Please read Psalm 4
We’re not going to get past the first verse of this Psalm today, because there is a lot to cover. If you need to, go ahead and read the beginning of this Psalm again.
Notice that I said, “read the beginning of this Psalm,” and not just “read verse 1.” This is an important distinction in the Psalms.
In a lot of our Bible translations, there are headings which summarize the upcoming passage of Scripture. For instance, in my bible is the heading “Answer Me When I Call” prior to Psalm 4. These headings are not inspired; they are not part of the original work of Scripture, which is why they vary from Bible to Bible. Sometimes they can be helpful to summarize the passage, but sometimes I disagree with their summaries.
And that’s ok! These headings are not the inspired word of God, just like the page numbers or the footnotes are not the inspired word of God. They are a scholar or a committee’s opinion on the text. And these opinions are fallible. You can take them or leave them.
Most of us know this subconsciously and will consequently skim over the headings or ignore them completely. If that’s your way of studying the Bible, then I’m not going to object. But be careful when you get to the Psalms!
There are man-made headings in the Psalms, just as in the rest of Scripture, but there are also inspired headings, or ‘titles.’ These don’t have verse numbers, so we may be tempted to skim over them as we do with other headings, but they are not the same.
A good translation of Scripture will set apart the titles in the Psalms using a different font or some other technique to distinguish them (my Bible has them in a smaller font, and in all CAPS). This is necessary because these titles are unique.
Most scholars have come to the conclusion that these titles are not part of the original writings, but they are historical, reliable, and part of the tradition of Scripture. Some scholars go so far as to call them ‘canonical,’ or ‘part of the historical Bible.’ But this is probably a stretch.
These titles are most likely added by some of the first scribes to ever record or transmit the Psalms. They are sometimes written to give context to the Psalm, as in the case of Psalm 3. And sometimes they are written as instructions for the instrumentation that should accompany the singing of this Psalm. This is where we have an issue regarding Psalm 4: what is the purpose of this title?
At first glance, it seems that Psalm 4 is addressed to the choirmaster, who is given instructions on how to perform this song. However, it has been suggested that the translation “to the choirmaster” is not wholly accurate.
A few centuries ago, a strong argument was made for the word “choirmaster” or “chief musician” to be translated more literally as “to the end.” Many of the Greek and Latin church fathers believed that this was a reference to the Messiah, “the great end.” In other words, there is a strong belief that those Psalms addressed “to the choirmaster” are really addressed “To the Messiah.”
This makes perfect sense in regards to many Psalms bearing this title, particularly Psalm 4. It is Christ whom the Psalmist is asking for an answer; Christ who is “God of my righteousness”; Christ who has given relief when we are in distress; Christ who is gracious to us; Christ who hears our prayers. And that’s just the first verse!
Hopefully, as you read the rest of this Psalm, you will be able to read it with new eyes, and a new understanding that Jesus Christ is the focus of the Psalms, just as He is the focus of the entire Bible. All of Scripture points to Jesus, and I can use all of Scripture as I meditate on the surpassing greatness of our Messiah!
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