as a banner over them, Psalm 5:12; and so Jarchi observes, that the word here used signifies to lift up for a banner (r); so, me respect seems to be had to the form of the priests blessing, Numbers 6:24; and the words are opposed to the good desired by carnal men, and express the true happiness of the saints, Psalm 89:15; this is a blessing wished for not only by David, but by his antitype the Messiah, Matthew 27:46; and by all believers.

(r) So Gussetius, Ebr. Comment. p. 515, 518.

There be many that say, Who will shew us any {k} good? LORD, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.

(k) The multitude seeks worldly wealth, but David sets his happiness in God's favour.

6. David knows well that there are plenty of discontented grumblers among his subjects, ready to follow anyone who makes them fair promises. His answer to them is a prayer for a blessing upon himself and his people (us), which recalls the great Aaronic benediction of Numbers 6:24-26, fusing into one the two petitions, “The Lord make His face to shine upon thee,” “the Lord lift up His countenance upon thee.” Cp. Psalm 31:16; Psalm 80:3; Psalm 80:7; Psalm 80:19.

The ‘many’, as in Psalm 3:2, are chiefly the wavering mass of the people, who had not yet taken a side; but some at least of Absalom’s partisans, and some of David’s half-hearted followers are included.

Verse 6. - There be many that say, Who will show us any good? Pessimists are numerous in all ages. Among David's adherents in his times of distress (ver. 1) would be many who doubted and desponded, anticipating nothing but continued suffering and misfortune. Theft would ask the question of the text. Or the scope may be wider. Men are always seeking for good, but not knowing what their true good is. David points it out to them. It is to have the light of God's countenance shining on them. Lord, lift thou up, etc.; compare the form of Levitical benediction (Numbers 6:24-26), and see also Psalm 31:15; Psalm 80:3, 7, 19. If we bask in the sunshine of God's favour, there is nothing more needed for happiness. Psalm 4:6(Heb.: 4:7-8) Looking into his own small camp David is conscious of a disheartened feeling which is gaining power over him. The words: who will make us see, i.e., (as in Psalm 34:13) experience any good? can be taken as expressive of a wish according to 2 Samuel 23:15; Isaiah 42:23; but the situation gives it the character of a despondent question arising from a disheartened view of the future. The gloom has now, lasted so long with David's companions in tribulation that their faith is turned to fear, their hope to despair. David therefore prays as he looks upon them: Oh lift upon us (נסה־עלינוּ)

(Note: The Metheg which stands in the second syllable before the tone stands by the Sheb, in the metrical books, if this syllable is the first in a word marked with a greater distinctive without any conjunctive preceding it, and beginning with Sheb; it is, therefore, not נסה־עלינוּ but נסה־עלינוּ, cf. Psalm 51:2 בּבוא־, Psalm 69:28 תּנה־, Psalm 81:3 שׂאו־, Psalm 116:17 לך־, Psalm 119:175 תּחי־. The reason and object are the same as stated in note p. *84 supra.)

the light of Thy countenance. The form of the petition reminds one of the priestly benediction in Numbers 6. There it is: פּניו יאר ה in the second portion, in the third פּניו ישּׂא ה, here these two wishes are blended into one prayer; and moreover in נסה there is an allusion to neec a banner, for the imper. of נשׂא, the regular form of which is שׂא, will also admit of the form נשׂא (Psalm 10:12), but the mode of writing נסה (without example elsewhere, for נסּה Job 4:2 signifies "to be attempted") is only explained by the mingling of the verbs נשׂא and נסס, Arab. nṣṣ, extollere (Psalm 60:6); נסּי ה (cf. Psalm 60:6) is, moreover, a primeval word of the Tra (Exodus 17:15). If we may suppose that this mingling is not merely a mingling of forms in writing, but also a mingling of the ideas in those forms, then we have three thoughts in this prayer which are brought before the eye and ear in the briefest possible expression: may Jahve cause His face to shine upon them; may He lift upon them the light of His countenance so that they may have it above them like the sun in the sky, and may that light be a banner promising them the victory, around which they shall rally.

David, however, despite the hopelessness of the present, is even now at peace in His God. The joy which Jahve has put into his heart in the midst of outward trial and adversity is מעת דּגנם ותירושׁם רבּוּ. The expression is as concise as possible: (1) gaudium prae equivalent to gaudium magnum prae -majus quam; then (2) מעת after the analogy of the comparatio decurtata (e.g., Psalm 18:34 my feet are like hinds, i.e., like the feet of hinds) is equivalent to משּׂמחת עת; (3) אשׁר is omitted after עת according to Ges. 123, 3, for עת is the construct state, and what follows is the second member of the genitival relation, dependent upon it (cf. Psalm 90:15; Isaiah 29:1); the plurality of things: corn and new wine, inasmuch as it is the stores of both that are specially meant, is exceptionally joined with the plur. instead of the sing., and the chief word raabbu stands at the end by way of emphasis. The suff. does not refer to the people of the land in general (as in Psalm 65:10), but, in accordance with the contrast, to the Absolomites, to those of the nation who have fallen away from David. When David came to Mahanaim, while the rebels were encamped in Gilead, the country round about him was hostile, so that he had to receive provisions by stealth, 2 Samuel 17:26-29. Perhaps it was at the time of the feast of tabernacles. The harvest and the vintage were over. A rich harvest of corn and new wine was garnered. The followers of Absolom had, in these rich stores which were at their disposal, a powerful reserve upon which to fall back. David and his host were like a band of beggars or marauders. But the king brought down from the sceptre of the beggar's staff is nevertheless happier than they, the rebels against him. What he possesses in his heart is a richer treasure than all that they have in their barns and cellars.

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