- Psalm 4 – “To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David. 1Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! 2O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah 3But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him. 4Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah 5Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord. 6There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” 7You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. 8In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.
I thought the best way to approach this Psalm was to start with the problem that seems to be expressed. I believe the main problem is located in verse 2.
- Psalm 4:2 – “O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?”
The Hebrew word for vain in Psalm 4 and Psalm 2 is “riq” which means empty, no purpose, worthless, vanity. Having said that, David takes it upon himself to define what he means by these vain words and calls them flat out lies.
For David, these vain, empty, worthless, lying words are causing for him distress and even anger. The reason there is so much strife in David’s heart over these lies is because people are tripping over themselves for this vain words and are actually seeking after these lies. People are pursuing and buying into the deception and worthlessness of what is being said. To use a phrase that I use way too much, the people of Israel are thirsty for and drinking the Kool-Aid.
Exactly what these vain, empty, lying words are, we are not sure. David does not tell us specifically, but we can get a sense of what it may pertain to by looking at verse 5.
- Psalm 4:5 – “Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.”
Unfortunately, this problem of trusting in vain, empty, lying words was nothing new for Israel. This was the core of their problem since the beginning of their nation. From the moment they were freed from the slavery of Egypt, the people of Israel were easily persuaded to put their trust in something other than God, their Deliverer The people of Israel would begin to complain or give their opinion as to what Israel should do and these grumblings would spread like wildfire throughout the camp. At one point they bought into the lie that it would be better to be slaves in Egypt than to be God’s chosen people.
The pursuit of vanity was an ongoing problem for the nation of Israel. They were constantly chasing after things that were outside of God’s will. In my daily walk through the Bible this week I was in 1 Samuel 12 and I read these closing remarks by the prophet Samuel at the moment of transition from Judges to Kings. This is what Samuel warned the people about in 1 Samuel 12:21-22.
- 1 Samuel 12:21-22 – “And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. 22For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.”
The Problem of Vanity Today
However, we should be fair, and recognize that we are no better. In fact, we may be worse. We are a people who frequently seek after vanity, who believe the lies, who turn aside after empty things. Things like spiritualism, humanism, materialism, and even nationalism. With each one of these “isms” comes a promise of peace, enlightenment, success, satisfaction.
Some of you in this room may say, “That is not me. I don't struggle with any of those isms.” However, I would bet that many of you are falling pray to some of these things without even realizing it. Many of this “isms” masquerade as angels of light, and each one of those “isms”, manifest themselves in hundreds if not thousands of different ways. For example, spiritualism: you may think that peace comes from yoga, simplicity, or being in nature. For humanism, you may believe happiness is success, wealth, comfort, or academic achievement. For materialism, you see shopping as an escape, or you spend most of your times dreaming about your retirement. For nationalism, you think the answers to America's problem lie in the right political party and you spend you nights watching fox news.
For each one of these “isms” there is a false belief that the pursuit of these things will satisfy us. But if there is one thing that history has proven to us, each one of these things is fleeting and none of them deliver. Buying into these things is the equivalent of buying snake oil. The sad thing is however, that instead of waking up from our drunkenness with the things of this world, we instead order another round, and buy into the next trendy thing, once again hoping that it will quench or soul’s thirst.
Vanity of Vanities
As I traced this idea of vanity through the Bible this week, I found it interesting how frequent I found it. I mentioned to you that Samuel spoke of it upon the transition to the first King or Israel, Sal. Then David speaks of it in Psalm 4. But it does not end there, for King Solomon took the idea of vanity to a whole new level. This is how he opened the book he wrote, Ecclesiastes:
- Ecclesiastes 1:1-2 – “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”
- 1 Kings 10:23-27 –“Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. 24And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind. 25Every one of them brought his present, articles of silver and gold, garments, myrrh, spices, horses, and mules, so much year by year. 26And Solomon gathered together chariots and horsemen. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem. 27And the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah.”
Why did God allow Solomon to live like he did with no hindrance to his lustful desires? To show us that unlimited money, stuff, intelligence and sex does not produce in us happiness. Our hearts were wired for something better. So what is that something better? Turn with me to Revelation 3:17. These are the words of Jesus.
- Revelation 3:17-22 – “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
Jesus tells us plainly that trusting in the things of this world is foolish; for the true reality of who we are is that we are wretched, and nothing in this world is designed to remove our wretchedness, or satisfy our deepest needs. The answer is not found in the world, but found in the one who upholds the Word, Jesus Christ. At the core of who we are is our sinfulness. As David said in verse 1, our righteousness does not come from our 401k, it comes from God. We are called to reject, or repent, the vanity of materialism, and enter into communion with Jesus Christ, for this alone has eternal value for our lives.
Set Apart for God
For David this communion with Christ can be found in verse 3. It is found in those who the Lord has set apart for himself. The godly. It is those who through Christ, God has transferred from the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of His beloved Son, and Kingdom that we long to live in.
Those who are in set apart, or holy, before the Lord are those who have been given salve for their eyes and they see the reality of the meaninglessness of the things of this world, and see the lasting treasure that is Christ, and cry out to Him. Thereby turning, and placing our trust in Him.
These are people like Disciples John and James who upon being called to follow Jesus we are told in Matthew 4:21 “Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” And Matthew who upon being called to follow Jesus left his tax booth. And Peter who stated, in Luke 18, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.“ And Paul who upon his conversion on the Damascus road realized that all of his life he was pursuing futility and states in Philippians 1:8, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him.”
Each one of these followers of Jesus placed their trust in Jesus. They trusted in who he was, what he did, and what he promised. They were freed from the emptiness of this world, and saw through the lies of Satan and chose the only path that their hearts truly yearned for.
Set Apart for Joy
These men no longer sought the vanity of this world, but instead the renounced all that they had and followed Jesus. They were called out of the world, and set apart for God. Was this easy? No. There is a cost to following Jesus. Jesus describes it as picking up your cross daily. He describes it as dyeing to self, and laying down your life. The Christian life is a life of sacrifice. Each day you are called to throw off more and more weight and sin that clings to you. This was true for the disciples, and this is also true for you. Some would then say than what good is it to follow Christ. Look at verses 6 and 7.
- Psalm 4:6 – “There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” 7You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.“
We must see thee lies of the world for what they are…lies. We must not buy the snake oil of Satan when comes selling the vanity of this world. We must recognize the reality that the things of this earth will soon pass away, but our Kingdom in Heaven is a lasting one. We must see the foolishness of building bigger barns to store our unprecedented wealth, and instead use what God has given us to store up treasures in Heaven.
We must rid ourselves of these weights and seize the treasure that is Christ is eternal. It is only Christ that will give us peace. Understanding that we are made to find satisfaction in God alone. Until you have the eyes to see this you will continue to be deceived by the lies of Satan and the things of this world. You will wake up day after day after day unsatisfied, empty, without purpose, without meaning, without joy.
Let us not be Israel, who did not heed the warning of Moses, Samuel, and David, and who eventually found themselves enslaved once again. Let us trust in God, and live the life of freedom as his children.